Orpheus Descending
By Ursula

 

This was the first story that anyone offered to archive anywhere and that offer was like a breath of oxygen, an encouragement that I desperately needed as I struggled to learn a craft that I had not attempted for many years. I believe that the changes I have made in this version improve it.

Dedication: To Tyler, she should know why

 

Mulder looked out at the square of rough terrain, which was surrounded by the squat rectangles of the storage areas. Tendrils of fog obscured some of the detail, lending a surreal aspect to the bleak scene. The Special Forces commander was a strongly built man in his late forties or early fifties, whose forehead held an apparently permanent frown. He spoke into his headset as he briefed his team, making sure they were all alert and in place. Mulder held back his excitement as he checked the monitors, "We can't go in too soon. We have to be patient, it'll happen."

Beside him, Scully looked pale and tough in her SWAT team black and kevlar vest. She looked comfortable despite the fully automatic rifle she held, the weapon fully half her height. She asked, "What makes you so sure?"

Mulder replied, "I've received receipts over the past few weeks for detonation cord, for racing and diesel fuel, and for eighty bags of ammonium nitrate, purchased in cash in three different states under three different signatures." Mulder adjusted his own vest, feeling awkward in the uniform. Christ, he was a Ph.D., not a soldier.

Scully was, as ever skeptical, asking him, "Well, so who do you think is leaking them? Why are they leaking them to you?"

Sometimes, Mulder wondered if Scully realized how she sounded much of the time? Didn't she know that her constant questioning belittled him? Scully was his best friend, but frankly, there were times that he wondered why he bothered to have enemies with support like Scully and Skinner, both of them constantly evaluating his sanity and reason.

A rented moving truck rolled into the compound narrowly missing a stray dog that had been drinking from a puddle. Men leaped out of the vehicle, roughly clad men, whose clothing bulged with weapons. A man with rugged, brutal features, a fist-fighter's ziggurat of a nose, and an iron-gray crew cut, issued orders. Two of the paramilitary group remained in the truck while the others busily ran into the storage bay. When it all started moving, the antiterrorist squads leapt from their hiding places. Mulder didn't know who fired first, but it soon sounded like the sound track to a war movie. He could smell the acrid odor of gun smoke, the reek of human sweat and blood. Mulder spared a thought for his lost and now hated former lover, Alex. Alex would have loved this. He had always been nervous and wound up when he had to wait and think about danger, but he had loved it when it all went to hell. Mulder could still see those long legs flying and the snarl/smile of Alex's face on the chase.

The truck lurched away in the chaos of the gunfire and the swirling fumes of the tear gas grenades that some idiot had launched without warning. Mulder cursed as he thought it was going to get away then the truck lurched to the side and stopped. Mulder ran towards it; saw the driver's side window was broken. The glass was a spiraling web of fractures, splattered with blood and worse things. Mulder yelled to Scully, "Cover the driver's side!" Mulder loped around to the passenger's side and shouted, "Federal agent, I'm armed! Exit the vehicle, now!"

Scully and the back up reached the drivers side. Scully shouted, "The driver is dead."

Mulder said, "I counted two." Time seemed weirdly static as if Mulder was caught in a series of freeze frames. He fought the sensation away and shouted, "I'm FBI. I'm armed. Come out with your hands up." First the gun flew out. Slowly the man emerged. For one moment, Mulder didn't recognize the man. He had an impression of male beauty, hidden behind an olive colored fatigue cap and the upturned collar of an old leather jacket. Then he saw the eyes and he knew. Raging, he drove his automatic rifle into Alex's chest and then lowered it to hit the stomach.

Alex fell to his knees, gasping, mouth working. Mulder looked at the pink mouth, opening and closing as the man breathed in harsh grunts. He looked at the hands held up, trembling and beseeching. Alex's eyes were gazing into his. Mulder shivered. Alex was on his knees.

Mulder remembered that; he remembered Alex's mouth at his groin, Alex looking up at him as he teased, tormented, and then satisfied. Mulder felt his cock rise; his rifle seemed just an extension of his desire, pointing the way to the object of his obsession. Alex said, his voice now rasping and husky instead of the familiar pleasingly low tones, "I gave you this bust, Mulder. Who do you think sent you those receipts?"

Scully yelled, "Mulder, don't!" as Mulder raised his rifle to smash the words from Krycek's lying mouth.

They went through the ritual of accusation and denial. Alex looked disgusted with it. Mulder scowled at Scully. He didn't need her to tell him. He wouldn't have killed Alex. Scully was wrong in her assumption. He was not drugged here. He had spared Alex in Hong Kong and Scully had been nowhere around. After a moment, he jerked Alex to his feet and put cuffs on him. He led Alex back to the loading dock, feeling a sense of possession. One of the other men involved in the operation said, "Sir, I can put this man with the others."

Mulder jerked Alex away from the young officer by his chained hands. "No, this one is mine!" Scully looked at him with an odd muddle of pity and warning. Krycek's bruised mouth flickered in a brief smirk.

Mulder felt the slow rise of heat as he realized what that had sounded like to the others. He belatedly added, "He's my informant."

The officer said, "Oh, well, I guess we don't book him?"

Mulder gloatingly replied, "You never saw this man in custody."

The officer nodded and said, "Sure, ah, we'll be out of here as soon as we finish searching the rest of the bastards. The bomb squad wants a look before anything is moved."

Mulder nodded and said, "Yeah, whatever." He pushed Krycek in front of him, nudging him along with his rifle barrel, taking him into the storage area. Mulder, calming, took in the details of his former partner's appearance. The man wore faded blue jeans, an olive drab sweatshirt, a leather jacket that was so old that it was gray-white and rough grained in spots, and a fatigue cap.

Inside the warehouse, Mulder said, "Talk." Krycek's manner was proud; an agent reporting back from a difficult, but successfully concluded assignment. He explained, "See, everything is here just like I told you. Most of the detonation cord was stolen from a construction site, and some of the explosives were just taken from a military base. I mean, security's just so lax, it's a joke." Mulder shoved Krycek down on a crate. His former lover stared at him a moment then continued, "Most everything else was over the counter, two thousand kilos of boom-boom."

Krycek's pink tongue flicked out as if wanting a taste. Alex's eyes devoured him. Mulder stepped closer. It must have looked strange to Scully to see them like this. Perhaps it didn't. Mulder had never admitted that he and Krycek had been lovers but Scully always seemed to know things. Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly, Mulder thought as he drew close to Alex.

Scully stepped closer as if she would have liked to get between the two men. She asked, "How'd you get involved with these men?"

Alex looked down, his face seemed to pale as he replied, "They found me in North Dakota. They liberated me on a salvage hunt." Mulder followed the sudden intensity of Krycek's gaze to the open door. He saw the leader of militia being loaded into one of the police cars. Shakily, Alex added, "Hey, you go underground, you gotta learn to live with the rats."

Mulder slapped off Krycek's stupid cap, watched it fall, and observed the short hair with irrational anger. He had loved Alex's hair once he convinced him that it didn't need all that gel. It pissed him off to see it so short. He shot back, "I'm sure you had no trouble adapting."

Alex sounded like the FBI agent that he had been when he replied, "These men are pathetic revolutionaries who'll kill innocent Americans in the name of bonehead ideologies."

Mulder was angry with himself for being drawn in, for remembering. He said with loathing, "You're full of crap, Krycek. You're an invertebrate scum-sucker whose moral dipstick is about two drops short of bone dry."

Alex leapt up, and shouted, "Hey! I love this country." His snip of an up turned nose was nearly touching Mulder's much longer one. Mulder could feel the heat of his breath. He wanted to do something, strike him or tumble him to the ground, anything to relieve his maelstrom of emotions. He satisfied himself by pushing Krycek back down to the crate, a thump marking the amount of force that he had used. He turned away, trembling with rage and denial of desire. Scully sharply snapped, "What do you want, Krycek?"

Alex strongly responded, "Same thing you do, to find the man who tried to kill me." He lifted his eyes to Mulder and said, almost flinching, "The same man that was responsible for your father's death" Alex turned his face to Scully and his expression was odd, sympathetic, regretful, as he said, voice dropping to an intimate low tone, "Your sister's... "

Scully's voice was clear and rational, almost gentle, as she asked, "You want this man brought to justice?" Her pale face was mask-like, her most dangerous expression, prelude to one of her decisive, forceful actions. Her blue eyes, cold, dispassionate, and unyielding, interrogated Krycek silently.

Alex shook his head; his expression expressed clearly his scorn at their naivety. His voice rose as he replied, "You can't bring these men to justice. They're protected. The laws of this country protect them in the name of national security. They know no law."

Mulder snarled, "Then why don't you put a bullet in his head like you did that man out there?"

Alex shook his head, his eyes evasive, face turned away as he said, "These men, they fear one thing; exposure."

Alex added, "You expose him, you expose his crimes, you destroy the destroyer's ability to destroy." He met Mulder's eyes almost proudly.

Mulder said, "The only thing that will destroy this man is the truth." Truth was his beacon, his mantra, so why had he fallen in love with this creature before him, this compilation of all the shades of deceit?

Alex gazed at him with the passion of his nature, He said, "The truth, the truth! There's no truth. These men, they make it up as they go along. They're the engineers of the future. They're the real revolutionaries. I can get them for you too." Alex's voice was low, throaty, a vibration of passion or was that simply lust?

He lured Mulder with hints and promises, but also with who he was and what he had been. After the first shock of seeing the shorn hair, Mulder found it interesting. Now, Alex was not pretty, as he had been in Hong Kong. Mulder thought that the word he would use now was beautiful. Alex looked healthier and he had gained muscle. The close-cropped hair emphasized the clean, sharp bones of the face. It reminded Mulder of a surrealist play, the surroundings seemed to narrow to a stage setting consisting of a crate, a back drop of battered and aged wall, and a circle of light around a beautiful traitorous man. Scully was the Greek Chorus and Mulder, what was his role? Was he Alex's fate? Was it his destiny to revenge his father's death?

Go tell it to the Spartans, Mulder thought. That's what Alex looked like here. He could see Alex's bloodied body half hidden by an equally dead lover at Thermopylae. Mulder corrected the image. It should be with a betraying Alex the cause of his foolish lover's death. Mulder had seen their love as something as noble, two men, two swords, and one shield and Alex had betrayed him. He was no Theban sworn mate for Mulder. He was a whore, playing a spying game, a male Mata Hari.

