Revised - 12/30/97
The characters contained in this story don't belong to me -- they are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, Twentieth-Century Fox Broadcasting, and Touchstone Pictures.
Yes, you read that last part right. Touchstone Pictures. Walt Disney Studios.
Well, somebody had to do it. Somebody had to write a PLAYING GOD/X-FILES crossover, and I got fingered. Lucky me...
Actually, it wasn't all that hard to write. The idea sprang into my head the second (or was it third?) time I sat there watching PLAYING GOD, and grumbling to myself over how lousy the script was. "I could do better," I kept muttering. So I put my word processor where my mouth was, and I rewrote the entire last half of the movie -- with a decidedly slashy twist, of course.
Alex Krycek meets Dr. Eugene Sands. You have been warned...
Rated NC-17 for consensual m/m sex. Spoilers for both X-F and PLAYING GOD, though if you haven't seen the movie yet, most of this story will make absolutely no sense to you. I make no apologies; I wasn't about to spend half the story running down plot points. Deal with it.
Okay to archive to MKRA, no Gossamer or ATXC, please.
Feedback may be addressed to: dnivling@mail.redshift.com


A Star In Hell
by Sugar Rush

He got the call around two a.m., the phone's ring slicing through his murky fentanyl haze like an ice pick rammed straight into his eardrum. "H'lo?"

"Got a job for you, my friend."

It was Raymond. Shit, it was always Raymond whenever the phone rang at two fucking a.m. He should've been used to it by now. "Same hotel as last time?"

"Yeah. I'm sending Cyril to pick you up. Be ready in twenty."

*Click.*

He stared at the receiver, then hung up, heading for the bathroom, yanking open the shower door, twisting on the water until it was just a hair above icy, stepping inside, teeth rattling as the spray sluiced over him. It helped a little, though his brain was still half-foggy when he emerged, toweling off quickly, padding into the other room, pulling on a relatively clean pair of jeans and t-shirt, looking around, looking for his pills--

They were on the kitchen counter, right where he'd left them last night. All he needed was one, just one to get him level, keep him flying straight--

He shook one into his palm, staring at it, caressing it with the pad of his thumb, chalky-feeling, smooth except for the tiny indentation down its center, sweet euphoria right here in his hand--

And he halted, nanoseconds from popping the pill into his mouth. He hadn't operated stoned since Ray'd recruited him, and he wasn't starting now. If this one died, it wasn't going to be his fault. Not this time...

The ride to the hotel took about twenty minutes and, luckily, Ray seemed to have anticipated his need -- there was a Thermos of coffee waiting for him in the car, hot and black and sweet, just the way he liked it. He'd just downed the last sip when they pulled up in front of the tall smoky-glassed building and he climbed out, heading for the elevator, pressing the button for the thirtieth floor.

Same drill, different night. Same hotel suite, same nurse monitoring the IV and heart monitor, same gleaming chrome stretcher--

Different guy lying on the stretcher -- early thirties, dark hair, skin ashen, papery. A wound high on his right shoulder was still slowly oozing blood, but on closer examination it didn't appear all that serious; the bullet had passed all the way through, leaving a round, relatively clean exit wound on the other side.

"What d'you think, Eugene?" Ray's voice came from a darkened corner, startling him, but only for a moment, only until he saw the other man get up from the couch in front of the big-screen TV, start to saunter over. "This one worth saving?"

He assumed Ray was joking, but with Ray sometimes it was hard to tell. "There doesn't appear to be any extensive tearing of the tissue or nicked bones or blood vessels," he replied, still leaning over his patient, pulling on rubber gloves, probing the wound with his fingertips. "Looks like a quick rinse n'stitch. A couple hours, tops."

"Shall I prep him, doctor?" the nurse asked. Off his nod, she added, "local or general anesthesia?"

"I'll do it," he said, grabbing a vial of painkiller and a syringe. Not that he harbored any doubts about the nurse's competence, but he would've felt more sanguine about the situation if they'd had a qualified anesthesiologist on hand. He wasn't taking a chance on anything going wrong here. Drawing out the correct dosage, he flicked the syringe with two fingertips until all the excess air floated to the top where he could shoot it from the needle, then, nodding toward the nurse, waited until she straightened the patient's arm, finding a nice plump vein popping up right there in the crook of his elbow. He pierced the vein cleanly, pushing down on the plunger, slowly injecting the drug--

And the man on the stretcher's eyes flew open at that precise same moment, green eyes, green like jade flecked with gold, wide, terrified. Luckily, the painkiller had already started taking effect, so his feeble attempts at thrashing died stillborn. "Wh-what the hell're you...doing here..."

"Take it easy," he said, finishing the injection, withdrawing the needle, "you've been shot. We're here to take care of you."

His patient began chuckling softly. "Y-you been taking...s-surgery lessons from...Scully in your sp-spare time?" His head fell back on the stretcher a second later, eyes drifting shut.

He tossed the syringe aside, hand at his patient's throat, feeling for a pulse, finding it, jerky, thin, thready. "You been monitoring his pressure?" he asked the nurse. Her reply was to hand him a chart. "Finish prepping him and start him on a unit of plasma while I wash up," he said, handing the clipboard back, heading for the bathroom.

Ray followed, leaning in the doorway, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, watching him scrub. "He seems to know you, doc."

"Well, I don't know him."

"You sure?"

Ray was starting to get under his skin, though that in itself was nothing unusual. He just wasn't in any mood to deal with this bullshit now. "What're you insinuating?"

"Nothing," Ray replied, grinning, all false ingenuousness. "I was just...well, wondering if maybe he'd wandered into your emergency room once upon a time...y'know, back when you were a *real* doctor."

Flicking off the hot water with an elbow, he grabbed the towel Ray held out to him. "You want me to patch him up or not?"

"That's why I called you."

"Then get out of my way and let me do it."

As he'd suspected, it was an easy job, a simple cleaning and sewing up of the wound. He was finished even sooner than he'd anticipated and, with Cyril's help, moved his patient to the king-sized bed in the next room.

"Good work, Eugene," Ray said, pulling a plain white envelope out of his jacket pocket, holding it out to him.

He counted it, fingertips whispering over crisp green bills. Ten grand, his usual fee. He didn't even know why he was counting it; Ray was a lot of things, but tight-fisted wasn't one of them. He'd always been paid well, and promptly.

"How long till he comes to?" Ray asked.

"A couple hours. I'll be back this afternoon to check him."

"You don't need to. I'll call if there're any complications--"

"Like you did with Vladimir?"

Ray's smirk faded. "How'd you know about that?"

"I read the newspapers. Funny, but when I left him Vladimir was in no condition to wander back on down to the beach and get another bullet blown through him." He waited a second for that one to sink in, for the glassy twinkle in Raymond's eyes to go flat, slate-grey. "I take a certain pride in my work, Ray. When I fix 'em up, I like 'em to stay fixed."

"Oh, he'll stay fixed. I guarantee it."

"Why don't I believe you?"

"Look, Eugene, you're my employee, remember? You do your work, you get paid, no questions asked. What the hell do you care what happens to him now anyway?"

He had a momentary flash of the look in his patient's eyes when he was lying there on that stretcher. The guy'd been scared, scared out of his mind, and not just by the prospect of undergoing surgery.

//Ray's right, this isn't your fucking problem...you did your job, you got your money, now just walk out of here and go home and get stoned and forget about it--//

He wanted to, Jesus, he wanted to walk out of this fucking hotel suite more than anything, wanted to go back to his shitty apartment and mix up a little fentanyl in a glass of milk and lie down on the couch and fall into another sweet, sticky pit of black oblivion...

"I'm staying until he wakes up," he said, going back into the bedroom, pulling a chair over by the bed, flopping into it, slumping down, head resting on its back cushion.

He thought for sure that Ray'd send Cyril in to eject him by force, but long minutes passed and it didn't happen. He didn't know why, and right now he was past caring. Might as well get some rest while he could.

His lazy gaze drifted over to the bed, to the dark-haired man lying there, his chest slowly rising and falling under the pale blue sheet. Hauling himself out of his chair, he went over, leaned over, fingertips pressed to the pulse in the younger man's throat. It was steadier now, stronger; obviously the plasma he'd received had helped. His color was better too, still pale, but without the pasty grey undertone he'd had before. Given time -- and antibiotics -- he'd make a full recovery.

He sat down in his chair again, propping his feet up on the foot of the bed, trying to get comfortable, finally giving it up as a lost cause. After a few minutes, though, exhaustion finally took its toll, and he felt himself starting to doze...

Who the hell was this guy? He'd only been working for Ray himself for a couple months, but he didn't remember seeing him before. Maybe he was a new recruit. It wouldn't surprise him; Ray'd been going through thugs like Kleenex lately. Only this guy didn't look like Ray's usual brand of thug...

He looked like a kid who'd gotten locked inside the carnival funhouse and couldn't find his way out.

