Hors de Combat, Book II

by Liz OBrien

Disclaimer: In a perfect world they'd be mine, mine, mine. Sadly, the world is not a perfect place, so Carter, the Creatively Careless has dibs.

Many nice people from MSKipperville, RATales and AlexK H-C,D, among other readers, sent the kind of feedback that I'm now addicted to. The most frequent response I got was 'Where the hell is the second book?' So here it is with my thanks for all the encouraging words.

With thanks To Ursula the Generous of Praise for the incredibly nice welcome to the fanfic world and a terrific beta job.

With thanks to Satina, Queen of Panting, for being a conscientious smut-checker and hand-holder.


They reassembled the lab over the weekend that followed and by the next Sunday, they were ready to start over. Alex found himself bewildered at the capacity Dana Scully had for tolerance and forbearance. He had been certain she would quit, would be unable to move past each new roadblock the past flung between them. Each time, from accepting his offer in the first place to reconciling herself to his relationship with Mulder, she made her peace with him and his baggage and moved ahead. He felt a renewed commitment to their project that extended beyond Mulder for the first time, something that encompassed a feeling for Scully now as well. As they worked together putting the lab to rights and patching the wall he'd put his hands through, he found himself for the first time regarding her without the lingering flavour of jealousy that had always been there, ever since he'd realized what it was he felt for Fox Mulder and had known that Dana Scully was going to own the man forever. Scully was a nice person, he discovered, not just an impediment between he and Mulder and not a part of the toolkit he was using to fix Mulder. He could see the strength in her that Mulder had always prized until it took Will from him and even that, Alex saw now as an expression of courage instead of cowardice. She loved her son, there was no doubting it when he saw them together and he felt, along with the glimmer of friendliness he felt for her, a newfound determination to give Will his father back.

It was late in July and Alex still hadn't finished his second ring. He was determined to go much more slowly with this one, stopping whenever he felt his thoughts drift ever so slightly away from their appointed place. He clung to a mental picture of Mulder, alive and eager, playing with Will in the yard and he would drop whatever tool or material he was using if his mind strayed the least bit from that image. He never wore the first ring he'd made. Its entwined engravings had exposed his thoughts of he and Mulder before. His mind had been so wrapped up in his feeling for Mulder while he was doing the detailed, mentally draining work that he knew the power he possessed wasn't focused on making Mulder well, but on what he and Mulder had shared in the past. Scully had teased him gently when he explained what had happened, calling him a moony-eyed teenager and a hopeless romantic.

Scully, for her part, was panting with impatience to move ahead again. She found herself speaking sharply with Will for the first time in her life and frequently snapping at Alex as the days went by and his ring wasn't done, hers not even begun.

"I'm going to forget everything Anna taught me if you don't get moving," she growled at him late one Friday afternoon. He'd come over directly after his shift at Townsend, hungry and tired but gamely working away until, after the third time he'd set his tools aside to regain his focus, she slammed her palms down next to his on the counter.

"Will you knock it off, Scully? Christ, I'm trying to concentrate, I don't want to screw this up again."

She threw herself on the couch to watch as he picked up the small drill he was using to etch the design he had settled on. The band was almost a half-inch wide and would have looked clunky without the delicacy of Alex's finely done engraving. He had designed a graceful network of points and lines that mimicked the nervous system he wanted to restore. To Scully the design suggested the vast stars that had entranced Mulder for so long. Alex was planning to overlay the lacy design with idealized Cyrillic characters for 'Mulder' and 'William'. His face was a scant few inches above the ring in its bracket and his full mouth was pursed into a tightly concentrated line as he maneuvered the minute instrument along the semi-soft gold. It was very quiet in the room, the whispery buzz of the drill the only noise besides occasional sighs from Alex after he'd held his breath over a difficult spot. Scully quickly tired of the silence and the inactivity and moved to the stairs, grumbling under her breath.

It was after 7:00 when Alex looked up again, almost two hours of detailed, close-up work. His neck and shoulders cracked in a dozen spots as he rolled them to ease the strict tension the meticulous effort required. He was so close to being finished, he was almost tempted to continue, but he could feel the tight grip on his concentration getting weaker as his body fatigued and his brain wandered. He flipped his glasses up to the top of his head and became aware of a strong headache. He put away the tools he'd been using and locked the ring up in the safe before he went upstairs, thinking maybe he'd offer to take Scully and Will out for dinner. The upstairs was silent, however, so he went through the kitchen to look in the yard and saw Scully and Will at the far end of the yard pulling weeds in the vegetable garden. He watched them for a few minutes, the bright heads close together, the intimacy between them almost tangible and couldn't bring himself to interrupt. He went to the phone instead and dialed the number for a nearby Chinese restaurant, placing a large order for the three of them. He sat at the table, then got up suddenly as a craving hit him. He rooted around in the pantry and cupboards for ingredients and fifteen minutes later was sliding a pan full of chocolate into the oven. He called to Scully from the kitchen window.

"Hey, you guys hungry?"

She looked up from her work. "What time is it? I meant to come in to fix dinner and see how things were going." She came to the back door but paused, sniffing the unfamiliar aroma of melted butter and warm chocolate in her kitchen. "What smells so good?"

"I made brownies. They'll be ready to eat by the time we're done. I ordered dinner from Peking Garden, I'm starving."

"That's great. I was just going to grill chicken or something, but that sounds better."

"Okay, I'm going to pick it up. If the timer goes off before I get back, take the bowl of glaze out of the fridge and drizzle it over the brownies so it can set."

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"Glaze, it's for the brownies. It's like frosting, you savage."

"I'm not a savage. And you're a snob."

"You have instant coffee in your freezer, ergo you are a savage," he said as he walked out the door, letting the screen bang shut triumphantly. He was almost to the gate when Will came running from the garden.

"Hey, Mr. Hale! Are you going home?" he asked, breathless from his run.

"Hey, Squirt. Nope, I'm going to get some dinner for you and your mom and I."

"Can I come? Please?" he pleaded with big blue Mulder eyes.

Alex smiled down at the small boy and said, "If your mom says so. Go ask her."

Will ran to the front door and called, "Mom! Can I go with Mr. Hale for dinner? He says it's okay!"

Scully appeared at the screen as Alex walked into the front yard. She questioned him with her eyes and, at his nod, said, "Okay, but wear your seat belt. And no speeding, Alex."

He saluted smartly and he and Will climbed into the Saab and drove off. Alex squealed the tires ostentatiously and Will's sturdy, small hand waved out the sunroof. Scully watched them drive away, shaking her head disbelievingly at herself for letting Alex Krycek drive off with her son, the most precious thing in her life, and feeling only a warm pleasure at the smile on Will's face as Alex made their theatrical departure.