The air around Mulder felt hot. He felt dizzy, wanting to fall forward and take Alex's face in his hands. He wanted to kiss that lying mouth. He imagined his hands grasping the throat and choking Alex as they kissed. Scully's words pulled him out of it. Mulder stepped away and turned from Alex, fighting for control. He heard Alex's comments about living with the rats and made his own slur about it being easy.

They sparred with words and Alex won. There was no match there and seldom had been. Mulder could one-line with the best of them and he could speak about his passion. Alex, however, was Passion's muse. He had an actor's gift for adding depths to the simplest of words and even to the cliché.

Mulder made Alex stand up and lean into the wall as he searched him. He yanked off Alex's jacket and tossed it aside. He pulled Alex's sweatshirt up high, revealing his back, the hollow there where Mulder had loved to kiss. God, when had Alex become so thin? He could feel every rib and see every knob of spine. Forgetting, he ran a finger down the outlined spine. He felt Alex tense at his touch and it called him back to the present situation. He reached his hands into the tight front pockets of the jeans, fumbling longer then justified as a perverse excitement filled him. Mulder glanced at the door of the storage bay, wondering if Scully would cover for him if he said that Alex had something hidden inside of him. As if in answer, Scully's crisp voice asked, "Need some help there, Mulder? Find something?"

Mulder reached through the thin lining of the pocket and squeezed Krycek's cock. The fucker was getting hard just as he was. He pulled out his hands and said to Scully, "Not much here." It was a lie, but an irresistible insult. Mulder flipped open the wallet and commented, "Robert Page? It doesn't suit you. The driver's license picture did him justice although he looked thinner on it. Alex had very little money and no credit cards. The group must have been keeping Krycek on a short leash. Mulder noted the condoms in the wallet and the small foil packets of lube. That hadn't changed. He wondered if there would be time along the way to get apart from Scully and use a few of those conveniences.

Alex strode eagerly at the airport. They had stopped in the garage so Alex could take his sweatshirt off to drape over his cuffed hands. Mulder had seen Alex's stomach as his tee shirt had ridden up. It was already coloring with bruises. Scully said, "Wait." She said, "Mulder, you are going to be in trouble. Look at this." Scully pointed at the swelling and ripening flesh. She checked rapidly, searching for broken ribs or swollen organs.

Alex had only shivered and said, "It's okay. I'm used to it." He looked at Mulder with a sort of rueful humor. He said, "I was resisting arrest, Scully."

Mulder said, "Don't do me any favors, Krycek."

Alex replied, "It would sound crazy to have you accuse your self of police brutality if the victim says that's not how it happened."

Scully said nothing at that. She tugged down Alex's tee shirt and sighed. Alex was bouncing again as they entered the terminal, again the eager young agent, showing off to his senior partner. Mulder felt like some icy hand had a squeezing hold on his heart. He explained about the diplomatic pouch and gave them what he knew about the flight information. He had pointed with his head as the weasel like diplomat scurried through the terminal. Mulder felt the jerk of Alex's muscles when he cuffed him to the door rail. A flicker of surprise showed on a woman's face as she tried to go around them. Mulder's scowl sent her on without a word. Alex resentfully covered the cuffs with his sweatshirt. Alex pulled forward, wanting to chase, wanting the adrenaline surge of pursuit. Mulder let a smile flicker at the thwarted yank at the rail. Coming back with the pouch and the strange rock, Mulder was pissed. He made that crack about "What did you get for Halloween, Charlie Brown?"

Alex looked angry and he shot a look at Scully for some reason. Mulder remembered after a minute that he had the keys and went back. They sat in the car for a few minutes. Mulder said, "It would be neat and tidy to just let you sit in a jail cell and let your own kind execute you."

Krycek said, "I have no kind. I am alone. Do what ever you want, Mulder. Every step you take along that road leads you to the smoking bastard. I'm free of him anyway. Freer then you."

Mulder had slapped hard. Alex's nose started to bleed. Scully handed Krycek a handful of tissue and he angled his head back, pinching the tissue around his nose. Mulder saw no tears this time, not like he had seen in Hong Kong. Something had changed Alex. He was harder and stronger.

Scully said, "It would be like Cardinale."

Alex commented, "Cardinale deserved to die."

Mulder shot back, "And so do you!"

Alex said, "I've things to do first." Alex reached up to touch his face with his free hand. He passed his palm over his eyes and concluded, "Miles to go before I sleep."

Mulder shivered and he looked at Alex. Alex was unfaithful at the core of him. When had Alex stopped being afraid of death and started courting her? He sounded so weary and broken. He had to will away the tenderness.

So, they went to Skinner's apartment that was Scully's idea. Mulder expected that Skinner would make some calls and pull in some favors to get Krycek into a safe house. Instead, Skinner said Krycek would be safe with him. Skinner had hit Alex. Alex folded, gasping, straining for breath.

The punch sounded like the impact of metal on flesh, like a fatal accident. Skinner dragged Alex to the balcony. He cuffed him there. Mulder shivered as he heard the comment of "We're not even yet."

There were so many things to do yet Mulder didn't want to leave Krycek there, worried that Skinner would kill him or even, well, Walter Skinner's eyes had been like fire when he saw Krycek. Mulder wondered if the assistant director wanted Alex the way Mulder did. Skinner looked back at him, powerful, in control, brutal. He said, "I'll attend to Krycek, Agent Mulder."

So Mulder left, as he really needed to take care of some details and check out some leads without the distraction of Alex's ass or worrying about what those pretty green eyes saw. He had to stop, catch some sleep and wondered if Skinner had really left Krycek out in the cold. That was a crazy thing to do. All Alex had to do was to start screaming to ruin Skinner for life. Mulder got up once and looked out. There was a light whiteness in the air. It was a hint of snow or frozen fog. He shivered as he imagined how cold Alex was if he was outside.

When Skinner told him to collect Alex, Mulder, at first, thought that the man had escaped. He found Alex dangling from the rails, clinging with both hands and fighting to get back up. He leaned down and said, "Grab on to me, Krycek."

Alex pulled on him and the rail and with this effort; he was back on the balcony. Mulder unlocked the cuff that had been fastened to the rail and pushed Alex ahead of him into Skinner's apartment. He jerked on the cuff as Alex panted and yelped with pain. The wrist was bloody and bruised. It looked horrible. If he turned Krycek in any time soon, he was facing charges for abuse of a prisoner with that and all the other injuries. He told Alex to walk out of there as if nothing had happened.

Angrily, Alex said, "I got no problem. You put me up here, man, I'm looking forward to seeing you get me out."

Mulder slapped him; commenting, "Stupid ass haircut."

Alex looked nervous and said; "I got news for you, Mulder. When they find out who's dead on the ground down there, there's going to be no question whose apartment he was pulled out of."

Mulder asked, "Who is he?"

Krycek replied "Same guy with the pouch." Mulder pulling Krycek along like a child's toy and said, "Let's go."

Krycek muttered, "I said follow the pouch."

Mulder had a number of stops to make. Krycek spent most of the drive shivering. His clothes were damp and he had looked blue tinged when Mulder had pulled him onto the balcony. Mulder turned up the heat without comment.

The final stop was at the UN contact; Marita was as beautiful as ever. She was blonde and lush. Her beauty was more classically defined then Scully's and she moved in a striking self-aware fashion. For some reason, she reminded Mulder of Krycek. He wanted to make love to her to take his mind off Alex, but it didn't happen. He napped in a chair while she called on her resources. Mulder knew from Alex's personnel file that he spoke Russian. He asked for two tickets and passages although he wasn't sure if he would take Alex as a translator or not. He decided that he would not if Alex offered his help. If Alex remained silent, then, he would trick him out of the admission.

Mulder paused outside the car. Alex was asleep. Mulder could see the bruises and Alex looked like an abused child. Mulder froze remembering the few stakeouts they had participated in together. They would take turns napping when the nights were long. Alex would always anchor himself to Mulder in some fashion. Mulder remembered the hard grip on his leg or the head pressed into his shoulder or thigh. He would look at his lover and feel so protective of him and now it had come to this. Mulder opened the door and Alex awoke. He swallowed and licked his lips. His voice sounded hoarse as if he was becoming ill. He asked, "Where have you been?"

Mulder replied, "Making travel arrangements" He started the car.

Krycek asked, "To go where?"

Mulder aimed a sour smirk at his prisoner and answered, "To follow the pouch."

Krycek complained, "You're going to keep me in the dark?"

Mulder had meant to stop hitting him, but that pissed him off. It reminded him of times when Krycek had a right to make such demands. He looked at the effect blandly and said, "Yeah."

Alex huddled away, his breath coming in jerky starts. Mulder looked over wondering if Alex was crying. There were no tears. Alex looked even paler then he had before. Mulder shouldn't keep hitting the man in the head. They drove a few minutes and then Krycek said, "Stop, stop the car please! I'm going to be sick."

Mulder took a look. He yanked the car over and managed to get the cuff unlocked in record time. Krycek fell to his knees and begin gagging. He heaved and heaved, but did not produce much more then bile. He had tears running down his face. He finally rocked back and sank on his haunches. He said, "I think I'm going to pass out."

Mulder jerked him over and sat him down on the car seat. He said, "Put your head between your knees and take some deep breaths."

Krycek let out a small sound, almost sob like. He obeyed. Mulder supported Alex with one hand against his chest. The other rested on Alex's neck. He waited until Alex's color improved then allowed Alex to swing entirely into the car. Mulder eyed Alex and then he started to think about it. He asked, "Did Skinner feed you?"

Alex shook his head. Mulder asked, "When did you eat last?"

Alex rubbed his face and then spat a couple of times. He didn't even have much spit. He said, "I don't know. I can't think. My head hurts and I'm thirsty."

Mulder cringed. He started to think that Alex had not even had water since they took him into custody. He had just assumed Skinner took care of it.

Mulder said, "Get in the car."

Mulder fished up a bottle or water and said, "Here. Drink slowly."

Alex had discipline. He sipped, swallowed, waited, and then drank again. Mulder pulled in to a drive through and ordered sandwiches, fries, and tea. He ordered Alex a chocolate shake. Alex said, "Thank you." He ate as slowly as he had drunk. Mulder wondered about his former lover's life since he had run from the FBI. How many times had he gone hungry or thirsty? How much time had he spent in the cold? How many times had he had been beaten and used?