* * *

His vision cleared gradually, like he was rising through deep water, reaching out for the light near the surface--

He blinked once, twice, but the room still looked gauzy, all soft-focus, like everything was wrapped in a wispy white baby's blanket--

Squinting, he tried to take in his surroundings. The room was lavish, almost overdone, dark blue walls with matching curtains, a big-screen TV the size of Rhode Island in the far corner--

Black-lacquered, angular furniture -- including the bed he was lying on, he realized, one hand grabbing the sheet, letting the soft cotton pour through his fingers. There was just one thing he couldn't figure out, though--

How the hell did he get here?

//She saw him saw him watching her and she turned pulling out her gun aiming it and he tried to move tried to get away but she fired and he slammed the pavement so hard he thought he'd broken every bone from neck to waist--

//And the last thing he saw was her looking down at him gun still in her hand and then the whole fucking sky went black--//

"Oh, Jesus...oh, sweet fucking Jesus..." He knew where he was now. Ray's hotel suite.

And ten to one Ray was waiting for him in the next room. Waiting for him to wake up so Ray could have the pleasure of killing him himself. He had to get the hell out of here, and right now--

But pain tore through him when he tried sitting up, a hot, jagged blade lancing his chest, leaving him breathless, forcing him back down on the bed--

The room tilted, whirled, even behind closed eyes, and his right arm felt like somebody'd tried to twist it off. His left hand traveled upward, skimming over fever-hot skin, tracing the edge of a small, sticky ring of moisture seeping through the heavy white bandages swathing his right shoulder--

He tried getting up again, but the pain hit him, harder this time, immobilizing him. After a little while he managed to roll onto his left side, tears stinging, burning the insides of his eyelids--

He didn't know how long he lay there, the pain slowly subsiding to a dull but bearable throb, but the next thing he was aware of was the edge of the mattress dipping down, and a hand gently touching his side, rolling him over on his back again--

He didn't, couldn't resist, had no strength or even desire to anymore, he just let the hand move him, eyes screwed shut, bracing himself for the worst--

"Lie flat on your back, okay? You'll rip out your stitches."

Not the voice he was expecting. Not Ray's voice, or Cyril's--

He let his eyes float open by tiny degrees, blinking to clear the teary haze still remaining--

"You okay?" came the same voice he'd heard a second ago. Mulder's voice--

Mulder's face a scant inch away from his, leaning over him, peeling back his bandage, examining his wound. "It's still bleeding, but that's normal," he said. "Just try to lie still, all right?"

He stared, heart pounding, head spinning, breath coming in rapid, jerky spurts. This wasn't real, it couldn't be, he was dreaming, hallucinating--

His left hand reached up, fingertips touching, stroking the cheek right there above him, tracing the other man's jawline, bristly stubble scratching, tickling the pad of his thumb--

"Jesus...oh, Jesus..." he breathed. "You're real. You're alive..."

Mulder grinned, that same quirky, lopsided grin he remembered from their brief time together as partners, the same grin he'd been seeing in his dreams for the past four months. "Thanks for confirming that," he replied, sitting up. "Some days I'm not so sure."

"What're you doing here?"

"I work here."

"In LA, you idiot."

"You mean, beautiful downtown Hell?" Leaning over, he reached into a large green bag sitting on the floor, pulling out a stethoscope and a blood-pressure cuff. "Looks like I'm taking care of you."

"Damn it, Mulder, will you just give me a straight answer for once--"

"I thought that's what I was doing."

"C'mon, Mulder, quit joking. I'm not in the mood--"

"What'd you call me?"

He tried to laugh, but it hurt so much all he got out was a strangled chortle.

"Look, I'm not who you think I am--"

"Oh, yeah? Then who are you -- Mulder's clone?"

Puzzlement flickered, lingered in deep hazel eyes. "My name's Eugene Sands. I'm a surgeon. I stitched up your wound."

Oh, this was just too fucking rich. But if Mulder insisted on carrying it this far, he'd play along. "Prove it."

"How?"

"Take off your shirt."

"*What?*"

God, the look on his face was classic stunned Mulder -- eyes wide, lips slightly parted. Full, moist, gorgeous lips...too bad he was in no shape to fully appreciate them. "Mulder got shot in the left shoulder a few months ago. If you're really not him, you won't have a scar."

Mulder stared at him, then got up, yanking his t-shirt up and over his head in one fluid motion--

Revealing pale, lightly-furred skin, still slightly golden from a fading summer tan, slender hips flaring upward to a lean yet well-defined chest, his own gaze lingering on the subtle, almost imperceptible tug and play of muscles there, moving slowly upward--

To his left shoulder. His perfectly smooth left shoulder.

He'd had plastic surgery to remove the scar; that was the only logical explanation. This was Mulder, it had to be. He had Mulder's face, Mulder's voice...Mulder's body...

And he remembered all three in intricate, intimate detail.

"Guess we're not a matched set after all," Mulder said with a weak smile, pulling his shirt back on. "You believe me now?"

No. It simply wasn't within the realm of possibility for two different men to look that much alike. Unfortunately, there was no time to argue the point now. Sitting up, he braced himself for the pain, dragging in a shallow breath before it smashed into him like a sledgehammer, waiting for it to recede, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed--

"What d'you think you're doing?" Mulder asked.

"Getting dressed," he replied, spying his jeans and leather jacket draped across the foot of the bed, making a grab for them, "and getting out of here."

"The fuck you are. Get back under those covers."

"Who died and made you my mother all of a sudden?"

"Look, you've just had surgery. You're in no condition to be going anywhere."

"So I should just lie here and wait for Raymond to come kill me?"

That halted whatever reply Mulder was about to make, but this time his expression wasn't shocked or stunned. It was more like realization had come crashing down, like his own worst fears had just been confirmed. "Why would Raymond want to kill you?"

He didn't bother answering, just pulled the jeans on as best he could with only one working arm, gasping, gritting his teeth, black spots dancing before his eyes, a hot fist pulsing, tightening in his chest, choking off his air--

Lurching to his feet, he tried to grab hold of the bedside table to steady himself, but he missed, wobbling, teetering--

And Mulder's arm was there in the next second, looped across his back, under his uninjured arm, holding him up until he could stand on his own--

And he swung around, still trembling, glancing down at the leather jacket dangling from his left hand, idly wondering what had happened to his t-shirt, eyes locking on Mulder's again. "You gonna help me get out of here?"

"You still haven't answered my question."

"Christ, Mulder, do we have to get into this now--"

"Why does Raymond want you dead?"

"Because Claire's the one who shot me."

There was the stunned look again, but this time he managed to make a quick recovery. "What's Ray's girlfriend got against you?"

"Ray got a little, um...nervous after what happened with the Russians, hired me to be Claire's bodyguard. Claire wasn't too hot on the idea, but she went along with it to keep Ray happy. Last night she gave me the slip, got out of the house without me seeing her. I tracked her, found her car parked a few miles down the road at this seedy bar. She was sitting there talking to somebody I recognized...and who recognized me."

"Who?"

"Gage."

The name shot a visible tremor through him, and no wonder. Thomas Gage was FBI, and a more ruthless sleaze than Raymond Blossom ever thought of being. "Y-you know him too?"

"Jesus, Mulder, will you drop the fucking mind-games? Yeah, I know Gage and he knows me and he must've told Claire because she followed me out to the parking lot and fucking shot me. And once she tells Ray what Gage told her, he's gonna come back here and finish the job."

Mulder looked at him for a long time, hazel eyes boring a hole through him, weighing his options. "All right," he said finally, "I'll help you. Just let me go out and check the lay of the land, then we can decide how we're gonna do this."

"Okay," he said, dropping back down on the edge of the bed with a grateful sigh.

Mulder reappeared less than a minute later, car keys dangling from his fingers. "Ray's not here and Cyril's sacked out on the couch. Let's get going."

"You're coming with me?"

"You're my patient," he said, flashing him a tiny half-grin, "and I'm not letting you out of my sight until you're fully recovered."

"Whatever," he grunted, getting up, working his left arm into his jacket, trying to lift his right arm high enough to get it into the sleeve, fresh sweat breaking out slick and slimy all over his face and neck--

"C'mon, let me do that," Mulder said, grabbing the loose half of the jacket. "Fold your arm across your abdomen...yeah, like that." Pulling the jacket over and around his injured arm, he zipped it up, tucking the free-hanging sleeve into the right-hand pocket. "Can you walk out of here by yourself, or d'you want me to--"

"I can do it," he snapped, then, off Mulder's half-startled, half-cautionary look, he added in a lower tone of voice, "we'll attract less attention that way."

He half-lurched, half-staggered down the hall to the elevator with Mulder leading the way, somehow making it all the way down to the parking garage without encountering anybody. Mulder steered him over to a sleek black Range Rover, helping him in before getting in the driver's seat himself and opening his green bag, rummaging around in it, pulling out a syringe and a vial filled with a clear liquid. "Roll up your sleeve," he ordered.

"What's that for?"