When they returned with dinner, Maggie Scully's Grand Am was in the driveway and the two women were looking over the blooming flowers in the side garden. Alex made another show of screeching the brakes as they jolted to a stop in front of the house. Will hopped out of the car with a bag of fortune cookies clutched in his hand and ran to his grandmother.

"Hi, Grandma! I didn't know you were coming over. We're having Chinese food for dinner, can you stay?"

Maggie swept Will up with an effort and kissed his bright red hair. "Hi, gorgeous. I surprised you, huh? I brought some flowers from my garden to see if Mom wanted them for hers." She looked over Will's head to Alex and nodded in greeting. "Hello again, Mr. Hale. How are you?"

"Hi, Maggie. Hey, Scully, I'm going to take this inside. I'm starving." He went into the house, but a moment later they heard him yell.

"Dana Scully, what did you do to these?"

Scully looked anxiously at Maggie and walked quickly into the house as well. When she got to the kitchen, Alex was standing over the pan of brownies, frowning at the well of chocolate glaze that had pooled sadly in one corner.

"What? I poured it on them like you said."

"I said to drizzle it on, not dump it in one spot." He rummaged in a drawer, pulled out a spatula and began spreading the almost-set hardened glaze around the whole pan.

"You take cooking a little too seriously, Alex, you know that?" she said. "It's chocolate, not the Sistine Chapel."

Maggie and Will entered the kitchen then and the four of them sat at the table together, piling their plates from the assortment of white cartons. Maggie found herself eyeing Alex carefully. She had met him at the hospital once or twice and had met him again at the house just the week before. She was trying to determine if this was just a working relationship, as Dana asserted. Years of insisting that Mulder was a friend and that they were merely partners had caused Maggie to distrust her tight-lipped, unemotional daughter's ability to be honest with herself. So she watched Alex and her daughter converse, about his day at Townsend and hers working in the yard, about how well Will could shift the Saab and how far Alex had gotten that afternoon on 'the Work'. The easy bantering and harmless chaffing reminded Maggie of nothing so much as the way Dana and Charlie had always been together. They shared a deep sibling affection that showed itself in the gentle teasing and nonstop joking that also went on with Alex Hale.

Maggie found herself agreeing with Dana's claim, but also felt a bit disappointed that it seemed Alex was only a friend. He was charming without the oily insincerity that seemed so often to go along with that quality. He was quite intelligent, and very funny. He was also, Maggie admitted slyly to herself, exquisitely attractive, with his striking, Slavic facial structure, his unusually vivid eye color and his still-black hair. She sighed quietly, wondering when or if Dana would find anyone who could give her a fraction of what Fox Mulder had, if Dana would ever let anyone that close ever again.

Will and Scully cleared the plates from the table as Alex cut the brownies and Maggie made tea and coffee. Scully sat back down and accepted the brownie Alex offered her, taking a generous bite and slamming her eyes shut as the sinfully rich flavors overwhelmed her. Maggie, seeing her response, quickly bit into hers as well.

"God, Alex, what did you put in these brownies?" Scully asked with a full mouth.

"What? It's just chocolate, it's not the Sistine Chapel," he answered with a smug grin. "What do you think, Maggie? I'd like an educated opinion, not just Scully's complete ignorance."

Maggie shook her head, her mouth full and humming around the chocolate. When she could finally speak, she said, "Alex, whatever they're paying you at Townsend, I'll double it for this recipe. What on earth are these?"

Alex smiled at Maggie's genuine pleasure and said, "We called them Apology Brownies. My sister came up with them. She said nobody could stay mad at you if you made these for them."

"They're fantastic," Scully said as she helped herself to another and cutting off a piece for Will.

"Thanks. I'll write out the recipe for you, Maggie. I'll give it to you, too, if you think you're man enough to make them," he added to Scully.

She threw her napkin across the table at him and Will made ready to do the same when Maggie stopped him.

"No, William Daniel, it's bad enough your mother is acting like this with a guest in the house. Don't you follow her bad example. Come on, I have something in the car for you. For your garden." The bribe worked and Will jumped up from the table immediately, cramming the last bit of his brownie into his mouth. Alex and Scully stayed at the table, finishing their brownies and coffee.

"So how much longer do you think it'll be till the ring is done?" she asked as she bit into the brownie.

"I've got about two or three more hours of work to do. And no, I'm not doing anymore tonight. It's too late and I'm too tired."

"You're such a wimp," she sniped. "But you make damn good brownies."

"Mmm, I know" he said around his own mouthful. "This was Elly's recipe. She made it for some Girl Scout thing. She won first prize with these at the state fair when she was eleven."

"Impressive. You Kryshenkovs are a talented bunch, aren't you?"

He was silent and she saw what she was starting to call his hurt face, the way his jaw tensed up and the emotion left his expressive eyes. It reminded her of the shutters being slammed down on a window.

"Sorry, Alex, I didn't mean to stir up ghosts."

"Yeah, well, it doesn't take a lot to stir those particular spooks." The closed expression melted away and he shrugged. "I'm better than I used to be. I can say Elly's name now, instead of pretending she doesn't exist."

"When was the last time you saw her? "

"2000. She had a couple seizures, so I went back to Ohio for a few days to make sure she was okay."

"Was she?"

"Yeah, she'd fallen and hit her head harder than the staff realized. She got over it, she's fine, physically. She's just completely screwed up mentally." He got up to pour himself more coffee as he went on. "She looked exactly like my mom last time I saw her. It was creepy. I guess I didn't realize, growing up, how much like her both my sisters looked."

He said this just as Will and Maggie came back in from the garden, Will carrying a terra cotta lump that had him tremendously excited.

"Look, Mom, Grandma brought me a toad house! I can put it in the garden and toads can live in it and eat slugs and I can study them."

"The toads or the slugs?" Scully asked with an indulgent smile.

"Look, Mr. Hale. I love toads, they're cooler than frogs. Frogs are slimy. I didn't know you had sisters. Do they work at the hospital, too?"

Alex smiled, used to Will's tangents by now and finding it an endearingly quirky reminder of the way the boy's father had talked. Mulder's conversation was often bewildering, but never boring and his son was the same.

"No, they don't work at the hospital. One lives far away from here."

"What's her name?"

"Elly. And my other sister's name was Lizzie."

"You have two sisters? That's not fair. I don't get even one."

"Sisters aren't everything they're cracked up to be, Will," Alex said with a nostalgic smile.

"Yeah, but you can call them names all you want and you wouldn't get in trouble like you do if you call names at school."

The adults laughed at his logic and Alex said, "Do you want to know what we called my youngest sister?"

"Umm, hmm," Will answered around a mouthful of chocolate.