Mulder reached under the car seat and produced a first aid kit. He silently handed Alex some codeine tablets and a cold pack. After he took the pills, Alex leaned back; almost asleep at times although he woke each time a turn jarred his wrist. Mulder wished he hadn't done that. It was torture. He felt a little ill as he realized that he had been indulging in sadism since Alex had emerged from that truck. At the airport, Mulder pretended to leave Alex in the car. Alex quickly gave into cursing in Russian, "e'b tvoju mat' ", hell even Mulder knew that one, but the chain of yowling cuss words that followed betrayed either a real knowledge of Russian or a very interesting hobby of collecting multilingual obscenities. Mulder grinned even when Krycek spat at him... as if he hadn't had Alex's spit and more interesting things in his mouth and just about everywhere. In the terminal, Mulder picked up some heavy sweaters, underwear, tee shirts, and the usual things for travel. He commandeered a bathroom and told Alex, "Wash up as best as you can. I'm blocking the door so you can take a cat bath."

Alex was a mess. Skinner's punch was an astounding purple and black color surrounded by a spectrum of lesser shades from Mulder's blows. Mulder frowned at a row of straight lined bruises on Alex's back and buttocks. He asked pointing, "How did you get those? Those are belt marks."

Alex said, "Skinner said we weren't even."

Mulder shuddered and asked, "Did he rape you?"

Alex shook his head and said, "He's straight, isn't he? He just brought me in, took down my pants and pulled up my shirt and beat me with his belt. Then when he was finished, he put me back outside. My ass was warm for a while."

Mulder heard Alex's old humor and sighed. He asked, "What in the hell do they pay you to make this life worth it?"

Alex said, "You might notice by the state of my wallet that no one is paying me."

Mulder nodded and shut up as Alex tried to take a sponge bath with handfuls of paper towels. He wished his cock wasn't trying to get its blind eye on the action. Alex was really buff now. Mulder felt as if he could barely have gotten a grip on those firm cheeks. He moved forward, drawn despite him self. He gathered Alex's naked body to his own and ground against it. Alex didn't fight him. He sagged back, resting his head against Mulder's shoulder. Mulder slid a hand down Alex's body.

Alex pulled away and said, "Not here. We'll have to stop over somewhere."

Mulder said, "Yeah, I'm going to fuck you, but it doesn't mean anything. I still hate you even if I want to use your body."

Alex looked at him with wet eyes and asked, "Did it ever mean anything to you?"

Mulder replied, "You are the one that betrayed me."

Alex said, "I didn't start to hate you. I never meant to hurt you. What happened was passion. I didn't tell them about us. I wouldn't do that."

Mulder said, "I know." His words surprised him as much as they seemed to shock Alex.

Alex finished his sponge bath, washing his short hair in the sink. Mulder said, "You look good, Alex, a little lean, but your body has filled in with muscle."

Alex said, "I lost a lot of weight when you left me to die in that silo."

Mulder angrily shouted, "Where did you get that idea? I didn't even know you were in there. Spender dragged Scully and I out before we could search the place. I assumed that Spender took care of you, one way or the other after we left."

Alex turned to face him, but his cast down eyes made the change in position a futile gesture. "No, he just left me there, at the bottom of a dark hole, so cold, and it was there, the alien... I screamed until I couldn't make a sound and I pounded on the door. It was a long time, all alone, small space, no way out." Alex's eyes roamed the bathroom walls as if he was back in his small piece of hell.

Mulder stepped forward and shook the man lightly. He said, "Snap out of it. You're here with me."

Krycek shuddered and his eyes stared directly into Mulder's. "Yeah, safe, now, safe. Don't leave me in the car anymore, please. I can't stand it, being locked up."

Mulder snorted and said, "I wasn't really going to leave you. I knew you spoke Russian. I read your personnel file the day you introduced your self to me. I even had some friends do some research to see what was faked. I have been a busy boy trying to find out all about Alexander Krycek."

Krycek, Alex, Mulder couldn't decided what to call him, having announced his intention to resume their sexual relationship, shivered and commented, "I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. I wished that man would go away."

Mulder stared, trying to decide if Alex had gone mad or if the quotation was a message about Mulder's investigation into his mystery. Alex shrugged and said, "Could be a wasted effort for your Lone Gunmen. You find what they want you to find, most of the time just like I do what they want me to do... some of the time."

Mulder wondered how Alex knew about the gunmen, but left it alone. Mulder said, "Okay, lets go wait for our flight."

Alex slept most of the way. He told the flight attendants that he had been mugged when they asked about the bruises. They brought him a blanket, aspirin and another ice pack. Mulder thought that one of the woman would have loved to offer even more comfort the way she kept looking at Alex and asking him was there something else that she could do. Mulder wasn't jealous, no, he snapped at the woman because she was interfering with his prisoner. Right, thought the great profiler, and, if you buy that, let me show you the bridge I just inherited.

There was an overnight layover in St. Petersburg. Krycek called and made a reservation at a tourist hotel. It looked as if it harked back to the days of the Czars. It was Byzantine and grand with ornamentation everywhere. Krycek smiled as they were dropped off there. He said, "Isn't it beautiful? I stayed here with my mom once. In the morning, they used to bring huge samovars of tea. There was a big silver platter with pastry on it. They were so good. I hope they still do that."

Mulder laughed and said, "What do you think this is? A vacation?"

Alex said, "Hey, if we have to be partners, why not? Hell, I'm safer here then anywhere else. No body gives a damn about the smoking man here. Yeah, and another thing Mulder, how come you don't try to punch him? He's the one that gave the orders you know. At my worst, I was a flunky, CMS's pretty punk."

Mulder winced and then said, "Because it wasn't personal and besides, he is an old man."

Alex shrugged and said, "Something I'll never be. Probably, not you either, Mulder. Come on. Let's go in."

The lobby walls were set with mosaics. It had a scene from the Bolshevik revolution on one wall. Alex pointed and said; "I remember that picture. You ever see that movie Reds? Funny how dreams turn out! You think about people fighting for freedom and then they bring on oppression just as bad or worse. Maybe the worse thing you can have is to realize your dreams." Alex said.

Mulder just shook his head. This was Alex. He made you believe that beyond the chimera was something. Mulder could shatter his soul trying to find out if there was anything worth saving of Alex. He was not going to do this. At the core of the most luminescent pearl is a speck of corruption. That was Alex, an illusion of beauty around a core of evil.

Alex announced as soon as they were in the room that he was going to have a bath. Mulder grunted agreement. He made arrangements for laundry and ordered food. The help spoke clear and precise English, sounding like one of those self-help language classes on tape. Alex was deep in a huge tub of steaming water. Mulder went and felt his groin tighten. He sat on the edge of the tub and massaged Alex's shoulders. Alex looked up at him, beautiful despite the bruises. Mulder wanted to kiss him. Instead he said, "Loosen up. I am going to fuck you so hard later you'll wish you were back saying hello to Skinner."

The food came and the laundry was taken. They had a lace-covered table and the settings were heavy, but ornately trimmed. Alex said, "Just how I remembered it. The food's heavy, but good. You eat to burn the cold off around here."

Mulder called Scully while Alex took a nap. She was very, very irritated. She asked, "Where's Krycek?"

Mulder said, "He's taking a nap."

Scully said, "Mulder, what makes you think that you can just run off on some crazy quest with Alex Krycek?"

Mulder felt a stir of bitterness and riposted, "I don't know. Maybe because he didn't say anything about how far he would follow me?" Oh, damn, he did not mean to say that. Mulder said, "Scully, I'm sorry. I do understand, but I know that the rocks mean something and you do too. Krycek speaks Russian and he is good at flushing out secrets. Hell, I might as well as make some use of him. Getting him killed in our custody wouldn't help anyone but his former bosses."

Scully said, "How can you be sure that it isn't a trap? You don't think straight around Krycek."

Mulder said, "I know." He snorted, as he mentally added, Yeah, Scully you got that right; I sure in hell don't think straight around Krycek. My thoughts hardly rise above my dick.

Scully said, "Skinner is paging me. I have to go."

Mulder said, "I miss you, Scully."

Scully replied, "You always say that when you run off without me."

Mulder took a nap as well. He woke as Alex came out of the bathroom. He looked at Alex and said, "Take your clothes off and get in bed. I'll be out in a moment."

Mulder took a shower, an odd courtesy to his former lover. He walked out and laid the lubricant and condoms next to the bed. Alex lay outside the covers, nude, his penis heavy against his leg, not quite erect, but starting to grow rosy and plump. The dim light suited him. It hid the bruises and caught the strong, odd beauty of his face. Mulder sat down on the bed, drinking in the sight of Alex. He traced Alex's lips and even his eyelids, feeling the lashes beneath them quiver.

Mulder rolled over and touched Alex's mouth. He said, "You know what to do with that."

Alex got up and knelt between Mulder's legs. He leaned near and first nuzzled Mulder's cock with his face. The seep of precum instantly marked him and the sight of that made Mulder harder than before. The brush of Alex's lips barely touching the sides teased further. The tip of Alex's tongue traced the underside of Mulder's erection. Alex murmured, "Yeah, I remember this. I remember." The whisper of his words made Mulder arch and shiver.

Mulder let out a soft, long sigh of breath, as Alex's mouth slid wetly down his shaft. Alex took him deep, opening to him all the way back until Mulder's felt his cock encased in the hot, moist depths of his lover's throat. The ridges of Alex palate rubbed against the top of his erection. Alex moaned and the vibration sent waves of sybaritic sensation through Mulder's body. Alex's face was very rosy; his eyes were half open and glazed with his internal focus. Mulder loved to see that pretty mouth distorted over his cock. Mulder stopped Alex, moving him away. Mulder met his lover's eyes and said, "I want inside you. I need to cum in your body."

Alex nodded and let Mulder guide him to his back. He lay with his knees up high and wide apart. The very sight of him was almost enough to make Mulder come. Alex's feet were flat on the bed as he arched up. He was erect and his hands fluttered over his stomach as if he could hardly stop from stroking his own rampant flesh. Mulder pushed Alex higher and propped a pillow under him to support him. Mulder growled, "I wish I could keep a picture of you like this. You look so good when you are ready to be fucked." He scooped up the lubricant and thrust his fingers into Alex to open him.

Alex opened his legs even more broadly and panted as Mulder's fingers worked him. He said with a hiss of force, "It's okay. I'm ready. Come on. Get in me. Mulder, fuck me! Fuck me!"

Mulder grinned and said, "Eager?"

Alex said, "Yeah, you can laugh at me because it's true and I don't care. You could have fucked me against those damned phones in Hong Kong."

Mulder smoothed a condom on as Alex said that. He wished it were another world where the thing was not needed. Alex grabbed his legs to open wider yet. Mulder slid in. Alex groaned with pleasure and said, "Fuck, yeah, almost worth dying for, Mulder."