"It's a painkiller. You're gonna need it--"

"I'll decide when I need it."

"Look, we're gonna be on the road awhile, and believe me, it's not gonna be too much fun for you with that shoulder getting jostled--"

"*No.*"

"God, will you just listen to me, you--" Dropping the vial and syringe back in the bag, he hurled it into the back seat. "Y'know, this'd be a lot easier if you'd tell me your name."

A low, throaty sound escaped his lips; he dimly recognized it as a chortle. "Shit, Mulder, you know my name--"

"Pretend I don't."

His head spun, blood pounding, roaring in his temples. He couldn't be sitting here next to Mulder, next to the one person he was sure he'd never see again, the one person who could rip his heart out with a single hazel-eyed look--

His world had tilted onto its side, a once-full glass now dripping its last dregs onto the floor...

This couldn't be happening. Mulder couldn't not know his name. It wasn't possible. But then, he'd seen a lot of things that weren't possible in the last few months.

"Alex," he whispered finally, staring out the Range Rover's window at the parking lot's grey-green asphalt. "You used to call me Alex..."

"Look at me, Alex. There's something I want you to understand."

He didn't want to, but he did, meeting the other man's gaze, green locking on hazel. "What?"

"You call me Mulder again," he said, giving the ignition key a savage twist, "and I'm gonna deck you."

Part Two

* * *

He got on the Pacific Coast Highway heading north and kept driving until it got dark, pulling off at a town he'd never heard of, finding a small but clean-looking motel, pulling into the parking lot.

Alex had been dozing, having reluctantly choked down a pain pill a couple hours before, but he revived a little just as he was coming back from the manager's office with the key.

This time Alex needed help walking, so he looped his own arm under Alex's uninjured one, helping him inside, letting him down gently on the edge of the bed. "Slip off the jacket," he said, opening his bag, pulling out fresh gauze and tape, "and lie back. I need to check you."

For once Alex was too groggy to put up an argument, leaning back on his pillow with a jerky hiss of breath, eyes drifting shut. "How's it look?"

He peeled back the blood-smeared bandage, examining the wound. The stitches were intact, with no sign of undue redness or swelling that would indicate the onset of infection. "So far, so good," he answered, opening a fresh gauze pad, "the bleeding's stopped, at least. Just take it easy for the next few days, and you should be fine."

"Thanks," Alex mumbled, already half-nodding off.

He finished changing the dressing, reaching back in his bag for a syringe and vial, filling the syringe, turning Alex's uninjured arm so he could find a vein--

Alex jerked his arm away, eyes snapping open, startled, hazed-over. "What the hell're you doing?"

"Giving you a shot of antibiotic--"

"Get that fucking needle away from me."

"Look, Alex, you need this. A wound like that's an open invitation to infection--"

"Then give me a pill."

"I don't have any antibiotics in pill form. Sorry."

Alex's jaw worked, eyes finally closing, holding out his arm. "Do it."

He gave the injection as quickly as he could, tossing the syringe and vial in the trash can under the bedside table. "You should've told me you're afraid of needles."

"I'm not. I just wasn't sure you knew what you were doing."

That stung, but he wasn't about to let Alex see it. "I haven't killed you yet."

"Lucky me."

His stomach chose that moment to start rumbling. He wasn't sure if he should be relieved or irritated. "There's a fast-food joint a couple miles down the road. You want something?"

"Yeah...burger and a shake'll be good."

He got in the Range Rover and started driving, stopping first at a K-Mart that was in the same parking lot as the fast-food joint, picking up a couple three-packs each of men's t-shirts and boxers and two pairs of jeans, figuring he and Alex were about the same size. Best to be prepared, as he had no clue how long they'd be on the road.

Alex wasn't there when he got back -- but his jeans were, thrown across the foot of the bed along with his jacket--

And then he heard it, the soft patter of water hitting tile, coupled with what sounded like a moan of pain--

The bathroom door yawned half-open, steam blanketing the air thick and hazy, though not enough to keep him from seeing Alex's blurry form on the other side of the fogged-up shower door, standing under the spray--

A spot of something suspiciously dark dotting his right shoulder--

And he flung back the shower door in the next second, Alex's head snapping up in shock and surprise, almost losing his tenuous one-handed grip on the slick tile. He looked terrible, mouth slack, face pasty as fresh bread dough, eyes glazed, cloudy, like dark jade--

He flicked off the water with one hand, grabbing a towel with the other, draping it over Alex's shoulders, an arm going around him, helping him out of the shower. "What the hell d'you think you were doing?"

"I, um...felt sick to my stomach...thought a shower'd make me feel better..." Shrugging, he flashed a wan smile. "Sorry."

"Nausea's a normal side effect of the painkiller. C'mon over here a minute." Flipping down the toilet lid for Alex to sit on, he gently worked off the bandage, wet gauze and tape pulling at Alex's torn, bruised skin, making him gasp and wince.

"Did I rip anything?" Alex asked.

"No, but you came damn close. Next time you want a shower, let me help you, okay?" Off Alex's nod, he added, "let's go back in the other room. I need to put a fresh dressing on that."

He tried to offer Alex his arm again, but the other man shook him off, grabbing the edge of the sink with his good hand, pulling himself up, wobbling, weaving on his feet--

And he caught him, a mere split-second before Alex lost his balance, arm going around him so tightly it made them both momentarily breathless, so close he could feel his clothes growing damp in patches from contact with Alex's wet skin--

So close he could feel Alex's warm breath feathering his shoulder, the hollow of his throat, making him shiver--

And Alex's hand came up, cupping his cheek, just like he had when he'd first woken up back at the hotel, fingertips caressing, stroking. "I've been wanting to do this all day," he whispered, smiling, leaning closer--

Mouths touching, so softly at first he barely felt it, light, silky as butterfly wings beating together, lips parting under Alex's gentle insistence, all incipient protests promptly fleeing his mind--

And Alex's tongue met his, entwining, dancing, sweet and tart and bitter, seducing and raping at the same time, a raw blast of sensation exploding inside his brain, white-hot and blinding, flooding his nerve endings--

He heard himself moan, actually moan in disappointment and frustration when Alex pulled back, breaking the kiss, stepping back to give them both room to breathe, gripping the sink's edge again to hold himself steady.

"You okay?" Alex asked, tone so smoky-rough it was an effort to hear him, fingertips still playing gently on his own skin, tracing a smooth, soft path all the way down the line of his jaw. "Mulder..?"

That single word acted on him like a bucketful of ice dumped down his back, shocking him back to reality in a second. "I told you not to call me that," he snapped, falling back a step, then another, until he felt the reassuring solidity of the doorjamb against his back.

"Oh, c'mon, I know you didn't mean--"

He turned away before Alex could finish, trudging back in the other room, dropping into a chair at the table near the window, rubbing a clammy, trembling hand over his face, through his hair.

It'd been a long time since he'd experienced sexual feelings for another man, not since the last few weeks of his senior year in college. He'd had a brief fling with his roommate, more out of curiosity and the stress of final exams and a few too many beers than anything else. He hadn't expected what'd happened to happen, though. He hadn't expected to like it...

Like it? Hell, he'd reveled in it, the warm, solid feel of another man's body against his, skin to skin, another man's hands and mouth caressing him, sucking him off. They'd only done it a couple times, and hadn't taken it any further than touching and oral sex, before he'd broken it off and beat a hasty retreat home for the summer.

He'd told himself it was nothing, meant nothing, it was just a momentary aberration, a reckless experiment that'd gotten out of hand; it didn't mean he was gay. He'd told himself to put it out of his mind, and up until now he thought he had. Maybe all the drugs he'd been taking lately had finally fried his brain. Maybe he was just tired, and his resistance was down. Either way, there was no denying what his mind and body were telling him, much as he wanted to. The persistent, throbbing bulge in his jeans was evidence enough of that...

He looked up when Alex came back in the room, towel wrapped around his waist, still unsteady on his feet, stumbling over to the table, grabbing the fast-food bag, pulling out his burger and shake, easing himself back down on the bed to eat it.

His gaze flicked over the other man quickly, almost guiltily, taking in slender, muscled legs, smooth, toned chest and abdomen in a single glance, looking away at the precise same moment Alex looked up.

He choked down his own cold burger in silence, staring blankly out the window, not letting himself think, not even wanting to. Finally he started digging through his bag, pulling out a map, spreading it out on the table.

"Where are we?" Alex asked, sliding off the bed, coming over. The mottled purplish-yellow bruise covering his right shoulder looked even more stark and livid in direct light.

He pointed to a spot on the map about three hundred miles outside LA. "Here, I think."

"Where're we going?"

He'd been wracking his brain about that all afternoon, with little success. There was his parents's summer house just outside Santa Barbara, but they'd already passed it by, and besides, it'd be too damn easy for Ray to find them there. Best to take a turn nobody was expecting...

Apparently Alex took his silence for the equivocation it was, for he leaned over the map, running two fingers over it, halting at a spot another two hundred or so miles north. "If we leave early in the morning, we should make it here by noon."