Alex pulled out his wallet and took a picture of three young people from it. He looked at it for a moment, then handed it to Will, who examined it carefully before passing it to his mother. It was a gawky teenaged Alex, wearing a soccer uniform. Perched on his broadening shoulders was a small girl with large, lovely moss-brown eyes and an unruly mop of black curls. She rested her chin coyly on top of Alex's head while the taller girl who looked just like her stood at his side with her arms wrapped around his waist and her face turned to him with an adoring smile.

"That's me and that's Elly, next to me and that one, with all those curls, is Lizzie. And we used to call her Frizzy Lizzie." His voice trailed off.

While Maggie and Will laughed, Scully smiled over a memory of a beach in San Diego many years ago, Charlie chasing her and pulling her shining red ponytail when he caught her, yelling 'Hey, Carrots! Watch out for rabbits!'

Alex took the picture from Will and put it back in his wallet, the shuttered look back on his face. He didn't meet Scully's eyes as he said, "I think I'm going to take off. It's getting late." He rose from the table and left the kitchen and a moment later, they heard the front door open and close.

"You guys eat some more dessert. I'll be right back," Scully said as she followed Alex. She caught up with him as he was on the last porch step and gently grabbed his hand to stop him.

"Hey, you okay?" she asked, looking down at him.

He looked down and shook his head hesitantly. "Not really."

"You want to stick around and talk?"

He raised his eyes and Scully saw Aleksandr clearly for the first time, who loved his sisters devotedly and missed them both terribly.

"Come on, Alex, stay. You look like you could use a friend."

"Is that what we are now? Friends?" he asked with a hoarse laugh.

"Well, we don't hate each other anymore, do we?"she replied with a light teasing tone, hoping to cheer him out of his dark mood.

"Not enough to kill each other, anyway," he agreed, then sighed. "You know, I lived for years without unloading my baggage on anyone and now I'm spilling my guts and bawling like a pussy in front of you every other day. This is going to seriously damage my reputation."

"Yeah, I know your real secret, Krycek. You're a sensitive soul, aren't you?"

He nodded and gave up the effort he was making not to cry. Scully dropped his hand to gather him against her and, after tensing for a moment, he relaxed and she felt his shoulders and back shaking.

"I'm so sorry, Alex," she whispered against his head, "I'm so sorry. For everything."

He laughed through his tears and said shakily, "You didn't do anything to me, Scully. Why are you apologizing?"

"Because you're hurting and I can't help you." She paused, then said, "Come back inside. I'll have my mom put Will to bed and we'll talk."

He shook his head and stepped away from her, saying, "If you don't mind, I'm just going to go. I'm not in the mood for self-reflection tonight."

"Okay, but be good. Don't go near the whiskey, all right?" She wiped the last traces of tears from his face and he sniffled once loudly, wiping his nose on the back of his hand and they both laughed at his boyish action.

"I'll be over tomorrow to finish, I promise, and then we'll get started on the other ring." He got in the Saab and pulled away quickly, leaving Scully standing on the porch, pondering the concept of Alex Krycek, her newfound friend.

By late Sunday evening, Alex's ring was finished. It had taken more than two or three hours; he had spent six altogether on the final engraving and the preparatory polishing before he moved the minute needle into the inside of the band, to break the closed circle and let the power he carried circuit with the gold.

Alex and Dana stood still and silent, both leaning forward on the work table, oblivious to everything around them. The whole universe had shrunk to the small circle of gold Alex was preparing to slip on his hand. Dana watched anxiously. She wasn't sure what to expect, but there was a prickle of change in the air. Alex slid the ring onto his fourth finger and stared down at it where it glinted against the darker gold of his skin. He waited for the tingling sensation Anna told him would come, the advent of the energy flow she was so certain was within him.

They waited, neither one looking away from the gold, neither one speaking or even breathing, it seemed to Alex. And then he felt it, a slight warm ripple, then a sensation of actual heat, building in intensity but not becoming painful yet, as though the heat was getting heavier instead of hotter. He shook his head to stop Dana from speaking when she would have voiced the question he saw in her face.

The warm sensation spread through his finger, quickly encompassing his whole hand, then moving up his arm and into his face. Before he had completely processed the sensation sweeping up his right side, the sharpening burn gripped his entire body. He felt suddenly engulfed, as if hot, wet gauze was being wound more and more tightly around his head and chest. It stifledhis breath without stopping it and distorted the focus of his eyes without obstructing his vision. He could hear his breathing, rapid and ragged, above the odd reverberating purr in his head, but when he tried to speak, he couldn't hear the words he thought he managed to push out. The noise buzzed louder and louder and the burning sensation grew until it became pain. Then the pain grew until he came closer to the night in Tunguska than he had thought he'd ever be punished with again. His vision began to dim and he thought he might be falling, but before he could puzzle out whether or not he was conscious, he wasn't.

Dana, meanwhile, saw Alex suddenly flush and wince, but she bit back her words at the shake of his head. A minute passed, then two, then five, and through it all, Scully worried her bottom lip uncertainly as she watched Alex's face grimace and redden. His body became more and more rigid until she thought he might begin convulsing. His mouth moved in frantic silence and then, in a matter of moments, the flush washed out of his face and he slumped against the work table, his skin slick with a thin coat of perspiration. She caught him before he could fall completely and was surprised when he revived as quickly as he'd lost consciousness. He looked as drained and sweaty as if he'd been running for miles and Scully's doctor mind automatically calculated what his heart rate and pulse might be. She scanned his clammy face, his hands tightly clenching the counter, his trembling legs and heaving chest and she thought he looked like he might be sick any moment.

She wrapped an arm around his shoulder and gently led him to the sofa, settling him against the cushions then going to the refrigerator for a bottle of water. He wordlessly accepted the drink from her and drained it in three swallows, then leaned back, resting his head on the back of the sofa and closing his eyes. He lay like that, not speaking or moving and Scully kept track of his breathing, relaxing as she saw it slow and regulate and the normal healthy glow of his skin begin to return. She began to think he was falling asleep when he finally broke the silence that enveloped the room.

"Damn," he whispered in a croaky, throaty voice. "That hurt like hell."

"Was it supposed to?" she asked worriedly.

"Heck if I know."

"Did it feel like that before?"

He rolled his head to look at her in puzzlement. "What?"

"Did it hurt like that before? When you did it in Russia?"

He huffed out a tiny laugh and turned back. "What makes you think I've done this before?"

"Haven't you?" she asked with a squeak, her agitation forcing her voice higher than normal at Alex's unwelcome words. "Jesus, Alex, haven't you?"

"How was I supposed to do this before?" he asked, weariness making his voice slur and fade.

She stopped cold, realizing the truth of what he was saying. She had learned enough from Anna to know that the coincidence of feeling, need and gift was extraordinarily rare. And she knew Alex well enough to know that the only person, besides Mulder and Anna, that he had any deep feeling for was...