Mulder begin to thrust. Alex braced his body and arched. Alex moaned and said, "Yeah, oh, you. Oh, Mulder. You feel right. Like I am fitted to you. Like there shouldn't be anyone else inside me ever." Mulder felt that as a truth. He wanted Scully, but she did not appear to want him. One thing that he did believe about Alex was this. Alex was his in bed. He felt sure that no one else could reduce Alex to this helpless wanting willing state.

Alex's eyes were huge. His legs were wrapped around Mulder's and he was thrusting up to meet him. His mouth made helpless little sounds. Mulder couldn't resist it. He had to kiss him. He bent Alex nearly double in the effort. Alex reached up and drew Mulder down to meet his kiss. Alex said, "Mine." The word tingled across Mulder. He had to move apart, thrusting out of control. Both of their hands stroked Alex's erection, urging him further, deeper into toward their mutual oblivion.

Mulder felt the writhing body of his lover beneath him. Oh, perfect, beautiful, he thought. He lost his concerns, his drive, and his uncertainty in the pleasure. Mulder could have laughed; cried, and screamed at his fulmination and the sound that marked his orgasm was all of those combined. He rolled off, but took Alex with him, holding him as their sweat soaked bodies recovered from the exertions. He petted Alex's crew cut, missing the silken out of control hair that was his former lover's.

"I missed you." Mulder confessed. "I missed you so much."

Alex turned his face away, but he nodded, a helpless acknowledgment that he was just as trapped as Mulder. Alex moved to lay his head on Mulder's shoulder. He sighed and said, "We should just stay right here until the world ends. Hell if you were doing it to me, I don't think I'd even notice. We'd just float in space until we fell into a black hole or something."

Mulder laughed at that. Alex had always had the ability to make him laugh and cry with his words and his fancies.

Alex asked, "Did you read that book I sent you after I had to leave?"

Mulder said, "Hell, of a time to talk about books."

Alex said, "What do you want to talk about? What's safe? Even talking about that book, isn't safe. I bet you threw it away when you saw that it was from me." He sounded absurdly resentful.

Mulder was tempted to laugh and tease as he used to do. Only the sullen line of the mouth with a bruise crossing the left corner stopped him. He said, "I didn't throw it away. Yeah, when I saw your note... " 'Oh, shit," his voice wavered at that memory, "Yeah, I threw the book and the letter both is the trash, but you know how I am, two days later, it was still sitting there and I thought, it isn't the writer's fault. I shouldn't dispose of her words so lightly and I picked it back out. The book was 'The Floating Worlds'. I read it and it was beautiful."

Alex looked up at him and said, "When I read it, I thought the two aliens were like us. We love each other and betray each other, but nothing can make us stop being what we are."

Mulder said, "You betrayed me."

Alex said, "I know." He sat up touching the bruises on his face, his chest, his stomach, and showing Mulder his scabbing wrist.

Mulder winced and said, "Okay, each other. We betrayed each other. You, by belonging to the smoking man, and me by hurting you when I promised I would never do that."

Alex said, "Mulder, I know that you think that you made those promises to someone who was just a character in a play. Still, most of it was I. I didn't make up much. I told you as much of the truth as I could. I told you enough so you guessed quickly after you found the Morleys."

Alex trailed his hand over Mulder's legs. He said, "I am changing, Mulder. Always before I did what weakness made me do. I didn't want to be hurt any more and I was afraid to die. I still want to live, but I could do it now. I could give it up if I had no choice. The silo was my birthplace. Your Alex, whatever part of him survived, leaving you, died in there. This Alex has lost his innocence and his softness."

Mulder snorted and Alex frowned. He said, "Don't look at me like that. I was still relatively innocent when I came to you. I was just turned twenty-five and I had not yet killed a man. I could not have betrayed anyone to that point, because no one asked for me to be loyal until you."

Mulder just said, "Let's go wash up before we stick together permanently."

Alex used to have more stamina and quicker recovery. Mulder gathered him up and held him after they had washed. Of course, he had never had sex with his lover after two days or torture. Shit, how could he have done that? What kind of person was he that he could have tortured anyone like that?

Alex moved to lie even closer. He said, "Mulder, it's all right. You had a right to be angry. I'm not worth the guilt and I'm okay. I handled it. I'm tough." His face was sweet at that moment as he took the blame.

Mulder cringed, feeling like a classic domestic violence perpetrator. He sighed and said, "Alex."

Alex wasn't going to let Mulder brood. He asked, "Can we wake up early? I want to show you the Greek Orthodox Cathedral where my mother was baptized. And I want to have a snowball fight! Please, Mulder, it won't really delay us. Our next flight won't leave until nearly noon."

Giving in, Mulder said, "Wake me then."

 

* * *

 

Mulder woke to a kiss. Alex was leaning over him. Mulder smiled up, stretched, feeling the hum of well-used muscles and the languorous satisfaction of the morning after. He hadn't slept that well in ages-not since he used to sleep with Alex. The bed felt warm, the comfortable body temperature heat that lured you back to sleep. Alex pulled back the blankets and nuzzled his belly, pleading, "Don't go back to sleep. Let's make love, take a shower, eat breakfast and walk to the church. Come on. Come on, Mulder, Please?"

Mulder rumpled his hair and yawned, glancing through the window. It wasn't even light outside. He grabbed Alex and pulled him down, "Mmm, my favorite breakfast is right here. Give me something nice and I'll think about getting out of bed if I like it enough."

Alex didn't move for a long moment, staring up, languid, loose-limbed, still heavy lidded and dreamy eyed. God, he was irresistible. Mulder closed on his mouth, let his kisses trail the lower lip down, soft inhalation as he suckled in the tender, salty flesh right under the chin, and a tickling exploration of small osculation down the throat until Mulder nibbled on the base of Alex's throat, listening and feeling the hum of appreciative noise. Alex took action and they grappled, touching, shivering, and trembling on the edge of ecstasy until they had twisted to devour each other. They moved in harmonious pistoning, the machinery of joyous passion. Falling away, Mulder covered his face with an arm, hiding his thoughts from his lover. Each time with Alex was addiction, a compulsion that rooted deeper, threatened to devour the core ethic of Mulder, challenged his solitude, his vaunted independence of being. Mulder knew that this was madness, and regret? Regret was not nearly the word he would feel when his conscience scourged him later. How strange to glance at Alex's brooding face and to see the reflection of his regrets... Mulder rolled over and off the bed. If Alex suffered with him, then it was all right to surrender to this.

Mulder said, "Come on, let's shower and order the wondrous repast that you remember. We'll see if memory is as good as reality."

Alex stood and commented, "Mulder, sometimes it's even better, so much better than you can bear to recall." Those nephrite eyes met his for just a moment before shading downward to hide his secrets.

After a long shower, feeling cleansed and renewed, they fed each other breakfast, aiming kisses and food-laden silverware with equal abandon. The meal was just as Krycek hoped, a multi-course feast of sweet rolls, eggs, ham, and even fish, served on a linen covered table and covered by polished domes of ornamented silver plate. Mulder unveiled the final serving dish and laughed at the Kippers and said, "Not since England."

Alex shrugged and said, "The protein is good for us. Who know what it will be like in Tunguska."

The snow outside was gray on the streets, banks of it were piled in blackened walls by snowplows, but there was a garden on the way where the snow glittered in the morning's new light, looking as it should, untouched, virginal, begging to be ravished. They scooped up handfuls-it was too damp for much cohesion, but they threw it anyway. The exercise gave them both a healthy glow and they were rosy-faced overgrown boys, raucous in the quiet street. Perhaps the few somberly clad people recognized them as silly Americans. Anyway, no one complained and a few smiled before hurrying on with their errands.

Outside the cathedral, Alex took his hand for a moment. Neither one of them had gloves. Alex's hand was red-knuckled with the cold, but somehow two chilly hands clasped felt warmer. They stared up at the spires, the Byzantium domes of gold. This was an interesting contrast, this place meant to honor God, but yet it remained an enduring hubris, challenging the bleak heavens with beauty meant to stand to a long dead architect's boasted skills. Mulder had to find the plaque to see the name, to remember him, that long ago brethren of his soul.

Inside, Mulder looked up at sky-high ceilings, flying buttresses, everything, painted, gilded, and carved. Rows of icons and statues lined the walls. Some of the decorations were crudely painted, but the colors were incredible, vivid beyond belief, the gilt on them shown from the dark crevices where they lay.

Alex made his way to the front and lit some candles. A woman, stout, heavily clad in layers of dark, drab clothing spoke to him and, whatever he said, made her embrace him. Mulder made his way up and on impulse, he lit his own candles, for his father, Samantha, Melissa, his dead informants, and one for Scully who still had the cancer, lurking in her body. He shrugged at his whim; he believed everything supernatural but this.

Mulder inhaled so he would not sigh and the odd smoky, rich, mysterious scents tickled his memory. This place smelled like Alex. Had Alex gone to pray when they had been lovers? It was a strange image.

Mulder asked, "Alex? Do you believe?"

Alex said, "I don't know. My mother did."

Mulder just wanted Alex to go on talking. The candlelight favored him; the flickering lights explored the dramatically beautiful lines of his face. Alex's voice was a little huskier then he remembered, almost rough, but it really suited him. Mulder said, "Tell me about your real mother. Was she beautiful like you?"

Alex closed his eyes as if viewing picture shows on the dusky lids. He softly answered, "She was something else. I really look like a knock down copy of her. Her hair was a little darker then mine was, but it still had red in it. It went down past her waist." Alex demonstrated with a sweep of his hand how long it had been. "Her skin was pale. Her eyes were like mine are, blue then green and always changing. She had strong bones, a little more delicate then mine, but still defined. She was tall and slim, a ballerina when she was young. You could see it as she moved, so graceful. People used to stop and stare at us when we went out because we all so alike, my mother, my sister, and I." A wistful smile flitted to punctuate his reminiscence. His voice seemed so young, so fragile as he related, "My mother, when I was young, before we started to hide, was so full of love. She would sing to us and dance with us. Alexi, she would say, shall we fly to the moon? And she would twirl with me until we laughed and laughed. She should never have married my father. He was the one that got us entangled with the consortium."

Mulder remember Alex telling him that his father was abusive. Mulder wondered if that was just in the nature of consortium families. He had known his entire adult life that he did not want to have children. Let the abuse die with him. The way he behaved with Alex told him that it would have continued. If he hated Alex without still feeling love, Alex would be in a jail cell or dead from Mulder's hand. This baroque dance of violence and lust was inescapable as long as the both of them lived.