"What's there?"

"A place I used to go as a kid."

"And you're sure it's still there?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," Alex answered softly. "It's my grandmother's cabin. She died last year and left it to me. I haven't been there since I was fifteen, but...it's still there, and it's mine, and it's in an isolated enough spot that nobody should see us, especially at this time of year."

"Okay," he said, fighting the urge to glance up. He was still too damn close to losing it. "Sounds good. Not that we've got much choice otherwise..."

Alex just shrugged, going back to lie down on the bed, pushing his burger aside. He'd only taken two bites out of it. "Could you, um...fix me a new bandage?"

He brought his bag over, kneeling beside the bed, steeling himself inside. He could do this. It was his job, damn it, and Alex was his patient. He could do this, he had to...

He worked as quickly and efficiently as he could, this time smearing the wound with an antibiotic ointment before taping a new gauze pad in place, never letting his gaze wander even a few millimeters from Alex's shoulder. "That should hold you until morning," he said, pulling a vial of pain pills from the bag. "Take one of these. You probably won't be getting much sleep otherwise."

He tried to get up, but Alex's hand on his arm stopped him. "Look, I'm sorry about...what happened in the bathroom," Alex murmured. "Guess I kinda caught you off-guard, huh?"

"Yeah," he answered with a chuckle, though he still didn't look at him. He couldn't. "Yeah, you could say that..."

"I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised...I mean, after the way I left and all, I know I've got no right to ask you to forgive me--"

God, this was too much. He couldn't stand it anymore. "You need to eat," he said inanely, getting to his feet, nodding at Alex's abandoned meal.

"Um...my stomach still doesn't feel so good..."

"Drink your shake, then. You need something on your stomach before you take another pill. I'm taking a shower," he added, grabbing his bag and his own shake, ducking into the bathroom before Alex could say anything else.

He got in the shower and rinsed off quickly, gratefully, trying to keep his mind a blank, though one part of him had ideas of its own, the part that was slowly stiffening as he stroked it with one soapy hand--

Reaching for the cold water knob, he twisted it on full blast, relief jetting through him as his arousal subsided under the icy spray.

Climbing out, he toweled off, his mind replaying Alex's words from a few minutes ago over and over until they were a knife twisting in his gut, threatening to rip him open. He wiped steamy residue from the mirror, staring at himself, at his face, his body...

His face, his body, and somebody else's. Somebody named Mulder...

Jesus, the whole scenario would've been laughable if it wasn't so fucking pathetic. He'd barely even thought of sex in the last few months, all that had mattered to him was keeping a roof over his head and getting high every night. But if he'd had to make a choice, it would've been the latter over the former, hands down.

And here he was, a new hard-on rising with each beat of his pulse, as his mind spun back to what had happened in here not half an hour ago, a hard-on for a guy he hadn't even known existed this time yesterday.

For Alex, all for Alex...

And the bitch of it was, Alex didn't even want him. He wanted this guy who looked like him, this guy Mulder...whoever the fuck he was...

He ripped through the bag until he found it, a sealed plastic baggie tucked in an inside pocket, a dozen clear glass ampules within. His stash. Nectar and ambrosia. Liquid nirvana.

Pulling out one precious ampule, he held it up to the hazy light, shaking it slightly, flicking the end off with his thumb. He took the lid off what was left of his milk shake and dumped the contents of the ampule into it, eighteen, nineteen, twenty beautiful, perfectly clear droplets, stirring them in with his straw, bringing the plastic cup to his lips slowly, almost reverently--

Gulping the whole thing down in three greedy swallows.

He waited, breathing slowly, deeply, gripping the edge of the sink with both hands, waiting for it, for the glorious numbness that blotted out everything. No past, no future, just a sweet, sticky now...

Half-stumbling back to the other room, he landed on the mattress with all the grace of a sack of flour, his gaze lingering momentarily on Alex lying there on the other side of the bed, eyes closed, mouth slightly open, dead asleep.

He saw, he acknowledged, and he didn't care. He didn't care about anything anymore, didn't even want anything, just this, just this hazy blackness...

And maybe when he woke up, he'd get what he'd been wishing for for the past year.

Maybe he'd wake up inside somebody else's skin.

* * *

They left the motel a little after eight the next morning, and, as Alex had predicted, arrived at the cabin in early afternoon. It was a tiny place, two-storied, all stone and redwood and half-overgrown, nestled in a green, woodsy thicket within walking distance of the beach, the only road leading in paved with a homemade mixture of dirt and gravel.

It was isolated, all right. From what he'd been able to glean from the map, he figured they were about thirty miles south of Big Sur. Alex said the place had its own well and generator, so they wouldn't have to go without modern conveniences, and the neighbors -- if you could call somebody who lived ten miles away a neighbor -- wouldn't be alerted to their presence. So far, so good.

They climbed out and went in, Alex fumbling one-handed for the key in his pocket, the door sticking momentarily, swinging open. Musty, stale air hit him square in the face the second he stepped inside, and he crossed to the double doors on the opposite side of the room and opened them, letting in fresh air and sunshine.

It was a nice room, he saw, turning to look at it in the light, a comfortable room, with a huge fireplace, hard-wood floors covered with thick rugs, furniture overstuffed, sagging and even a little frayed in places, but no TV or radio. Strangely enough, though, he found himself not minding; in fact, a few days here without the outside world encroaching was just fine with him.

The kitchen was surprisingly well-equipped, with a four-burner gas stove and a refrigerator/freezer that looked like it could've stored an entire side of beef with no problem. Good thing they'd stopped for provisions at a little Mom-and-Dad grocery store about ten miles down the road--

"The generator's out back," Alex said, his soft tone slicing through the silence so unexpectedly it made him jump. "I'll get it started."

A protest rose to his lips, dying stillborn. Alex was a lot better today, much stronger and more alert than he himself had hoped. Best let him get as much physical activity as he could. As long as he didn't try moving or lifting his injured arm too much till it was time to take the stitches out, he'd be fine.

And it would happen soon. A week, ten days at most, and Alex would be able to get by on his own. Not a hundred percent, but certainly well enough not to need a doctor anymore.

That's when he'd go. He'd decided in the car, on the long drive up here today. Ten days, and he'd be out of here. He'd figure out where he was going when the time came.

He heard a loud crunch, rumble and whirr, like the sound of a car engine turning over, realizing a second later it had to be the generator. Alex was starting back towards the house, so he headed out to the car to get the groceries.

They put everything away, packing all the perishables in the sink with a bag of icecubes they'd bought until the generator got the fridge cold enough, and trudged upstairs, Alex trailing a step behind him, slightly breathless, yet still shrugging off his offer of help.

There was a good-sized bathroom with both a shower and a tub, and two bedrooms--

Yes, thank God, *two* bedrooms. His relief must have shown in his expression, for Alex shot him an unmistakably crestfallen glance. "You mean we're not going to--"

"You're still not well, Alex, and I don't want you doing anything that'll tear out those stitches--"

"So that means we can't sleep in the same bed together? God, Mulder, we don't have to fuck like bunnies every single night, I can control myself--"

//Yeah, but I'm not so sure *I* can...//

"Will you just lay off?" he cut in a touch more sharply than he'd intended, the half-stung, half-angry look on Alex's face combining with his own embarrassment, flooding him with heat from head to toe. "Look, we'll see how you feel when the stitches come out, okay?"

"Yeah, right," Alex retorted, turning, heading down the hallway to the other bedroom, "don't do me any favors."

Part Three

* * *

The weather inside and out remained the same for the next several days -- overcast and cool, if not downright frosty. He and Alex did their best to stay out of each other's way, with the exception of dinnertime and the two brief times a day, morning and evening, when he checked Alex's shoulder and administered his antibiotic shot. He supposed it wasn't so bad; at least this way he didn't have to listen to Alex calling him Mulder all the time. He'd long since thrown in the towel on trying to convince him he wasn't Mulder at all.

Not that it mattered much at this point anyway. Alex's wound was healing quickly, with no apparent sign of infection. Wouldn't be long now until he could leave.

And that's what kept him locked in his room every night, mixing up another ampule of fentanyl in a glass of milk, slugging it down, lying back on his soft, solitary bed, waiting to feel nothing again. Waiting to feel anything but what he'd been feeling ever since that night back at the motel, like he was being roasted over a slow flame and all it'd take was the right word, the right glance from Alex to tumble him headlong into the fire...

He closed his eyes and waited for the darkness, where there was no fire.

* * *

He woke the next morning to find sunshine streaming in through his window and elves playing a drum symphony inside his head. The latter wasn't unusual, though the former was, and that was the only thing that got him up and dressed. No more darkness until tonight.

Alex was already in the kitchen, sitting at the table, working on a plate of eggs and toast. "Feels a lot better today," he said, indicating his shoulder. "Take a look?"