"What about Elena? Couldn't you have healed her?"

His eyes shut slowly as he answered in a weary mutter. "No, I couldn't heal Elena. Doesn't work that way. Wish it did."

"I'm sorry, Alex, I didn't mean to bring it up again." He didn't say anything, so she asked the question she hadn't before. "What did it feel like?"

"Really, really hurt. And very tiring."

"I get the hint." She got up and headed for the stairs, saying, "I'll get you a blanket and pillow and you can crash down here."

"Thanks," he grunted as he fell into the spot she had vacated. The last thing he knew was a cool pillow slipping beneath his aching head and a shaggy wool blanket being tucked around his shoulders.

He woke up just after 3:00 a.m. with an ashy taste on his tongue and a full bladder. He crept up the stairs and down the hall as quietly as his stiff and achy body would let him, hoping he wouldn't wake Scully or Will. He was standing at the toilet, peeing pensively, when he heard an urgent whine behind him and saw Will standing at the door in obvious need. He finished as quickly as he could and tucked himself back into his jeans as he stepped aside.

"Go ahead, Bud," he whispered, hoping he'd get away with only waking Will. But before the boy had finished, Alex saw the light in the hall come on and Scully appeared at the door in her robe, sleepily peering in until she realized he was there.

"Oh, geez, sorry, Alex. I thought it was Will," she stammered, coming fully awake.

"It's okay, I'm done," he said with a twist of embarrassment on his face.

"So am I," piped in Will as he flushed and went to the sink to wash his hands. He left the tap running and looked at Alex pointedly. Alex moved to the sink and washed as well and thanked Will with mock gravity when the boy handed him a towel.

"Sorry, Scully, I tried not to wake up the whole house."

"I was already awake, Mom, 'cause I had to pee, too. You should see how much Mr. Hale made." Alex's hand was over Will's mouth before he could make any more candid comments and Scully smothered the laughter that welled up.

"Come on, Will, let's get you back in bed. It's late." She took her son's hand and led him down the hall before letting her amusement slip out. Alex went back to the basement and was tying his shoes when he heard her feet on the stairs.

"Hey, you taking off?" she asked with a tiny yawn, sitting down on the bottom step.

"Yeah, I've got to work tomorrow. Or today, in about three hours."

"That's ridiculous," she asserted. "It'll almost be time for you to get up by the time you get back to Bethesda. Just go back to sleep. I'll wake you up at six and kick you out."

"You sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. I'll be pissed if you leave before I get to make fun of you at breakfast."

"You really are a bitch sometimes, aren't you?" he said good-naturedly.

"You bring it out in me, what can I say?" she joked back.

He lay back down on the sofa and shoved his shoes off, fully expecting Scully to head back upstairs, but she stayed where she was, watching him with an inquisitive look.

"What do you want, Scully?" he asked patiently.

"How are you feeling?"

"Tired and achy. Like I've been digging ditches all day." He yawned pointedly, but she didn't take his hint this time, so he tried being blunt. "Are you going to go back to bed anytime soon?"

"Maybe. I'm wide awake right now."

"I'm not."

"Sorry. Go back to sleep. I'll see you in the morning." She got up, then impulsively stepped over to the couch where he was settling the blanket back over his legs. She knelt by the couch and threw her arms around him as tightly as she could manage in the awkward position and said in a breathless whisper, "This is really going to work, isn't? He's going to come back, right?"

Her quick embrace discomfited Alex, but he recovered enough to squeeze her tiny frame briefly and say, "Yeah, I think he will."

She let go and ran up the stairs and Alex lay back down, trying not to care that she was the one who was getting Mulder back .

They started on Scully's ring the next day. A new semester at Johns Hopkins was starting in four weeks and she was anxious to have the rings finished and on Mulder's hand before she had to return to the university full-time. Alex tried to remain patient with her frantic need to hurry the work along, but she fought his efforts to correct her focus again and again. On a late Friday night, he reached his limit and lost his temper, hollering at her that she was putting his work at risk and that she had to concentrate.

"I am concentrating," she retorted just as loudly when he pulled her hand away from the rough, dark gold she was beginning to form.

"You're not thinking about Mulder right now, are you?" he asked severely. "You're thinking about getting done and finishing before the semester starts. You're supposed to be concentrating on Mulder only. You know that, Scully. Don't screw this up."

"I'm not going to screw it up, Alex. If you would stop interrupting me, my focus would be better."

"If I don't interrupt you, that ring is going to be a worthless piece of shit. Now keep your hand off it until you're back on track."

She stomped away from the workbench, pacing around the room fretfully as Alex, after considering her for a moment, began putting away the materials and tools she'd been using under his supervision.

"What are you doing? I'm not done yet, I just need a break," she snapped when she saw him pick up the bracket that still held the unformed gold and put both in the safe.

"You're done for tonight. It's late and your focus is shot. Come on, it's almost midnight. Let's pack it in."

"No, I want to take off the worst of the spurs."

"Uh, uh, Scully, no more tonight."

She glared at his impassive face.

"Fine, have it your way," she growled as she flopped onto the sofa. "What time will you be over tomorrow so we can get back to work? Or are you going to crash here?"

"Is that an invitation?" he asked.

"Since when do you wait to be invited? Will practically thinks you live here," she said in a snippy tone.

"Does he really?" he asked in surprise. "Am I here as much as that?"

"You have been lately. It's fine, Alex," she answered the unspoken question that crossed his face. "You need to be here and Will likes you, so it's fine."

"Good. It won't be much longer anyway, unless you keep acting like a cat on hot bricks while you're touching the gold and we have to start over."

"Acting like a what?"

"A cat on hot bricks. It's a saying. It means you're irritable and jumpy, like your little cat paws can't stand to touch the ground."

"It's a stupid saying."

"Gee, pardon me. What's your problem tonight, anyway? You're crankier than usual and you're restless as hell."

"I just want to get finished."

"I just want to bring him back."

"I do, too, Alex, probably more than you do," she said with a sting.

"Okay, we both want the same thing, so be a good girl and stop fighting me," he answered.

She got up from the sofa with a pout and began racking up the pool balls, moving into their end of the evening ritual game.

She cleared the table quickly and Alex was impressed again with her skill. Tonight, though, he felt an edge to the way she was hitting the cue ball, a sliver of bad temper and impatience in every move she made.He wondered if the slow pace he was holding her to was bothering her that much. He watched her as she pulled the balls back into the triangle of the rack and readied herself to break, shifting her weight from foot to foot as she rolled the cue into position. She missed her second shot and Alex took his first, still watching her closely. She was jostling her foot and her leg, tapping her fingers on the cue she fidgeted with and it occurred to him that she'd been picking through a bowl of Hershey kisses all night. An explanation for her edgy attitude flitted through his mind and he felt an odd mixture of mischief and sympathy at what he thought might be the problem.

