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Alex Through the Looking Glass: Day Three


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 had never been a morning person. He tended to wake up groggy and irritable on the best of days, couldn’t stand the sight or smell of food until he’d been up for at least several hours, and didn’t even like to try to make sense until he’d had his coffee. This particular morning, as he stood in the shower letting the hot water pound at his shoulders, he could feel himself working up to a major bad mood. He’d barely slept—finding the huge bed in the huge bedroom and count ’em two bedmates just too unnerving to allow him to relax. Not to mention that long conversation with Mulder, which was nice enough but cut rather sharply into his sleep time. His stomach was protesting the strange dinner and late-night pizza. His head ached and his sinuses still burned—they’d have to do something about the implants today, if these people ever stopped fucking long enough to actually work. And he really would rather have just stayed in bed for a few more hours, but of course he wasn’t to be allowed to sleep in peace. Krycek and Mulder were getting up, so he had to too. Otherwise he might lie in bed by himself and plot the overthrow of the seven universes on the left, or something. He supposed he should consider himself fortunate that he was allowed to shower alone, although he couldn’t help noticing that the bathroom had been cleared of razor blades and rattail combs and glass bottles and anything else that might conceivably be used as a weapon. So he couldn’t shave and there was still nothing he could use to tame his increasingly unruly hair.

He stepped out of the shower and sighed. Day Three in the universe of the Apartment of the Alternate Krycek. Maybe by Day One Hundred he’d be allowed out into the hallway for brief periods. Perhaps Krycek would walk him outside on a leash, like a puppy. If he was very, very good he might be able to take a nap in the small bedroom by himself, with one ankle chained to the bedframe. God. Just his luck to be dropped directly from an alien ship into the hands of the two most paranoid and perverted people in this or any other universe.

Alex dried himself off, not bothering to brush his hair, dropped the towel onto the floor and went back into the bedroom. Mulder was sitting on the bed waiting for him. Jeans and tee-shirt lay on the bed beside him. A fresh tee-shirt, pale rose this time, which was nice. The same jeans as yesterday, which was just as well, as he was managing to stretch them out to a comfortable size. Another pair of briefs. Out of sheer contrariness he ignored them, taking only the jeans and shirt. He put on a reverse strip-tease for Mulder, copying Mulder’s moves of the night before, exaggerating the movements slightly, giving his hips a sensuous wriggle as he pulled the jeans on. Mulder watched him with a slightly uneasy smile—Alex knew his face was hard beneath the tease.

Dressed, he followed Mulder wordlessly out to the kitchen, where Krycek was rummaging through the refrigerator. God only knew what they’d end up eating this time. The mere thought made Alex queasy. But there was coffee, thank god, and mugs already laid out, so he went to help himself.

“What’s for breakfast? Yak eggs and dirt?”

Krycek glanced at him curiously. “Eggs. Cheese. Bread. Leftover Ethiopian. What do you want?”

“Nothing. I don’t want anything. Is there any cream for the coffee?”

Krycek handed him a pint of half and half from the refrigerator.

Alex took it, frowning. “Goat’s cream, I suppose. Or no, that would be too normal. Kangaroo milk or something.”

“Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” Krycek asked mildly.

“Hardly likely, unless I crawled over the two of you.” He saw Krycek and Mulder exchange glances. The Alex-puppy is misbehaving this morning. Should we get a rolled-up newspaper? It was the obnoxious riff, and it was working up to be a major one, and he wasn’t even going to try to stop it. He just plain didn’t care. He’d screamed, he’d cried, he’d fucked, he’d even stopped breathing. Nothing helped. He was still overstressed, underfed, scared, and miserable, and now he was going to bitch. And if Krycek didn’t like it, hell with him.

“How are you feeling today?” Mulder asked.

“Oh, fine. No problem. I’m thrilled to death to spend the night in a room as big as my entire apartment that’s decorated like the Nutcracker Suite as painted by Salvador Dali with a couple of guys who think I’m too dangerous to sleep without a guard to make sure I’m not dreaming too subversively.” Oh yeah, it was the obnoxious riff, all right. This one ought to be good for getting him slapped around a little, at least.

Krycek’s expression was faintly amused. “Are you sure you need that caffeine?”

“Well, I’d be happy to go back to bed and get a few more hours’ sleep. Anybody care to join me? I’ll try to snore entertainingly.”

“Alex, settle down. We need to talk about what we’re going to do today.”

“Oh sure. Settle down. I’d be happy to. Why don’t you tell me exactly how you expect me to do that, Krycek? While you’re on me every damn second poking and prodding and twisting the knife in. For somebody who’s not trying to make me as miserable as possible, you’re doing a damned good job of it.”

Krycek glanced at Mulder. It was easy to read that glance: it said, what are we going to do with this brat? Mulder shrugged. Krycek said, “Maybe we should put him back to bed for a while.”

“Yeah, why don’t you do that? I’m sure I’m being terribly inconvenient. Next time I get kidnapped by aliens, I’ll ask them to drop me in another universe. I’m interfering with your valuable fucking time by existing here, I’m so sorry.”

Krycek put his hand to his forehead and rubbed his brow. “Alex. This is getting a little tedious. What’s the problem?”

“What’s the problem? Well, I got up on the wrong side of the bed, didn’t I? I’ve got a bee in my bonnet. My shorts are in a knot.” He laughed spitefully. “No, that can’t be right. I’m not wearing any.”

And suddenly, that was more than he could bear. He rounded on Krycek, slopping hot coffee onto his hand. He barely felt the scalding liquid burn. “Would it have been too damn much for you to just leave me my underwear? I mean, I know you hated my suit, it was just too uncool to be allowed into your Bosch palace, and taking my clothes away was just another way to keep me helpless and dependent, but did you have to take my underwear, too?”

“I gave you shorts to wear,” Krycek said calmly.

“I don’t like them. I don’t want to wear them. I want my own.” Alex was aware of Mulder staring at him, pink-faced, embarrassed by Alex’s tantrum. And Alex knew he’d be embarrassed too, if he weren’t so damned angry. And he knew that too-tight jeans and the wrong shorts were hardly the worst of his problems, but it was something of a size he could deal with—not like alien abductions and having the alternate universe version of your betrayed lover standing around in front of you. And it was just one more petty indignity that seemed like more than he should have to suffer.

“Then why didn’t you say something?”

“How the hell am I supposed to say anything? You’ve got all the cards, you can do anything you want with me. I suppose you think it’s fun to make me beg for my underwear. Damn it, you undressed me, you know what I was wearing when I came here.”

Mulder stepped forward. “Alex, I don’t think….”

“You stay out of it!” Alex shouted. “I don’t need his damned whore making excuses for him!” The part of his mind that was still rational knew he was way over the line. And the way Mulder flinched from his viciousness was going to make him feel rotten, when he came down from this fit of anger. He didn’t care about that either.

The look on Krycek’s face was very cold. Cold enough to punch a little fear through Alex’s uncontrolled fury. Not enough to stop him, but enough to make him wonder just what was going to happen if he pushed Krycek too far. If. There didn’t seem to be much doubt of that—he wasn’t going to stop until someone made him.

The voice was still cool and controlled, but there was an edge of menace that even had Mulder edging backwards. “Alex, you might want to think about what you’re saying.”

“Why? Because you’ll get mad at me? Because you might decide to, oh I don’t know, keep me here against my will? Tie me up and shoot me full of drugs? Mindfuck me? Use me as a toy in your sick games with your slave?”

“Because you’re a grown man who’s going to get over this little tantrum eventually and have to deal with the consequences of it.”

How did he dare to remain so damned calm and rational? Didn’t he have any normal human reactions at all? Alex wanted to fight. Damned Krycek would never play by the rules. He was supposed to get angry. Slap Alex’s face, beat him, drag him off to the bedroom, spank him, force him to his knees, fuck him. He was supposed to do something besides stand there cold as ice and be utterly reasonable. “What consequences? What the hell is going to happen that’s any worse than what’s already happening?”

“For one thing, I think you’re going to want to apologize to Mulder.”

Alex glanced over at Mulder, a trace of uneasiness slipping through his mask of anger. Krycek was right. There was no excuse for lashing out at Mulder like that. Mulder had done nothing to hurt him—in fact he’d tried to help. Mulder was leaning back against that massive granite counter, eyes narrowed. There was still compassion and concern in his face, but it was clouded with anger and hurt. He should apologize to Mulder.

And then what? Sit down and have his coffee and pretend everything was all right? He dredged up his cocky grin, quite a bit worse for wear. Make me, that grin said.

“What are you going to do about it if I don’t?”

“What do you think I should do?” Still calm. Still rational.

Alex felt like he was going to explode. “Damn it, what’s the matter with you? Are you human at all?”

“I’m asking what you think I should do. Agree that all your troubles are all my fault? Admit that I’m a cruel monster who torments you for the pleasure of it? Apologize for being a version of yourself who’s learned a little self-control?”

Alex clenched his fists and bit his lip, fighting back tears. Again. He was not going to let this man make him cry again, damn it. Even though he was right, all down the line, and making Alex look like a worse fool by the minute. Of course it wasn’t Krycek’s fault that he’d betrayed and abandoned his Mulder. And Krycek hadn’t sent the aliens to abduct him. The kidnapping and interrogation—he’d agreed that was necessary. Alex even understood that Mulder was probably right about Krycek not realizing that he was hurting him. And it was hardly Krycek’s fault he made Alex feel so inadequate.

So Krycek was right and Alex was wrong and he was standing here screaming and insulting everyone for nothing. So why the hell did he hurt so damn much? “No. Hell, I don’t know. Why don’t you just punish me—you know you’re going to.” He stared at the floor. He couldn’t bear to look at either one of them.

“Is that what you want?”


Then Krycek’s hand was on his chin, lifting his head, just as it had that other painful time, and Krycek was standing right in front of him, forcing him to look him in the eye. “How do you think you should be punished?” he asked softly.

Alex desperately tried to slow his breathing. I am not going to cry. He was spinning out of control, and he didn’t know what to do. And his cock was hard in his tight jeans, just from the touch of fingertips on his chin, and clear blue-green eyes holding him immobile. He couldn’t look at Mulder, but he was painfully aware of his presence, and that made it worse. How could he possibly stand here and admit what he wanted? But he wanted it so desperately. Nothing else could give him any peace, except Krycek’s hands on him. He needed to be beaten and fucked and brought under control. Punished like a little boy. And if Krycek wanted him to beg for it, he supposed that was what he’d have to do. “Spank me.”

Krycek’s fingers stroked his cheek, his neck, his collarbone. “Do you really think you deserve to be spanked?”

“I…I don’t understand.” He closed his eyes tightly. God, he was going to make him beg.

“Alex.” The soft voice that spoke directly into his brain. The long, cool fingers that burned like ice. “This is not the way to behave to get what you want.”

Alex was vaguely aware of a tiny mewling sound emerging from his throat. “What do you want me to do?” His own voice was small and thin and desperate.

Krycek stepped back and released him. He felt like a lamp unplugged from its outlet. “Let’s start by apologizing to Mulder.”

He was relieved, really, to do it. Numbly, Alex stepped over to Mulder, forced himself to look Mulder in the eye. “I’m sorry, Mulder. I really am. I didn’t mean it.”

Mulder nodded. He looked like he was going to cry himself. “It’s all right.”

Alex returned to stand in front of Krycek, and waited.

Krycek’s expression was cool and thoughtful. Not hard or cruel, but not gentle either. Considering. Deciding. “Let’s go into the bedroom.” He turned to walk out of the kitchen. “Mulder,” he said as he passed, not bothering to look at him. Not bothering to look at either of them, just assuming they’d follow. And they did, although Mulder looked as though he’d much rather stay out of this one, and Alex wondered how much longer his legs would hold him up.

Just outside the kitchen door, Krycek stopped abruptly, gestured for Alex to stay where he was, and drew Mulder aside—just far enough to form a little private space for them, not far enough to hide their voices from Alex’s hearing. As though he were inanimate, a fixture, not worth moving away from. His stomach churned with shame.

Krycek put a steadying hand on Mulder’s shoulder: it was as if he were calming a nervous thoroughbred. “Mulder, if you’re up to it, I’d like you to stick around for this. Your perspective would probably be useful. But you don’t have to, and if it’s going to make you completely miserable, I don’t even want you to.”

Mulder swallowed uneasily, and glanced at Alex over Krycek’s shoulder. Alex tried to calm his breathing. Jesus, what was Krycek going to do to him that he thought Mulder might not be able to handle it?

Mulder clearly wasn’t happy with either of his choices. But he gave himself a shake, and nodded to Krycek. “No, I’m okay with it.”

“All right.” Without another glance at Alex, he turned and continued to the bedroom.

* * *

With a glance and a gesture, Krycek indicated where he wanted Alex to stand, at the foot of the bed, then he stepped back and folded his arms across his chest. Mulder went to the other corner of the room and sat in an easy chair, one leg drawn up, looking much as Alex supposed he himself had looked the night before when he’d been forced to watch Krycek work on Mulder.

“Get your clothes off, Alex,” Krycek ordered.

Alex obeyed blindly, pulling off his tee-shirt and jeans and dropping them to the floor. There was no attempt to make a show of it, he just shucked out of his clothes and stood there, naked and exposed. His mind was a dull haze of shame and pain.

He couldn’t help from flinching when Krycek stepped towards him, but Krycek didn’t even stop, just walked past him and over to a huge, ornate chest of drawers on the other side of the room. He rummaged around for a bit, coming up with a pair of boxer shorts. Silk, probably, some sort of dark paisley pattern. He brought them back over and handed them to Alex, then returned to where he’d been standing.

“Try those on.”

Alex swallowed. The humiliation cascaded through him, bringing icy shards of pain. Again he had to fight back tears. It was the one bit of control he had left: not to cry. To submit and endure it all, to lap up all the pain and beg for more, but not to cry.

He pulled on the shorts. This is not the way to behave to get what you want. So what was the way? Fighting brought him pain. Submission brought him more pain. Somewhere behind the haze of misery the answer whispered: you haven’t submitted. You’re still fighting. Krycek had, up until now, held back and let him keep that last little bit of defiance. This time it seemed Krycek wanted it all. Beneath the obedience the battle still raged. And Alex knew he was doomed to lose; yet he could not stop fighting.

The boxers fit perfectly. The silk was smooth and soft and soothing on his sore cock. The cool, slithery material caressed his hips and groin and buttocks and further inflamed his already rock-hard erection. And god, it made him want to cry. He did not know where he found the strength to hold in the tears.

“Are those all right?” Krycek asked.

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Okay, take them off.”

So he pulled them off again and dropped them onto the pile with his other clothes. Through the haze of pain, he was aware of small worm of relief crawling through his gut. Finally to have underwear again—despite the circumstances, it was good. And that tiny worm of relief was going to be his undoing.

Krycek nodded. His face hardened, and a dread finality settled over his features. Alex thought rather foolishly of Armageddon.

“All right, Alex.” Krycek’s voice was cool and steady. It was his briefing voice: These are the facts of the matter. No anger, no gentleness. Just information to be dealt with. “Let’s start over. You’ve been through hell the past few days, and you’ve got every right to be stressed out and shaky. You’re in a lot of pain. Some of it’s been my fault, although it was a matter of circumstance, not deliberate cruelty. But I’ve added to your pain without meaning to, by not understanding what you were feeling. I apologize for that.”

A slight edge of harshness crept in. “But you’ve added to your own pain, too, by hiding behind this childish crap and refusing to tell me what’s going on. That’s got to stop.”

His voice softened. “We’ve both got to stop. And it starts now. Tell me about it, Alex. Tell me all of it.”

Alex blinked. His knees wobbled and went out from under him. Just like that, he was in the floor, sitting on his heels, and the tears were streaming down his face. Damn it, he’d sworn he wasn’t going to cry—but the tears just poured from his eyes.

“What is it, Alex?” Krycek asked quietly. His voice was gentle this time, and that was the final damning stroke. Alex broke into a thousand little pieces.

He had to force the words out between choking sobs. “I’m scared. I’m scared of you, I’m scared of the aliens, I’m scared of myself.” His voice was rising to a wail, and he couldn’t stop it. “I’m scared of what’s going to happen when I get home, and I’m scared I’ll never get home. I’m scared to do anything, because everything I do turns into disaster.” Tell him all of it. Go ahead, he’s won, give it up. “And I’m scared this is all happening because I’m stupid and useless and I deserve it.” He was crying so hard his stomach hurt.

“I’m scared, Alex. Please help me.” He was not even aware of calling Krycek by the wrong name. He sank forward into the floor with his head in his arms, sobbing like an abandoned child, with no hope of ever being found again.

But then Krycek was at his side, pulling him up off the floor to sit with him on the end of the bed, holding him tightly, stroking his shoulders and his hair, telling him that he wasn’t stupid and everything was going to be all right and they’d get him home if they could and he knew there was a lot of scary stuff going on, but Alex didn’t have to be afraid of him. And Alex was crying his heart out all over Krycek’s nice shirt—linen, wasn’t it? now all spotted with tears. But Krycek didn’t seem to mind—he was holding Alex’s head, pressing Alex’s face into his shoulder, telling him to go ahead and cry, that it was all right. And if it was all right with Krycek, it was all right with him. All he wanted to do was hold on and cry and listen to the soothing words and feel the strong arms holding him and stroking him and press himself hard against Krycek’s comforting presence. So he cried, and felt the fear gradually flow out of him along with the tears.

Alex had begun to calm down but was still crying when Krycek gently pulled away to take Alex by the shoulders and ease him down across his lap. Alex squirmed himself into position contentedly, not even thinking about what Krycek was going to do, just happy to be lying on his stomach with his cock pressing into Krycek’s thighs and his bottom propped up under Krycek’s hands.

Then Alex felt Krycek’s hand come down hard on his ass.

He almost laughed from the joy of it. His tears dried up, and the sweet pain filled him with peace. Krycek spanked him with sharp, even strokes; hard and steady and satisfying. Alex felt his buttocks inflame, the warmth spreading from his bottom to his groin to his belly, soothing away all the other, unwanted pain. Krycek had made it what it was: comfort and care and reward, not punishment.

When Krycek finally finished and pulled him up, he threw himself into Krycek’s arms, laughing. He wanted to say “Thank you,” but his throat was still raw and thick, and he couldn’t quite get the words out. So he found Krycek’s mouth with his own, and told him with deep, wet, heart-stopping kisses. They fell over onto the bed in each other’s arms, laughing and kissing and struggling to push themselves up onto the bed. Alex rolled over onto his back and pulled Krycek on top of him, wrapping his legs around him and kissing him furiously.

Krycek tried to pull away, but Alex clung to him tightly. “Alex.” Alex interrupted him with another kiss. Krycek took him by the shoulders and pushed him down, laughing. “Damn it, Alex, let me get my clothes off.” Alex let him go, then, and rolled over onto his stomach while Krycek undressed. He buried his face in the pillow and sighed. Everything would be all right now.