 

* * *

 

Alex was quiet on the plane. Mulder kept silent too. The loud irregular beat of the engines would have drowned out their words anyway. The plane stammered and shimmied at takeoff and Alex grinned at Mulder's pale, grim countenance. He slyly slipped his hand over Mulder's, patting it to reassure him. Finally the plane took to the air and it seemed to settle to the flight, the engines thump fading to the expected muted smoothness.

After this plane, they had two transfers to make. They would leave this small commercial flyer for an even tinier air taxi. Alex said that by the time they reached the last airport, it would be too late for the next length of their journey. The last part was by train and after that, Alex said, they would have to trust to Alex's ability to persuade. The location Mulder had been given was remote and wild. There were no commercial ways into it. After the brief discussion, Alex rested his head back and soon was slumbering as if he had not a trouble in the world.

Mulder looked at his sleeping companion and sighed. If they had any sense, they would have rested instead of making love, playing at snowballs and acting like tourists. Alex was tough, but he must have been running on reserve energy for a long time. Mulder shuddered as he remembered Alex from Hong Kong. He had been so frantic with dark circles around his eyes, his skin yellow-white and pulled taut against the bone. He had still looked so beautiful even after Mulder had beaten him.

Alex woke just before they landed. He jerked out of sleep with a cry and, then, shivered for a few minutes. Mulder asked, "Did you have a bad dream?"

Alex said, "Yes."

Mulder looked around. Almost everyone was asleep. He asked, "The silo? The alien?"

Alex shook his head and said, "It was just a bad dream."

Mulder sighed and asked, "A bad dream about me?"

Alex closed his eyes and gave a little nod. Mulder said, "I'm not surprised. Shit, we must have really screwed up in some other life to get this."

Alex said, "Myself, more then you. I was so stupid, Mulder. I should have taken a chance. Only, you got mad so quickly and you were so hard on people. I thought it was easier just to go away and not let either of us get more hurt. It didn't work that way. I begged them to let me do anything anywhere away from you and your people, but they wouldn't let me go. It was bad, Mulder, really bad."

A baby wailed and his tired parents stirred to bring the child to the cramped bathroom to tend to his needs. Alex said, "I'll tell you later if you want to know the details. There is something you need to know before we go much farther. You see; there are no real hotels from here on. We are going to stay at my Aunt's Dacha. It's nice. Her husband was an important man. He's dead now and she has plenty of room." Alex grimaced and said, "Mulder, I have to explain something."

Mulder felt an instinctive reaction of anger and distrust. He asked, "What?"

Alex said, "When I was in college, I met a girl. Katie- Katrina, was a Russian exchange student. She was so beautiful. We were smart kids, used protection, but you know, sometimes, it doesn't work. She didn't believe in abortions and I didn't want my kid to be illegitimate. We married secretly and then tried to run. She made it back here and I didn't. I thought I had kept the whole thing a secret until they threatened them when I tried to back out of the project. Just before I met you, my wife died of cancer. I don't know if it was something from the old men or just the regular kind, but the cancer man, smiled when he told me. The more I prevaricated, the more pointed his inquiries were about my son." Alex sighed and shook his head. He added, "My aunt, Sophia takes care of Nikolai. He's just a little kid, Mulder, so you can't blame him for my mistakes. All that I am asking is that you keep it like it has been the last day, no hitting, or name-calling. Okay?"

Mulder said, "I can do that, Alex. It's easier now that we, you know. Hell, I don't want to break your kid's heart." Alex smiled at him as if that was a wonderful thing. Mulder remembered that smile, how it had made him feel admired, no longer the FBI's least wanted at least in one rookie agent's eyes.

The dacha was a gingerbread house set in a garden. The white paint was peeling and the green colored fretwork was loose in spots, but it spoke of a history of comfort and was a pretty picture even without the relief of flowers in the garden. Alex paused outside of the white arch of the gate and said, "This is how I wanted my son to grow up. It's protected, safe. I don't want them to take him as they took me. I shouldn't have had a kid. Neither should our parents have had us, Mulder. It's a fucked world."

Mulder couldn't argue with that. Yet, he remembered a scattering of times when it was good to be alive. The last day had added to them. They walked in the gate and the door opened to release a dark haired juggernaut. The little boy yelled, "Papa! It's papa!" He could only be Alex's son, a beautiful little boy.

Sophia was lovely. She looked like Alex and like the mother that he had described. Nickie was the image of Alex, dark chestnut colored hair, green eyes, and a sweet smile in a face as angelic and full of mischief as a child should be. Alex stooped to kiss his son. That was a pretty picture too. Alex's aunt embraced him and drew them out in a snug harbor of comfort. Sophia fed them, gave them tea, vodka and cookies and spoke to them both in accented English. Nickie spoke English well. He was an affectionate child, curious and outspoken. Mulder thought that Nickie was an image of Alex as a child and he felt like weeping for what the consortium had taken to ruin.

Alex spoke both Russian and English to his son. Nickie seemed bright and happy, a laughing, talkative boy, who proudly showed his father what he was doing in school and boasted of his prowess at sports. At one point, when Alex was using the bathroom, Nickie asked Mulder if he would like to watch his American movies. Nickie said, "My papa says that I am American too. He says maybe someday we will live in America together."

Alex had sent his son Star Wars, Star Trek, Robin Hood as well as various Disney movies. Mulder sat on a flowered and ruffled overstuffed couch that went the length of the room. It was comfortable and with the vodka and cookies, he almost felt lured into sleep. He sank back against the cushions and closed his eyes. A high, if sweet, voice said, "Mr. Mulder, do you want to see this one?" The colored picture on the video box was pushed nearly into his eyes. Mulder gently angled it back and smirked at the copy of the Rats of NiMH. Trust Krycek to put his kindred species in a good light. Nickie was gazing at Mulder in a fashion that reminded Mulder of his father. He remarked, "Are you my daddy's friend? He never brought a friend to visit before."

Mulder blushed and said, "Well, we used to work together when your daddy was very young. He liked me a lot then."

Alex had returned. He said, "I still like you a lot, Mulder."

Nickie said, "Are you going to stay for a week, daddy?"

Alex replied, "Maybe, later, Nickie. Mulder and I have important work to do."

Nickie sighed and said, "You always do."

Alex squatted to talk to his son. He said, "Nickie, I told you about the bad men. Mr. Mulder fights the bad men. Remember, I said that even children weren't safe from them. They took Mulder's sister away just like they took your auntie away. If I just stayed with you, bad things might happen. They might take you and teach you to be bad like.." Alex bit off his words. He said, "Like some of the men Mulder fights."

Alex and Mulder watched Star Wars with Nickie. It was strange to think that aliens had once been a source of wonder to Mulder instead of things to fear. This movie was so innocent when the worse thing that could happen to you was dying or maybe it wasn't if you thought about Darth Vader, seduced by the dark side of the force. Alex might know all about that. Mulder put his arm around Alex and felt his lover relax into him. He sighed and ran his palm over Alex's short haircut. He complained, "This is really too short."

Alex explained, "My hair was matted from the oil. There wasn't much choice."

Nickie wiggled his way between them and grinned. He said, "Now you have to pay attention to me."

Alex tickled his son and was tickled back, chuckling as the small fingers flew over him. He grunted in pain though when Nickie pressed down over the spot where Skinner's mark still glowered in mottled purples and greens. Nickie said, "I'm sorry, papa. Did you have an accident?"

Alex scooted his son up and replied, "Yes, in a way. Don't worry. I'm not sick."

Nickie asked, "Papa, when am I going to America?"

Alex said, "Nickie, I never promised that. You know that it isn't safe. Here everyone watches for you. In America, I would have to put you in a boarding school and you would not like it."

Nickie sighed and said, "I know. You always say that."

Alex said, "It's time for you to go to bed. Come on. I'll take you piggy back up the stairs and read you your story."

Mulder smiled as Alex went off with his miniature. The smile faded as Alex quietly said to his son, "Don't dig your heels in to my ribs, Nickie. Remember? Papa is a little sore right now."

Sophia Vladimir showed Mulder into a large bedroom. The bed that waited was a paragon of beds. It boasted a vast dark mahogany frame, sturdy despite the patina of age obvious in the warm glow of the wood. The coverlet was a crisp thing of eyelet lace, ending in layers of immaculate bed ruffles. Huge overstuffed pillows stacked high at the head and beneath the ornamental cover, there was an eiderdown comforter. Sophia bustled about, checked to make sure that they had towels and other necessities. She said, "If you have any laundry, I can run a load tonight. It will all be done by morning. Alex has some clothes here. You should both fit them well enough." Mulder thought she was leaving, but she drew a deep breath and folded her arms decisively over her breasts. She said, "Mr. Mulder, I did notice the bruises and my nephew's wrist. I could have you deported and keep Alexei here. I know it would do no good. I can see that Alexei is in love with you. He is like his mother. He does not take back his heart no matter how wrong the person is. I have never seen why such loving people fell in love with people that hurt them."

Mulder felt guilty. He said, "Alex may not be who you think he is. He is a wanted man in America."

Sophia asked, "Is it common to beat your prisoners there?"

Mulder couldn't say anymore. He and Skinner had tortured Alex. There was no other way to describe their behavior. He said, "I won't hurt Alex unless he tries to escape. I still need his company for a short time."

Mulder showered and went to bed, wearing boxer shorts and nothing more. Then he stood up and removed even that garment. He laid the condoms and lubrication out where Alex would see them. If you don't have roses or chocolates, being blunt about your desires would have to do. Mulder couldn't wait for Alex to get in bed; the man was an addiction, a craving that was again a raging hunger in Mulder's world of mostly repressed emotions.

 

* * *

 

Alex entered the room. He undressed picked up Mulder's clothes and his own to put them by the door. He walked naked to the shower. Mulder listened to the sounds, anxious for Alex to get in bed. It didn't take long. Alex got under the covers, but Mulder laid them aside. He wanted to memorize his lover's form. Alex lay still, reading his desire; his body was a work of art, displayed by the background of the blindingly white sheets. A dew of moisture from the shower gave him a glow, a sheen of gloss for the thousand small perfections of his nude body. One of his legs was slightly raised, an intricate arch of beauty. His cock laid to that side, stirring as if Mulder's gaze was a tactile sensation, a pleasing caress. Mulder shut his eyes for a moment, invoking the visions, the still life pictures stored by his quirk of memory. This new tapestry was committed to that camera perfect reproducer of scenes, so often a source of torment, but this memory would be joy.