"Hey, Scully, can I ask you a personal question?" he inquired just as she released her shot. It went off balance and she glared at him as she dumped her cue into its holder, then stomped to the couch and sat down grumpily.

"God, Alex you are bugging the shit out of me tonight." At his patient gaze, she sighed and said, "What do you want to ask me? How personal?"

"Really, really personal."

That earned him an eyebrow lift as she asked, "Personal like how much money do I make or personal like you have a hemorrhoid you want me to look at?"

He collapsed on the couch in helpless laughter and, when he finished wiping the tears from his eyes, said, "Never mind the question. Let's play a game instead, a doctor game."

"I am not playing doctor with you, Alex, friends or not."

He laughed again and said, "Don't be stupid. I'm just going to list some symptoms for you and you tell me what you think they mean."

"This sounds stupid."

"No, it'll be interesting. And entertaining, I think."

"Says you. Okay, let's hear it."

"All right, first symptom..."

"Wait, first you have to tell me who the patient is."

"Okay, it's a female, early forties..."

"Menopause. Game's over."

"Ha, Ha. That's far off the mark, smart ass. Can I continue?"

"Fine," she said humourlessly.

"Okay, first symptom, this woman in her early forties is extremely irritable."

"Gee, who could that be? Knock it off, Alex, I already told you, nothing's wrong."

"I disagree. Second symptom, patient is physically on edge, lots of fidgeting, constant jittery motion, etc."

"Hmmm, she sounds impatient, like maybe she's got some important work to do and her co-patient is getting in her way."

"No, I don't think that's it. Try again. Third symptom, the patient is craving sweets and has been snarking down chocolate like it was laced with heroin all evening." He paused waiting for a comment from her, but she didn't say anything. "Anything clicking here, Doc?"

"Not really. Maybe the patient is simply anxious to finish a project that means a lot to her and she's tired of her co-patient impeding her progress. Maybe she's got a lot on her mind right now, she's nervous about this working out and she's apprehensive about the results and..."

"And maybe she's really, really horny," he blurted out, then bit his lip to keep from laughing at her stunned face. "Sorry, Scully, that didn't come out quite how I'd planned it."

"Really, Alex? How exactly did you plan to say that to me?" she asked in an icy voice.

"Well, I had planned to be a little more subtle. More like, 'When was the last time you got yourself off'"?

The stunned look came back for a moment before it was swallowed up by a vivid flush and an angry scowl. "You have no business asking questions like that, Krycek."

"Maybe not. As long as it doesn't interfere with your work."

"As long as what doesn't interfere?"

"Your...biology." He held his hands up in mock surrender. "Don't hit me, but you're acting, quite literally, like a bitch in heat. All the fidgeting, trying to rub your legs together, the chocolate cravings...your body's trying to tell you something, Scully. And it's talking loud enough to skew your concentration tonight. Where are you in your cycle?"

"I am not having this conversation with you, Alex."

"You're just about to ovulate, right?"

"What?! Alex! I am not... . Jesus, what are you, some kind of perverted closet gynecologist? How do you know about the leg rubbing and the chocolate?"

"I'm a genius, remember? 148 IQ?" He waited for a laugh, but it never came, so he said, "Okay, when I was eleven I found a Cosmopolitan magazine in my mom's room and it opened up a whole new world for me. There was this amazing article, with pictures, on the female sex drive and how a woman's cycle affected it. And the time just as you ovulate is when the drive is at its highest. I always remembered reading that. I thought it was an elegant way for Nature to ensure the continuation of the species, by making women really, really horny just when they were most likely to get pregnant."

Scully's eyes began to glaze over by the time he finished speaking. She wasn't sure if she was still embarrassed about his intrusion into part of her most private life or if she was simply amazed at the bizarre collection of things Alex seemed to know about. She finally cleared her head with a shake and said, "Even if your diagnosis is correct, Dr. Krycek, I'm not going to discuss either the condition or the cure with you."

"Well, I would have thought the cure would be obvious," he said with a smirk and a lewd hand gesture.

"You're crossing a line here, Krycek."

"I'm merely suggesting that you should take care of your problem however you choose, instead of pacing and bitching. Better for you, better for me, better for the work."

"I do not have a problem," she practically shouted.

"Scully..." he began.

"So help me, Alex Krycek, if I hear the word PMS out of that mouth of yours, I'll slap you into next week."

"It's not PMS, it's more like P-PMS. And you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, but it's obviously upsetting and distracting you and you need to do something about it before it starts holding up the work."

"Easy for you to say. You're a guy, you can jerk off like you sneeze."

He choked at her words as she went on.

"Seriously, how long does it take you, two minutes, five if you drag it out?"

He spluttered more at her use of 'you'.

"Women are more complex than men. We require a lot more in the way of stimulation..." She blew her hair out of her face in vexation. "Oh, forget it, I'm not talking about this anymore."

"But it's fascinating." He sat closer to her and put his head down on her shoulder. "Come on, if I was a girlfriend, you'd tell me, right?"

She looked at him, at the good-humoured sympathy in his eyes and gave a resigned shrug. "Maybe. It depends on whether or not you're better looking than me."

"Ah, the eternal mysteries of the female mind," he said, sitting back up with a comic sigh. "Fine, I'm ugly and not getting any. Will you talk about it now?"

She gave her own theatrical sigh and said, "Get my chocolate, Alex. We're going to need it if we're going to have girl-talk."

He hopped up swiftly and grabbed the bowl of kisses. "Excellent," he said with relish. "I haven't had girl-talk in ages."

"You are very weird sometimes, you know that?"

"Umm, hmm. Part of my charm," he answered around the chocolate he tossed into his mouth. "Okay, go ahead. I'm all ears."

"Hey, you wanted to talk, not me."

"I just want to help you out, Scully."

She laughed heartily, then said, "No offense, Alex, but when you say help me out, you're not exactly my type."

"I know," he said in a more serious tone. "But your type isn't doing you a whole lot of good right now, is he?" The words didn't sound kind, but Scully could hear the depth of sympathy in his gentle voice.

"Not much, no. You know," she said as she meditatively peeled a chocolate, "sometimes I almost wish we'd never gotten around to the physical part of our relationship. When I didn't know what I was missing, going without wasn't a big deal. And I could 'cure' the bitch-in-heat syndrome pretty easily on my own."

"Oooh, do tell," he squeaked in an overblown falsetto, and she laughed again.

"Never mind. I'm just saying, I went so long without actual sex before Mulder came into the picture and I was fine."

"You have got to stop saying 'came' and 'come' during these discussions, Scully," he said with his own laugh. She joined him, but ended on a sigh.