Then Krycek slid on top of him, his weight a comforting presence. He seemed to know that nothing fancy was required this time, and made the act simple and basic. Alex felt the cool, slick lube between his burning buttocks, two fingers inside stretching him, then the heart-pounding pleasure of being fucked just the way he liked it, deep and hard and shiveringly good. He was too wrung-out to last very long, but that was good too—a single series of decisive thrusts brought him to a delicious peak, and cast him soundly over. He reveled in the sweet throbbing in his ass as his cock pumped into the mattress, and then Krycek groaned into his ear and abandoned himself to his own pleasure. When it was over, and Krycek had slid free, he curled up and sighed contentedly, only vaguely aware of Krycek getting up and leaning over him, mind already drifting toward sleep.

“Alex,” Krycek murmured into his ear.

“I’m tired,” he mumbled. “Let me sleep.”

“All right.”

The last thing he remembered before he slipped into cool darkness was Krycek’s mouth placing a gentle kiss on his temple.

* * *

Krycek closed the bedroom door softly behind him. He looked at Mulder. Then he closed his eyes and sagged melodramatically into the doorframe.

Mulder was silent, watching him. Krycek straightened slowly. “You’re the witness,” he said, and opened his eyes. “I admit it. My mother was right.”

“Your mother?”

” ‘Oh, yes, I had a mother,’ ” Krycek said. The grin was back. ” ‘Wonderful woman. Totally evil. “Babe,” she said—she called me “Babe”—’ ” His voice was abruptly his own again ” ‘You do too want to have a jacuzzi,’ she told me. ‘You just don’t know that yet.’ Well, she was right. I want it.” He strode purposefully in the direction of the big bathroom, then changed direction abruptly. “And I want breakfast with it. Care to join me? Not that I expect to be good for anything interesting.”

It was an invitation, not a summons. “Sure,” Mulder said, following him. This was the first time he’d seen Krycek acknowledge that he had the jacuzzi. Mulder loved it, and spent hours in it when he visited, but he’d had to find it for himself: it hadn’t even occurred to Krycek to tell him it was there. He was tenser than he was admitting, then. It could be hard to tell with Krycek, even when you knew him well. He watched Krycek collect parts of their abandoned breakfast—coffee, bread and butter, cheese—and pile everything onto a couple of plates. Mulder picked the plates up, but Krycek was looking at them, eyes narrowed, as though they were a situation map, or a set of new weapons he wasn’t sure he liked. “What?” Mulder asked.

“According to Tacitus,” Krycek said, “the Germanic tribes were accustomed to debate important policy questions twice before they made a decision. Once when sober, so that their counsels would not lack reason. And once when drunk, that their counsels might not lack imagination.” He sounded like he was talking as much to himself as to Mulder. He turned back to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of champagne. He tucked it under one arm and took glasses for it down from a cabinet: two, and then, after an instant, a third. “It always sounded like a good idea to me.”

* * *

Definitely tense. Twenty minutes later, he was watching Krycek lie back in bubbling water, his shoulders just breaking the surface, his head thrown back to rest on the curved rim of the pool. Krycek’s body had relaxed, but the tension still lingered somewhere beneath the surface. Mulder could feel it, even though there was nothing to show it in the closed eyes, the steady even breath, the loose muscles, the fingers resting lightly on the champagne glass at the side of the tub. “Okay,” Krycek said, without opening his eyes. “Business. Thanks for riding along on that last little adventure. I’m not sure I know what happened. Did that look like catharsis to you? Or am I going to have the same damned thing to deal with all over again when he wakes up?”

Mulder considered it. “Neither, that’s my guess. Something in the middle. He’s scared to death, and he’s been thrown into a situation that he can’t control. You have to expect some of that to come through.”

Krycek nodded once. His eyes were still closed. “I guess that’s right. God knows he’s entitled to be scared. I would be.”

He could hear the unspoken “but” at the end of the sentence. “But you’d handle it differently. I know. You’d use all the fear to fuel your concentration on the immediate problem. I’ve seen you do it. You’d find a way to be in control of something. You’d be collecting information and making plans and cracking grisly jokes, and everyone around you would either fall in love with you or try to kill you. That’s the way you deal with fear. But Alex, this guy isn’t you.”

“Yeah. I’m working on that one.” The eyes finally opened, and Krycek turned a little to look at him. “It’s hard, though. It’s weird how hard it is. It feels like he’s me. I’m not sure I can explain it—it’s almost physical.” He was quiet for a moment. “He feels that too, I’m pretty sure. It was practically the first thing he said to me when we met up.”

Krycek hadn’t said much about that initial meeting last night. Mulder supposed there hadn’t been time. And the truth was that he hadn’t been prepared last night to listen. “You said you ran into each other at Ikura?” he said.

“Right.” Mulder could see him call up the memory. “I was supposed to be meeting a friend for dinner. I had one of those little screened-off rooms—just pure good luck, I hadn’t asked for it when I made the reservation. I got there early, and that was good luck too. I’d been there about ten minutes when this other guy gets shown in, and it’s me, only it’s me dressed for my FBI gig of late lamented memory.

“It’s obvious what happened, when I look back at it. Alex must have walked in, and somebody who hadn’t seen me arrive was up front, and whoever it was asked his name, found it on the reservations list, and showed him to my table. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that then. When I looked at him, Mulder, for a second or two I honestly thought I was seeing some kind of apparition. It didn’t even occur to me that he might be some stranger who looked a lot like me. In fact—” Krycek shook his head. “I told him so. Without even stopping to think about it. I told him that he was an X-File and that he had the wrong damned person, it was clearly you he wanted.”

Mulder choked on a mouthful of champagne. “What did he say?”

“He said—” The eyes closed as Krycek hunted for the exact words. ” ‘Of course I do. So do you. What’s the difference? It’s just masturbation, anyway.’ ”

Mulder began to laugh helplessly. “All right,” he said finally. “I’m beginning to understand how this situation got to where it is. Then what happened?”

“Then I came back to my senses and realized that this guy who I thought was me was breathing, which meant he wasn’t an apparition, which meant I had to deal with it. And that I was goddamned lucky to have those paper walls, but that I was still going to have to be quiet and fast if I wanted to get out of there safely. You know the rest of it. He was still pretty disoriented, and I managed to knock him out and get him out of there. But my point was, that crack about masturbation. He didn’t see a guy who looked a lot like him, any more than I did. He saw himself.”

“Yeah. You’re right, he’s doing the same thing you are,” Mulder said. He had managed to stop giggling. “He said something about it last night. He can’t see you clearly, any more than you can see him.”

“Well. Just have to try harder.” Krycek reached for a control, and the pattern of bubbles changed around him. “Mulder. Are you okay about him?”

He’d been trying not to think about that. But he’d also known it was unavoidable: the only question had been when Krycek was going to ask. He made himself think about it now. Alex’s attack had hurt, and there had been nothing pleasurable about that pain. But the memory was not unpleasant. He shivered a little, tasting it. Yes: somewhere in the past hour or two it had been absorbed into whatever this thing was that he did with Krycek. A bit more time and it would be a little private pleasure, something to take out and play with when he was back in D.C., and Krycek was far away. He was going to have to deal with how easily that had happened, eventually.

But that wasn’t Alex’s fault. “It’s all right,” he told Krycek. “He didn’t mean it the way it came out, I know that.” He sighed. “Hell, you heard him last night. He’s just an old-fashioned leather boy. He probably thinks I hear that stuff every day of the week.”

“It’d get old, Mulder.” Damn. He hadn’t meant for Krycek to hear that trace of desire in his voice. Krycek had always been able to read him too well, though; and wasn’t that, after all, what he was doing here?

“So you tell me.”

“And what I tell you three times is true.” Krycek stretched like a cat in the water, and his eyes fell half-shut. “Of course, you are on vacation this weekend, in a manner of speaking.” His tone was lazy, contemplative. Mulder felt sudden heat at his groin. Then Krycek straightened and the moment was gone. “But that’s a question for later. I’m still worried about those damned implants.”

Mulder had been worrying about them himself. “Yeah. If he’s got them, it could be a real pain getting them removed. I’m assuming you still don’t want to bring the Shop in on this. It’s going to be hard to explain to a civilian doctor.”

“Hard to explain to any doctor. The one Dana came back with was easy, she told me. It was just under the skin at the back of her neck, they could pop it right out. If Alex has something like that, I can find somebody to do it, or Dana could do it herself. But if it’s a sinus implant—I’m not a doctor, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to remove a piece of metal from a sinus. I’ll check with her, but we might need real medical facilities for that.”

“I don’t know. The ones we found in the Oregon cases were pretty small, you might be able to get them out without surgery.” He knew where this was going, and he didn’t like it. If they needed a surgeon and good medical facilities to remove an implant, and they needed to be sure the procedure wasn’t reported to anyone who might take an undue interest in it, it would probably mean using Mulder’s own contacts to locate a doctor they could trust. Krycek would be realistic about Mulder’s need to protect his contacts’ identities, but Krycek was also too damn close for him to feel secure about the prospect. “But aren’t we borrowing trouble? First thing is to find out whether he’s even carrying implants.”

“I agree.” Krycek’s glass was empty. He held it out toward Mulder, and Mulder found the bottle and refilled it. “Dana told me she found out she had one when she went through a metal detector. The courts’ll be closed today, but I thought we could walk him through the one at police headquarters.

“Hell, I don’t mean we, I mean you. If you don’t mind doing it.”

“No, I don’t mind. You’re right, you shouldn’t go. Twins are conspicuous, people remember them.”

“Exactly. Besides, maybe he’ll be more comfortable with you. And that’s another thing. Poor bastard’s right, he should at least have his own damned clothes to wear. I’ll get some cash out, if you guys want to stop somewhere and do some basic outfitting.”


“And Christ, I suppose he should have a chance to pick up some food if he wants. God only knows what he normally eats. Or how long he’s going to be stuck here. Jesus, I feel like my mother.”

“Your mother is a wonderful woman,” Mulder reminded him, grinning. Then he felt the grin fade. “Krycek. If he decides to take off, the odds are pretty good I won’t be able to stop him. You’ve considered that, haven’t you?”

Krycek’s eyes closed again for just an instant. “Yeah, I’ve considered it,” he said. “But I can’t keep him here against his will forever. I wouldn’t want to. He’s going to have to decide at some point whether he’s going to trust us and work with us, or whether he likes the odds better on his own. If he runs, and he tries using my identity, I’m going to have to let the Shop in: I won’t have a choice. I don’t see any better alternative than to give him the facts and let him make his decision. Do you?”

He wanted a better alternative: that was obvious. “No,” Mulder said. “If I come up with something I’ll tell you.” He came around the pool, careful not to step on the breakfast dishes, and settled down behind Krycek, reaching for his shoulders. The muscles were hard under his hands. “He’s completely wrong,” he said. “You really care about what happens to him.”

It wasn’t a question. That was deliberate: it made it easier for Krycek to ignore it if he wanted. But Krycek answered it anyway. He shook his head, very slightly, careful not to interfere with Mulder’s hands. “It’s a bad place, where he is. Even in his own world. I’ve been there, I know.” His voice changed a little. ” ‘I have beheld it, in moonlight and in the barren glare of day, in fair weather and in hail and snow, with the great winds charging over the wastes.’ ” Mulder’s hands moved steadily on Krycek’s shoulders while he listened. ” ‘And I knew it was accursed. From Morna Moruna, ere I was born or thou, O Corund, or any of us, treason and cruelty blacker than night herself had birth, and brought death to their begetter and all his folk….’ ” Krycek was silent.

The words created a little space around themselves. “That’s nice,” Mulder said at last. “What is it?”

“The Worm Ouroborous. Apropos, isn’t it? I’d give Cancerman a copy, if I thought he could read it.” Krycek’s voice was normal again. “Alex was—is—in an impossible situation. He did what he could with it. I’d rather it didn’t get as rotten for him as it could.”

He found himself thinking back to his conversation with Alex only a few hours ago. “He made his own choices,” he said softly. “He could have told his Mulder the truth.”

“Mulder.” Krycek’s voice was gentle. He put his hands over Mulder’s, then twisted around to look him in the face. “You don’t see yourself clearly either. You have no idea what you’re like on the trail of one of your obsessions. Your anger, your paranoia—they’re not interesting personality tics. They’re front and center, and anybody in his right mind would be afraid of them. If his Mulder is anything like you, I promise you Alex couldn’t have known it would be all right to tell him the truth. If things had been that way between us, I’m not sure I would have thought I could tell you.”

His hands had closed on Krycek’s. He took a long breath and made them relax again. He did not want to know this, but he supposed it was better faced up to than not. “It’s really that bad?”

“It’s gotten better.” Krycek was still serious, but the voice was lighter, easy and casual. “That’s why Scully sends you up here.”

“Scully sends—Oh. Oh, shit.” It was true, dammit. He’d almost caught her at it a few months ago, walked into the basement office, in a foul mood after a meeting with Skinner, to find her on the phone with Krycek. She’d passed it off with some excuse, but hadn’t Krycek called that afternoon, pulled rank and gotten him up to New York on something that turned out to be a false alarm…. He began to laugh. “Okay,” he said; and it was okay. “I’m angry, I’m paranoid, and I’m also a moron. Any other little shortcomings you’d like to bring to my attention?”

There was a rustle at the door. “Alex,” Krycek said. “C’mon in.”

Mulder turned. Alex was leaning against the door frame, looking considerably better. He turned pink as Mulder watched. “Look, I don’t want to interrupt anything—” he began.

“You’re not. Working breakfast,” Mulder said. If he’d had any anger at Alex left, it seemed to be gone. He reached around and came up with the third champagne glass. “See, we expected you. Come on, you must be starving.”

* * *

Alex took a deep breath and stepped into the room. Okay, he’d just thrown a major fit. But if there was ever a justifiable excuse for throwing a fit, he’d had it. And he’d needed that release, badly. He felt so much better now, he almost didn’t mind all the stupid things he’d said and done.

Almost. There was one thing, at least, that still needed reparation. He went over to where Mulder sat behind Krycek, rubbing his lover’s shoulders, and knelt at his side.

“Mulder. I just want you to know, I really am sorry about what I said.”

Mulder smiled faintly. “It’s all right. You already apologized.”

“Yeah, well. Under the circumstances, you might have thought I had other reasons to apologize. But I wasn’t just saying it because he told me to. I really meant it, and I still mean it. It was a rotten thing to say, and I’m sorry.”

Mulder nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”

Alex was almost glad that Krycek’s back was to him, so he didn’t have to face him while he did this—even though he knew that Krycek couldn’t be other than pleased with Alex’s apology. This was between him and Mulder—he didn’t need Krycek’s approval. Well, of course that wasn’t true. He needed it desperately, would be embarrassingly pleased by it. Which was another reason not to go looking for it. It was time to stop trying to play Krycek’s sex toy, and start acting like an adult. Most of the time, anyway—he was still hoping Krycek might decide to use some of those toys on him. And they still hadn’t managed a real three-way; it had just been one guy watching while the other two did it. But all that could wait. First item on the day’s agenda would be finding out about those damned implants. He was already sure he had them. His sinuses still hadn’t stopped burning.

He moved away from Mulder and picked at the plate of food sitting there. It was still too early for cheese, but he tore off a piece of bread and accepted a glass of champagne from Mulder—which was going to go right to his head and was probably a mistake, but it seemed uncharitable to turn it down.

Finally he let himself look at Krycek. His other self was gazing at him inscrutably. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” He left it open just exactly what he was thanking Krycek for. It was always a bit awkward to thank someone for beating you, at least after you came out of the scene, and especially strange when a lot of it had been real and not at all pleasant at the time. But he had needed it, and he did thank Krycek for it.

A brief nod; also inscrutable. “Join us, if you like.”

Alex was very tempted. The water looked soothing, and he still could use some relaxing. But he needed to keep his mind on the business of the day, not on the sensual caress of hot water over naked skin. “No, thanks.”

Another nod. “All right. We were just talking about getting you checked for implants. We thought Mulder could take you through the metal detector at police headquarters.”

Alex nodded. “Sounds good.” He rubbed his nose. “My sinuses are driving me crazy.” Half an hour of unrestrained sobbing hadn’t helped much, either. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton wool.

Then the impact of what Krycek was saying hit him. He grinned. “You’re letting me out of the apartment? Is Mulder going to keep me on a leash?”

Krycek grinned back. “That might be a little conspicuous, don’t you think? I’m sending you to police headquarters, not a leather bar.” Then he sobered. “Okay, Alex, here’s the deal. I’m not interested in keeping you prisoner here indefinitely. I think it’s time we started trusting each other. That doesn’t mean I’m going to turn a blind eye if you decide to take off and start stirring up trouble, but I’m going to assume that you know that wouldn’t be a good idea. You’re intelligent enough to know that your chances of getting home are better here with me and Mulder than on your own.”

Alex felt slightly dizzy. He put his champagne glass down and took a couple of deep breaths. Just like that, he was handed his freedom and trusted to make the intelligent decision. And what had he done over the past few days to make himself seem intelligent or trustworthy?

Well. He’d just have to try to live up to it, that’s all. “I’ll stay. I’ve known all along that I’d stay, even if I had the choice to leave. But it’s nice to have the choice.”

His eyes stung. Something tickled at the back of his nose. Then trickled out onto his upper lip. His fingers came away covered in blood.

“Oh, shit.” And it was all he could do not to go right back into screaming terror.

Then a hand was on his arm, and Mulder was pressing a washcloth over his face. He took it and held it to his nose, breathing deeply through his mouth. Mulder stroked the back of his neck while he brought himself under control.

Alex nodded to Mulder to show him that he was all right. He tried to smile at Krycek—probably a wasted exercise with a cloth over his face, but Krycek’s grip on his champagne glass seemed to loosen ever-so-slightly. He forced a shaky laugh.

“Well. I guess it’s time we found out what I’ve got in my head besides straw.”

There seemed to be general agreement all around.

* * *

You would have had to work to be conspicuous at One Police Plaza. Even on a Saturday, New York’s police headquarters was jammed with people, civilians and cops alike, looking for everything from interagency information to handgun licenses. And this was New York, not D.C.: in today’s crowd were two guys in gaudy pinstripes and gold chains, a six-foot Asian transvestite, and a gang of four teenage girls who seemed, to Mulder’s appreciative eye, to be wearing nothing but eyeliner and lace. Alex was invisible by comparison.

Inside the doors was a security checkpoint for civilians, complete with airport-style metal detector and X-ray luggage inspector. Mulder flashed his ID at the two uniformed cops running the checkpoint, and they waved him around the gate. Then Alex stepped through the gate, and the alarm went off. Alex rolled his eyes and smiled slightly, a nicely-calibrated display of exasperated resignation. He stripped off Krycek’s jacket and tossed it on the luggage conveyor, just as if this happened to him every time he went through a security checkpoint, and stepped forward again, obviously waiting for the screech of the alarm.

Sure enough, it went off again. “Shrapnel,” Alex told the cops. He sounded calm and pleasant. “Happens every blasted time. You can pick it right up with the wand.” He brought his fingers up to his face, just under his right eye. “Try it right there.”

The cop with the wand gave him a sympathetic shrug. “That’s a bitch, man,” he said. He brought the wand up to Alex’s face, and it dutifully squawked. “Some memories just stay with you, huh? Gulf war?”