Alex looked back at him, eyelashes veiling the mists of his eyes. His lips were slightly parted and his expression contemplative and tender. Mulder kissed Alex's throat, loving the way he tilted his chin back as if to lay the column of neck unprotected to his lover. Mulder caressed Alex's face then moved back down to kiss the blushing whorls of his nipples. He paused at the fading sunset colors he and Skinner had painted on their fleshy canvas. Alex shook his head, caressed Mulder's hair in a benediction, an absolution. Mulder brushed a gentle kiss over the bruises and moved on to kneel between the relaxed sprawl of those legs.

Mulder knew exactly how long it took to get Alex ready and he knew each touch that made his lover arch with desire for him. His fingers mocked the rhythm they would find soon, the drum of their heartbeats as they moved against each other in passion. Alex said, "Please, now, Mulder, now!"

Mulder put on the condom and sleeked lube over it. He pushed into the again familiar territory. He moved slowly, watching Alex's face and Alex returned the intensity of his gaze. Alex's eyes were dark with his desire. Mulder knew what his own expression said back, but he couldn't hide behind indifference now. He knew that this was no casual thing between the two of them; this was a consuming madness that fed on their hearts and souls, ravened on their bodies and further ignited their irrevocable bonds. If they had never touched- if they had never met ... but that was inconceivable. Mulder knew that not to have ever loved Alex was loss, as if he crawled back into the womb rather then being born for fear of pain to come. Mulder's cosmos narrowed to the passage where his engorged cock rutted and to Alex's face transfigured, transcendent as if martyred, burnt in the flames of their passion. Their cries, first one and then the other, sounded their pain, their joy, and faded as if they were cast out of paradise, each falling, descending to separate hells. Still, they moved together in the night. They sought each other and held on, held on in denial of the forces, which pulled them apart.

Mulder woke first and lay in bed, watching Alex sleep. The bruises were almost all gone and his lover's face was sweet and young. He traced Alex's face with his fingers, ending with a delicate touch over his lips. Alex opened his mouth and captured a finger with his mouth. Mulder smiled and replaced the finger with his lips. "We have to be on the road soon," he said, regretfully. They made love in the shower, water cascading from the groaning pipes, the faint metallic taste of the ancient plumbing bitter on their tongues. He felt frantic as if he could not bear to leave the happiness of the last few days. Alex clung to him as if he felt the same. Mulder groaned, wishing that they were anyone but the people they were. He rocked Alex in his arms as they embraced, as they swayed in that bower of chipped white porcelain and ancient tiles. Mulder had one hand on the small of Alex's back, feeling the warmth of him and the smoothness. His other hand tilting Alex's delicate chin up so he could kiss him yet again.

They dressed silently as if by agreement, cloaking themselves in false faces, remembering all the reasons that their love was an impediment, an insanity that burdened and endangered, as if any of that could ever be as real as the way it felt when they touched each other, when they held each other, and when their eyes met to recognize the other half of their lost soul.

They caught a train to go deeper. Mulder felt that this was another world. The train was ancient, pockmarked with bullets from one or a dozen of the conflict that wracked this cold and tormented land. The splintered floorboards held smoother, brighter patches where they had been repaired. On other sections, there were deep rusted stains and fingernail shaped gouges that bore a silent message of terror. As they passed through an unvarying terrain of endless fields, patches of straggling trees, interspersed with small clusters of houses, only an occasional spire of a surviving church to vary the squat homes. They occasionally passed the ugly blot of a gray factory; sprouting smoking cylinders like jagged, darkened teeth, it seemed to Mulder that this was a Russia that was fifty years or more in the past. These people that surrounded them had gone to school but a few years. They were not jolly peasants, but were distrustful, clannish people who had survived generations of hardship. Most of them scowled at the strangers and despite the crowded car, no one wedged near on the long bench that substituted for the comfort of seats. The odors were overwhelming, composed of sour sweat, stale food, and the smell of bums and crotches that seldom enjoyed the benefits of adequate tissue. A few chickens, bound for stew pots, squawked in misery from flimsy crates.

After a while, Mulder thought that their mystery had worn away. A rounded-faced woman with obsidian eyes and a certain amber to the color of her skin finally sat next to Alex. He smiled at her and helped her stow her belongings beneath their feet. She looked pleased, and chattered with him, perhaps even flirting with the friendly stranger. Her toothless and bony husband started to glower until Alex addressed him well, some joke or compliment bringing him to grin in his gaping mouthed splendor.

Alex answered a long inquiry from the tall, broad shouldered woman who gave them the bread. He turned back to Mulder and said, "She says you are a fair skinned Jew, Mulder."

Mulder said, "She's right. My mother is Jewish. She never practiced her religion. Why is the woman interested?"

Krycek said, "Persecution drove most of the Jews out of the area. She says that some come back to look for the old records and the graves in the forest. She says there are many graves and not all are Jews." Alex said, "Don't bother demanding more. Her husband said for her to mind her tongue. Shit, I wonder what we are walking into?"

Mulder said, "Are you sure that you don't know?"

Alex shook his head and said, "I knew it was something about the oil aliens. I was surprised as you when it turned out to be a rock. How can they come from rocks? The one that was in me was intelligent. Shit, are there many kinds of these creatures? Mulder, what in the fuck are we going to do? It's just us, you, me, Scully, and we can't even work together."

Mulder said, "We've done okay here in Russia."

Alex said, "But you and Skinner damn near killed me before we got on the plane. That wasn't in my plan. I thought if I gave you a good bust that you would be grateful enough to listen."

Mulder quelled his anger. He said, "Alex, that's not how it works. I don't forgive that easy. If I hadn't cared about you so much when you pretended to be my lover and my partner, I would have killed you." The spell was broken, the anger once again overruling the deeper feelings.

Krycek sighed and said, "You know, Mulder, you want everyone to take this seriously, but you can't put your personal agenda aside to fight the war. I fucking don't have a personal life. I mean, this last few days is the closest I have allowed myself to a personal relationship since I figured out what was going on. Shit, I used to have fun, go clubbing, pick up men, women, or both. I could just pick out whoever was sexy and I almost always got them too! Now, you would think I was married to you or mourning for you or whatever."

Mulder said, "Just remember there is a difference between mourning and married. At least, so I am told, although my personal experience hasn't validated that so far." He offered the joke as a small intimacy, an effort at reconciliation.

Alex laughed at that, perhaps with greater relief at the settling than with real humor. He said, "I'm going catch some sleep and so should you, Mulder." Sleeping was a matter of leaning against the person next to you and enjoying whatever slumber could be grasped before some violent turn jerked you back to startled wakefulness. Mulder didn't even try, letting Alex use him for a pillow instead. After the train, there was just a small excuse for a town. Alex finagled a ride in the back of a truck. It was cold and they clung together under a tattered blanket. Alex snuggled, clinging to Mulder, his eyes expanding into dark orbs with worry. Mulder said, "Alex, don't freak out on me now."

Alex said, "I'll try. Mulder, if you see those things, don't touch them. Don't let anyone touch you, but me, okay? The woman who put the monster in me kissed me, but I think that it could get in you by any kind of contact."

Mulder said, "I'll be careful. Do you think that the creatures might be in that place?"

Krycek nodded and said, "From what I could find out, there is something going on. The consortium exists in Russia too, but the goals are different, I think. I think they want to find the tools to fight. That's what I want too."

Mulder sat up as the truck lurched to a stop. He was feeling anxious and it made him feel aggressive with Alex. He knew that was hardly fair, but he had grown used to taking out his troubles on his former lover. Still, Mulder prodded his conscience to activity and kept the feelings unvoiced and unexpressed. Alex and he jumped out of the truck. Alex spoke to the driver, looking earnest and sweet. He ended the conversation with a pat on the driver's arm and a small smile. Alex was such a charmer when he wanted to be or perhaps he just had good manners.

Mulder smirked. That was such a concept, a pretty, polite thug! Alex came back around and said, "The place is a few kilometers from here." Mulder nodded and said, "Let's go."

 

* * *

 

The forest was very old and very dark. The cold beneath the ancient trees was biting. The skyline showed a jagged line of oddly shaped giants, their tops bare and gnarled, turning outward from some explosive force. Alex was shivering in his leather jacket. Mulder really should have made him change to a parka or something along that line. They stopped beneath a tree and sank to the ground. Alex immediately moved to Mulder's side, pressing close. Mulder put an arm around him and rubbed him vigorously to warm him. Alex sighed and said, "Russia's beautiful, but it's fucking cold here."

Mulder nodded, feeling as weary and half-frozen as his companion. He knew they couldn't sit here long. He got to his feet and grasped Alex's wrist, the right one, as the left was still sore from the sprain engendered by the balcony stunt. He pulled his former partner and current status unknown lover to his feet and said, "Come on. We'll freeze if we sit here too long." They walked on until a line of barbed wire stopped them. Mulder said, "We'll have to dig under."

Alex nodded and they lay down to scrape at the soil. Alex found a thin flat rock to start the digging. Mulder used it as Alex winced whenever he worked his left hand too much. When the soil was looser, they both dug. Mulder used both hands and Alex used one. Alex stopped suddenly, staring at him and he spat, "You're really gonna keep me in the dark, aren't you?" He punched the ground with his good hand and demanded, "What are we doing here, Mulder?"

Mulder looked at him, thought that the harsh words were a sign of fear and continued digging. Then he realized that he hadn't shared his theories and perhaps, Alex really wanted an explanation and trusted that he had one. Mulder said, "June Thirtieth, Nineteen hundred and eight, Tungus tribesmen and Russian fur traders look up into the southeastern Siberian sky and see a fireball streaking to Earth. When it hit the atmosphere, it created a series of cataclysmic explosions that are considered to be the largest single cosmic event in the history of civilization. Two thousand times the force of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

Krycek asked, "What was it?"

Mulder almost smiled to see the avaricious, hungry for knowledge look on Alex's face. It was good to know that was the real Alex. He said, "It's been speculated that it was a piece of a comet, an asteroid, or even a piece of antimatter. The power of the blast leveled trees in a radial pattern for 2000 kilometers. No real definitive evidence has ever been found to provide a satisfying explanation of what it was." They resumed digging in the rocky soil.

The hole was deep enough for both agile, thin men. Mulder crawled under the razor wire. The ground was cold and the gravel scraped against his stomach through his clothing. He turned back to Krycek and looked at him through the fence. He concluded, "I think somebody found that evidence. And the explanation is something that nobody ever dreamed of." Mulder turned around and sprinted up the hill, not bothering to see if Krycek followed. It was up to Alex now whether to flee or go where Mulder led.