"I just don't seem to get anywhere 'curing' myself these day."

"Have you tried?" he asked hesitantly. "And remember, I'm an ugly girl so I can ask that."

"Yes, I've tried, Alexandra..."

"Ouch, not nice, Dana." He moved away a bit, unconsciously putting some distance between them as their conversation became more intimate. "Have you tried ...alternatives? I mean, there are lots of options out there, especially for us girls. I've seen the catalogues."

"I'll bet you have. Yes, I've tried a few alternatives, but I think it's mental. I can't think of anything besides Mulder and when I think of him, I don't get too terribly aroused anymore. My brain always circles back around to him at Townsend and the next thing I know I'm sitting there with my hand between my legs wondering if they remembered to put extra socks on him if it's cold." She stopped talking abruptly as she realized the words that were coming out of her mouth.

"It's okay, Scully," Alex reassured her. "You need to dump all of it sometimes, you know? Keep it from festering."

"Yeah, but on you? Of all people?"

"Who else is going to understand? Your mom? Skinner? Those three wise men buddies of Mulder's? You and I know what he was like. The man was unadulterated Id in the sack, it's hard to make do with anything less."

"You really shouldn't say 'hard' in this context, Alex."

"Too late. Anyway, we're friends now, right? If you want to vent, be my guest."

"I don't want to vent, I want to either stop thinking about sex with him or think about sex with him and get something out of it."

"Yeah, well, good luck not thinking about sex and Mulder in the same brain wave."

"Are you still hung up on him, Alex?" she asked seriously after a brief pause, but he met her eyes squarely and with a slight smile.

"You even have to ask? Of course I'm hung up on him. I'm also fully aware of my limitations where he's concerned."

"So, if and when he comes out of this, you're just going to pack your bags and be on your merry way? No lingering around, trying to get in my boyfriend's pants?"

"Well, if I thought there was a chance in hell he'd let me near his pants, I might be tempted." He stood up, walked over to the refrigerator and dug out two beers, setting one in front of her and popping the top off his own. "Beer and chocolate, breakfast of champions. Cheers, Scully," he said, then took a swallow of beer and leaned back on the sofa comfortably. "No, you won't need to worry about me lingering. I'm going to be invisible once he sees you, I know that and you know that and thank you for not being smug about it."

"Alex, you don't have to pretend you didn't mean anything to him for my benefit. If it makes you feel better, knock yourself out, but you and I both know Mulder would never have stuck around all that time if he didn't feel anything for you."

"I never said he didn't feel anything. But whatever it was pretty well vanished in the wind when he went back to you. I was a fling, Scully." He shrugged, trying to keep the conversation casual, but Scully saw the look that closed down his face and could almost hear the door he slammed on the memories threatening his composure. "Anyway, whatever it was or wasn't is beside the point."

"Maybe," Scully said with a speculative, sideways glance. She looked at Alex as if measuring something, then said, "Can I ask you something personal now?"

"Sure," he replied around the lip of his bottle.

She started to speak several times, but kept trailing off and Alex watched in patient amusement as she stammered in discomfort.

"What is it, Scully?"

"I'm not even sure what to ask you, how to say it..."

"Just spit it out. I'm not the easily offended type, you know that," he said with an encouraging smirk.

She looked up resolutely, but with a contradictory blush across her cheeks. "I keep finding myself wondering about you and Mulder. About how things were between you two. If they were different from what he and I had..." she trailed off again uncertainly.

He looked confused as he said, "How we were...you mean, like living together? He wasn't as big a slob as I thought he'd be. Is that what you're asking?"

"No," she said as another wave of embarrassed heat reddened her face. "Not just living together. I mean, that, too, but..."

"Scully, whatever it is, don't worry about it. Just ask."

She took a determined breath, then rushed out, "I just...I want to know what sleeping with him was like for you. I'm obsessively curious about the two of you..."

His puzzled look changed to one of astonishment. "You want to know about our sex life? Mine and Mulder's?"

She laughed self-consciously. "I can't explain it. Ever since you told me about the two of you, I've been consumed with this morbid desire to know all the gory details. To know if he was the same with you as he was with me."

Alex looked at her with an air of appraisal before responding, as if he were judging how far they could push the friendship they had scraped together. "Would you be surprised to learn that that sort of curiosity goes both ways, Dana?"

She met his eyes and saw the unspoken question there. "Tit for tat, Alex?"

He smiled gently and shrugged. "You've been wondering since May. I've been wondering for five years." He got up and went to pull two more bottles from the refrigerator, then resumed his seat and handed one to her. "So, ask away."

She twisted off the bottle cap and took a swallow while she tried to sort out her words. "I'm not sure what I'm looking for, really. I know I asked you before if...if he was good, but it's more than that. I mean, he was good for me, too, but ..." She shook her head as if to settle her thoughts into coherence. "It's so confusing, Alex. Sometimes it still hurts to think of him being happy with you while I was breaking my heart over him and Will. But sometimes it's such a turn-on, the pictures in my head and wondering if he...God, just if he made the same noises or got off faster or slower or got harder for you than he did for me." She gave another shake of her red head and took a long swallow of beer while he regarded her silently. "Does any of that make sense to you?" she asked finally.

"I guess so. You want to know if he was the same person in my bed as he was in yours." She nodded and he went on. "He was the same, you know, it's you and I who are different. There are bound to be differences in how we were with him." He drained the rest of his beer and set the bottle on the table in front of them. "If we're going to have this discussion, I'd appreciate being able to smoke. Can we go outside?"

"Sure," she agreed and, after grabbing two more beers from the fridge, followed him up the stairs and out to the yard.

Alex lay back in one of Scully's Adirondacks and she sat rocking gently in the glider. They were quiet for a while, the clear summer night smooth and placid around them. Alex marveled, not for the first time, at how easy he felt with Scully now, his heavy longing for Mulder eased by the realization that she not only acknowledged it, but shared hers with him as well. Anna had known about Mulder, had listened patiently through the one long unburdening he'd allowed himself. But the bone-deep comprehension of what loving the man had been like could only come from Scully and Alex found himself frequently surprised at the thought that he was thankful that she was part of his new life.

"So," he said, breaking the stillness and watching his smoke drift through the darkness.

"So," she replied softly.

"Anything in particular you want to know about? And, before we get into it, are there any ground rules I need to know about?"

"Just don't ask me any questions you aren't willing to answer yourself."

He smirked widely at that. "Dana, do you really think there's any chance I'll reach my limit before you reach yours?"

She laughed a bit and said, "Probably not. So are we taking turns?"

"We could. I'll be a gentleman and let you go first."

"Okay." She paused thoughtfully, then asked, "Did he prefer topping or bottoming with you?"