“Somalia,” Alex told him. “No difference, I guess. Same old, same old. You know the deal.”

There it was, Mulder thought, that eerie similarity again. This effortless slip into a new identity, a new version of himself: this was what his Krycek did. His Krycek might easily have used the same words, the same tone. He reached over to snag Krycek’s jacket from the conveyor, catching a glimpse of the X-ray screen as he did it. A briefcase was coming through the scanner now. The screen clearly showed the outline of a large-caliber semiautomatic handgun in the case. He looked over to identify the case’s owner, now walking through the metal detector: a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, dressed like an investment banker. The cop running the scanner didn’t give her a second glance when she reached over to pick up her briefcase. God, this could be a weird town sometimes.

“Man, I hear that,” the other cop was telling Alex. Time to put a stop to this, before Alex got them invited home to meet the wife and kids. “Let’s do it,” he told Alex, and led him off into the building, on their way to their imaginary meeting.

* * *

Police Plaza’s broad expanse of brick and concrete was comparatively empty. Alex paused at one of the benches, then sank into it. He leaned back, looking up into clear sky. “Okay,” he said finally. “I guess I knew that. Now what?”

Mulder sat down next to him. “I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to get them removed. I’ll have to make some calls when we get back. So I guess now we get you some clothes. Where do you want to go?”

Alex shook his head. “Shit, Mulder, I don’t know. I don’t care. I just need basic stuff, let’s not make a big production out of it.” He stopped and shook his head again. “Sorry. Let’s—damn, I don’t know where to buy stuff in New York. Pick a place, I’ll trust you.”

“You still haven’t learned the team motto? ‘Trust no one’?”

Alex gave him a strained grin. “I’m a slow learner on some things. Hey, I’ll even trust you to pick the stuff out for me.”

Mulder could feel himself beginning to grin. “Well, if you don’t mind being my little Alex Krycek doll….” The thought had a sudden crazy appeal. Hadn’t he told Scully, all those months ago when he first met his own Krycek, that the kid could use a little fashion advice? Finally, he was getting his chance.

Alex buried his head in his hands and began to giggle. It was a charming giggle, throaty and somehow intimate. “Ah, hell, Mulder,” he managed. “Alternate universes, abductions by aliens, implants, group sex… shopping… why not? Sure, I’d love to be your little Alex Krycek doll. Where to? Can we walk there? I could use it.”

“Yeah, we can walk,” Mulder told him, rising from the bench. He knew just where they were going to start, too. “Come on.”

* * *

They took what Mulder thought of as the scenic route, past City Hall and the court buildings, cutting west at Canal, and then heading north through SoHo’s gallery district. It was a perfect day for walking, chilly and bright: the sunlight and the hard blue of the sky made the idea of aliens and implants seem ridiculous, even trivial. Mulder could feel it working on Alex. The muscles in his face had relaxed, and his stride had loosened, lengthened. It was not his Krycek’s walk. Alex’s presence was all his own; even with the same body, even silent, Mulder could not have mistaken the man at his side for his doppelganger. And yet, his presence was familiar, comfortable, like a longtime partner or an old friend.

At West 10th, something in a window caught Alex’s eye. Mulder stopped for a moment, following Alex’s glance, and grinned: there in the window was a selection of fur-trimmed leather whips, arranged on lucite pedestals as though they were sculptures in a fashionable gallery.

Alex saw him looking and grinned back. “Probably not as good as they look,” he told him. “No serious whipmaker would tart his pieces up like that.”

It was an opening, and Mulder grabbed it. “Your Mulder,” he said. “Does he—?”

“No,” Alex said. “No experience, lots of enthusiasm: that’s my Mulder. I was just wondering, though. Whether he might like it, if I showed him. If I ever get a chance to show him, that is.”

He sounded like he was comfortable talking about it. At least, he sounded more comfortable than he’d been last night. “No experience?” Mulder asked. That seemed odd. He’d assumed that the other Mulder must have had a lot more experience with men than he’d had himself, before Krycek. At least enough experience to be aware of his attraction to men, and to be willing to act on it. “But he was the one who started it, right?”

They were walking north again. “It was the last goddamned thing I expected,” Alex said. “All the files said he was straight. He felt straight, even when he was keeping me around the office at night and calling me up at weird hours of the night. He probably was straight, for god’s sake. Because yeah, when he got me into bed it was obvious that he didn’t know what he was doing. I still don’t really understand it.”

“But he was comfortable enough to put the moves on you anyway.”

“Hell, he threw himself at me. I knew that it was just about Scully, had to be. Because he was straight, right? So I told him, look, it can’t happen again. But he just wouldn’t let it go.”

“But he told you it wasn’t just Scully, didn’t he?”

“Well, of course. What’s he going to say, Mulder? ‘Gee, you’re right, you were the only warm body I thought I could fuck on short notice, I was thinking of her the whole time’?”

Mulder laughed. “Okay, you’ve got a point. But he didn’t give up.”

“No. That was what got to be sort of convincing.” The voice was still light, but something in the tone had changed: Alex had said everything he was going to say about his Mulder, at least for now. Mulder nodded, and they walked the next few blocks in silence.

It was easy to picture. Some of that was his own relationship with his Krycek, of course; without that, he might not have been able to imagine a version of himself who would be attracted to a man, who would take it sufficiently for granted to act on it. A clean, normal attraction, something not constructed out of hatred and an unfed need for pain….

Distracted by the image, he almost walked past the store he was looking for. He spotted it with his peripheral vision at the last minute and stopped abruptly, pulling Alex to a halt in front of the window. “Shoes,” he said.


“Shoes. You don’t want to be stuck walking around in dress shoes for the rest of your visit.” So now it was a visit, at least in his own mind.

Alex was frowning at the store window, as though the shoes on display there might jump through the glass and hit him in the face. “What?” Mulder said.

“Jeez, Mulder. I don’t need shoes. Or maybe I could get a pair of Doc Martens or something. I mean, look at these prices.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said happily. He was surprised at how much fun this was turning out to be. Alex had a point about the prices—or he would if it weren’t all coming out of Krycek’s money. As it was— “So what?” he said. “They’re Mephistos, you’ll like them. They’re your evil twin’s favorites.”

Alex groaned. “My evil twin’s money, too. I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” Mulder said, steering Alex firmly toward the door. “He can afford it, he makes a lot of money. And anyway, what else has he got to spend it on? The Shop buys him all the weapons he wants, and he already has a stereo.”

Alex had started to giggle again, that intoxicating, charming giggle. He’d won this round. “Blame it on me,” Mulder said, and shoved Alex through the door.

* * *

Ten minutes and three hundred and fifty dollars later, they were back on the street. Alex was wearing the new shoes, chunky black boots that somehow managed to look every bit as expensive as they were. Alex looked better, too: good shoes always did that, somehow. “Where to now?” Alex asked. He sounded a little lightheaded: watching Mulder pay the cashier had been visibly hard on his nerves.

Mulder was beginning to feel giddy himself. This, he reflected, was undoubtedly the feeling that made rich men buy furs and diamonds for their wives and mistresses, this heady, buoyant rush. Alex’s confusion and faint embarrassment only made it better. “Ah, hell,” he said, surrendering to it. “Barney’s. We can get you a haircut there, too. You look like a refugee from a Seattle garage band.”

“Fuck you, Mulder,” Alex said happily; and allowed himself to be led north, toward Chelsea.

* * *

It took just over two hours, and by the time he was satisfied with Alex’s purchases, Mulder had decided that they needed lunch, or at least coffee. At La Fiorentina, a waiter took a single long look at them and gave them a table in the window, where they could watch the traffic on Sixth Avenue. And of course, Mulder reflected, where they could be watched back. His Alex Krycek doll had dressed up nicely indeed: the new short haircut, with the spikes of dark hair falling onto his forehead, emphasized the delicate winging eyebrows and big catlike eyes, and the steel-grey shirt and Krycek’s black jacket set off the striking pale skin. In this city and neighborhood of beautiful human beings, Alex was still worth a second or third look. Mulder could feel the attention, from people at other tables, from passers-by on the street, from their waiter, palpable as a touch.

It was not an altogether comfortable feeling. He was grateful for the cafe’s fashion-victim decoration: the mismatched collection of old wing chairs at least gave you the option of some privacy. Mulder settled back into his chair, letting the high back and wings shield him from the room.

Alex noticed it. “Something wrong?” he said.

“No. I’m just not real used to being looked at.”

“Aren’t you?” Alex was grinning a little.

“No.” Alex just looked at him. “That is, okay, people look at him too. But not for long.”

Alex looked thoughtful. “No, they wouldn’t,” he said finally. “He looks too scary. It’s the way he carries himself.” He shrugged, dismissing it. “So come on, Mulder. It’s your turn. How’d it happen, between you guys?”

“Christ, he was a complete bastard.” Mulder took another rapid glance around the room. The place was crowded, but the acoustics were good: no one was seated too close to them, and the general noise would be enough to screen the conversation. It was all right, he could talk about it here. He paused, searching for a way to tell it. Alex was silent, waiting for him.

“After the Duane Barry thing went down, he disappeared,” he said at last. “The Bureau was looking for him—I’d gone to Skinner and laid it out, I knew he had to have been the killer—but by then I thought I knew the score. The people he was working for had what they wanted, and he was never going to be found, or made to account for any of it. So after they brought Scully back I just tried not to think about it too much, and that was that.” He stopped and looked at Alex, suddenly concerned about bringing Duane Barry up again. Alex nodded, sober but apparently undistressed.

“A few months later, though, I get this panicky call from the Lone Gunmen. One of their contacts has hacked into the computer system at DOD and downloaded a top-secret file, and now the hacker’s got this team of hit men on his trail. He wants to give me, and only me, the data tape, because it’s supposed to have everything our government knows about extraterrestrials. I was pretty skeptical, but I went to the meet and picked up the tape. And sure enough, the poor son of a bitch is right. Twenty-four hours later he was dead, and Scully and I were trying to find somebody who could decode the file.

“The computer break-in was enough to get the wrong people’s attention, even without us running around trying to read the file. Cancerman was after us, fast. And somewhere along the line my father found out I had the tape.” He stopped again and took a long breath.

“Your father?” Alex said. “I thought—my Mulder’s father was State Department, before he retired. What did he have to do with it?”

“Too much.” Even now, when he thought he was used to the bitter facts, it was hard to talk about. He could hear it in his own voice, a kind of cold weariness. “He’d been involved in all of it, from the beginning. The government’s involvement with extraterrestrials, the experiments, the coverup—he knew about all of it. He knew what had happened to Samantha. He’d let it happen. He’d been lying to me about it. All my damned life—

“Christ, Mulder.” Alex’s voice was hushed.

“Yeah.” He swallowed hard, and forced himself to go on. “Well. He called me, told me to come up to the Vineyard, he needed to talk to me. When I got there, he started to tell me—I don’t know, some version of the story. I’ll never know what it would have been, or whether any of it would have been the truth.” He paused for a moment, looking at the man seated across from him, holding his coffee cup in both hands, peering over it intently. Alex was in much better shape than he had been that morning, there was no doubt of that. But he still had a hollow look around his eyes, and strain at the corners of his mouth. It wasn’t so many hours ago he’d been screaming hysterically on the floor. Perhaps this next part was more than Alex really needed to hear. He continued, “Because Cancerman had called in an assassin. My father only got a few sentences of it out before he was shot.

“It was set up to look like I’d killed him. I managed to get to Scully’s, and spent the night there, but the next night, when I went back to my apartment, I found Krycek sneaking around. That’s when we had that confrontation we talked about the other night. God, I wanted him dead…. Anyway, stuff happened. We lost the tape, Krycek vanished again. Only this time I didn’t stop thinking about him.

“Then about six months later, I’m pushing for authority to investigate this series of strange deaths out in Idaho. Lo and behold, word comes down from on high, I can have it, provided I coordinate my work with a guy from a top-secret agency who’s got an operation of his own out there. Surprise surprise, the guy is Krycek. And he’s fucking untouchable, there’s been some kind of high-level deal over it, I’ve got people, people I believe, warning me that he’d better not even stub his toe during this gig. So now we’re on the same team, and I have to work with him.”

Their waiter was on his way back with their lunch. Mulder welcomed the break: telling this story was turning out to be a grueling piece of work. He waited until the plates were on the table, and until their waiter had come back twice, once to offer pepper and once for the inescapable question about whether everything was all right, before he took up the story again.

“So there we were, out in the backwoods of Idaho. And he was behaving like everything that had happened before—Duane Barry, Scully, my father, everything—had been like some fucking tennis match, or like a corporate takeover. Like, all that was just business, why should we have any inconvenient feelings about it?” It was still painful, but the food and caffeine seemed to be making it marginally easier to talk about. “I couldn’t do it. Didn’t want to. I could work with him, yeah, if I had to, but I wasn’t going to pretend it had all just been a game. He got on my nerves, I suppose I got on his. I certainly gave it my best try. He did a pretty good job of ignoring it, though. Until—something happened, and there was no one around to get between us and chill things out, and I lost my temper and took a punch at him.”

Alex gave him a tight grin. Mulder could see him imagining the scene, picturing Krycek’s reaction. “Bet that went over real well.”

“You’d bet right. That was when I found out that I had been getting to him after all. Because he wrestled me down, and when he had me pinned—” His breath caught for an instant, and he had to swallow again before he could go on. “He kissed me. He choked me while he did it, and he did something with the wrestling hold to make it hurt. Everything at once, in a neat little package: his body, and his power over me, and that tang of pain. My reaction must have been pretty obvious. He made it last long enough so that I couldn’t lie to myself later about what had happened—how good it had been, how I’d responded to him.

“Then he laughed at me and walked away.

“It didn’t make the work go away, of course. There was still the case, people were still dying, he still had whatever his job was to get done. We went on working, and I waited…. And after a while, I knew. He’d meant it when he walked away. He was never going to touch me again unless I went to him and asked for it. Maybe not even then.”

“And you did.” Alex’s voice was carefully even, but Mulder thought he could read what lay just under that surface: fear and sympathy, mingled with grudging excitement.

“I did. It took a week. I probably wouldn’t have lasted that long, but we’d been staying in different places. The first night under the same roof, I couldn’t stand it any more. So I asked. And he didn’t laugh and turn me down, which was what I’d really half expected.”

“He said—All your experience had been with women?”

“Yeah. My first time with a man.” Mulder’s eyes closed with the force of the memory. “You know what he’s like. That was when I found out about my father.” He opened his eyes. Alex was staring at him, and now that heady mix of excitement and fear was plain on his face. “Christ, it was so good—” He forced himself to stop and take a deep breath.

When he spoke again, he made his tone deliberately light. “And here we are.”

Alex grinned at him, accepting the change in tone. “Just like that,” he said, teasing.

“Well. Close enough,” Mulder said, grinning back.

Alex nodded, as though to himself. He looked at Mulder, and his face was abruptly sober again. “You don’t hate him?” His voice was sober and careful: of course, this would be important to him.

“No,” Mulder told him. “Not anymore.” It was a question he’d had to think about, and he knew the answer. “It’s a funny thing. I was the one who was searching for the truth, but in a way, he’s the one who taught me honesty. And the truth—It’s not his fault that my father turned out to be one of the guys I was trying to find, trying to call to account for what had happened to Samantha. Blaming him doesn’t turn my father back into an innocent victim. Maybe sometimes I wish it did, maybe I’d go ahead and hate him for the rest of my life if it would buy me that. But the truth is what it is.”

Alex took a long breath. “Yeah. Mulder—” Alex shook his head. “Thank you. I needed to hear that.”

“It’s okay,” Mulder said. He smiled so that Alex would know it was true. “But storytime’s over now, okay? We should be getting back.” Alex nodded, and Mulder turned to signal the waiter for the check.

* * *

Alex took a deep breath and tried not to bounce on his heels. In the elevator headed back up to Krycek’s apartment, he was feeling strangely impatient. As if Krycek were a new boyfriend he couldn’t bear to be away from for more than five minutes. It had been a wonderful day—relaxed and cozy and fun—but all through the outing, there had been sudden moments when panic hit, and he felt the urge to turn and run immediately back to the apartment and throw himself into Krycek’s arms. Where did that come from? Sure, he was still shaky, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Krycek had, intentionally or not, run such a thorough mindgame on him that he was hopelessly dependent on his Evil Twin. Sure, it was a bit scary and disorienting to be out in an alternate universe, which was superficially identical to his own, but in which strange little oddities kept popping up on nearly every corner, so that he never quite knew where he was. But Mulder had been with him—shouldn’t he have felt safe enough with Mulder? Shouldn’t he have been relieved to get away from Krycek’s unnerving analytical gaze for a little while? Instead, he couldn’t wait to get back.

My brain is thoroughly scrambled, he thought sadly. But he was feeling better today. He’d enjoyed spending the day with Mulder. It was almost as good as being with his own Mulder—but that was a road he didn’t want to go down. He was beginning to get a real sense of this Mulder as a separate individual, and that was good. He’d been allowed out of the apartment and trusted to act on his own. He was certainly in better shape than he had been yesterday or the day before, despite the episode that morning. Or because of it, to be honest. Sure, he was still terribly embarrassed about his tantrum, but he’d needed it—just to let go of all the fear and pain and have a good cry. There was still a lot to deal with, but he felt much better able to do that now. Things were slowly settling into some sort of normalcy. He was getting his feet under himself at last.

* * *

There was a brief snatch of guitar music as the door opened: poignant and angst-ridden, sending chills up Alex’s spine. But it was cut short as they entered and abruptly turned into something light, airy, and baroque.

Krycek was sitting on the couch, holding a classical guitar in his lap. He continued playing for a few more bars before reaching down to pick up the case resting against the couch by his feet and carefully putting the instrument away. Alex caught his breath and stopped, immobilized by a wave of lust-tinged relief. Krycek was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Alex pressed his lips together tightly, trying not to grin foolishly, resisting the urge to run forward and fall to the floor at Krycek’s feet. He wanted to look away, but he couldn’t take his eyes off his gorgeous brother-lover-other self.

Krycek looked up at them, smiling. Then his eyes locked with Alex’s. The smile didn’t waver, but the quality of it changed: there was a spark of recognition; an understanding that there was something special between them. That they were the same, on some deep cellular level. That they belonged together.

Then it was gone, and Krycek was Krycek again—cool and inscrutable. Alex laughed nervously and cleared his throat. He busied himself with putting down his packages, digging through one of the bags to avoid having to look up again.

Mulder had the things from the deli. “I’ll put these in the kitchen,” he said, and started away. Could he have been oblivious to that moment? Surely not—he was a sensitive man, and it had to have blazed out like beacon. But he was not acknowledging it. Which was just as well. Alex didn’t want to talk about it. It was his and Krycek’s, no one else’s. Mulder might be Krycek’s number one lover; he might have Krycek’s protection and loyalty; the intensity between them might still catch Alex off-guard and make him feel like an outsider. But Alex had a connection with Krycek that was deep and strong and undeniable; a connection that no one else could ever have—unless another Krycek came visiting from another universe. He was Krycek’s own self.