Mulder smiled slightly as he heard Alex running behind him. Mulder dropped to his belly and gazed downward. He saw buildings, men moving around, some on horseback and others on foot. The largest group appeared to be laboring. Alex dropped beside him, so close that Mulder could feel his body heat. Mulder reached for his binoculars. He brushed Alex's cap as he brought them back.

Alex wiggled even closer and whispered, "What are they doing?"

Mulder saw sees men digging in the ground with pickaxes. Some of the uniformed supervisors had whips. Several were on horseback. Mulder stated, "Looks like some kind of mining camp." He saw a man trying to push a wheelbarrow. The man who appeared bone thin fell down. One of the guards whipped him. Mulder exclaimed, "Oh!"

Krycek asked, "What?"

Mulder tried to keep his tone even as he replied, "I don't think they're miners."

Mulder frowned as he realized that there was a stir below. The answer came as he heard the sound of horse hooves against shale. He yelled, "Run!"

Mulder was aware of Krycek running in the opposite direction, as he well should have. He sprinted, drawing on his track star past and his daily running skills. He was good, but he could not out run a horse. A pair of guards ran him down. As he fell, struck by a whip stock in the head, Mulder heard a distant yell. Shit, they were both captured. He fainted as the men dragged him up.

Mulder awoke, lying on a cold stone floor. He felt his head and found blood on his temple. His jacket was gone. No, it was under his head. There was a thin blanket crumpled next to him. Mulder looked around and found that he was in a cell. There was a small, uncovered window with bars, set high in the wall. The door was a rusty slab of metal with an aperture at the bottom with a covering flap. A hole in the floor of the cell reeked dismally and that was the extent of the amenities. There was no bunk, no source of water, and no heat. Finally, Mulder realized that a voice was whispering in Russian. It was not Alex's voice. Mulder sat up and leaned against a wall, gingerly wiped blood from his face. Shit, and where the hell was Alex? His thoughts bounced between thoughts of betrayal and worry that his lover and enemy were dead.

The voice was persistent. Mulder said, "I don't speak Russian."

The voice said in slow, searching tones. "Then no one has told you?"

Mulder saw that there was a stone pushed out of the wall. He could see eyes peering at him through the hole. Mulder asked, "Told me what?"

His fellow prisoner said, "You were brought here to die. To wish you were dead."

Mulder moved closer to the hole. The man was paper pale. Mulder explained, "I wasn't brought here. I came here looking for something."

The man said, "The only thing you will find here is death and suffering."

Mulder asked, "What is this place?" The prisoner said in a hollow, weary voice, "This place? A gulag. A place where the guilty rule the innocent."

Mulder heard scuffling outside. The door opened and a brutal looking blond guard dragged Alex inside, Krycek's left arm pinned behind his back. The guard tossed Alex back into the cell. He had been robbed of his sweater and jacket. He had fresh bruises on his face and he looked very pale. His white tee shirt was sodden with sweat. He turned to pry at the door.

Krycek looked at Mulder and said, "We gotta get out of here, Mulder. They're going to torture us. He crossed the cell and clawed at the bars on the window. Mulder said, "How do you know?"

Alex said, "They were questioning me." He gave up on the window and came to stand chest to chest with Mulder. "Trying to get me to confess."

Mulder reacted to Alex's panic with his own fear and in sequence with his anger at that fear. "To what?" he demanded.

Alex replied, "To being a spy."

Mulder slammed Alex up against the wall, his arm against Alex's throat. The tender moments were far from his mind. All he could think of was that he had fallen for the same trap twice, for such pretty, duplicitous bait. He asked, "What did you tell them?"

Krycek said, "That we were stupid Americans lost in the woods. Mulder, you're going to need me in here." Alex shoved Mulder's arm away from his throat. He yelled. "Don't touch me again." Alex eyes were dilated with fear, and his breathing was a panicked gasping. He was shaking in this cold cell, looking like some mad thing with his pale face and disheveled clothing.

They stared at each other, nose to nose. Mulder regretted his actions. He thought Alex was panicking from claustrophobia not guilt. He turned away and Alex went back to wrenching at the bars until he was panting from his efforts and moaning as he jerked on his injured wrist. His voice rose as he cursed in English, Russian and French.

Mulder tried to remain indifferent to this sad spectacle, but he was not as callous as he wanted to be. He finally turned Alex around. He said, "Krycek? Alex, I'm sorry. Come on. Come on and sit down with me. You're shivering. You can't get out that way, but you're not alone."

Alex looked at him and said, "You hurt me again."

Mulder said, "I'm sorry. I was scared too. Come on. Let me take care of you."

Alex nodded and let Mulder lead him to the corner. Mulder put both arms around him and let Alex sag into him. He asked, "Did they hurt you badly?"

Alex said, "No, just hit me around. They don't hit as hard as Skinner."

Mulder said, "Don't go crazy on me, Alex."

Alex said, "I'm scared."

Mulder admitted, "me too."

Alex moaned, "Why the hell did I follow you here?"

Mulder smiled despite his situation. He said, "Because you are just as curious as I am."

A corner of Alex's mouth twitched into a smile and he said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot."

Mulder petted Alex's short hair, wishing again that it were longer. He pulled Alex close and held him. Alex sighed and said, "I didn't want you to come here alone, Mulder. I had to follow you."

Mulder thought unwillingly about Scully. He kept thinking about her comment to him. She had said, "I don't know how far I can follow you." The woman he loved and trusted said there were limits to her loyalty. The woman he loved deflected any signs of romance he tried to show. Mulder held his enemy who had not been able to stay behind, his hands moved gradually from stroking to exploration. They kissed and Mulder felt his arousal unfold despite or because of the circumstances.

"Alex," he whispered, "Alex, I'm sorry I was mean."

Alex nodded wearily and offered his lips for a kiss again. Mulder guided Alex's hand down lower. Alex looked at him with a questioning look, but unzipped him. Mulder kissed his lover again, wondering if treachery had a taste that he could find in these familiar lips? All he tasted was the tang of blood from their cuts. He guided Alex's head down in silent communication. Alex whispered, "You're something else, Mulder."

It didn't take long. Alex shook his head as Mulder reached for his zipper. He whispered, "I'm too cold and uncomfortable." Mulder massaged Alex. He slipped the tee shirt up, confirming that the guards had beaten Alex. They curled up together. Mulder blushed as He realized the next door neighbor might have observed the blowjob. Then he mentally tossed it away. Hell, it was not as if a prisoner in a gulag could report him to an ethics committee. The morning light came and Mulder tried to untangle from Alex. Alex clung and grumbled then got up. He grimaced and made his way to the hole in the floor. He pissed into the hole and shook his penis clear then went to the window. Mulder also used the primitive latrine. He moved over, coming behind Alex. He glanced and he saw the other prisoner who peering through the hole. He recognized the look, greed? It was a hungry look. Mulder still put his arms around Alex, warming him and taking warmth at the same time. Both of them were heavily stubbled and they smelled equally rank. It didn't matter. He still found Alex beautiful.

Alex turned around and laid his head on Mulder's shoulder. He said, I'm scared."

Mulder said, "me too." He kissed Alex then moved away. The door opened enough to accommodate a bucket of water. They drank; using their hands then washed their faces with the remaining moisture on their hands. A piece of bread followed. Alex split it and gave the bigger piece to Mulder. He said, "My jaw is too sore anyway to eat much of this. It's damn near hard tack."

Mulder felt guilty. He said, "Soak it in some water, Alex."

Alex obeyed, palming water and rolling the bread across it. Mulder went over to try to get the prisoner on the other side of the wall to talk. He shook his head and moved away. Alex sat near the door, resting his head on the wall. He sighed and said, "We are fucked, Mulder. You ever notice that we get into bigger trouble when we are together then we do apart?"

Mulder said, "Yes, I noticed." He said, "Come here. Let's sleep again."

Mulder wrapped around Alex again and they both fell asleep instantly. When they woke, they sat on the floor. Alex didn't look well. Mulder felt his lover's forehead. He was hot. Alex said, "There's nothing we can do for now."

Around midday, cups were shoved through the aperture. Alex drank a sip of the yellowish soup and grimaced. He handed the other cup to Mulder. Mulder sniffed and his stomach roiled. It smelled of sour, burned potatoes. He took a sip and almost shrieked as something moved against his lip. There was a giant cockroach in his soup. He showed Alex before tossing the soup out. Alex threw both cups out and yelled in Russian.

The burly guard shot through the door. He shoved at Krycek who stood, shouting at him. Mulder watched the argument, not sure who was winning or whether Alex meant to help or betray. The guard did not look certain, but he took Alex from the cell. Alex turned back and said, "Do Svidania"

As soon as the door shut, the man in the next cell said, "That man is not your friend. He speaks indifferently to the guards. Formal language, as if to an equal. You are deceived."

Mulder asked, "Who are you?"

The other man said, "A prisoner, like you, but I have committed no crime."

Mulder asked, "Why are you here?"

The man said, "To do the work. Like the others. Like them, I will die in an experiment when there is no longer any use for me."

Mulder shuddered and asked, "What kind of experiment?"

The man did not answer. The door opened again and guards came in. They held Mulder down, laughing at his frightened protests as a spectacled man injected him painfully. Mulder passed out. He woke, half-naked and held down by wire mesh. Mulder couldn't move. His eyes widened as he contemplated the nozzles above his head, remembering some elder relative's interrupted tale of showerheads that belched poisonous gas. He could turn his head just enough to see other men in like condition surrounded him. When he looked back up, Mulder saw black viscosity dripping down. It was oil and Mulder scrunched his eyes and mouths as tightly shut as possible in a vain attempt to lock out the stuff. The substance turned into horrible things, which burned coldly into his skin and hurt him terribly. His screams joined the others.

Mulder woke in the cell again, hearing the other man, a persistent, unwelcome sound with Mulder's head throbbing and his throat burning from the oil. His stomach felt cramped and his arm ached deep inside. He wished Scully were here so he could complain to her and feel her cool little hands comforting him. The voice said, "Prisoner? Hey? Prisoner, I thought maybe you were dead."

Mulder asked, "How long have I been lying here?" His clothing was sodden with perspiration and the cold of the floor had chilled him to the bone. He swallowed dryly, regretting it as bile rose in response.

The other man replied, "Hours... I don't know. The first time is bad."

Mulder asked, "They've done this to you?"

The other prisoner replied, "Yes. It becomes easier each time... . until it kills you."

Mulder asked, "What did they do to me?"

The man replied, "You have been exposed to the Black Cancer."

Mulder asked, "Black Cancer?"

The man said, "The cancer that lives in the rock."