Whatever Alex had expected, it hadn't been such easy use of the jargon of gay sex. His eyebrows flew up and his mouth dropped open for a moment before he gathered himself together and let loose a hearty laugh.

"Well, someone's been doing her homework. Internet, I suppose?"

She gave him her most elusive smile, but didn't answer. He shook his head before taking the time to compose his answer.

"Mulder didn't really have a preference. Most guys don't, in my experience. He bottomed the first couple weeks we were together, but I thought it had more to do with being a little weirded out by the whole situation than any real preference for 'catching', if you'd like to broaden your vocabulary."

"Catching, huh? That's nice and clear," she said around a laugh. "But Mulder pitched, too, sometimes, right?"

"Yeah," he said, suddenly looking down with a secretive, bashful smile.

"Oh, Alex, whatever are you thinking of to put that dreamy look on your face?" she asked playfully, masking her amazement at a blushing Alex Krycek.

"Nice try, but it's mine turn to ask you a question."

"Alex, please, please tell me what you were thinking of just now."

"Dana, you're begging. It's oddly appealing somehow."

"Just tell me, okay?"

"All right, but then you have to start dishing some stuff. I'm doing all the work here."

"Fine, just spill it."

He laughed at her eager curiosity. "Okay, but if it gets too graphic for you, I'll stop." The gentle smile came back to Alex's face and he started his story.

"Okay, so, once upon a time, there was this guy who we'll call Mulder, although in my head he's still always Lisa. And Mulder had a friend named Alex who really, really enjoyed screwing him. And while Alex thought Mulder probably enjoyed the screwing, too, Mulder never seemed to start any of it." Scully began looking disapprovingly at Alex, but he waved her off. "Not that I forced him or coerced him. He was an active and eager participant in all of it, he just didn't initiate anything. Until..." he stopped abruptly and waited for Scully to respond.

She glared at him and said, "Until what, Alex? And stop teasing."

He grinned in satisfaction before continuing. "Well, you know how sensitive Mulder's chest and his nipples were, right?" At Scully's agreeing nod, Alex went on. "Anybody who spent more than two minutes in the sack with him knew that. But did you know, Miss Scully, that your Mulder had one of his nipples pierced while he and I were together?" He let a smug smile cross his face at the look of surprise that swept Scully's.

"He did not," she said with vehement disbelief.

"Honest Injun, check him for the scar. A twinkly little silver ring, right through it. God, it was beautiful."

"What on earth possessed him to do that? He didn't even have a pierced ear. Or was it your idea?"

Alex shook his head defensively, trying not to mind her suspicious tone. "Not mine, Dana. All his. The only thing I had to do with it was that he found a piercing I had to be highly... captivating." He twitched his brows at her and grinned wickedly when her eyes flicked briefly to his chest. "...and mine isn't a nipple ring, so you can stop looking." He laughed at her embarrassed grimace. "So, Mulder just came home with a piercing of his own one day and I was so surprised, because, like I said, he hadn't been very forward in our doings. The ring, that was the closest he came to asking for something from me. Sexually, at any rate." He stopped to light a cigarette and to judge how Scully was taking his story. Her eyes were getting a little glassy, whether from the beer she'd brought up with her or the effect on her libido from their conversation. He smiled, thinking she'd probably be able to solve her problem tonight one way or another.

"Anyway, Mulder had to move the ring a little, to keep the hole from closing, but it needed to heal for a bit before we could play with it and I could tell it was driving him crazy. He was more...fervent...in our activities then he'd ever been, and then, about a week after he'd had the piercing done, he walked into our bedroom after a shower. He only had jeans on and he stood behind me-I was working at the computer in our room-and he bent down and whispered in my ear, in that fuck-me-now, gravelly voice of his, that he was 'all better.' I turned around to ask him what the hell he was talking about and the ring was right there, in my face. I looked at him and he nodded at me with a coy little smile and I gave it a little tug. That got a nice growl out of him, so I pulled on it again a little harder and then again with my teeth. And I swear to you, Dana, he went berserk. Pulled me out of my chair and threw me across our bed, moved my shorts out of the way and shoved himself in." He shifted in his chair, looking at her with a bit of chagrin as he realigned his swollen prick as unobtrusively as possible.

She gave him an indulgent smile and said, "No prep work, huh? That sounds pretty Neanderthal for Mulder."

"It was. Completely. It was also ... God, I don't even have words for it. The fact that he took me and that we were face to face, for the first time. And it was his move, from start to finish. I knew then, that he wanted me, wanted whatever it was that was happening between us. I didn't care that he went in dry, as long as I could see his face and his eyes and watch him lose that cool of his. I didn't care about anything except that he was letting go of everything we were up to our necks in, that it was just him and me ...," his voice trailed off as he debated whether to tell Scully about how Mulder had jerked Alex's head back and bitten and sucked at him until he was purpled from shoulder to shoulder, and wondered if she would want to hear the profane things Mulder had growled in his ear-'Take me, bastard' and 'Such a sweet fucking ass'- until Alex thought his brain was going to shoot out along with every drop of blood, sweat and semen in his body.

He realized Dana was waiting for him with an impatient, inquisitive, 'well?' in her eyes and he laughed self-consciously. "Sorry," he said. "Got a little sidetracked."

"I guess so. It makes me wonder what dirty parts you're leaving out."

He jerked his eyebrow a couple times, then said, "What else do you want to know?"

"I'm trying to compare ...I guess Lisa to Mulder. He was always so gentle and careful with me, even if I didn't always want him to be..."

Alex chuckled softly. "You do surprise me sometimes, Scully."

She stuck her tongue out childishly, then said, "Did he lose that cool often, with you? Because he and I...I don't know, I always felt like he was holding back, trying not to...well, never mind."

"No way, no never-minding."

She blew out a self-conscious breath and looked away as she said, "People make assumptions, Mulder included, that if a woman has a petite figure, her...well, she's petite everywhere. You following me?"

Alex frowned for a moment until he grasped her meaning. "Ah. So Mulder tried not to...dig too deep?"

"I cannot believe I am having this conversation with you," she muttered as she lit another cigarette and dragged on it impatiently. "Yes, that puts it nicely. Mulder was well-endowed-like I need to tell you that-and he worried about hurting me, about being too hard on...shut up, Alex! God, you are such a pig!"

This as Alex knocked over the table between their chairs, rolling back and forth in riotous laughter. He leaned over to pick up the ashtray and beer bottles that were scattered on the deck, wiping tears from his face and still shaking with laughter. "Jesus, Scully," he gasped as he handed her the ashtray. "Do you even think before you say stuff like that?"

"Maybe you just have a really dirty mind, you ever think of that?" she asked petulantly.