Alex straightened up. He wanted to show off his new clothes; to parade in front of Krycek and ask how he looked. But he remembered the last time he’d asked that question, and let it go. “I don’t know where to put these.”

“Let’s see what you got.” Krycek’s smile was simply friendly now.

Alex brought the bags over to where Krycek sat. “Nothing special. Couple pairs of jeans and some shirts. Underwear and socks.”

“And some new boots.”

Alex could feel his face grow hot. “Mulder made me.”

“You don’t like them?”

Alex grinned. “I like them. I wouldn’t have picked them, though. I think he was trying to make me look like you.”

“You got a haircut, too.”

“Mulder’s idea, too. He said I looked like a refugee from a Seattle garage band.”

“He was right. You look good.”

Alex felt absurdly pleased. “Thanks. Well, it was your money, so I’m glad you like it.”

Mulder returned from the kitchen. “Well, did I do a good job?”

Krycek nodded. “He’s very pretty. Now, about the real reason you two went out…?”

Alex felt his heart go thunk. His hand went up to cover his nose.

“Sinuses,” Mulder said simply.

“Anywhere else?”

Mulder glanced at Alex, who stood with his hand over his face. “No. The wand went crazy, right under his eyes.”

Alien metal inside his body. He didn’t even remember how it had gotten there. God, they could have done anything to him! There wasn’t a trace of a scar or a mark anywhere, nothing at all except that burning in his sinuses. But the aliens could do things, surgical procedures far beyond human capabilities. They could have done anything. Did he have laser-drilled holes in his teeth? Had they taken tissue samples? Sperm samples? God.

“Alex, sit down.”

He started. Krycek was looking up at him coolly. He nodded, sat abruptly on the couch, a few feet away from Krycek. “I’m all right. It’s just….”

“I know. But we need to talk about what we’re going to do about it. I’m not sure what will be involved in having the implants removed, but between us, Mulder and I should be able to find someone to do it.”

“I don’t know.” Alex could only stare at the floor. Surgery. Let them put him under the knife. As if that weren’t scary enough, all by itself….

“Don’t know about what, Alex?” Krycek’s calm voice was a lifeline: he let it hold him steady.

“If we take them out…. How am I ever going to get home? Do you seriously think you’re going to be able to figure out how to send me to another universe? The aliens know how to do it—we don’t. Maybe they’ll come back for me. Maybe they’ll take me home. If I take out the implants, and they can’t find me—I might lose my only chance to ever get home.”

“You want them to abduct you again?”

“No. God, no. But if it’s the only way… I want to go home.”

“Alex.” And that was Mulder; his voice was soothing, too. Not my Mulder. But a Mulder who was becoming a friend. A Mulder who seemed to care about him. “Maybe the implants will tell us something about how to get you home. Removing them might be your only chance.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” Alex felt his face again. His sinuses still burned. Cold alien metal inside him. “I want them out. It drives me crazy thinking about having them inside me. I can’t stand wondering about what else they might have done to me.”

“Then how are you going to be able to stand leaving them in?” Krycek asked.

“I don’t know.” He was doing it again. Sinking into an emotional hole, unable to think, unable to make rational decisions. He had to stop… but he didn’t know how.

“If we have them removed,” Mulder said, “and later we decide we can’t figure out a way to get you home, and you want them back as a last resort….”

“Put them back?” Alex shrunk down into the cushions, hand pressing tighter on his face.

“No, but you could carry them around in your pockets or something. I expect the aliens could still find you then. If that’s what you want.”

That was true. That ought to work—if it came to that. Not a pleasant thought, carrying implants around in his pockets, hoping the aliens would come and get him. But it was an option. A last resort, if there was no other way. He didn’t feel so much like he was slamming a door by having the implants removed. He took a deep breath and forced himself to straighten up. “Okay, then. Let’s get them out.”

Krycek nodded. “Okay. First we need to find out what’s involved.” He glanced up at Mulder. “Scully?”

“I’ll call her,” Mulder agreed. “She’s used to getting questions like this from me.”

Scully. Whom he’d helped to abduct. So had this Krycek. Now they were all good buddies. Did Krycek sleep with her, too? Would Alex be expected to tie her up and whip her for Krycek’s amusement later? Bile rose in his throat. “Are you going to tell her about me?” Alex asked.

Mulder looked to Krycek, who shook his head and answered, “Not just yet. Maybe after the DNA tests come back.”

“Do you really have any doubt that they’re going to come back a match?”

Krycek shrugged. “No. But knowing something isn’t proof. I still want to see those tests.”

What if they weren’t a match? It could happen. Suppose this had all been just a crazy dream. Suppose he wasn’t really another Krycek. Suppose he was a clone. With implanted memories. Or a mundane twin, separated at birth, brainwashed to infiltrate his brother’s life. Or maybe it wasn’t really happening at all. Maybe he’d gone insane, the day he’d betrayed his Mulder, and everything since then had been the ravings of a lunatic.

What if. It was the sort of nonsense he could spin for hours. With Mulder egging him on, playing the game with him, spinning his own tales, until they were both giddy. He looked up at Mulder, across the room on the phone. He had that “Scully look” on his face, the same one Alex’s Mulder had whenever he talked to her. That little half smile, part tease and part tenderness, leavened with honest respect. Alex sighed. Mulder looked so beautiful when he was talking to Scully. God, he wanted to go home.

Krycek put a hand on his shoulder. “What else did you do today?”

The distraction was well-timed, as usual, and quite welcome. “We went to Barney’s for the clothes.” He tried on a grin. It felt passable. “I told Mulder to pick them out, just to see what he’d do. He really started getting into it.”

“I thought you wanted your own clothes.” Krycek was smiling, but there was a slight undertone of exasperation.

“I do. Well, I want my own underwear anyway.” He grinned.

Krycek just shook his head. Alex sighed. Maybe it was time for a little truth. “You know that thing this morning was about a whole lot more than underwear.” He paused for a moment. Then, “I’m not exactly proud of how I acted this morning. But I needed it. I know it wasn’t very pleasant for any of us. Well, except maybe for that bit at the end. But I guess I owe you an apology, too.”

“You don’t sound too sure about that.” Krycek stroked his shoulder, his voice quiet and slightly teasing.

Alex shrugged, staring at the floor. He tried to smile, felt his face tighten. “Well, I don’t think I really hurt you, so I’m not that sorry. But I’m sorry.”

Krycek nodded, squeezed Alex’s shoulder once, then released him. “Okay.”

* * *

Mulder returned from the phone with a good news-bad news look on his face. He stood with his arms folded as he told them what Scully had said. “We’re going to need a surgeon. Preferably a plastic surgeon, someone with experience working on faces. And there are going to have to be X-rays, to verify the position and number of the implants before the operation. And it will have to be done under anesthesia. So we’re going to need at least three people—surgeon, radiologist, and anesthesiologist. Probably a surgical nurse, as well. Not to mention a real operating theater and the proper medical equipment.”

Mulder sighed. And Alex felt, once again, like an inconvenience. Like it was all his fault they were going to have to go to all this trouble. He’d sunk down into the couch as Mulder talked, both hands clenched tensely over his face. Mulder belatedly noticed his discomfort, and smiled reassuringly. “It should be a fairly simple procedure.” He stepped closer to Alex, gently pushed Alex’s hands away from his face. Then he traced a finger along the side of Alex’s nose. “It should only take an hour or so. Once the anesthetic wears off, you’ll be able to go home. There might be some bruising around the eyes,” here he stroked the skin under Alex’s eyes, “some swelling and tenderness here,” and his gentle, skilled hands defined the area along the front of Alex’s face, “but it should go away in a couple of days.” He stood back, smiling. Alex felt his heart pounding. He could barely breathe. What the hell was Mulder doing to him?

Mulder grinned. “You’ll look like you’ve been in a fight. You can pretend he hit you.”

Alex choked out a giggle. Damn it, he did not want to eroticize this!

Strapped naked to a table. Long, slender grey fingers probing, exploring. Instruments inserted into orifices. Pain and fear and horrible, frightening arousal. Semen pumping into a tube….


“Jesus, Mulder!” Gasping laughter threatened to turn into sobs. Teasing him out of his trouble with horrible, sick jokes, until he was giggling helplessly—then soothing it all away with slow, gentle lovemaking…. Wrong Mulder, again.

“Sorry.” And this Mulder looked sad, and truly sorry. Big, sad eyes and luscious mouth with the corners downturned. No one should ever make any Mulder sad.

“It’s all right. It’s all right.” Alex took a deep breath and ran his hands over his hair. Strange to feel so little of it there. “Every damn thing brings up twelve other things. If I could just deal with one damn thing at a time, I’d be okay.” Another deep breath. And he was handling it. Which was another strange sensation, and a very welcome one. “So how soon do you think… ?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to make some more phone calls. I’ll make it as soon as I can.” He looked at Krycek. A slight hardness in his eyes spoke of a situation Mulder wasn’t happy with but there was nothing he could do about it. And Krycek’s answering look was almost a shrug: understood, but there was nothing he could do about it either. Alex tried not to feel, once again, that he was to blame.

Then Mulder nodded. Sighing, he said, “All right. This is probably going to take a while.” He pulled his cellular phone out of his jacket pocket. “I think I’ll go into the other room.”

* * *

Left alone with Krycek, Alex was suddenly uncomfortably aware of their close proximity on the couch. Well, at least it wasn’t torture to have a hard-on any more—what a relief it was to have pants that fit. But that just made the arousal more demanding. It was just so good to be able to sit here in Krycek’s presence—why was that?

“Krycek, did you ever think about how it was that we both happened to end up in that restaurant at the same time?”

“It was a pretty big coincidence.”

“I’m not so sure it was a coincidence.”

That got Krycek’s attention. He straightened up and turned towards Alex. “You think the aliens brought you to me deliberately?”

“No, I don’t think they had anything to do with it. I mean, they brought me to New York, so maybe they intended for me to find you eventually, or vice versa, but I’d been wandering around for hours by the time I reached the restaurant. They didn’t send me there.”

“Then what?”

Alex frowned thoughtfully. “I was thinking about this today. I kept having these urges to come back here. It was weird, it was like sometimes I had to consciously keep my feet going in one direction, or they’d just turn and head home all on their own. And I know there are a lot of reasons why I’d want to be here with you. I’m an emotional wreck, and damn near everything that’s happened since I’ve been here has pushed my submissive buttons and made me dependent on you. But it also reminded me of how I was when I first got here.

“I was pretty disoriented, and I still didn’t remember everything that had happened. I was wandering around in a daze, I had no idea what I was doing. But I kept walking right along, never even stopped to think about it, just like I knew exactly where I was going. And when I got to that restaurant, I stopped and I knew I had to go in. And that could have been other things, too. I was tired and thirsty and I like Japanese food, so it would have been natural for me to decide to stop there. But the fact that it was that restaurant, and that I’d walked right to it even though I had no idea I was going there, and I didn’t even know that part of town—when you add it all up, and what happened today too, I just start to wonder. Maybe there’s something else going on, too.”

Krycek was staring at him intently. He could feel that stare on him. It made his skin hot. “Something between us that draws you to me, because we are essentially the same person. Something like the psychic bond that identical twins have.”

“Yeah. Have you felt anything like that?”

Krycek shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. Nothing like what you’ve been feeling. But, as you say, there are other things compounding it for you. And I’m in my own universe. But there has been something… I don’t know how to describe it. A feeling that you’re more an extension of me than a separate person. Even though, god knows, by now I should have enough evidence that we are not the same.”

Alex laughed softly. “We’re the same. We’re different but… it’s like there are aspects of me that are stronger in you. Things you’ve decided to give up that I’ve decided to keep. There’s nothing in you that really feels foreign to me. Even when it surprises me. Even when it scares me shitless. It’s just something I’ve put aside, or something I haven’t discovered in myself yet.”

“We both have a problem with that, too. Assuming we know how the other is going to react to something.”

“Yeah, I know. Shit. Something else to deal with.”

Krycek smiled. “Seems like you’re doing okay.”

“You sound surprised.” Alex grinned.

“Well, let’s just say that a little scene like this morning’s wouldn’t have made me feel better.”

“You’d have never done anything like that in the first place.”

“No, I wouldn’t. And I hope we’re not going to have to go through anything like that again. But if it helped you, that’s good.”

Alex nodded, smiling. This was nice, for once. He felt comfortable with Krycek. And his cock was so hard—did he dare make a move? Hell, things were going well with Krycek for a change. Why risk getting himself into more trouble?

But a polite offer of a blow job—how could that offend? Krycek could just say no if he wasn’t in the mood. Maybe it was Mulder’s turn. Poor guy hadn’t gotten any all day, and Alex felt bad about that. But Mulder would be busy for a while, he’d said. Once he was off the phone, Alex could politely excuse himself and let them at it. Meanwhile, he could get Krycek warmed up for him.

“It did help. I’d like to thank you for it. And for the clothes and everything.” He smiled at Krycek, lowering his eyes, and allowing his voice to soften to a suggestive purr. “I’d take it as a favor if you’d let me thank you more personally.”

Krycek’s eyes narrowed for a moment, then a hazy smile spread across his face. “What did you have in mind?”

Alex ran his tongue over his lips thoughtfully. If they were a couple of leathermen, this would be easy. The moves would be written; a quick negotiation would nail down the details. But Krycek didn’t play the game the way he did. He had his own rules. And Alex had better try not to break them this time. This is not the way to behave to get what you want. “Teach me. Show me how to play the game your way.”

Krycek touched Alex’s face. He stroked it as though it were a part of his own body. The casual possession was calming and overwhelming at the same time. Krycek spoke slowly, lazily. “If you belonged to me, I’d teach you. It wouldn’t be fun, Alex, being broken the way I’d have to break you. Perhaps I’ll teach you a few of the lessons, the ones I think you could benefit from. But I don’t think you really want to be mine, do you?”

Alex swallowed. This was serious, all of a sudden. Jesus, all he wanted was to kneel at Krycek’s feet and suck his cock. To be owned by him—was that what his game was all about?

Maybe it was. He remembered the way Mulder had sat at Krycek’s feet. Kissed his hand. Shivered under his touches. Hadn’t he thought then that the bond of ownership between them felt terribly real? Maybe it was. Maybe being Krycek’s slave was something to be taken literally. And no, that wasn’t what he wanted…. But the stabbing need in his cock wasn’t quite so sure. Yes, I want to be yours. Take me, break me, own me…. He loved the sound of the words in his mind, of being so caught up in his lust that saying such things would be thrilling instead of degrading. But he wanted to play at being owned, not to be owned for real. He wanted the game to follow the familiar, heady pattern. He wanted his lessons to be sweet and simple and preordained.

He sighed. “I just wanted to give you a blow job. I thought it might be fun to grovel a little while I was at it.”

Krycek smiled. “All right. Let’s go into the bedroom.”

* * *

Yes, it was good to be on his knees. To kneel naked on the floor of the big bedroom, nestled safely between Krycek’s legs, feeling their warmth enclosing him, their soft, silky hair tickling his sides. He rested his hands on Krycek’s thighs and inhaled his musk. Krycek’s cock jutted out over the edge of the bed, not quite fully erect. He contemplated it thoughtfully for a moment. This was his own cock: blood and tissue, skin and nerve endings. He’d never seen himself from this angle, and he couldn’t help wondering—could he really look like this to a man on his knees? So powerful and desirable? No, Alex knew, there was more to a man’s appeal than the purely physical aspects. Consider the man before him: the stillness, the economy of movement that spoke of utter control, the sense of quiet ruthlessness, the awareness that crackled off of him like electricity—these were qualities of the inner man, communicated through muscle and bearing, that made the body beautiful, one to be adored and served.

And this was a man who held the power of life and death over him. He couldn’t forget that, no matter how comfortable he got here in the floor with Krycek’s legs around him. He’d made a terrible scene this morning, and while Krycek seemed inclined for now to indulge him, and even to feel some sympathy towards him, he mustn’t forget what he was doing here at Krycek’s feet. He’d offered Krycek a blow job and an apology, and he’d better give him his very best.

He moved back a little to give himself room, then leaned over until his forehead touched the floor. This was for himself, he knew, rather than for Krycek, who didn’t seem to care about the classic displays of submission. But he wanted this chance to prepare himself, to put himself in the proper frame of mind to serve his master. He could only hope Krycek would appreciate the intent, if not the gesture. He remained prostrate for one long moment before rising again to his knees. He would have preferred to keep his eyes downcast and wait for his master’s commands—that was the way of the leather scene he’d been trained in—but he thought he’d learned enough about Krycek’s preferences to know that he wanted his bottoms to look him in the eye, so he forced his head up to face his master. And there was Krycek, looking down on him with his faint, ironic smile. It seemed to mock him; to ridicule his awkward attempts to please. Was this his idea of an apology? that smile seemed to say. Alex remembered Krycek as he had been with Mulder: relentless and unforgiving, exacting penance for Mulder’s crimes with cold gunmetal down his throat.

Suddenly, he was trembling with shame and fear. How did he even dare to offer himself to this man? To think that his pathetic games might satisfy? This obviously wasn’t what Krycek wanted. He lowered his head, and pressed his face into Krycek’s thigh, stroking the firm muscle with his cheek, then covering it with fervent kisses. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice choked and desperate. He’d made a terrible mistake. He’d thought it would be just another scene, the way he’d played it so many times before: the sweet shame of the ritual apology, the dizzying inrush of heat to his groin as he acted the penitent, the delicious pain of submitting to his punishment—not this; this was terrifying, and far too real.”I was horrible this morning, I know it. I was just so scared, I couldn’t take it any more. I had to know I—I could make mistakes, and you wouldn’t—you wouldn’t… kill me for it. Or if you would, just get it over with, I couldn’t bear it any longer. But I shouldn’t have… what I did… I’m so sorry….”

Krycek stroked Alex’s hair. His hand was gentle, soothing. “Take it easy, Alex. You’re under terrible stress, it’s only natural for some of it to come through. You have a right to be frightened. I’m not going to kill you for being unhappy. I meant it when I said I was glad it helped you.”

Alex nodded his head under Krycek’s hand. He felt his heart pounding in his chest. But the tension of fear had eased a little. “I’m sorry for what I said to Mulder, too. You know I didn’t mean it, I was just lashing out. But there was no excuse to take it out on him.”

“You’ve already made your apologies there, where it counts. Mulder accepts your apology, and so do I.”

Alex was still clinging to Krycek’s thigh, cheek pressed tightly against the warm flesh, arms curled around Krycek’s legs. His fingers kneaded and stroked as he spoke, and his hot breath touched Krycek’s cock, which twitched and filled under Alex’s caresses. This, at least, was working. Krycek was responding, whether to Alex’s touch, or his submission, or his fear—Alex didn’t know. Nor did he know what to do now. He wanted to take Krycek’s cock in his mouth, but he was afraid to do it without specific instructions. The tops he was used to playing with would tell him when to suck their cocks, and would punish him for touching them without permission. Krycek was different, he played some other kind of game—but what? Alex leaned forward, until his mouth was mere millimeters from Krycek’s cock, and blew gently onto it. Krycek’s hand on his head tightened for just an instant, as if wanting to push him down to his cock, but resisting. Was there something else he wanted first? Another apology? Was there something else Alex had done that he’d forgotten about?