He nodded and went back upstairs for his bag. Alex was standing at the sink when he came down again, and for some reason this time he noticed something he hadn't before -- namely, what Alex was wearing. Cut-offs and a grey tank top.

Tight cut-offs that made his ass look like a ripe juicy apple, he noted, mouth going dry -- and if Alex had any underwear on, he didn't know where he was hiding it. The top had an insignia on it, he saw as Alex swung around to face him, and lettering too, circling the insignia, reading "Naval Post-Graduate School."

Alex's eyes met his, following the line of his gaze, then, fingering the shirt, explained, "they're my Dad's clothes, found 'em in a drawer upstairs. It's finally getting warm, might as well dress to enjoy it, right?"

Swallowing hard, he waited for Alex to sit down again, then peeled the gauze pad from his shoulder. It came off clean and easy, revealing a small round hole ringed by fading purplish bruises. Something inside him clenched at the sight of it. "Looks like today's the day," he said, reaching in his bag for suture scissors. Four, five snips at both entry and exit wounds and the stitches were out. "Move your arm a little," he instructed. "I want to see how high you can lift it."

Alex's eyes looked like somebody'd lit a torch inside them, but he barely got his arm raised up to shoulder level before sweat pearled on his forehead and upper lip, and he let it drop with a pained, disgusted sigh. "Jesus, I can't do anything like this--"

"Take it easy, you'll be stiff and sore for awhile, that's normal. To be honest, I'm amazed you're able to do this much." Alex glanced up at him then, shoulders slumped, expression so disappointed it threatened to rip his heart out. "You got shot, Alex. You can't expect to just bounce back to your old self, it's gonna take time. Be grateful for what you can do today."

"Okay," he said finally, getting up, staring out the window, into the sunshine pouring down through the trees. "I'm gonna take a walk to the beach. Come with me."

That sent a hot chill straight through him, though somehow he managed to tamp it down. Now was his chance; he'd decline the offer, then, while Alex was gone, he'd pack up and go. No arguments, no messy complications. He couldn't ask for a more perfect escape. "I'm, um...not really that great a swimmer," he mumbled, hoping it didn't sound too much like a lie, "and you'd better not--"

"I didn't say we had to go in the water. Jesus, Mulder, it's gonna be eighty-five degrees today, and I'm not spending it cooped up in this house. What's the point of having a house near the beach if you never *go* to the beach?"

"Um...no, sorry," he said, zipping his bag back up and heading for the stairs, standing alone in his room until he heard the back door close. Peering out the window, he saw Alex ambling down the path that led down to the beach, a towel slung over his arm.

He crept back downstairs on tiptoe even though he knew it was ridiculous, slipping out the front door, throwing his bag and extra change of clothes in the back of the Range Rover. He could still see Alex from here, padding down the dirt trail, sun glinting off his hair, turning his skin golden--

And he was heading back inside the house in the next second, marching straight to the kitchen door and out, finding the path, still marked with Alex's dusty footprints, picking up his pace with each step until he was running, nearly stumbling over all the brambles and tree roots sticking up out of the ground, not stopping, not even slowing down--

The forest thinned abruptly, opening out on a wide expanse of beach, sand so white it almost blinded, sea laid out before him like a cerulean platter--

And there was Alex, right there in the middle of it all, spreading his towel out on the sand, strolling toward the water, stopping just as he reached the point where the surf rolled up over his feet and ankles, throwing his head back, eyes closed, sun bathing him--

He wanted to go forward, wanted to join him, but his feet wouldn't move. It was too beautiful, Alex was too beautiful, too peaceful, right at this moment. Something in him wouldn't let him ruin that, the simplicity, the beauty of it. It belonged to Alex. He had no right to intrude.

He ventured as far as Alex's beach towel, sitting down, toeing off his shoes. Alex hadn't turned around. He would watch him, just for another minute or so, then he'd go. Alex would never have to know.

He dug his toes in the sand, soft and fine as baby powder against his skin, feeling the sun beating down, warm and comfortable, but with a steely backbone that promised higher temperatures later on. Alex was right; it was going to be a beautiful day--

And Alex moved, pulling his top up and over his head, unbuttoning, unzipping his cut-offs, shimmying out of them, letting them drop to the sand, walking naked into the waves--

He wanted to move, wanted to get up off the towel and run down to the water and stop him, but he didn't. All he could do was watch, fascinated, paralyzed, as Alex went in up to his waist--

And stopped, splashing his arms and chest, burying his face in the water and blowing bubbles like a little kid in a bathtub, water streaming from his nose when he finally flung his head back, laughing--

The sound went right through him, a fine silvery blade thrust straight into his heart. They'd been together a week, and he'd never heard Alex laugh before, not like that, anyway. It was a happy, joyous sound, the sound of a man who was glad to be alive...

He couldn't recall the last time he'd heard that sound coming from his own lips.

Alex bobbed, teetered in the waves's soft rhythm like an overgrown sea otter, lying on his back to float, water flowing, kissing his skin, green-blue liquid silk--

He stayed that way for what seemed like a long time, finally standing back up, turning, moving slowly through the water, heading back to the beach--

It was too late, he knew that the second he saw green eyes narrow, catching sight of him sitting there on the towel, he'd stayed too long, he was caught, no point in running away now--

And a high wave smashed Alex right in the center of his back, tumbling him sideways into the surf--

And he was on his feet, racing down to the waterline, relief surging through him when he saw Alex surface, climbing to his feet as the breaker subsided, waving him away, emerging from the water with a wide, exhilarated smile.

"Glad you decided to come on down," Alex said, walking toward him, scooping up his shirt and cut-offs, though he made no move to put them on. "You might want to wait till later to go in, though. The water's about fifty degrees and it can be a shock if you're not used to it--"

"Don't tell me about shocks. Christ, Alex, what the hell was that? I thought you were drowning out there--"

"Take it easy, I'm not gonna drown in four feet of water. I've still got one good arm, remember?"

"You said you weren't going in."

"I didn't say *I* wasn't going in. I said *we* didn't have to. And we don't," he said, grinning, sweeping a few wet strands of hair out of his face, starting to walk over toward the towel. "You coming?"

He stared after him, gaze sweeping him from foot to scalp and back again. Droplets gleamed like new diamonds on Alex's naked skin, all ivory-smooth, the tiny dimpled indentation at the small of his back dusted with dark hair, sloping downward into firm, rounded flesh--

And he followed, feeling like the air had somehow thickened in the last ten seconds, he couldn't breathe, could barely move, he wasn't going to make it over to the towel, he'd die first, he was sure of it--

And suddenly he was there, standing right there in front of Alex, staring into his eyes, those deep green eyes that looked like jade and moss and the sea all put together, eyes drawing closer even as he felt Alex's hand on his shoulder, sliding up to his throat, his cheek--

Alex's lips on his, warm and soft and insistent, teasing him open, tongues touching, a molten shock sailing straight through him--

And he jerked back, gasping, trembling, pulse beating a wild tattoo between his ears. "Al-Alex, I d-didn't come here for--"

"I know what you came here for," Alex murmured, smiling, "take off your shirt."

"Wh-what?"

"Take it off or I'll take it off for you."

He wasn't sure which one of them did it, but he was standing there bare-chested a few seconds later, shivering despite the warm breeze.

"Lie down on the towel," Alex ordered.

"Don't you want me to take off my pants?"

"Later. Lie down."

It felt good, spreading himself out under the sun's heat, the sand cushioning him better than any mattress. It felt good looking up at Alex, seeing Alex looking down at him, seeing Alex slide down on the towel next to him, feeling his fingertips trail down his shoulder, down to his chest, raising goosebumps everywhere he touched--

"You cold?" Alex whispered, dipping down, breath tickling his ear, "you're shaking all over..."

"J-Jesus, Alex..."

That made him laugh, low and throaty this time. "Yeah, well, I think this'll warm you up..." And he started with his ear lobe, flicking his tongue, nipping, dusting his skin with tiny catbites, moving lower, down his chest--

Palming one nipple, taking the other in his teeth, alternately stroking, sucking them to hardened little nubs, sensation flooding him like chain lightning, pooling in his groin, making him twist and writhe until he was halfway off the towel--

And Alex rolled on top of him, pinning him under his weight, tongue marking a long, squiggly stripe all the way down to his navel, stabbing, darting into the soft puckered hole, moving downward, cheek rubbing against the crisp, springy hair on his belly--

And in the next second he felt his fly button popping loose, fingers fumbling with the zipper, easing it down, gasping in mingled relief and dismay as his rising erection sprang free--

"Yeah, I'd say you're getting warm," Alex purred with a grin, tugging at his jeans one-handed. "Lift up."

"I-I don't want to--"

"The hell you don't. Lift up."

"But...what if somebody..."

"This is a private beach, always has been. Nobody else around for miles." Their eyes met, Alex's expression suddenly going serious, even gentle. "You've never made love on the beach before?"

He shook his head.