Mulder went to the hole in the wall where the other prisoner's eyes could be seen. He asked, "Who are you?"

The man said, "I was a geologist, quite well known actually, but now I am just a test subject."

Mulder was feeling stronger. He said, "You helped them find the rock?"

The man said, "I was there when they brought up the first fragments. This was before the mining... before we knew what lived in Tunguska Rock... "

Mulder asked, "How many men have died here?"

The man sighed and said, "Hundreds... maybe more... The search for a cure goes slowly." Mulder said, "Is that what they say the tests are for? To find a cure?"

The other prisoner shook his head. He replied, "No, they tell us nothing. We are left to guess and imagine the reasons for our torture, but what else could it be?"

Mulder had not seen Alex in the men being tested, He asked, "What happened to the man who was in the cell with me, Krycek?"

The prisoner said, "He is most likely dining with the men responsible for our torture. I heard laughter when they left your cell."

Mulder stated, "I'm not going to die."

The other man asked, "Why not?"

Mulder replied, "I have to live long enough to kill that man, Krycek." All of his hatred had returned, it was an acid wash of rage; dissolving the taste of paradise the few days had been when Alex and he had been lovers again. The man nodded and passed something through the hole. Mulder examined it. It was a knife of sorts; short bladed and the cloth wrapped hilt crude. He asked, " Where did you get this?"

His informative friend said, "I made it... to kill myself. It took me two weeks and by then I had lost the desire."

Mulder asked, "You'd rather suffer the torture?"

The prisoner sighed again and replied. "It is wonderful- the persistence of life. That rock we found buried so deep in the Earth- that anything could survive down there goes beyond all reason. No. They will have to kill me themselves"

Mulder moved away, leaned against the wall, locked in a desolate sepulcher of regret. It was so cold without Alex to hold. The man next to him said, "The other man, your false friend, he speaks as one born to the command. Russian is not like English. There is a formal language one speaks to those in charge. That is how the man speaks." Mulder closed his eyes, shivering in the dark, clammy cell. The silence stretched long and Mulder thought the evil spirit that resided in the next cell was done. Yet as he sat there, turning the knife around and around in his hands, the voice insinuated itself into his solitude again. Mulder's overwrought state made him perceive a serpentine hiss to that whispering solicitation to murder. The man said, "I saw what he did with you. His beauty is a trap. All beauty is evil. That's how we know our demons by the desire that we feel for them. You must cast him out. You must wash away your sin with his blood. Save yourself"

In the morning, Mulder was taken out. He was relieved to see it was not to the long building where the worms were put in the prisoners. He joined men shuffling toward the rock fields, recognizing the man in the next cell by his fanatic eyes and lunatic dishevelment of hair. The man pointed at a platform. Alex was up there, lighting a cigarette for the bespectacled and bald man who had injected Mulder. Alex smiled and hugged the man as he was glancing over the line of prisoners. Mulder thought he was looking for him, wanting to gloat. Mulder saw the truck idling next to the platform. It was an old flat bed, with a battered rail around it. He ran, a run fueled by hatred and pain. He grabbed Alex, striking him unconscious and throwing him in the truck bed. Just for one moment, he crouched on top of him, pounding his fury into the man's face and body. He had to tear himself from his orgy of violence to leap into the cab. He pushed the antique vehicle as fast as it would go, listening to the screaming protest of the engine as he lead-footed the gas pedal. He outdistanced his pursuit eventually although the air was choking with diesel and burning oil. Eventually Alex woke and pounded on the truck window, shouting.

Mulder couldn't hear what his former lover said, but he didn't care. He didn't think he could really kill Alex, but he knew he could take great pleasure in hurting him. He planned to hurt him in meticulous detail; he wanted to hear that husky voice pleading for mercy... reality jolted him from his fantasy as he tried to use the brakes. The pedal depressed with no resistance, failing to slow the truck in the least. They careened around a corner, barely keeping even two wheels on the rough road. Ahead a sharp turn threatened. Mulder frantically pulled at gears, wrestled the steering wheel that fought him like a living thing. He cried out as he realized he could do nothing. The last thing he saw as he glanced in the mirror was Alex leaping off the truck then he covered his face as the truck spun off the road, plummeted a few feet, rushing toward one of the giant trees. Mulder knew he was out for a while. He dragged himself away from the worthless truck. He was weak and knew he would not get far. He chose a place and buried himself in the deep leaves. Beneath this cover, he shivered miserably until he slept.

The next waking found Mulder being dragged out of his cover of leaves. He didn't think that it was the guards. The man who found him was not in uniform. He wore a ragged coat, heavy roughly woven trousers, and thick boots, scuffed, battered, and hobnailed. He shouted in Russian. Mulder didn't know the words, but the meaning was clear. This was a very angry man. He took Mulder to a small house, a virtual hut, which was surrounded by discarded barrels, ancient engine parts, and piles of anonymous debris. The man dropped him to the floor in front of a crude bench that sat before a cluttered wooden table.

The man's wife looked younger or perhaps just less harried than he did. The woman gasped and then made a sympathetic noise. She helped Mulder onto the bench, clucking over his injuries as she and her husband argued in Russian. Mulder instinctively knew who was on his side and presented his little boy lost look to the kind face of the wife. She poured water from a kettle and dabbled at the blood on his temples. She asked him something, perhaps his name or what he was doing here. He shook his head and answered, "I don't speak Russian."

The woman's face took on a searching expression. Her words were stilted as if she had learned English long ago with no opportunity to use it outside of a classroom. "American?" she asked, the one word imbued with intimidations of decadent fairy tale settings. Mulder nodded. He said, "Tell your husband I'm sorry about his truck.

The woman was examining a cut on his arms and now she exclaimed, "You have been given the test?"

Mulder thought her tone could well have said, 'you have leprosy, AIDS, fatal cancer.' He replied, "Yeah."

His ally drew a shuddering breath and she shook her head, frowning before she said, "They kill everybody for the test."

Mulder asked, "Why don't they kill you?"

She said, "My husband makes deliveries. They spare our lives. But now, no truck. He is afraid."

Mulder realized what he had done. He could only make it worse by staying, and he announced, "Well, I have to go now."

The trucker's wife said, "No." It was flat and commanding.

Mulder protested, "They'll come looking for me. They'll come looking for you."

The woman's expression held resignation. She said, "No. There are other ways."

Mulder was bewildered. He said, "I don't know what you're talking about. What other ways?"

"Grisha!" the woman called. A sturdy, blond-haired boy entered. He looked to be in his early teens. His jacket held one empty sleeve, the end neatly sewed shut in confirmation that this was a long-standing condition. The woman pointed and said, "No arm, no test." The boy glowered with resentment then nodded in agreement. Mulder wanted to scream, feeling that he was suddenly in some summer movie, ominous soundtrack playing in the background and he was the foolish character who was going to be murdered next. He hastily said, "You don't understand... these tests. The smallpox scar on your arm is some kind of identification. You have to help me escape. I'll help you escape. You have to help me get to St. Petersburg." The door opened and the husband had returned. He held a machete blade that shone in the firelight.

Mulder scrabbled at his coat. He tore at the lining to get to the American dollars and the Russian bills that Alex had bidden his aunt to sew there. He could have screamed in relief as he found that this stash was undiscovered, the guards must have been content with the diversion of the remaining bills in his wallet. He said, "Get me out. You can start a new life somewhere else; buy a new truck. Come on, save me. Save your family."

Days later, Mulder stared wearily out at the snow-clad airport. He ached all over still and he wondered if cancer was even now whittling at bones, multiplying in his organs, a secret vampire sucking out his life. Somehow the paths had opened to him, money smoothed irate officials and now, he was safe. He wore a decent suit, he was clean-shaven, and his injuries were healing. The plane lifted. Mulder was glad to leave Russia behind, but a part of him stayed here. Somewhere, Alex Krycek remained, living or dead. He kept his mystery as always, had he betrayed or not? Was he a pawn or a king in this game? Did he love Mulder or toy with him? The backwash of snow and vapor blotted out any hope of vision. That which remained held no answers, just a wound that would never heal.

 

* * *

 

He had asked to meet him, agreeing to this public place. Mulder had looked it up on the Internet and given the twisted devil the address. This Greek-Orthodox church was only a shadow of the one in St. Petersburg, but it was still a place of majesty and beauty. Mulder lit his candles, adding after a moment of hesitation, one more for Alex Krycek.

The stench of cigarettes preceded him. Mulder turned around and looked at the detested old man. As always, he dressed in shades of black and gray, always the colors of cold ash. His pallid face held a corpse like hue that suited his deadly role in the game. Mulder wondered why he had not killed him long ago? Why hadn't they killed each other and stopped the homicide of surrogates? He asked, "What do you want? Have you finally decided to kill me and stop all the go-betweens?"

Cancerman laughed and said, "I just wanted to thank you. You have done a great service to me; my organization wanted you to know that. Thanks to you, we have the Russian vaccine and more information about the eastern experiments then we hoped to find. Then there is the matter of Alexander Krycek."

Mulder snarled, "What about Krycek?"

Cancerman said, "How have the mighty fallen? Or should I say Icarus has melted his wings. I have never had a rogue operative stay alive and ahead of me for a full year. I really am surprised. After his failure to seduce you and his unfortunate disclosure of his connections to me, I really saw him as hopeless except as a perverse whore. Then, he showed this talent for survival. However his hubris is now shown as without merit. He's back on a leash where he belongs. One of my colleagues seems to have taken a fancy for him. Shocking, I think, as I saw my friend to be a fellow of taste and style. It must be this Lawrence thing that seems the fashion of Englishmen of a certain class."

Mulder felt his heart give a leap that should not have been. Cancerman thought that Alex has not succeeded in seducing him. He was confirming that Alex had not been working for him when they went to Russia. Mulder sighed.

He asked, "How did Krycek survive Tunguska?"

Cancerman snorted and said, "Some sort of family connection. The same way he arranged for you to escape from Russia. I think the fool is in love with you. I misjudged his usefulness entirely. I sent him to blind you with lust and, not only did he fail, but he seems to be the one who was trapped in my badger game. Well, now, he is wearing a new collar."

Mulder hoped that whoever has bound Krycek was kinder then this man and that, somehow, Alex would break free, returning to Mulder as he always did. Mulder said, "I think that you should reevaluate your method if you can't even control your own people, how do you expect to control the world?" Mulder snorted and walked away. Cancerman had given him a gift; he knew now that Alex had not betrayed him and he could believe this one thing with unyielding faith; somehow his lover would find him again. He had to believe it or they both were lost.