“Please….” he whispered. Fear began to rise in him again. His hands trembled on Krycek’s thighs. “I… I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he had to stop a moment and draw in a deep breath. “Whatever I’ve done, I’m sorry. I don’t know what you want me to do. I’ll do whatever you want, just tell me what to do.”


He looked up abruptly. Krycek was gazing down on him, intent and serious. It frightened him so badly he thought he’d be sick. He started to pull away, then stopped, frozen in terror.

Krycek paused a moment, then spoke carefully, and gently. “Perhaps we shouldn’t be doing this.”

No, Alex wanted to cry out. God, no. Now he’d ruined everything, why couldn’t he ever get anything right? All he’d wanted was to give the man a simple blow job, for god’s sake, he ought to be able to manage that. Instead he’d gotten so hopeless Krycek no longer wanted him. Panic began to give way to self-loathing and disgust. The man might as well shoot him, he wasn’t any good for anything else. Frustrated, he let go, and fell back on his haunches. “I’m sorry,” he muttered wearily. Tears spilled down his cheeks, the final humiliation.


He had to force himself to look up. Krycek was reaching out to him with one hand, a troubled look on his face. “Come,” Krycek said. “Sit by me for a minute.”

Alex took the offered hand and obeyed.

* * *

Despite everything, it felt good to sit on the edge of the bed, pressed close to Krycek’s side, with Krycek’s arm around his shoulder. Was it something about their common identity, their shared DNA, that made the physical touch of his body so soothing, so deeply comforting? Or was it just Stockholm Syndrome, that made him so dependent on this man that he could only relax in physical contact with him? The personality might terrify him clean out of his wits, but the body: the body he craved. Even now, he wanted so badly to have him in his mouth, to taste him on his tongue, it was driving him crazy. If only he hadn’t fallen apart.

“I wasn’t rejecting you,” Krycek said slowly. His voice was gentle, calm and soothing, the way he might have spoken to a nervous animal. “It didn’t seem to me that you were having any fun groveling, which, after all, was what we’d come in here to do. And if it wasn’t going to be any fun for you, then I thought we ought to stop. I hope I’ve made it clear to you that whatever you’ve done that you feel you need to apologize for, you’re forgiven, and honestly, you haven’t done anything that wasn’t completely understandable under the circumstances.” He gave Alex’s shoulder a slight squeeze, and the smile was back in his voice. “That is clear, right?”

Alex managed a weak smile, although he continued to stare down into his lap, unable to look his other self in the face. “Yeah.” And he did feel better, although he still felt like an awful fool, to have freaked out in the middle of what should have been a simple scene.

They sat together quietly for a moment. Krycek rubbed his back, and he leaned into him. All right, all right, this wasn’t so bad. So maybe the groveling hadn’t been such a good idea—those feelings were still too raw, too real to make a game of. But the blow job—was there any possibility that they could carry on from here? The sight of Krycek’s silky cock between his thighs, still half-hard and beautiful, made Alex’s mouth water. (And could it possibly truly be identical to the hard, throbbing cock in Alex’s own lap? He studied them both for a moment. Perhaps it was just an optical illusion, but he was sure Krycek’s was bigger.)

He put his hand on Krycek’s thigh, and was gratified to see the cock twitch in response. “May I… ?” He stopped, licked his lips and swallowed. “May I blow you now?”

Silence. Alex forced himself to lift his head, to look Krycek in the face. To find his doppelganger regarding him gravely—but with a curl at the corner of his mouth that looked suspiciously like a smile in disguise. “Yes, you may.”

Grateful, Alex slid down again to his knees, and returned to his position between Krycek’s legs. All right, no games this time. No apologies, nothing that could possibly backfire on him and get him into trouble. Just his mouth and Krycek’s cock—and he knew he was good at this, Krycek had even told him so. Besides, he was of the considered opinion that blow jobs were like pizzas—some were better than others, but there was no such thing as a bad one.

He leaned forward and blew one hot, moist breath onto the shaft of Krycek’s cock. He slipped his arms around Krycek’s waist and stroked his cheek against the hard column, nuzzling it with his lips, then lapping at it delicately with his tongue. He let himself be playful at first, with little nips and licks and growls, teasing along the length of the shaft, to give himself time to relax, as well as to reassure Krycek that he had recovered from his panic attack. And, to be sure, just for the fun of it.

The taste, the feel of Krycek on his tongue: it was so good, Alex couldn’t help opening his lips wider, pulling more of him into his mouth, trying to engulf him sideways, stroking him with the full length of his tongue. And he brought one hand up to touch where his mouth was forbidden to go, circling the crown of Krycek’s cock with his thumb and forefinger, and stroking his thumb over the tip. It was so good, and Alex began to sink into the heady pleasure of kneeling naked in the floor with a fine, strong cock in his mouth. The playful mood faded, and the hot, smoky pleasure of being on his knees began to settle on him. Now he must please this man, make him feel as good as a hot mouth and two eager hands could—not because he was frightened, or threatened, but because the man was beautiful and powerful and worthy, and there was no better thing in the world than to serve him.

He was panting and hot and his own cock was burning when he reluctantly pulled himself away, to look up at Krycek with his mouth glistening wet and ask, “May I use a condom?” He had to stop himself from saying “Sir”; Mulder didn’t call him that, and he had a feeling Krycek didn’t like it, but it was hard to go against his training.

Krycek simply nodded. “I’ll get it.” And he reached over to the nighttable, and retrieved a condom from the drawer, which he handed to Alex. Mulder didn’t have to use condoms when he knelt before his owner, Alex thought, with a twinge of envy, as he carefully rolled the condom onto Krycek’s cock. How long since Alex had dared to taste a lover’s semen?

—And how long since a lover had tasted his? The image of Mulder rose before him: in Alex’s own bed, leaning over him, taking the head of Alex’s cock into his mouth. No finesse, just eagerness and determination, and an imagination fueled by porn films and daydreams. No matter. The merest touch of those adored lips had him arching off the bed, and spurting his seed down Mulder’s throat.

His first time with Mulder. Their first and only blow job. And maybe their last. Alex’s hands shook, and he fumbled with the condom.

“Alex?” Krycek’s hand stroked his hair.

“I’m all right.” Alex drew a deep breath, and smiled up at his own face. He finished with the condom, and leaned down to place a tender kiss on the shaft of the cock. “I’m all right.” Perhaps he should explain—but that would mean telling him he was thinking of another lover while kneeling between this one’s legs, and that would never do. Krycek would just have to wonder.

And Alex would do his best to distract him. With nothing now to prevent him from pulling out all the tricks in his repertoire, Alex got down to business with renewed enthusiasm.

Krycek’s knees pressed against his sides, encouraging him to continue. Alex allowed himself half a smile, before nuzzling his way down to mouth and lick Krycek’s balls, while his hand still slid along the length of his cock. Krycek leaned back on his hands, hips lifting to provide better access, a small moan escaping his throat. And that was good, too—a present for Alex, who knew Krycek had enough control to hold completely still if he wanted to, to hold his moans inside. But he allowed Alex to share his pleasure, to reassure him.

It was better by the minute. Alex began to relax into it, to find his rhythm, to allow his own pleasure to guide some of his motions. It was heady and fine and everything he wanted….

* * *

The light in the room changed, darkening, as when a cloud passed across the sun. Out of the corner of his eye, Alex could see a shadow standing in the doorway.

Mulder. It was Mulder, finished with his phone calls at last, come to find what his lover and his lover’s doppelganger were up to. Alex released Krycek, slowly, and pulled away, sitting back on his heels. Was Mulder angry? His face was in shadow, impossible to read from Alex’s vantage point in the floor. Alex felt as though he’d been caught in bed with someone’s husband. Mulder had claimed not to mind when Alex had admitted last night that Krycek had fucked him. Come on, does it look like I’m in any position to tell him who he can sleep with? But hadn’t there been a trace of resentment in Mulder’s question? Mulder accepted it, but that didn’t mean he liked it. Besides, knowing that something had happened and walking in on it happening again were two very different things.

Alex pushed back a little farther. The last thing he wanted was to make things worse for Mulder. Krycek, however, was calm as ever, even smiling a little. “Mulder. Why don’t you join us? Alex was just apologizing.”

“Yes,” Alex said, his voice barely above a whisper. He reached out a hand to Mulder, mentally thanking Krycek for the opening. “Please, Mulder. I’m sorry about what happened this morning. Let me make it up to you.”

Mulder took a few steps closer. Out of the backlit hallway, his face emerged from shadow—not angry, Alex saw with relief, but uncertain, perhaps a little embarrassed. He regarded Alex for a moment, then turned to Krycek, with a tentative smile. “May I watch?”

Krycek chuckled, reaching out to Alex, who moved forward to slide his head into the outstretched hand. “If you like. Maybe you’ll be able to pick up a few pointers.”

It was a challenge, but one that Alex was more than willing to take. Except—if he did his job too well, would Mulder resent it? Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a good idea to show him up in front of his lover—although, considering the amazing blow job he’d gotten from Mulder yesterday, was there really any chance Alex would do any better? Alex might have had more experience with other men, but Mulder was no amateur; and by this time, surely he knew what Krycek liked better than anyone else on the planet.

No matter, Alex told himself firmly. He was here to please Krycek, and it would be absurd and impossible even to consider doing anything less than his very best. He could only hope the show would please Mulder as well. But he couldn’t help wondering what might go wrong this time, as he resumed his place between Krycek’s legs. There were too many traps. Too many hidden dangers. Nothing here was ever safe or simple.

So unlike his relationship with his own Mulder—heartbreaking it might have been; painful and difficult and wrong, but ever so simple, almost crystalline in its purity. He might have hated what he was doing, wanted to scream to the heavens in desperate frustration, but he’d understood it right down to his bones, known exactly what he was doing to Mulder, every thrust of the traitor’s knife, every betrayal.

He sucked Krycek’s cock into his mouth, swallowing a sob, and half-swallowing Krycek’s cock as well. And that was good, so he swallowed again and opened his throat to take in as much of the shaft as he could. He was sad, almost overwhelmingly sad, but it was good; it was a fine, strong sadness, one he could use to make himself fitter to serve. He didn’t understand these people, even though they were himself and his lover. Didn’t understand what they were to each other, or what they wanted from him, or if he were capable of giving it to them if he knew. What he’d thought was to be a simple blow job wasn’t, and what it really was, he had no idea. But it was still good. Krycek sat before him, hard naked flesh, one hand in his hair, urging him on. And Mulder sat beside him on the bed, still clothed but with waves of heat rising from him, and his hot gaze working on Alex like another kind of dominance. And Alex closed his eyes and put aside everything but the feel of the hard cock in his eager mouth, until Krycek thrust forward, moaning, and his semen flowed into the condom in Alex’s mouth.

* * *

Alex continued to mouth Krycek’s cock until it began to soften, before finally letting it slide free. Now, at last, he looked up, to see Krycek smiling down on him, and Mulder at his side was also smiling. So it was all right. Alex sighed. So far so good. But it wasn’t over yet. Alex had done what he meant to, and Krycek was satisfied (with a sleek, creamy look that gave Alex a warm feeling in the pit of his stomach), but Mulder was still hard in his clothes, dark-eyed with lust, and Krycek in no condition to relieve him. So that left it up to Alex.

“Mulder?” He smiled, trying to stay steady, although this, like everything else, frightened him. What if it was the wrong thing to do? But that was the question no matter what he did, even if he did nothing, so he ignored the fear and asked, “Would you like me to blow you now?”

The eagerness was bright in Mulder’s eyes, but he glanced first at Krycek for permission before accepting Alex’s offer. “May I?”

Krycek smiled lazily, pulling his legs up onto the bed and leaning back against the headboard. “Go ahead. This time I’ll watch.”

* * *

Somehow, it was easier with Mulder, even with the pain of the reminder of that other Mulder inextricably present in the feel of his skin, the touch of his fingers, the velvet of his moans, the musk of his body. Not better, but blessedly easier. Alex settled into it without hesitation, once Mulder had undressed and assumed his seat on the edge of the bed, and Alex had rolled a condom onto his fine cock. Even the lingering sharp sadness at the back of his mind that he’d never yet, and might never at all, be allowed to kneel like this before his own Mulder only added to the poignant sweetness of having this Mulder in his mouth. And Mulder’s quick responsiveness made it easy to know what to do. So they rode along untroubled to Mulder’s release.

* * *

Afterwards, both lovers pulled Alex up onto the bed, kissed him and held him, and offered to finish him, but he declined, wanting only to relax in their warmth. And perhaps, at the back of his mind, was the hint of a warning that he ought to quit while he was ahead, and not risk any more crises for the time being. Either way, he was content, and for now, that was more than good enough.

* * *

From somewhere in the apartment, a phone rang. Krycek groaned. “I have to answer that one.” But he paused to kiss first Alex’s temple, then Mulder’s, before sliding off the bed. He grabbed a robe from a chair and he went out the door. Mulder cuddled closer, and held Alex tightly around the waist, breathing softly into his ear. Alex snuggled against him, no longer caring which Mulder or why, just happy for the comfort of warm human contact.

When Krycek returned, he tossed his robe briskly onto a chair and went to gather up his clothes. His manner had changed; he was now all business. “I could complain about timing, but I guess it could have been worse,” he said, as he pulled on his slacks. “I have to go. I’m sure you’ll be able to entertain yourselves without me this evening. Don’t wait up.”

* * *

Mulder woke to the unaccustomed pleasure of a body nestled into his. Alex, not Krycek: Krycek slept with space around him, as though it took all the will of his waking mind to persuade his body to permit a lover’s touch. Mulder turned to face him, careful not to break the contact between them.

Alex slept on. The last daylight was gone, but it was never really dark in the city: he could still make out Alex’s features in the diffuse twilight that filtered in from the windows and hall. The improbable eyelashes even cast a faint shadow where they lay demurely against Alex’s cheek. The flexible mouth wore a faint, untroubled smile. Whatever he’d done, whatever he thought he was guilty of, compared to his own Krycek Alex looked utterly innocent, virginal as the sleeping princess in a fairy tale.

And yet, he knew that smiling mouth. He knew its every expression, every twist of muscle; had watched it for hours at a time in unappeased, hopeless hunger. But this man—he felt the thought in his body, a sudden bright pulse in his groin, a matching constriction in his throat. This was an Alex Krycek he was allowed to kiss.

His head was already swimming. He wrapped an arm around Alex’s shoulders, fitting his body carefully into Alex’s, and brought his mouth up to kiss those sleeping lips.

It took a few moments before there was a response: Alex, unlike Krycek, apparently woke slowly. Then there was a muffled noise of pleasure from deep in Alex’s throat, and Alex’s arms closed around him, locking their bodies together. Alex’s lips parted. Mulder heard himself moan. He let his own mouth open, inviting Alex’s tongue, sucking at it, running his own tongue over Alex’s lips and teeth. And Alex was kissing him back, warm and enthusiastic: no mocking withdrawal, no punishment for Mulder’s presumption… he felt a sudden stab of fear. Krycek hadn’t explicitly forbidden this; but he felt an identity between Alex and himself, he’d said so. Was it really so clear that he was permitted to take liberties with one Alex Krycek that he was not allowed with the other? But—

He felt Alex stiffen in his arms: some of his thought must have communicated itself through his body. “Mulder?” Alex said in his ear.

“Nothing.” He forced the tension out of his muscles. “I’m being an idiot.” He tightened his arms, trying to settle himself against Alex’s chest again.

But Alex pulled away a little. “Something’s wrong,” he insisted.

No surprise there: his own Krycek wouldn’t have let it go either. He was going to have to admit to it. And that was only fair, he supposed; even proper, under the circumstances. He took Alex’s right hand in both of his, brought it up between their chests and stroked his face against it, cat style. “Just an attack of nerves,” he told Alex. “He—I don’t kiss him without his permission.”

“So you’re not sure you’re allowed to kiss me.” Alex spoke gently enough, but he was frowning a little. “Look, Mulder, if you aren’t sure this is all right with him—”

“It’s all right.” Mulder cut him off. “I mean it, I was being stupid.” He nuzzled Alex’s hand again. “I could call him at the office and check,” he said, half-teasing. He could see himself doing it, too, taking the phone from the bedside and punching in the direct-dial number, listening to it ring, wondering where Krycek would be when he picked it up. This time of day, his working group would likely be in one of the conference rooms having dinner. Krycek would have programmed his line to ring through to the conference room, and it would likely be one of his colleagues who actually answered the phone, Mulder would have to ask whoever it was to put Krycek on… Krycek, being Krycek, would enjoy it. He might not even bother to ask his wolf-pack colleagues to excuse him while he answered the question: Mulder could see him smiling gently into the telephone, half an eye on his companions, while he gave Mulder his orders. It would be Krycek’s phone voice, intimate and caressing; and when he finally put the phone down his smile would widen, and he would shrug in mock-apology and tell them, Sorry, my harem, you know how it is. Mulder could hear the laugh, hear the talk begin again, worldly, violent and knowing. God, it was almost worth it.

But not quite. “Only there’s no point,” he told Alex. “I already know what he’d say.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. He gave us our instructions when he left. He told us we could entertain ourselves: he expects us to make our own choices.”

Alex made a disgusted noise and threw himself backward into the mattress. “Yeah, that just figures.” He sounded at once resigned and annoyed. “Why give a nice clear order when you could leave everybody floundering around trying to figure out what the hell you want from them, right?”

Mulder laughed. “Come on. It’s not that bad.”

“Yes it is,” Alex said. There was a kind of bleak humor in his tone, though: another flash of Mulder’s own Alex Krycek. “Sorry,” he added. Then his face changed. “Look, Mulder.” His tone was abruptly serious. “I’ve been wanting to say this. I am sorry about that thing this morning. It isn’t just that I shouldn’t have said what I did. I mean, I shouldn’t have said it; but I didn’t even mean it. I’m sorry.”

Mulder could feel himself staring at Alex. “Hey, lighten up,” he said. “If you haven’t been counting, that’s the fourth apology today. It’s okay, Alex. Relax.”

Alex’s face was still tight. “Yeah. But Krycek was there all three times. I want you to know, Mulder. I’m not just afraid of him, or doing what he tells me. I mean it.”

“Okay,” Mulder said softly. “I mean it too, though, Alex. It’s all right. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

He still didn’t sound completely convinced, but there was no point in arguing about it. “Actually, that reminds me,” Mulder said, making his voice light. “I’d been meaning to warn you. You had no damn way of knowing. But he really, really does not go for that ‘I’ve been bad and must be punished’ routine. I don’t blame you for trying—hell, I tried it once myself, early on—but it’s never going to work on him.”

Alex made that disgusted noise again. “Well, no shit,” he said. “Tell me something new. I could practically write you a fucking catalogue of what doesn’t work on him. What I want to know is, what the hell does? I asked him to teach me, and he won’t even do that.”