"Looks like you're in for a treat. Lift up," Alex repeated. This time he didn't resist, raising his hips to let Alex slide off his jeans, scooting back down the towel. Alex grinned, moving up a little, mouth descending in another brutal, dizzying kiss. "Relax, you're gonna love this."

"I don't want you to hurt yourself--"

"Jesus, Mulder, give it a fucking rest. I'm not gonna break." And the next thing he knew he was flat on his back on the towel, Alex on top of him again, sliding down to where he was before, picking up where he left off, mouth tracing warm, wet, mind-shattering spirals on his belly, gently parting his thighs with one hand, moving lower, nipping and laving the soft, hypersensitive skin at the juncture of thigh and groin--

He wasn't sure if it was the sound of the name that wasn't his or Alex's fingers closing around his erection that did it, but his hips arched right off towel at that exact moment, pulse thundering into overdrive--

//You don't belong here shouldn't be here he's not doing this for you doesn't even want you he wants Mulder--

//Push him away get up grab your clothes get the fucking hell out of here--//

And then it happened, something hot and wet enveloping him like a furnace, knocking him back, draining his will, swallowing him whole--

It was Alex, Alex's lips and tongue flicking over the tip of him, Alex's mouth opening, engulfing him in one long, soul-ripping stroke, he knew it without looking, but he looked anyway, couldn't help it, he had to see, had to know for sure--

Eyes met, locked, hazel on green, green like jade and moss and the sea melded into one, so intense it blotted out the sun--

He moaned, throwing his head back as Alex took him deeper, as deep as he could go, hitting the back of his throat, his own hand drifting down, fingers winding in silky dark hair, holding him there, urging him on--

//God oh God it's been too fucking long can't hold back gonna lose it--//

And he thrust and kept thrusting, screaming, moaning, spurting hot and sticky into Alex's welcoming mouth--

He floated for what seemed like a long time, drifting in the ether until he slowly became aware of the ground's solid presence beneath him again, the sun's warmth growing more intense, and something else, something heavy yet strangely reassuring lying across his belly.

Alex stirred the same time he did, looking up, eyes still slightly hazy, pressing a soft kiss to his midriff. "Guess you liked that, huh?"

He smiled in reply, tousling dark hair.

"Wanna go for a swim?"

He shook his head.

"You lose your voice?"

He shrugged.

Alex just laughed, snuggling closer, falling silent.

The silence continued as they lay there half-dozing, holding each other in gauzy afterglow until the sun hung directly overhead. "Um...I think we'd better go back," he said finally, sitting up. "We forgot an essential at the grocery store the other day."

Alex rolled onto his back, squinting up at him. "What?"

"Sunscreen. If we lay out here much longer, we're gonna be toast."

"Oh. Okay," Alex said, sitting up, reaching for his cut-offs. "By the way," he added, pulling something from the pocket, "what's this?"

He stopped with one leg of his jeans halfway up, glancing at the empty glass ampule Alex was holding in his hand, staring at it, going completely, instantly numb. "Wh-where'd you get that?"

"Found it on the floor of your room, near the foot of your bed."

"What the hell were you doing in my room?"

"Looking for my dad's clothes. They were in the bureau--"

"Bullshit. You went in there to look through my stuff, to fucking *spy* on me." Yanking his jeans the rest of the way on, he zipped them up, started walking away--

"Fentanyl citrate."

That made him turn around. "What?"

"That's what this says. Fentanyl citrate," Alex repeated, standing up to face him, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was still naked. "Shit, Mulder, this stuff's next door to heroin. But then," he went on, coming closer, "you're not really Mulder, are you?"

His life had just taken a sharp left turn into the land of absurdity. He didn't know whether to laugh in Alex's face or smash him across the jaw. "It's, um...synthetic heroin, actually. My drug of choice," he murmured. "When'd you finally figure it out?"

"I think I knew the second I saw you didn't have the scar on your shoulder, I just didn't want to believe it. I mean, you responded when I kissed you, and after that..." Maybe it was because the sun was behind him now, but his eyes were darker now, flinty as slate. "You look like him, you sound like him, you even act like him...it was easier to just let it go, not question it. But after I found this...I had to know for sure." He tossed the ampule onto the sand, one corner of his mouth quirking up. "You don't taste like him."

"Oh, Jesus..." he breathed, "oh, Jesus Christ..." This was it, too much, too goddamned much for any sane man to take--

And he ran, back to the path, into the trees, branches whipping at his face, not caring, not looking, running faster--

Tripping, falling, hitting the dirt with a hard, bone-jarring smack, going limp, rolling instinctively into a ball--

And Alex was there a moment later, hands on his shoulders, moving him gently onto his back, stroking, caressing him until the pain faded and he could move and think on his own again. "You gonna be okay?"

He nodded, sitting up slowly, head still ringing, running one hand over both feet and ankles in turn, all the way up to his thighs, then, satisfied nothing was broken, did the same with his arms and ribs. "Got the wind knocked out of me is all," he mumbled, standing up with Alex's help, taking a couple tentative steps. He was sore, and the whole left side of his body would be a mass of bruises by tomorrow morning, but otherwise he'd be fine.

They started up the path together, back towards the house, neither of them saying anything. There was nothing left to say. He'd do what he should've done in the first place -- get in the Range Rover and leave.

It wasn't until they were back in the kitchen again that something struck him as strange, then, looking at Alex, he finally realized what it was. Alex'd put his cut-offs back on. Part of him couldn't help feeling disappointed. He'd gotten used to seeing him naked.

"So...you blowing me out there on the beach, that was, what, just a *test*? Just your way of finding out if I was really him? That's the only reason you did it?"

"Yeah," Alex replied softly, leaning against the sink, staring out the window, "that, and...because I wanted to. It'd been so long...I'd given up on ever seeing him again, and then...I woke up in that hotel room and saw you there and I thought it was a miracle, that somehow I'd gotten a second chance. No way was I gonna fuck it up this time."

"What happened?" Off Alex's half-pained, half-questioning look, he added, "with him, I mean. How'd you fuck it up?"

"I got his trust, seduced him, betrayed him, exactly what I'd been assigned to do. Guess I just wasn't prepared for all the...ensuing complications."

"You fell in love with him."

He hesitated, then nodded. "Yeah...I guess I did."

There it was, hanging out there in the air between them. He didn't need to hear any more. Turning, he headed for the front door--

And stopped not two steps away from it, Alex's hand on his shoulder. "I told you the truth," he said, "now you owe me a truth--"

"I don't owe you a fucking thing," he snapped, jerking away.

"How'd you end up working for Ray? Was it because of the drugs?"

"What the hell do you care?"

"Tell me."

His fingers had closed over the door knob, but something in Alex's eyes kept him from turning it. "Yeah, it was the drugs...indirectly."

"How, indirectly?"

His eyes drifted shut momentarily, memories flickering, coming into focus. "I was in a bar making a buy one night a couple months ago when one of Ray's buddies got shot. I kept him alive long enough to get him to a hospital. Claire saw the whole thing, told Ray about it. He dropped ten grand and a job offer in my lap. I think I hesitated all of five seconds."

"So you really are a doctor?"

"No," he said flatly. "Not anymore. Not since...Jesus, it's a year ago next month."

"So why aren't you anymore?"

"Because I performed surgery when I was so fucking high I couldn't see straight, and I lost my patient. Then I lost my license."

"You lost more than that," Alex said softly.

He looked away, the silence between them crawling under his skin like a million ants. "Look, your shoulder's healed, you don't need me anymore. I should just leave--"

"Don't."

"Why?"

"Maybe because I don't want you to."

That made his head snap back up. "Because you want me to be Mulder for you again? That's what you really want, isn't it?"

"No," Alex said, drawing closer, so close he could feel his breath feathering his skin, "I want you."

Their lips touched, soft, warm, so briefly he wasn't even sure it had happened, and then he felt it, Alex's fingers trailing up his jaw, down his throat, finding the gently thrumming pulse there, stroking it with the pad of his thumb--

"Stop it," he rasped, pulling back, pushing him away. "I can't do this, Alex--"

"You were doing it just fine back there on the beach--"

"You thought I was him then."

"And now I *know* you're not him, and you know I know...and we're both still standing here."

He tried to move, tried to back up, but he couldn't, he was pressed flat against the door, no escape, nowhere to run--

And he went limp, all energy draining out of him, Alex's lips on his throat, his cheek, gently kissing each lowered eyelid in turn, tongue darting, licking, tasting, leaving moist skin and spiky lashes in his wake--

"Alex..." he half-groaned, half-gasped a split-second before their mouths made teasing, fleeting contact again--

"C'mon," Alex murmured, taking his hand, "let's go upstairs."

Part Four

* * *

He followed, his last shred of resistance flying away like a scrap of paper in a breeze, all the way up the stairs, down the hall to Alex's room. Morning sun poured in through the curtains, bathing the walls and floor with pale golden light.

Light fell across the bed too, and so did he, when Alex gave him a tiny push that landed him flat on his back, Alex landing beside him in the next instant, staring down at him, dipping down for another kiss--

It was calm, even sweet at first, the way they lay there together, touching, exploring each other's bodies with a maddening, leisurely thoroughness that sent the blood roaring in his temples, surging straight to his groin--

And Alex broke away, sliding to the edge of the bed, half-standing to slip off his cut-offs, yanking open the bedside table drawer, throwing a slim green tube and some shiny silver packets onto the bed--

He saw Alex's lips move, realized he was saying something, but all he could do was stare, gaze sweeping him, drinking him in, lighting finally on the stiff, rosy wand nestled in that dark thicket of curls between his thighs, long and slender and beautiful, just like the rest of him--

Leaning forward, he brushed Alex's velvety-smooth tip with the barest whisper of his lips, sucking it into his mouth, a dizzying mingled burst of salt and bitter musk exploding onto his tongue--

Alex's fingers winding deep in his hair, gently but firmly lifting him off and away. "Top or bottom?"

"H-huh?"

"Do you want to be top or bottom?"

Part of him realized the question was significant; the rest of him couldn't quite figure out how. "I, um...dunno, I mean, I've never--"

Alex's smile froze, faded. "Y-you're kidding, right?"

"No."

"Oh, Jesus..."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I just...wasn't expecting you to be, um...you know--"

"A virgin?"

"Well...yeah," Alex replied with a short laugh, easing back down on the bed next to him, "I mean, you were really getting into it back at the beach--"

"I've, um...been sucked and jerked off before, I just haven't..." God, this was ridiculous, he could feel his face flooding with a fresh wave of heat, but try as he might, he couldn't suppress the reaction.

"Would you rather just do that? I don't mind--"

"I do. Look, Alex, I may not have a lot of experience, but I know what feels good," he said, "and I know what I want."

That made him grin again, eyes alight. "So I guess the question remains...top or bottom?"

"How'd you usually do it with--"

"Forget that. What do *you* want?"

"You," he answered, surprised that he didn't even have to think about it. "You do me."

"'Kay," Alex whispered, tracing the line of his lower lip with his thumb, leaning in for a kiss, rolling him on his side, wrapping himself around him so they spooned. His own hand drifted down, started fumbling with his fly button, but Alex's hand closed over his, stilling him with a touch. "Not yet," he said, "relax...just let it happen..."

His eyes drooped shut and everything faded away, everything except Alex's fingers massaging the skin at the nape of his neck, brushing through his hair, tilting his head back, Alex's mouth on his throat, nipping at his earlobe, trailing a slow, wet path all the way down his spine, alternately licking and biting every little dip in his vertebrae--

Finally reaching the small of his back, fingers soothing, whispering over the skin there, slipping under the waistband of his jeans, into his hot, moist crevice, searching, finding his tight opening, gently rubbing--

Bright red flashed behind his eyes and he tore open his fly, half-sobbing as cool air wafted over his erection, Alex's hands on his hips, easing the jeans down over his ass, skinning them down and off--

Rolling him onto his stomach, face-down in the cool white sheets, Alex moving away for a few seconds then coming back, Alex's hands cupping his ass now, lips softly kissing that warm flesh, fingers sliding back where they'd been before, slippery now, resuming their slow, insistent action until the ring of muscle finally relaxed, one finger gliding in up to the first knuckle, then two, opening, stretching him--

It felt weird, strange, pain and not pain, Alex's fingers delving, stroking, raking across his prostate--

Starburst clusters going off inside his head, biting, grabbing the sheets, hips bucking, jack-knifing--

"You ready for me?" Alex whispered, lips close to his ear.

"Y-you bastard..."

"Guess that's my answer," he laughed, brushing a quick kiss across his throat. "Be right back." There was a sharp rip and crackle of foil, followed by Alex's tiny half-groan as he rolled the condom on, and then he was back, hands kneading his ass, spreading him open--

He sucked in a deep breath, feeling Alex start to enter him, just the tip at first, slowly exhaling as he pushed forward as gently as he could, sweet pressure building with each thrust, going deeper, all the way in--

Sweat broke through his skin like a thousand tiny needles, bathing him, Alex falling forward, draping himself over his back, mouth at the nape of his neck, biting, laving, teasing, one hand at his hip, holding him, one hand reaching up to cover his, fingers entwining, nails digging into his palm--

They moved, finding their rhythm together, slow like honey at first, liquid and golden, just like the sunshine pouring across them, anointing them with its light, urgency inevitably building, going faster, Alex's weight holding him down, holding him prisoner, bodies slapping, sweaty, sticky, Alex's hips pumping, driving like a piston, shoving him deeper into the sheets--

He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think, he was dying, he knew that now, he was dying right here in this bed with Alex on top of him, impaling him, fucking him to death--

And Alex was dying too, he heard it, heard his moans and cries echoing his own, felt his teeth at the curve between his neck and throat, biting down, biting hard, release searing through them, brutal, insane, ripping them both apart from the inside out--

He wasn't sure how long he was out but he woke up in Alex's bed alone, and with a pounding headache. Judging from the sunlight's shifted slant across the bed, though, he guessed it had to be mid-afternoon.

Every muscle in his body screamed when he finally sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, nausea washing over him like a tidal wave. His fall back in the woods was finally taking its toll; that, coupled with the fact that he hadn't taken anything since last night.

Some pills would do it. He'd still be sore and bruised, but by the time they started working, he wouldn't care.

He stumbled down the hallway toward the stairs, stopping abruptly outside his room, his glance caught by his bag and extra clothing piled there on the bed; Alex must've seen it down in the Range Rover and carried it all back upstairs. Rummaging around in the bag, he found what he needed quickly, measuring out a dosage, staring at it, rolling it in his palm, savoring the moment. Two little pills that'd wipe away all the pain, inside and out, make everything perfect.

He held up the pill vial, counting what he had left. Twelve. They'd last him three more days, maybe four if he was careful. Fortunately, he hadn't overindulged on amphetamines while he and Alex had been here, or he would've run out a long time ago. Digging in the bag again, he pulled out his plastic baggie, panic twisting through him when he saw only three ampules left. Three more nights of darkness...

But where could he get more? He didn't even know where the hell he was, much less where to hook up with a new connection. Maybe if he called his regular guy back in LA, he could put him in touch with someone, give him a name, a contact--

And the nearest phone was at that grocery store ten miles back.

Yanking on jeans and a t-shirt, he got up, grabbing his bag and keys, heading for the door--

Almost running smack into Alex. "Where the hell're you going?"

"Out," he snapped, trying to get around him, but Alex was too fast, hand going up to grasp the doorjamb, blocking his way out. "Look, I need to go somewhere--"

"Where?"

"Alex..."

"When're you coming back?" Green eyes locked on his, going through him like twin sunbeams, dropping down to his hand, to the vial he was still clutching. "Or are you?"

"I don't know," he croaked, throat suddenly, completely dry, "just get out of my way, all right?"

Alex just looked at him, then stepped back into the hallway.

He couldn't believe it. Alex had given in too fast, too easily, but right now he didn't care. All that mattered now was getting out of here, getting to that phone.

"I just want to say one thing," Alex said softly, "if you walk out that door, don't bother coming back. Ever."

The words stung him like a jagged blade, stopping him, turning him back against his will. "C'mon, Alex, stop it--"

"What, stop you from killing yourself? Why would I want to do that? Go on, get out of here, do whatever the fuck you want--"

"I'm not Mulder, Alex. You can't expect me to be him--"

"I don't. I already told you I don't--"

"*This* is who I am," he cut in, holding up the vial. "Accept it or don't accept it, but this is me. I don't know how to be anything else."

"So what're you saying, 'love me, love my dope.'?" Alex spat. "I'm not letting this slide, Eugene. I can't. I'm not getting in bed tonight with a fucking drug addict."

His name. It was the first time Alex had called him by name, *his* name, not Mulder's. He hadn't heard anyone say it in so long it sounded strange, foreign.

He wanted to turn around, wanted to walk down the hallway, down the stairs, but his feet had turned to lead. He couldn't move, all he could do was stand there, staring at Alex, into sea-green eyes that seared him straight to his soul--

And suddenly he could move, and did, back toward Alex, glancing into his room, into the shadows bathing the four walls. It was dark in there, dark as dusk, no afternoon light coming in through the window, like there was in Alex's room. He wondered why he hadn't noticed it before.

He dropped the vial back in the bag, holding it out to Alex. "Here. Take it."

"What d'you want me to do with it?"

"Hide it, bury it, run over it, I don't care. Just don't let me get my hands on it again," he replied. "I'm gonna be sick for the next three or four days. If you don't think you can handle it, tell me now."

Alex swallowed hard, then nodded, eyes meeting his straight on, unwavering. "So what should I expect -- cold sweats, the shakes, hallucinations?"

"And vomiting, and screaming fits. For starters."

"You took care of me. The least I can do is return the favor," he replied, smiling, reaching out to rub his shoulder, trail his fingertips along the side of his throat. "C'mon downstairs, I've got lunch ready. You're gonna need to keep up your strength."