“Teach you what?” Mulder said. “It’s not a game that has rules he can teach you. He hardly knows you, he doesn’t know what’s going to work for you yet.”

“Bullshit, Mulder.” Alex sat up, drawing his knees up to his chest. “He knows what I like. I’ve told him. I’ve shown both of you. And come to think of it, I didn’t hear any complaints about the quality of the show from His Evilness, either. So what the hell is the problem? Why does it have to be so complicated all the time?”

“Alex, it’s not that complicated.”

Alex just looked at him. “Mulder. You just stopped in the middle of a kiss to figure out whether it would be okay with him. That’s complicated, all right?”

Mulder had let Alex pull away, giving him his distance. Now he sat up too. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem that complicated to me. But actually, this ties in to my theory of what you’re doing here.”

Alex’s eyes opened very wide. “You have a theory?”

“Yeah.” He kept his voice perfectly even, his face expressionless. “It’s really pretty obvious what’s going on when you look at all the facts. The aliens brought you here, to this universe, for a specific purpose. It’s part of a project of critical importance to their civilization. They’re recording every bit of this to use in an ongoing series of instructional sex videos.”

Alex made a choking sound and buried his face in his hands. “Well, it stands to reason,” Mulder continued patiently. “Sure, they’re more technologically advanced than we are in some directions, but it makes sense that they wouldn’t be ahead of us on everything. We’ve known for years that alien visitors particularly wanted blonde Earth women. We should have figured it out sooner.”

Now Alex was giggling. “Jesus, Mulder—”

“No, look, it all fits.” Now he was fighting down giggles too. “All those abductee reports. We know they use crude machines to obtain semen samples. So we know they haven’t developed the adult videocassette yet. We’re way ahead of them there. And then there are the reports of what they look like. Little grey guys in some kind of grey rags, right? Alex, they haven’t even invented the leather motorcycle jacket yet. Don’t you see what this means? They’re desperate.”

Alex managed to look serious for a moment. He nodded gravely. “And they’re afraid to ask Earth for help. Afraid to reveal their weakness.”

“Exactly,” Mulder finished. “So they’ve resorted to abducting the humans with the knowledge they need.”

“But they don’t have a good way to identify the specific individuals they need, which is one of the reasons why so many abductees are returned so quickly.” Alex stretched and leaned back into the sheets, looking innocently up at the ceiling.

“Yeah, that has to be right…. Alex, you realize what this means.”

Alex was grinning evilly: it was clear that he knew Mulder’s next line. But he played up anyway, fed him the old-movie junior-colleague line. “What?”

“It means our best shot at getting you home is to give them the demonstrations they need. You show us how to do it your way; we show you our way. As soon as we run through the material, they’ll want to take you home so they can get the next educational unit. Which if our theory is correct, will be the stuff you want to pass on to your Mulder.” He frowned. “Of course, it is collaborating with aliens.”

Alex shook his head. “No. If you’re right, it’s humanitarian aid,” he proclaimed solemnly. “It would be wrong to refuse to help.”

“Have to work out a lesson plan,” Mulder said. He swung himself out of bed. “Wouldn’t want them to miss anything important because we were careless.” He reached for his clothes. He still wanted Alex—closing his jeans over his still-hard cock gave him a sudden sharp reminder, just in case he’d lost sight of that for a moment or so—but now obviously wasn’t the best time. Alex had relaxed a little, but the strain of the past days still showed itself in the set of his face and body. It was time to back off, let Alex have some down time. Let him decide for himself what he wanted. “I’m going to get some dinner,” he told Alex. “You want to go back to sleep, or are you hungry too?”

* * *

Dinner was sandwiches, concocted from the things they’d found at the deli that afternoon. They ate in the living room, by a kind of unspoken agreement: the space allowed for some emotional distance, made it possible to eat without talking. Alex had wandered over to the library and found a book. Mulder suspected that he had picked it up mostly as a defense against more conversation, but that did not trouble him: Alex was surely entitled to a little privacy if he wanted it.

His own mind drifted, floating through a comfortable haze of speculation and fantasy. The drift was familiar, an old habit of mind that was easily triggered when he’d spent time with Krycek, and one he welcomed when he had the leisure to indulge it. And there was something odd and delicious about sitting across the room from this Alex Krycek, about his acute awareness of the presence of this stranger who was and was not his lover. Lover? No, use the real words: Lord and master and owner. All the tacky gaudy titles he knew Krycek would never let him use, even if Mulder ever worked up the nerve to ask. What would it be like, to say them aloud? To run his mind over them was to feel them, always, a delicate stroke down the length of his cock.

It was strange how familiar this Krycek felt, when he considered all the ways in which the two Kryceks were unlike. Their voices were the same, but not their speech patterns or their accents. They used their bodies differently: Alex’s body was expressive, with a constant play of little motions even when he was at rest, utterly unlike Krycek’s eerie hunting-cat stillnesses. Their senses of humor were different: Alex didn’t even seem to notice Krycek’s jokes, let alone sharing Krycek’s compulsion to rewrite the world around him as a cosmic black comedy. Alex knew Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Krycek read history and essays and the occasional eighteenth-century novel.

And of course, Alex’s sexual tastes were wildly different from Krycek’s. He hadn’t been sure of that last night; he’d thought of what Alex had done with him as just a different form of what his own Krycek enjoyed. That had seemed particularly likely because Alex had a relationship with the Mulder of his own world: evidence that the two Kryceks shared some fundamental tastes. Today had shown him otherwise, though. For one thing, it was not at all clear that Alex particularly wanted him. He wanted his own Mulder, yes. And he wanted Krycek, that one was a no-brainer: Alex was all over him every chance he got. Not, he supposed, that that should that really be any surprise. Everybody in the goddamned universe seemed to want Krycek; and that had its pleasures too. It might be cheap and unworthy, but it was hard not to enjoy that knowledge that half the world envied him, wanted what he had. Even Scully—no, better not to think about Scully.

In any case, Alex hadn’t touched Mulder except on Krycek’s orders, had he? Alex hadn’t seemed unwilling, exactly—but no, that was wrong. Krycek had pushed Alex hard over that scene last night. Evidence: Alex had told Mulder just a little while ago that Mulder and Krycek both knew what he liked, because he’d demonstrated it when he’d taken Mulder last night. But then in that whispered conversation in the back room last night, he’d told Mulder that he didn’t feel good about having done it. Facts, and an obvious conclusion: what this man wanted, he didn’t want from Mulder. So give it up. You want him; so what? You’re used to frustration. Krycek does this deliberately, teases you and makes you wait for hours, so he can have you half-insane with hunger…. Alex may not be doing it for fun, but what’s the difference? You still know how to enjoy it. Your will doesn’t matter. He knows you’re here, if he wants anything from you he knows he can have it.

All the differences, and yet there were ways in which they were the same man. He’d seen that at police headquarters today, but even if he hadn’t seen it he would know: why else would Alex’s mere presence work on his nerves this way? Krycek had had to push Alex to accept that blow job last night, too; but Alex had appreciated that once he’d been induced to accept it, no ambiguity there. Had it occurred to him that he could have a replay of that little performance tonight, if he wanted to take some of the edge off his desire for Krycek? Yes, most likely: a guy who called you Krycek’s slave could probably be counted on to figure that out. If he got tired of waiting for Krycek to come home, he’d know that he could summon Mulder across the room to him, order him to his knees and remind him that his owner would want to be proud of Mulder’s performance…. His owner—Alex would actually put it that way, had called Krycek his owner last night. Christ, that had been good, hearing that out loud from any Alex Krycek.

Mulder settled back into the couch. This prolonged arousal was beginning to be uncomfortable. But the heavy ache in his groin was part of the pleasure: it was like being fucked slowly, with the exquisite deliberation Krycek sometimes used on him, except that he could have hours of this without the pleasure fading or peaking. This was not bound by the limitations of the flesh. Although perhaps some attention to the flesh would not be amiss. That butt plug, maybe: if his Krycek were here he could ask him for it. Krycek would make him explain what he wanted. Mulder could picture him in Alex’s place now, sitting in the same chair reading. He would be lying back against the arm of the chair, legs stretched forward, relaxed as Alex was not. He would raise his head for just an instant at Mulder’s voice, and look across at him, and when Mulder had finished speaking he would say simply, “Why?” His voice would be calm, almost disinterested. Mulder would be a little nervous about the explanation, because Krycek liked to tease him, and he was calculating about that as he was about everything else—if he wasn’t getting something, there was always a fair likelihood that it was because Krycek wanted him to do without it. But then, he might enjoy the evidence that the tease was effective, that Mulder was having trouble thinking about anything except what Krycek wasn’t doing to him. So Mulder would swallow his nerves and tell him: For the symbolism, for the frustrating physical stimulation. To keep his body focused, to remind it of what his mind never forgot: that what he felt right now, in this sweet and terrible narcotic drift, was Krycek fucking him.

He was aware of Alex stirring, putting down his book. Mulder forced his mind back to the present. That last thought had had possibilities, though; he’d have to remember it for later. It wasn’t going to do him any good right now. He couldn’t ask Alex, after all: even if the dynamics would work between the two of them, Alex couldn’t help feeling pressured if he did it. Would you mind letting me go get that butt plug from last night? No, that’s okay, I didn’t mean I wanted sex or anything—no, definitely not. And he was not going to call Krycek about this, and there was no way he was going fishing through that suitcase without permission.

Alex was looking at him. He moved a little to show Alex he had his attention. ” ‘Don’t you just hate these long uncomfortable silences?’ ” Alex said ruefully.

Mulder laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “I do.”

“Well then.” Alex sounded a little nervous, and like he was trying to cover it. “Are you going to tell me about what the hell he likes, and why it’s not really that complicated, no matter what a visiting moron from another dimension might think?”

He nodded, grateful for the light tone. “Sure. You going to tell me about leather bars?”

“Maybe.” There was a welcome hint of a tease in Alex’s smile. “You first.”

“Okay.” Now that it came to it, though, he realized that he had no idea how to explain Krycek’s tastes to Alex. Just what did he and Krycek do? He looked down into the carpet, away from Alex, trying to order his thoughts. His eyes wandered along the little silk-edged figures of birds and vines…. Krycek had actually bought this rug for himself, he’d told Mulder that…. Alex was waiting for him to say something, and this was not helping. “All right, it’s not as simple as I thought,” he said, looking up. “It all seemed so obvious to me, right from the beginning, that I never really thought about how you’d explain it. I learned it all from him, you know that already, but he never had to tell me much of anything about what he wanted from me. I just followed his lead, and where he took us, it was like I’d always lived there, only I’d somehow forgotten. It was never hard or confusing for me the way it seems to be for you.”

This conversation was making him oddly uncomfortable. Damn it, he’d been looking forward to this, too: a chance to compare notes, to talk to somebody it was actually safe to discuss these things with. He crossed the loft to the cabinet where Krycek kept the brandies and poured himself a half-glass of Calvados. It was interesting, the things that changed when you were involved with somebody, the tiny-seeming tastes and habits that started off belonging to one person and ended up belonging to both of you: couple-habits, couple-tastes. Before Krycek, he never drank anything stronger than beer. But Krycek, who would not drink any alcohol at all when he was in the field, had taught Mulder his own taste for champagne and good brandy. It was the sort of thing that left a permanent mark on you, Mulder thought: this relationship could end, he could go on to marry somebody, have children and grandchildren, be an 85-year-old drinking Calvados in front of the fireplace at a family Christmas, and remember Krycek in that smell of apples and oak— He shuddered. He was drifting again, and the drifting was taking a distinctly morbid turn. Krycek had introduced him to Calvados; why should that suddenly translate to Krycek dead, and Mulder fifty years away still mourning him?

It meant something; had to. Something to do with Alex, perhaps? He brought his brandy back to the living room and settled himself onto the couch.

* * *

“I don’t know,” Mulder said again. “Maybe it’s also harder for me to explain than it would have been last week, just because you’re here. Maybe I’m not so sure what I think any more.”

“Give me a break. What have I got to do with it? I may have turned your neat little weekend into a really badly-thought-out sitcom, but I haven’t seen you guys missing a beat.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Mulder closed his eyes and leaned his head back into the top of the sofa. “Having you here doesn’t change things. It’s knowing what happened in your universe.”

It was easier to talk with his eyes closed. “From the time this thing with him started, I’ve been telling myself that what I have with him is just a perfect fit between our sexual pathologies. Not that a perfect sexual fit isn’t a hell of a lot to have. But that was all that it was. He was an enemy, in some ways he still is. Not somebody you felt real affection for, not somebody you’d ask for affection from. Even after this thing started, after we came back from Idaho and I could have let it drop and didn’t, I thought I was just in it for the sex. The fact that we’d ever gotten together at all was just some weird kind of freak accident.

“But your experience kind of explodes that theory. Here you are, an Alex Krycek from a whole different universe, where you’ve lived a different kind of life from him, developed in completely different ways, with different expectations, different tastes: and you’ve got a relationship with your universe’s Mulder, too. Your Mulder is different from me, the way you two are together is different from the way we are. Your relationship isn’t based on an ideal sexual fit, either, you told me that this afternoon. Same relationship in two universes, with strong social barriers against it ever happening in both universes, and without a common dynamic like a specific sexual compulsion common to both cases driving it—well, that stops looking like much of a freak accident, doesn’t it?” He straightened and opened his eyes to look at Alex. Alex was looking at the window, his eyes narrowed, his body rigid. No wonder: Mulder probably sounded like he was consulting on a case with the Behavorial Sciences group. “Sorry,” Mulder told him. “That wasn’t what you asked.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Alex said.

“No, it doesn’t. Just pointless speculation.” That wasn’t what Alex had meant, but he’d probably prefer for Mulder to take that way. “The important thing was, I was trying to tell you what he likes.”

He grinned and stretched out sideways along the couch, making it an invitation: conspiracy, sex, the grownups aren’t home so we can tell dirty stories. “Okay. He likes you to be open about what you want, that’s the first thing. That’s part of why the I-must-be-punished thing doesn’t work on him. I think he thinks of all the ritual ways of asking for it as annoying euphemisms. Manipulation doesn’t work real well either. If he can see you trying it—and he usually can—he’s likely to go out of his way to not give you what you’re after. You know, just to drive the point home. So you can’t play games with it, you have to be straight with him.”

He reached for his Calvados and looked into the glass, considering. “He likes submission, but he likes it to be a kind of constant, active submission. He likes to know you’re paying attention to what he does, that you’re enjoying it, that you appreciate it. Not appreciate it as kindness, appreciate it as performance. He likes to feel his partner’s response to it all. I think he likes it best of all if you can perform back, pick up on where he’s going and give him what he wants; but he’s happy enough without that if he gets a really intense response from you. Does that help?”

“No,” Alex said. He moved abruptly, resettling himself in his chair: a little physical display of impatience and irritation, quickly suppressed. “I know all that, Mulder. ‘Pay attention and give him what he wants’—just what the fuck do you think it is that I’ve been trying to do?”

“Right,” Mulder said. He threw his head back and looked up at the ceiling. “Look,” he said finally. “Maybe this would work better if I showed you. I’m obviously doing a rotten job trying to explain it.”

“What do you mean, show me?” Alex said. His voice was wary.

“Hands-on demonstration,” Mulder said. He searched for last night’s terminology, found it. “Krycek had me bottom for you last night, your way. This time I do it his way. You guys have some kind of connection—mental, emotional, something—maybe if you get a look at what he likes from his perspective, that’ll give you a feel for it. Enough so that you’ll know what to give him, anyway.”

“Mulder.” Alex paused, and rubbed his head in clear frustration. “It’s a nice thought. But I said it last night, and it’s still true. I can’t do what he does.”

“You don’t have to.” Mulder was smiling now. This was a challenge, and a challenge he wanted. “All you have to do is stop worrying about what he likes, what I like. Please yourself; I’ll take care of the rest of it.”

“We’re going around in circles,” Alex said wearily. “The point isn’t what pleases me, it’s what pleases him. We’ve done it my way, remember?”

“Alex.” Mulder rose from the couch. Alex was stiff in his chair, and he did not move at Mulder’s approach. Mulder slid to the floor in front of him to sit facing Alex, his chest leaning up against Alex’s legs. He folded his hands over one of Alex’s knees and rested his chin on them. “We’re not going around in circles, we’re just getting tangled up in words,” he said softly. “Forget about being a top, it doesn’t matter. None of this top and bottom stuff matters, it’s just getting in the way.” He tipped his head back so that he could look Alex in the eye. “I want to make love to you, Alex. That’s all. Please, will you let me?”

Alex made an odd little noise, and his body stiffened. Mulder must have said something that had hit him too hard. He was sorry for that; but it was an opportunity, too. A way in. “Oh, God, Mulder,” Alex said. Then he was reaching down, pulling Mulder up into his arms. “All right.”

* * *

It was good, perfect, just what he needed. Alex’s body, beautiful and beloved, filling his senses; his self-appointed task of pleasing Alex, of discovering what he wanted and giving it to him, filling his mind; the world narrowed to nothing but this. “Bedroom,” he managed to gasp, and felt Alex nod into his neck. He tried to stand, felt Alex trying with him, felt them tumble back into the chair, their bodies too tangled for balance; and then at last they managed it, got to their feet and stayed on them long enough to cross the long expanse of floor between the living room and Krycek’s bed.

And that was good too, a physical answer to his first set of questions. No question of stripping for Alex as he’d stripped for Krycek last night, or of making a performance of undressing him, or of stopping to worry over sheets or candles. Alex worried too damn much about Krycek and how he did things: good to break the link now, to show Alex a difference between how Mulder was with Krycek and how he would be with Alex. He fought with his clothes and with Alex’s, and Alex fought them with him: unbuttoning, tugging at sleeves and waistbands between kisses, getting them both tangled in cloth and twisted sheets and pulling them free again, kicking shed bits of clothing toward the bottom of the bed, until they lay naked (save for Alex’s left sock) and panting in the middle of the bed.

Alex’s uncomplicated enthusiasm, his body (so like Krycek’s, and yet oddly different in his arms): it was delicious by itself. It was tempting to let the rest go, not to complicate things, to enjoy this for the blessedly normal pleasure it was. And yet: he had promised Alex he would show him what Krycek liked. For all the awkwardness of the conversation, it had been clear enough that Alex really did want to understand. And now, when Alex wasn’t thinking about Krycek, there was a chance to make it work. He drew Alex to him, sucked in a long breath, and summoned his memory of the deep sexual trance Krycek could call up in him. Then he loosed it on Alex.

As always, the rush of pleasure was shocking, disorienting. Krycek claimed to be able to feel it in Mulder’s body when he went into this mode, to be able to see it in the way he moved, to know it without a word spoken. Mulder was sure that was true: it was too intense not to communicate itself to his muscles, his skin, the way he used his body. Alex would feel it, whether he knew what he was feeling or not. Mulder settled himself against Alex, making contact along the full length of their bodies, feet and shins touching, thighs pressed together, the skin of Alex’s chest rubbing against his nipples. He heard himself gasp at the friction. His heart thudded, and his cock throbbed against Alex’s belly. His head was respectfully lowered now, his mouth pressed into the notch at the base of Alex’s throat. He let his lips part, kissed the hollow of bone and ran his tongue over the delicate hard edges.

Alex made a low growling sound deep in his throat. Mulder felt it rather than hearing it. Alex wasn’t Krycek, but the nervous system was the same, and Krycek liked to be touched firmly. Mulder worked an arm under Alex’s shoulder, keeping them locked together, and brought his other hand down the length of Alex’s back to knead at one satiny buttock.

There: that growling noise again. He tipped his head back and sought Alex’s eye. “Please,” he said softly, risking the single word; and brought his mouth up to just graze Alex’s. No more, now: he wanted Alex to feel it as his own decision, to take him or not. To feel Mulder’s body begging him, and his own power and right to deny him what he wanted.

The moment stretched, exquisitely. Mulder luxuriated in it, his body screaming with helpless desire, his mind already opened and subdued to Alex’s will, pleasured by his submission as his body would be pleasured by Alex’s touch, if Alex chose to take him. Then Alex’s mouth was pressing into his, and Alex’s arms were locked around him, crushing Mulder’s body into his.

* * *

Not Krycek, he thought as he fell back under the hard weight of Alex’s body. Not anything like Krycek, for all the familiar length of thigh and shape of muscles and underlying bone. He’d thought he’d known that, but this was different: knowledge of the body, not just of the mind. And with belief came an unexpected surge of excitement, so sharp that his mouth went dry with the shock of adrenaline. With Krycek there were so many layers of perversity, so many broken taboos that you could lose sight of the most obvious: that this was another man kissing his mouth, petting him, pressing him down into the sheets. His skin was on fire. He moaned into Alex’s mouth and arced up into him, wanting more contact. Alex’s cock was hard against his belly. He shifted under Alex, needing to feel that cock lower, between his legs, rubbing against his balls.

Alex drew back. It was only a small hesitation, a hint of disengagement in Alex’s body; but it was enough to tell Mulder what he needed to know. This was not what Alex wanted from him. That was a disappointment; but it was balanced by the sharp pleasure of feeling Alex’s command. He responded at once, damping down his own intensity, rolling them over so that they lay locked together on their sides.

It was going to be a delicate balance, then, showing Alex the effect he was having on Mulder, Mulder’s pleasure at his touch, without letting his expression of that pleasure become a demand. Mulder considered it with the back of his mind while he let his mouth play over Alex’s chest. The thoughts made a teasing counterpoint to the texture of Alex’s skin under his lips. He could lose his head from time to time with Krycek: Krycek was perfectly capable of ignoring what he wanted, or (more likely) acknowledging it and laughing at him. But while Alex might hesitate, it was too likely that he would put aside his own desires and give Mulder what he wanted if Mulder made his own wishes too clear. And it would be hard to catch him in time to stop it—you would only see the barest hint of reluctance, and then only if you were looking for it. Strange, he thought as he shifted his attention to Alex’s nipples, that Alex complained about Krycek not being clear about what he wanted: what Alex required was much more difficult. Krycek made it easy. He’d tell you what he wanted, and if you started to make a mistake he’d correct it. But Alex made you ask the questions with your body, and guess at the answers. No wonder they weren’t managing to give him what he liked—he let his teeth graze over the tip of one nipple, and felt Alex’s hand close hard on his shoulder. The touch was like Krycek’s, harsh and demanding. Mulder melted around it, making the little noise of surprise and delight that only Krycek ever wrung from him, and felt Alex’s body change at once: the hand at his shoulder relaxed, and then Alex was nuzzling his hair, his mouth soft and sweet against Mulder’s head.

So: not that, either. Something more active, perhaps. He let his hands wander down the length of Alex’s back, and squeezed that luscious ass with both hands. And yes, that was better: Alex growled and arced back into his hands. He pulled Alex back on top of him and let his fingers slip between the tight buttocks, found the hot ring of muscle there and pressed it gently with one fingertip. And there it was: Alex groaned, and his legs fell open, knees coming down to bracket Mulder’s thighs.

Mulder felt a thrill of fear. Krycek had never required this from him. But this was clearly what Alex wanted: under the circumstances, he thought Krycek would give him permission. And at least he knew how. Here, at last, was something where experience with women counted.

He needed the lubricant. He slid out from under Alex, kissing Alex’s neck as he moved, took hold of Alex’s shoulders and pressed him face down into the sheets. Alex moved with him, helping him: yes, this was better. He let his hands tighten a little on Alex’s shoulders, and heard a little groan of pleasure.

His own breath was as uneven as Alex’s. This was good too, unexpectedly good. He took his time, exploring the broad muscular back underneath him with his mouth and hands, working slowly downward. Alex was gasping under him, and his hands were clenched around the sheets: Mulder must finally be getting it right for him. And Christ, he was gorgeous like this, spread out under Mulder like a feast. (Was this what Mulder himself looked like to Krycek? No time to be thinking about that, save it for later.)

The inside of his body would be hot and tight. He groaned aloud, just thinking about it: he’d never last long enough to give Alex a decent ride. But of course Krycek had taught him the answer to that. Fingers could feel almost as good as a cock inside you, and fingers stayed hard. He took one last nip at Alex’s upper thigh, just where it met his ass, and drew himself up to kneel between Alex’s parted thighs.

It was strange and exciting to be the one reaching for the lubricant. Alex groaned when Mulder’s fingers touched his anus, and Mulder groaned himself at the sound. He brought his head down to nibble again at Alex’s buttocks while his fingers worked. Alex gasped and wriggled under him. He smiled, felt the smile against Alex’s skin, and turned his full attention to what his fingers were doing. The inside of Alex’s body was just as he’d imagined it, smooth and soft and hot. The shock of what he was doing washed through him again, terrible and delicious—the beautiful narrow hips, the broad shoulders, they belonged to a man; he had his fingers up another man’s ass—

His cock pulsed, almost painfully. He could get lost in this; it was a good thing he had a model for what came next. Krycek liked to do this from time to time, fuck him thoroughly with his fingers before he’d let Mulder have his cock, and that was always good. Alex would like it, too… And yes, that was working: Alex was moaning and writhing into his fingers, and now Alex’s hands were clenching on the twisted sheets. He could feel Alex’s inner muscles closing hard around his fingers, could almost feel that hot satiny grip on his cock… He was moaning now himself, and rational thought was dissolving. Now, it had to be now or he was going to come without ever giving Alex what he wanted, spurt all over his legs like a horny fourteen-year-old, and Christ that wouldn’t do—

He caught himself and forced his body to be still. He withdrew his fingers, moving as gently as he could, and reached again for the lubricant. And for a condom, for himself this time. Alex was quiet beneath him. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing in long heaving gasps. Mulder settled himself once more and guided his cock into place. Alex sobbed at its touch and thrust his hips up, moving onto Mulder: yes, he still wanted this. It was good to have Alex’s help, too: it had been a long time since he’d done this, and after all you could hurt someone if you got too enthusiastic too soon, and oh, Christ it was easy to get too enthusiastic…. It was hard to hold back, but somehow he managed it, letting Alex set the pace, moving with him until Alex finally took one long breath and pushed back against him, and the full length of Mulder’s cock was caught and held and squeezed in that hot tight channel.

Too much sensation. It was wonderful sensation, but it was too much, he wasn’t going to be able to hold onto himself. His body was already fighting free of his will: he was moving without conscious command, moaning, not sure how to stop. That was no good, Alex needed attention, he couldn’t come before Alex did. He pulled Alex’s hips up against his and reached around to take Alex’s cock in his hands. His balls felt hard and tight, and Mulder could feel the throbbing in his cock: Alex was close himself, thank God. Maybe, maybe Mulder was going to make it through this. He tried to focus on his hands, on doing all the things Krycek liked best, the things that brought him to a peak. He could feel the urgency in his own motions, but that was good, that could only add to what Alex was feeling. Then Alex was thrashing, spurting into his hands and crying out. Mulder felt the last of his control dissolve at the new flood of sensation: Alex’s inner muscles spasming around his cock, Alex’s ass squirming against his groin. But that was all right now. He let it take him, let his body move at last as it would, and a moment later he reached his own climax, hung there for a glorious instant, and collapsed at last onto Alex’s back.

* * *

It was a little while before he could think again. Alex lay unmoving underneath him, his eyes closed. Sweat was cooling on Mulder’s back. He disengaged himself from Alex, moving carefully. Alex was sticky with sweat, too; they needed towels. Alex still hadn’t moved. He’d probably fallen asleep, and no wonder, considering that none of them had gotten much rest last night. Mulder lay where he was for a moment, waiting for the inevitable moment when the discomfort began to outweigh his unwillingness to move, and then he rolled out of bed.

He stood in the shower for what seemed a long time, letting the heat soak into his muscles. His mind had finally slowed down, and he was grateful: maybe he’d be able to sleep now, too. He grabbed a clean towel as he left the bathroom. Alex might be asleep, but he’d still be more comfortable if Mulder blotted some of that sweat off his back, pulled the covers up over him and tucked him in properly. He yawned—a nice, comforting sensation, it was as though he’d just finished a hard and productive day’s work—and stepped back into the bedroom.

Alex was awake. He hadn’t moved, but his eyes were open now, following Mulder as he came back to bed. Mulder grinned and slid over toward him, draped the towel across his back and started to rub him down with it, one-handed. But the moment he touched him, Alex stiffened, and buried his face in the pillow.

Mulder stopped, confused. “Alex?”

“Don’t.” The word was muffled by the pillow, low and spiked with pain. Then Alex moved away, turning onto his side, his back to Mulder.

Mulder was conscious of a flash of anger: Christ, now what? Something was wrong, that much was obvious. And if Mulder were Krycek, he would undoubtedly go digging for whatever it was. Soothe Alex, find out what had upset him, try to make it better. But he wasn’t: he didn’t have Krycek’s skill at it, or Krycek’s patience.

There was a movement from across the bed, and Alex turned back towards Mulder. The look on his face was a raw wound. “Well, that was fun,” Alex said. He was attempting to make the tone light, but his voice was ragged and carried an undercurrent of bitterness. He forced a hollow laugh. “Now maybe you could explain to me what the hell it had to do with bottoming for Krycek.”

Mulder shrugged. He’d never been any damn good at this kind of conversation. “It was what you wanted, wasn’t it?” he said at last.

“Mulder, I—” The tortured plea was cut off with a helpless little squeak. Pain radiated from him, difficult to look at. Then his face hardened, and a desperate smile twisted his mouth. “So that’s how you please Krycek. Roll him over and ream his ass. No wonder I was getting it wrong.” There was a hysterical edge to Alex’s laugh. “You guys have the weirdest excuse for an S/M relationship I’ve ever seen. Is this, like, normal in this universe? You do have black leather and whips and chains and stuff, just what do people generally do with them? Maybe I’m just missing something entirely here.”

“Maybe you are.” Mulder could hear the weariness in his own voice. Alex would be able to hear it too. He could only hope Alex wouldn’t hear the anger underneath it; he didn’t want to hurt Alex any more, but he was too tired to completely control his tone. “You were giving the orders, not him. I just did what your body told me to do. I can’t help what you want.”

Damn it, that really was too harsh. “And yeah,” Mulder said, trying to soften it a little. “If Krycek wanted me to ‘ream his ass,’ as you so delicately put it, that’s what I’d do for him, too.”

“But he doesn’t.” It wasn’t a question, it was flat denial. Mulder could hear the unspoken half of the sentence: And if he does, I don’t want to know about it.

“Not so far,” Mulder said. “But he’s threatened me with it once or twice. It could happen, I’m not exactly in a position to say no to him.” He should stop this, dammit. It was the truth, but still, there was no call to tease Alex. This was probably Mulder’s own fault for not leaving Alex sitting in that chair in the living room, staring at the book he wasn’t reading—although when it came down to it, Alex had been a hell of a lot more than just polite and accommodating, and damn it, he could have said no.

But it was pointless to lie here arguing with himself about whose fault it was. Whatever had just happened, however tired Mulder was, Alex was still the stranger here, and whatever the cause, he was bitterly unhappy. He should be giving the guy a little more consideration. Except… except I don’t have the resources right now, okay? Okay?? But it was no good going down that road either. Whatever his own problems were, he didn’t want to think about them, didn’t even want to figure out what might be wrong.

“He probably threatens you with all kinds of things,” Alex said. His voice was still flat, dismissive, the voice of someone telling you the sun was going to rise in the east tomorrow.

It was almost endearing, in a weird kind of way. And Mulder didn’t really want to argue about it. Whatever was wrong, they weren’t going to resolve it now anyway: if they kept this up they’d only find a few dozen more ways to irritate each other. Let it go, then, and maybe they could both get some sleep. “You’re probably right,” he said. He wrapped himself in one end of the sheet and yawned as ostentatiously as he could. “Total shutdown of the higher brain functions,” he told Alex. “You’re okay, aren’t you? Because if you’re not, you’ve got about fifteen seconds to get my attention before unconsciousness sets in.” He managed to keep his tone light, even, the tone he would use if there really were nothing wrong.

“Yeah,” Alex said, from where he lay on the other side of the bed. “I’m fine.”

“That’s good, then,” Mulder said, and closed his eyes.

* * *

Alex stirred, stretching, making little cat noises in his throat. The bed was big and soft and warm; the sheets were heavy and smooth. Beside him, Mulder breathed the deep, even breaths of sleep. Alex moved a little closer; let the back of his hand rest against Mulder’s hip, and brushed his mouth against Mulder’s shoulder. Mulder shifted slightly but didn’t wake.

It was around four in the morning, Alex’s inner clock told him. His own Mulder, who never seemed to sleep, would chuckle seductively, kiss Alex’s ear, roll him over onto his stomach and stroke his bottom with a firm, possessive hand. You need something to help you sleep, Mulder would murmur in his rough silk voice. His long, delicate fingers would probe between Alex’s buttocks. Alex would giggle softly, letting his legs fall apart. Still half asleep, in a warm, dreamy haze of pleasure, he’d smile to himself and twist the pillow in his hands, while Mulder slid on top of him and into him….

But that was another Mulder, in another universe. This Mulder slept on at his side. And even if he woke, this Mulder would not arrange Alex just the way he wanted him with loving firmness, and slide his cock up Alex’s ass. Not after the way Alex had reacted earlier. He probably wished Alex would go sleep somewhere else.

This Mulder was sweet, but he wasn’t for Alex. Neither was this Krycek, who liked to keep you on the edge, and made you discover the rules as you went along. It was the most perverse thing Alex could imagine—and not in a good way—to have met the top of his dreams, a man he ached to submit to, whose mere presence made Alex’s cock rock-hard, whose slightest touch set Alex ablaze—who consistently refused to give Alex the kind of pain and control he needed.

Alex thought longingly of the toys in Krycek’s closet. Beautiful restraints, thick fulfilling plugs, perfect whips, and that dizzyingly exotic and elegant crystal-clear dildo—all the things that would ease his torment, soothe his fevered mind, send him below and give him peace. And Krycek left them gathering dust at the bottom of his closet.

He thought he understood the difference between them. Alex’s doppelganger had chosen the path of cold discipline, stepping away from his feelings until he barely knew they were there. He didn’t need sex to take him below—he was already below, he lived in a place that mundane pain couldn’t affect. He needed to escape that nothingness, not to sink into it. He needed the use of his lovers’ minds, not their bodies. He needed to invade their emotions, to force them to yield up their dirty secrets, to use their pain to replace his own lost feelings. And Mulder, that master of denial, who used one pain to hide another, needed to have his secrets dredged up and shown to him, to be forced to face them and understand them. They were perfect for each other.

But Alex didn’t hide his failings from himself. He didn’t keep dirty secrets or push his emotions away. His mistakes and betrayals paraded in front of him relentlessly, the pain a constant, sharp reminder. His feelings flooded him endlessly, tearing him apart. Rough sex was his release, his relief from the torment that threatened to drive him mad.

* * *

Alex sighed and reached between his legs for his cock. In any leather bar in town he could find a dozen men to do to him what he needed. He wouldn’t even have to ask. A navy blue handkerchief in his right back pocket would tell anyone who was interested. A man would approach. They would eye each other. If they were both satisfied with what they saw, they would nod. Do you have a place? —A hotel, near here. Once there, the trick would see the bag of toys on the dresser. Not an extensive selection, nothing like Krycek’s case full of toys. A butt plug, a whip, some straps. Plenty of lube and condoms. The straps were short and thick and wouldn’t tie tightly. It was a compromise between desire and safety—it wasn’t wise to let total strangers tie you up, but these bonds were more for show than for real restraint. The trick might call him names. You’re a filthy little whore. I’m going to beat your ass black and blue. —Yes, please, sir. Or the whole encounter might pass without another word spoken. After the trick was gone, Alex would rest a while, maybe sleep for an hour or so. Then put his clothes back on and go out again, to find another hungry stranger. If he wanted to take a break, he might switch the handkerchief for a light blue one, and spend a few hours sucking cock. He could go on all weekend like this, snatching a few hours of sleep between fuckings, grabbing a hamburger when his stomach became too empty, going to the baths when the bars emptied out, following one trick or another into one of the private sex clubs. Then back to D.C. on the Sunday night red-eye, exhausted and sore but sated and content. It would be several months before the need hit him again, and he packed his leathers for another weekend in the big city.

Now here he was in the big city, with two gorgeous lovers and a closet full of dream toys, and neither one would give him what he wanted. Why couldn’t Krycek do him like this, just once? It would be so simple. He was sure Krycek knew how. He must have used those toys at one time, surely he could still find a little pleasure in it, somewhere.

Alex imagined himself on his knees before Krycek. Krycek looking glorious in shiny black leather—jacket and boots and cap and tight denim jeans. Alex knew exactly what he would look like—hadn’t he seen himself in the mirror hundreds of times? Except Krycek would have that dangerous, self-assured look of cold steel. And that heavy-lidded, dreamy smile. His hands would stroke Alex’s face. He would speak with that soul-twisting gentleness, soft velvet overlying inexorable power. Poor Alex. You need this so badly. You just can’t help yourself, can you? I’ll help you, Little Brother. Be a good boy now, and obey me.

Yes, Big Brother. I will. Alex felt his cock harden under his hand. In the dreamlike unreality of the predawn hours, it was easy to slip into the fantasy, to let it guide his hand and his thoughts. He could almost feel Krycek’s hands on him, hear that throaty murmur that seemed to speak inside his own head. He could feel the carpet on his knees and shins as he knelt. The chill of the night air on his naked skin. The roughness of the leather dog collar around his neck. The image was pure and intoxicating. It was almost as good as the real thing. Perhaps even better. In fantasy, Krycek would do exactly what Alex needed him to do. There would be no nasty surprises. Nothing he couldn’t handle. Nothing that gave him the wrong kind of pain.