* * *

He felt something warm and wet touching his forehead, and slitted his eyes open just long enough to catch a blazing, stinging glimpse of afternoon light. "Wha' time's it?" he slurred, tongue swollen, thick, coated with a sour-tasting film.

"About four," Alex replied, lifting a glass of water to his lips, holding it while he took a sip. "You've been sleeping most of the day. That's a good sign."

"Compared to what?"

The only answer he got was a digital thermometer being shoved under his tongue, then pulled out when it started beeping a minute later. "Your fever's gone down a little. Maybe tonight it'll stay down."

"Maybe." It hadn't for the last two nights, but he didn't say so. He didn't have to; the memory was permanently engraved on both of them. Even lying here in Alex's bed, his head was pounding, spinning, stomach roiling, mouth dry, metallic with traces of spewed-up acid. And on top of that, the temperature outside had been in the low nineties for the past two days.

He grabbed the top blanket, pulling it over him, sweating and shivering at the same time, one hand flying up to catch the moist washrag on his head before it slid off onto the pillow. His fingers collided with Alex's and he opened his eyes, smiling. "Thanks."

Alex smiled back, wiping down his face, arms, throat and shoulders with the now-cool rag, refolding it, putting it in a basin of water sitting on the bedside table. "Wanna try to eat something? I could make some soup."

Jesus, just the thought of food was enough to send his guts into fresh spasms. "Unh-uh, no thanks..."

"You should try, Eugene. All you've had is water for the past--"

"Later, okay? You give it to me now, it'll come right back up."

"Okay."

They fell silent, and he let his eyes drift shut again, gratefully blanking out the too-bright sunlight, his breathing slowing, steadying, feeling Alex's fingers close over his hand, lying there by his side, on top of the damp, wrinkled sheet.

He rolled over, giving Alex's hand a tug, pulling him along with him, onto the bed, feeling the mattress's soft dip as Alex slid down beside him, arms going around him, cradling him from behind.

"Feeling better?" Alex asked, gently kissing his shoulder. "Maybe I should get up, let you go back to sleep--"

"I'm not sleepy," he answered, one hand tightening around both of Alex's, holding them there at his waist. "Don't go. Please..."

He sensed Alex's rising protest, sensed him tamping it down, felt Alex finally relaxing against him, chin hooked over his shoulder, mouth close to his ear. "How'd all this start for you?" he asked.

"Wh-what?"

"The drugs. Why'd you start taking them?"

The question echoed, reverberated, ringing his brain like a struck bell. It was a question he'd always expected Ray to ask him, but he never had. Most likely there'd been no need; he was pretty damn sure Ray'd known everything there was to know about him before they'd ever laid eyes on each other.

"I, um...experimented a lot in college, tried just about everything there was to try, but nothing heavy, nothing I couldn't handle. I wasn't an addict, not then anyway. I got through med school taking uppers during exam weeks, then collapsing and sleeping it off for about three days afterward, but other than that, I never used. I graduated, did my internship, residency, and I was clean the whole time...then one night around two, three a.m. I was called in to assist in surgery. The patient was...she'd been in a car wreck, her chest and abdomen were like shredded hamburger...we worked on her for almost five hours, but there was nothing..." He stopped, voice cracking, breaking. "She was just a kid, seventeen years old...and she was the first patient I ever lost and I had to walk out to that waiting room and tell her parents she was gone. God, the look on their faces...I went home exhausted but I couldn't sleep, all I could think was if I hadn't been on 48-hour call that night, if I hadn't been so fucking tired, maybe I could've saved her. I wrote myself a prescription for amphetamines the next day, and every time I felt myself getting tired on the job, I took a few. Only problem was, I had to start taking fentanyl to come down. But I didn't mind. After awhile it didn't matter if I was up or down, all I wanted was to be numb. That way, even if I lost somebody, it wouldn't hurt. Nothing would hurt, nothing would scare me. And I was scared, Alex, scared of everything..."

Silence fell, but only for a moment, until he felt Alex's lips brushing his earlobe. "C'mon, finish it. Tell me the rest."

"Both my grandfathers and my parents were doctors, and I was an only child. So it was always sort of...I dunno, taken for granted that I'd be a doctor too. I can remember sitting at the dinner table when I was ten years old discussing where I'd go to med school, and I told myself it was what I wanted, what I was meant to be...but when I got there, I felt like a fraud, like any second somebody was going to find out I'd ridden in on my family's coattails, that I really didn't belong there. I guess I never really shook the feeling."

"Is that the only feeling you couldn't shake?"

"Huh?"

"You said you tried everything there was to try while you were in college...did that include sex with men?"

He squeezed his eyes shut, nodding. "Yeah."

"And you enjoyed it?"

"Yeah."

"That's what scared you."

He didn't nod this time, or say anything.

"Do *I* scare you?" Alex persisted.

"Sometimes..."

"Why?"

"Because you've taken me away from...everything, from the drugs, from LA...it's been my security blanket, my numb little cocoon for as long as I can remember. I don't know if I can live without it."

Neither of them spoke again for a long time, till the sun started to fade, casting long shadows across the floor and bed. He was just starting to drift off when he felt Alex pull away, soft lips dusting his throat with a kiss, hand rubbing his shoulder until his eyes finally closed.

* * *

It was another gorgeous day, warm, cloudless, the sea smooth as glass. It was the kind of day he wanted to bottle, keep with him forever.

The sand squished its gritty heat between his toes as he ducked out of the woods, heading down to where Eugene had laid out his towel, sitting down on it to wait.

He could see him out there in the water, arms and legs slicing through the waves with expert precision, diving and resurfacing, blowing water out through his nose, grinning with delight. He swam like a dolphin. Just like Mulder...

A month. They'd been here a month, just four short weeks, long enough for them both to recover. Long enough for him to start thinking about what had to happen next. Long enough for him not to want to think about it.

After a few minutes Eugene caught sight of him, started walking out of the waves, smiling, naked. Gloriously naked...

They'd spent a lot of time at the beach lately, now that they were both well enough to enjoy it. His new tan looked good on him, skin kissed light bronze, muscles taut and toned from swimming. He looked healthy now, healthy and happy, for the first time since they'd met.

"When'd you get here?" Eugene asked, flopping down on the towel beside him.

"A few minutes ago. How's the water?"

"Freezing. Why didn't you come in?"

"Later. I'm not in the mood yet."

"Something wrong?"

He thought about not saying anything, not telling him, but something inside wouldn't let him. It would be a lie, and he didn't want lies between them. He'd learned the hard way the kind of hurt that engendered.

"I, um...went out to sit in the Range Rover, listen to the news," he said softly, staring down at his hands. "Ray and Claire are dead."

"*What*? How?"

"It happened last night, they said it looked like a mob hit, execution-style, everybody in Ray's house wiped out. It was the Russians, it had to be, though they didn't mention that on the radio."

Neither of them said anything for a long time, just sat there, staring at the sea, at the strip of cobalt blue sky hovering above them. He shivered, and told himself it was because the breeze had turned chilly.

"You can go back, you know," he said finally. "Back to LA. There's nothing to keep you away now--"

"No."

"Why?"

"I can't. If I do, I'll fall right back into that same vicious circle I was in before, I'll start using again--"

"I don't think you will. I mean, you went through four days of hell getting off that stuff, I don't think you ever want to go through that--"

"I'm not going back, so you can just drop it, okay?" he snapped.

The flat finality of that statement shocked him; he hadn't expected this kind of reaction. He'd thought Eugene would've jumped at the chance to go home. "Look, you're off the junk now, you can get back your license, you can be a doctor again--"

"Just because I've gotten myself straight's no guarantee they'll give me my license back. I may never get it back."

"You can't think like that. You're a surgeon. You've got a gift for saving lives. You can't let that go to waste."

He laughed at that, but it sounded strange, rueful, resigned. "You know, when I first went to work for Raymond I knew I was stepping right into hell, but I didn't care; I mean, I figured I'd had one foot planted there for years already, so what difference did it make, right? Better to be a star in hell than a slave in heaven. That's what I told myself anyway, except..." He looked up then, gazing at him with those intense hazel eyes. "I never really knew what heaven was, until now."

He stared back at him, feeling as if he'd run headlong into a wall. "Oh, God...oh, Jesus..."

"LA's not the only place I can be a doctor."

It took a few seconds for that to seep in through his shock. "Wh-what d'you mean?"

"That I'm keeping an open mind, okay? And that's all I want to say about it right now." He lay back on the towel again, pulling Alex down beside him. "Y'know, I think you're the one with the real gift for saving lives...you saved mine."

Their lips touched then, sweet and slow and warm as the sun bathing them. He could barely breathe when they finally broke apart. "So, um...if this is heaven, are you my slave? Or am I yours?"

"We can take turns. But for right now..." he grinned, kissing him again, "how 'bout one of your beach-blanket specials?"

--END--