* * *

He stroked his cock and told himself the story. I’m on the bed now, tied up tightly. My arms are bound behind my back, at wrist and elbow. A spreader bar holds my knees wide apart, and my ankles are shackled together. Straps run from the dog collar, underneath me to my ankles, holding my face pressed down to the mattress. I’m completely immobile. I can hear Krycek moving behind me, but I can’t see what he’s doing. He takes his time, letting me adjust to my bonds, test them, feel my helplessness. All choice has been stripped from me. I feel the tight leather biting into me, binding my arms and knees, neck and ankles. It’s strangely relaxing to be bound like this, knowing there’s nothing I can do, nothing at all for me except sensation, and only the sensations my master chooses for me. I don’t have to worry any more about making mistakes, doing the wrong thing. All that’s left for me is to endure. Or to struggle, and have the struggle worked out of me. It’s all the same.

He comes around to the side now, and shows me what he’s got. It’s the crystal dildo, beautiful and full of potent magic. Do you want this inside you? he asks. Oh yes. Please. Please give it to me. He strokes my cheek with it, my shoulder, trails it along my spine and down over my tailbone. It’s big, but I can take it. I want to take it—I’m trembling with the need to have it inside me. He sees my desire, and teases me with it, stroking the dildo along my buttocks, up the insides of my thighs, letting it approach the entrance, then shying away. He taps it against my balls, which jump and twitch in their sac. He caresses the soles of my bound feet with it. I’d be squirming and thrusting if I could move, but all I can do is strain against my bonds and whimper pleadingly.

I cry out with pleasure when at last his wet fingers touch my anus, spreading the lubricant generously into me. My sphincter muscles flex around his fingers, trying to draw them in. He slides one finger in up to the last knuckle, moves it around inside me, then withdraws it and enters again with two. All my being is drawn into my ass. I exist only to be a receptacle for his probing fingers. It is so soothing to become nothing, to give up self and will. I’m already floating in the warm darkness, sinking below to the Forever Place, when I feel the head of the crystal dildo pressing against my anus. I feel a sound of pure pleasure bubbling in my throat as he works it into my guts. The dildo is slightly cool, with a glassy smoothness. It stretches me as it enters. The slight burning sting as it opens me is a lovely contrast to its smooth coolness. He whispers to me to breathe, and I realize that I’ve forgotten my lungs with the concentrated rush of sensation in my ass. I take long, slow pulls of air and the dildo pumps along with the easy rhythm. He presses it in slowly and carefully, with slight, gentle thrusts. Its entrance is steady and inexorable, as unstoppable as the tide.

With the dildo fully implanted, he pauses, always patient, always gentle in his magnificent power. He strokes my ass, pressing his palm against the base of the dildo, holding it firmly inside me as my hips shift and muscles twitch, settling around its heavy, comforting bulk. I want to weep for pleasure. He waits until I’ve relaxed, then his hands move over my body. He massages my back, my buttocks, the backs of my thighs. He caresses my bound wrists and ankles. My body has turned to jelly; my muscles no longer function. The bonds are now holding me in place—the leather straps and cuffs have become an exoskeleton, supporting my helpless limbs. Am I yet human? Or have I become a strange, fantastical creature: an exotic mound of flesh from some Burroughs novel, a living anus, existing only to be penetrated and used?

He whispers nonsense to me, soothing and wonderful. The words are meaningless; it is only the tone I hear—the low, velvety murmur, soft as a caress. So sensitized, I can feel the vibrations passing through my skin, engulfing my flesh.

Now he grips the base of the dildo and begins to fuck me with it. Slow, shallow thrusts at first, gradually deepening and quickening. The crystal dildo plunges into me, stroking the inside of my body. Its hard bulk rubs against my stretched anus, holding it wide open and helpless. He gives it to me strong and steady, knowing I need this heavy pounding inside me to wipe out all the torment, the doubt, the overwhelming torture of living in my own mind. It’s all blown away, grains of sand before the desert wind, yielding to the glorious power of my adored other self, Krycek with the crystal dildo.

He holds it still again. You’re a poor, lost child, Little Brother, he whispers. Or is he speaking directly into my mind? I’ll take care of you. I’ll give you what you need. I’m trembling with the piercing sweetness of his words. I crush them to my chest, kissing them with abject adoration. Just relax, Little Brother. Don’t fight me any more. No, I won’t fight you. I sob with joy. At last, he understands. I can give up now.

He withdraws the crystal dildo. I sigh a little, but it’s all right. I don’t need it any more. His presence fills me, penetrates me, covers and protects me, rules me utterly. Then his fingers enter me again. Three fingers slide in easily. Four. His thumb folded against his palm, he presses his whole hand into my relaxed, open anus. He is going to fistfuck me.

I quiver with anticipation. I would offer myself to him if I could, spread my legs for him, give him everything—but I’m already bound to his will and offered up; there’s nothing more I can do. It doesn’t matter anyway—he’s doing this because he chooses to, not because I’ve asked for it. My desires are irrelevant, my consent is not required. I’m part of him now. He no more needs to consider my wishes than he needs to consult his own hand before thrusting it up my ass.

I’ve been well opened by the dildo, but his hand is wider still and requires more patience and care to work into my ass. I gasp and utter whimpering sighs as his knuckles spread my sphincter to its limit, then slip inside. He continues to penetrate me, until my stretched muscles relax around his wrist, now an easy and comfortable width. He closes his fingers inside me; his fist entirely within my body, controlling me completely. And now he fucks me with his fist.

Can there be another sensation more fulfilling than this? My body seems to float on the end of his arm. The Forever Place expands around me, its darkness vast and pure and timeless. I don’t want this to ever end….

* * *

Alex whimpered, and his cock, clutched in his hand, spasmed and spurted into the mattress. The Forever Place dissolved around him, leaving him lonely and bereft in the big bed. He released his already-wilting cock and lay limply, waiting for his breathing to slow. It’s just masturbation, he’d told his other self when they met. He hadn’t known how right he was.

Mulder lay still beside him, but his breathing was no longer the slow and measured breath of sleep. Alex’s private session had awakened him. No doubt he was wondering why Alex would pound his own flesh when he had a willing, eager partner at his side. I’m sorry, Mulder. Krycek never trained you for what I need. But he didn’t want to try to explain it. Mulder seemed willing to feign sleep and ignore the situation, however, and Alex was grateful to go along.

And I’m still lost in another universe, with alien implants in my head, a bottom I’d rather have be a top, and a top I can’t figure out how to please. He gathered the memories of his fantasy around him, and sought the Forever Place of sleep.

* * *

Mulder lay still, doing his best to keep his breath even. So Alex hadn’t gotten over whatever had upset him, or at least hadn’t gotten over it sufficiently to want to wake Mulder up for this round.

The thought troubled him less than he would have expected. His annoyance at Alex seemed to have cooled. It might be unpleasant for him to deal with Alex’s storms of emotion, Mulder reflected, but it could hardly be as unpleasant for him as it was for Alex. He could not even assume that Alex was overreacting. For all their differences, after all, Alex shared an identity, nerves and brain and body, with Krycek; he would have something like Krycek’s cool balance. It would be wired in, part of his fundamental temperament. Alex’s exuberance, his unshakable appetite for life in all its complexity and difficulty, that was probably an expression of that same basic strength. (And when he thought about it, wasn’t Alex’s emotional openness, his willingness to accept pain for the sake of remaining fully alive to happiness, very like his own Krycek’s startling lyric delight in the complexities of this world? You could see them both riding out on a May morning, with hawks and banners, smiling like idiots, happy to take up whatever adventure happened to come along—Sure I know I could get killed doing this, and so what?)

So use the psych training, and look at the obvious. Alex isn’t a weak man, he’s a strong man dealing with worse shit than any of us are acknowledging, including him. The situation is so fantastic that on an emotional level, we’re not accepting it as real. But the truth leaks through. It is real, and Alex knows it.

And you’re not giving him a whole lot of comfort, are you? If he’s got the inner resources to get some of what he needs from his fantasies and his own two hands, then good for him. He wasn’t sent here to help you live out the full range of your sex-slave fantasies, so just get over it, Mulder.

Alex’s breath slowed and then eased into the steady rhythm of sleep. Mulder felt himself relax a little at the sound. He had privacy now: privacy, if he liked, to follow Alex’s lead without disturbing Alex himself; privacy in which to stop worrying over Alex and let himself think about Krycek.

The thought of Krycek brought a kind of pleasant uneasiness with it. Krycek would expect a report on this evening’s activities. There was no knowing whether he would simply take in the information and file it away somewhere for later use, or whether he would make an issue of Mulder’s choices, and Alex’s distress. Alex, if he could guess Mulder’s thoughts, would think it was a question of whether Krycek would punish him, Mulder considered; but that was not quite accurate. Krycek did not look for excuses to punish him: that ruthless honesty disdained any excuse for hurting him beyond the simple truth, Krycek’s pleasure in doing it. Krycek only punished when he meant it.

But that Krycek would not punish him for any mistakes he might have made with Alex did not mean that he would not use what had happened tonight to hurt him. The flavor of the pain would be different, but it would not hurt any less for that. And somewhere in it Mulder would find truth, and release.

Still: he could wish that Krycek might be persuaded to stretch the truth a little, to look at Mulder’s behavior as a punishable offense and treat him accordingly. It would be good—more than good, perfect in its way. It was one of the ultimate sex-slave fantasies, after all: to be punished not for some obvious disobedience or rebellion, but for failing to give his owner (or his owner’s guest) sufficient pleasure.

He felt himself shiver. You didn’t have to shade the facts a lot to make it work. Call it carelessness, a variation on the old high-school sin of not doing the best work you were really capable of; say he’d made whatever mistake he’d made with Alex because he was too interested in his own pleasure to bother focusing properly on his partner. Krycek probably would punish him for that. Mulder could hear himself telling Krycek what had happened, hear the uneasiness in his own voice as he tried to talk around the core of the matter. Krycek would smile, lazy and amused. “Mulder,” he would say, gentle and very cold; and Mulder would freeze; and that would be all Krycek needed to say to him, they would both understand that he was caught, that there was no point in trying to make excuses. He would nod, and swallow hard, and be silent, waiting for Krycek to pass sentence on him….

His cock was hard against the sheets. Alex shifted a little in his sleep, and the linen scraped over him, sending a bright rush of pleasure through his groin and thighs. Just a moment’s tease, almost the sort of thing Krycek would do; a perfect counterpart to his thoughts. He kept his hands where they were, letting the moment stretch, just as it would stretch while Krycek considered what to do to him. Then Krycek would finally speak. His voice would be utterly relaxed, giving no warning of his intentions, but Mulder knew that voice, he would feel himself flinch at the very tone. Krycek would order him across the room (and was all this happening in the living room, with Krycek fully dressed? Yes, it was), and then he would smile at Mulder, and tell him he should be pleased, he was finally going to get what he’d been asking for all these months; and then the first blow would fall.

—And that was not at all likely to really happen, no matter how he played with the facts. Krycek rarely hit him, and had turned aside all Mulder’s hints about it from the very beginning. No knowing why: it was obvious that he’d enjoyed hitting Mulder on the few occasions when he’d done it. And he hadn’t explained, as he sometimes did. (That first time, out in Idaho. The fourth night in the house, his fourth night in Krycek’s bed, astonished and exhilarated at the depth of his hunger, and its satisfaction: Alex. Would you beat me, if I asked you to? And Krycek’s answer, amused and oddly affectionate: No. Not yet. What would be the point?)

It meant something—Krycek always meant something—but Mulder was not sure he understood what. All this time for observation, but he still didn’t understand the way Krycek thought. He knew the tones of his voice, the rhythms of his speech. In his fantasies, he got Krycek almost right, he thought: he could hear Krycek’s voice in the lines he made up for him, could almost feel the unmistakable mind behind the words. But how Krycek got there, why he said what he said, that was still a mystery. And even if Mulder could conjure his voice for his fantasies, he never could take the next step, predict Krycek’s decisions or actions. The real Krycek always surprised him. (And perhaps that was simply the nature of the world? Perhaps the notion that you understood another human being was always an illusion, the whole discipline of psychology just a defense against the truth of every person’s isolation? But it was a powerful illusion, if so: the world was full of people whom Mulder thought he understood. But Krycek—)

How would this fantasy look, from Krycek’s point of view? It was peculiarly difficult to conceive of Krycek having fantasies at all; Mulder half-believed that he had contingency plans instead. That was wrong, of course: all human beings had their fantasies. But—“The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being.” He shook himself impatiently, stopping the movement abruptly as he remembered Alex. Too much time with the X-Files; he was starting to see the entire world in terms of monsters and aliens. (Although there was Alex, too, during his temper tantrum this morning: “Are you human at all?”)

But assume he is human. What does it look like to him? Does he run it over in his mind when you’re in D.C., give you all the things in his fantasies that he denies you in the flesh? He was supposed to have the training to answer that question, at least partly. That was Krycek’s trick—but was a Behavioral Sciences trick too, although it was the product of hard analytical work there, informed by theory and statistics and history, and calculated to produce external facts about a subject, things that could be used to identify and find him. With Krycek it was a creature of intuition: he looked out of other people’s eyes as though he wandered through a great darkened house, looking out at will from first one window and then another.

Not easy, to see the thing through Krycek’s eyes, but he could try. Krycek had talked to him once about what Mulder looked like to him: that was a good place to start. Be Krycek, then: he would come through the door, see Mulder in the living room. He would note the tension in Mulder’s body, the heaviness in his eyelids that spoke of nerves and lack of sleep, the little nervy motions that would betray that Mulder felt guilty about something, something Krycek was undoubtedly going to find out about. The display of nerves would be at once piquant and touching, and he might want to play out the scene a little, pretend to Mulder that he hadn’t noticed anything wrong. He would wait until Mulder had to know his edginess was showing before starting to ask any pointed questions, and he would want to keep his voice absolutely level, to give Mulder no clue at all about his reactions.

He could see it now, almost feel it. It was perversely exciting to be looking at himself this way, to stand in another man’s place and look at his own body as an object of desire. If this was not quite what Krycek felt when he looked at him, it would do for now. He would look at Mulder, then; and finally he would speak….

* * *

Krycek could hear his own voice, relaxed and pleasant. “Mulder. Come here.” Mulder came. He’d heard danger in Krycek’s voice, or read it somehow from his face: you could see from the way Mulder carried himself that he was already afraid. It was delicious, that fear: like a great, complex wine, something to be taken slowly, and savored. Mulder stood before him, very still, working to keep his breathing steady. It was a pretty show to watch, and he took a few moments to appreciate it. Mulder waited, staring at him, pupils grown enormous, blackening the hazel eyes. Finally he spoke again, in that same detached, pleasant voice. “On your knees.”

No hint at all of resistance. Mulder sucked in air, but he was already dropping as he did it, graceful as though he’d practiced this. Now there was no question of his mastering his breath, either; Krycek could hear the uneven gasps. Mulder looked down at the floor, as if he were afraid to assume he was permitted to look at Krycek.

He felt himself smile at it. “Refresh my memory,” he told Mulder. “How long have you been asking me to beat you?”

“Since Idaho.” Mulder’s voice shook a little. “Thirteen months, three days.”

“Good. And when was the last time you asked?”

A brief pause while Mulder calculated it. “Seven and a half weeks ago.”

“Did you really want me to do it, or did you just want to do a little begging?”

That went home: there was a little gasp from Mulder. “I thought I wanted it. It was a risk. You’ve never done it, I can only guess whether I’d like it.”

Krycek laughed softly. “All right. We’re going to find out whether you like it.” There was a flash of movement at his feet. Mulder was looking up at him now. His eyes were still dark, the sweet mouth open a little with desire. “Rules, Mulder,” he told him. “I’m not going to use restraints on you. We’ve fought before, you and I. We’re pretty evenly matched, we’ve each had our wins. This is not going to be a fight. I’m going to hit you. You will not make any attempt to protect yourself, or to evade a blow, or to move into a blow at an angle that would lessen your pain. In fact, when you can tell where I want to hit you next, you are going to offer yourself to me, and give me an easy target. You will not tell me to stop. Do you understand?”

It took Mulder a moment to respond, but that was to be expected. “Yes,” he said at last. His voice was ragged. “I—If I have to, may I ask you to stop it?”

“Yes.” He reached down now, to take Mulder’s chin in his hand. Mulder whimpered with excitement at his touch. “This is going to be bad, Mulder. I’m going to make you scream; I’m going to leave marks on you. I may draw blood.” He let his voice drop and go soft. “And I’m going to make you come while I do it; and I think you’re going to tell me that you love me. That’s not an order, it’s a prediction. You’re going to say it because you mean it, and because you want me to know.

“Now, get up.”

* * *

Mulder turned, stretching against the cool sheets. That was where the fantasy broke down, of course: where he rose to his feet and waited for the first blow. He could feel how it would be to do that: the deep trance of arousal and obedience, the flush of heat in his skin, all the capillaries dilated, preparing his body so that it would appreciate every nuance of every sensation. But there was no such thing as what he wanted next. Pain was untransformable, at least as far as Mulder knew; there was no trick Krycek could use to change that, to make his body experience a serious beating as a pleasure, to make the body conform to the mind.

Alex stirred in his sleep beside him, as though about to wake; and then he turned and settled once again into the pillows. Mulder listened while his breath shifted once more into the steady rhythms of sleep, then turned again, impatiently, trying not to resent his bedfellow’s easy rest.

Sleep was impossible, further away than ever. He forced down another restless twist of his body: just because he was unable to sleep was no reason for him to torment Alex. At home he would have gotten up, gone to lie on the couch and eat junk food and watch television until he fell asleep or the sun rose. Here, though, if he were going to lie awake all night and think, he preferred to do it this way, naked in his master’s bed. (No mistaking whose bed it was, ever, even with no Krycek in it; this pile of goosedown and lavender-scented linen felt nothing at all like his own bed, was as distinct and recognizable as the scent of Krycek’s body.)

…So the fantasy was unrealizable, in its very nature. But it was a fantasy, damn it; why did he have to fret over it, insist that it conform to reality? And anyway, maybe Krycek knew something Mulder didn’t, a trick that would make it possible to give Mulder what he wanted next. He closed his eyes and gave himself back to the dream.

Krycek would hit him, of course. He would have that detached half-smile on his lips, that dreaming distance in his eyes. Mulder would watch him choose his target, would do his best not to anticipate it, not to flinch away. His breathing would be uneven and fast with hunger and fear, and his terror would give everything a hallucinatory clarity. The first blow would be to his face, the way he loved it. It would be a light blow, not even enough force to knock him off balance, but the pain from it would be shocking, a warning of what was to come. It would get serious with the next blow. Still not hard, not enough impact to give him an excuse to move under it, and now Krycek’s terrible skill would be on display: the pain would be blinding, impossible. Another two, and now he would be unable to endure it in silence; he would make noises very like the ones he always made under Krycek’s hands, choked and soft, and Krycek would laugh at him for it. Then Krycek would do something—sick with pain, he wouldn’t be able to analyze it—and something important would change: now there would be an obscene tang of physical pleasure woven inextricably into the punishment. He would scream, just as Krycek had promised he would, and sometime after that he would start to cry; but Krycek’s warning that he was not to try to put a stop to this would turn out to be unnecessary. It would be sweet, dazzlingly sweet even through the pain, and just as Krycek had predicted, Mulder would try to tell him so, to kiss the savage hands and thank him and tell him, at long last, how he loved him.

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