"Sorry, Kiddo, you just say these things and it kills me. Sorry. Go ahead, finish what you were saying." Alex reached over to pat her head condescendingly, earning another glare and a flipped finger.

"I was trying to ask you if he went berserk on you often. The only time he ever really lost it with me was the first time I ... well, I made the acquaintance of his prostate gland." She looked shyly at Alex and was gratified to see a slightly stupefied look on his face.

"Wait a minute," he said. "Was this before or after he and I...?"

"After. About a year after he came back. Why do you look so surprised? Did you think I didn't have it in me?"

"No, I just didn't think you'd have it in Mulder," he said with a snide little giggle.

"Alex, that's sick."

"Maybe a little. Come on, tell me the story."

"What, the prostate gland story? What's to tell?"

"'What's to tell,' she says. Where, how, the whole sordid thing. Come on, your turn."

"Fine, but I don't shoot out...shut up!...words like 'nipple' and 'come' the way you do."

"Not on purpose, anyway."

"Whatever." She took a deep breath, then started talking. "All right. I had a seminar to go to in Boston and Mulder and Will went down to the Vineyard and I was going to meet them there when I was done. I had dinner with an old friend from med school before I took the shuttle to the island and over dinner, she and I had an enlightening conversation about men in general and the prostate gland-she'd gone into urology-in particular."

"That's nice dinner conversation. Although it's probably better than any shop talk you had to offer."

"Anyway, I was thinking about it on the flight down and I decided I'd try out some of the things she'd talked about. So, when I got to the house, Will was already asleep and Mulder and I were playing around and I...I was going down on him and I just kind of ... went exploring. And I hit it on my first try and for a second I thought I'd really hurt him or something. He just kind of screamed..."

"No fucking wonder," Alex said hoarsely.

"But he...well, he went big-time berserk on me. He grabbed my hair and started ramming himself...you know, all the way into my...my throat and he took about three strokes, making this unearthly noise the whole time and when he..." she trailed off with a deep blush, still finding it awkward to say the graphic words to Alex.

"...when he came, Dana," he supplied with a smirk.

"Fine, when he came, Alex, he said such nasty...but it wasn't nasty, I mean the words weren't nice but, God, they melted me."

"What did he say?"

"Oh, God, you're trying to embarrass me to death, aren't you?"

"No, I just heard stuff like that out of him once in a while and ...and melted is a great way to describe what it did to me, too."

She looked speculatively at him and shrugged in decision. "I'll tell you if you tell me."

He didn't answer right away and she was surprised to see the dreamy, reminiscing smile on his face again.

"What did I say that's got you looking like that again?" she asked softly.

"I was just remembering a game he and I used to play. Something like what you just said. Never mind. Tell me the dirty names he called you."

She felt her face burning as she said, "Well, 'fucking bitch' was the one that really threw me."

Alex laughed merrily, then said, "He gets zero points for creativity, then, because he called me that once or twice as well."

"And did it make you crazy, hearing something like that?"

"Hell, yeah. Especially from him, because he was, like you said, very controlled. I mean, he made noise, but for him to lose it, to start cursing like a drunken sailor, God, it did stuff to me that nobody's ever..." He shook his head and looked away from her. "Nobody ever did anything to me the way he did."

She watched him drift into memories, then said as business-like as she could manage, "So, we haven't really answered any questions, have we? What did you want to ask me?"

He looked back at her with a wry grin. "Scully, if we keep swapping stories like this, I'm going to commit an act of public indecency in your driveway." He stood up and subtly arranged his jeans around his erection. "I'm going to take off and leave you to solve your problem." She stood up as well and they headed to the house.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

"Absolutely." He picked up her hand and planted a very cosmopolitan kiss on the back of it. "Thank you for an enchanting evening, Miss Scully." He looked up with his sly grin on his face and glittering wickedly in his bright eyes and they shared a healthy laugh as she went in the house and he headed down the driveway to his car.

Alex found himself feeling unfamiliar pangs of uncertainty when he came near the house the next day. He wondered if last night was a mistake, if he had breached the fragile line of friendship they'd penciled between them. He didn't know what to call the gripping curiosity that possessed him regarding Scully and Mulder's sex life. It was always there, when he and Mulder were together, after Mulder went back to her, up until last night. He had asked Mulder, more than once, to tell him about Dana, to satisfy the hunger that haunted Alex, to know what it was Dana Scully did or was or had that had so enthralled Mulder. Now he had a picture to chew on, the image of Scully on her knees before Mulder, bringing him off the same way Alex had more than once. That image had invaded his mind the night before as he stroked himself off, parked behind an Arbor Drugs, a shuddering groan slipping out of his mouth. He hadn't come so hard in months, maybe years, either by his own hand or in the bodies of the faceless that he used to ease his Lisa-ache.

He parked at the intersection a block away from Scully's, uncertain if he could stand to face her yet. He had never doubted that, if not for Scully, Mulder would have given Alex the empty place in his heart. But she was there, cemented, grafted, welded, into every cell of his body and every wisp of his soul. Alex had to remind himself, for maybe the millionth time in five years, that he had captured Mulder's attention and affection, if not his love, for as long as he had any right to expect. He didn't lie to Scully, he would go if and when Mulder got better. He would go to Anna and to the farm and become one of the village men who lived their lives around sowing and harvest and fecund and barren.He would buy his grand piano and maybe a new cello as well. And he would miss Mulder every day for the rest of his life.

A life sentence in prison would have been better than this.

He pulled into the driveway and scraped up a bit of a smile for Will's hearty welcome. He let the boy grab his hand and pull him into the backyard, full of youthful eagerness to show Alex the soccer net Scully bought at the garage sale outing she'd been on that morning with Maggie. Will had developed a passion for soccer lately that replaced his earlier devotion to dinosaurs and he found a kindred spirit in Alex. Alex knew a lot about soccer, about how it was played in Europe and South America and how that was different from the American style that Will was learning. Scully was in the basement and she called up a greeting when Alex stuck his head through the door to announce his arrival.

"You need me for anything right now? Will wants to show me something," he called back to her.

"Go ahead. I'll give you a shout if I get stuck. I'm just pulling everything out right now."

No comment about their conversation last night, about whether or not his prying and obsessing had helped her at all. He shook his head and stepped back out to the yard, finding Will standing there, holding a prized soccer ball and wearing a dog-like look of hopeful expectation. Alex smiled a bit more genuinely this time and watched Will dribble the ball toward the waiting net.

When Scully came out to the yard, she found Alex and Will hard at it, both with a ball now. Alex was trying to help Will coordinate his seven year old body into bouncing the ball from his foot to his thigh, the way Alex was doing repeatedly, sometimes bringing it off his forehead as well. She watched without letting them know she was there, reveling in the sight of her boy's sturdy body and eager, bright face, glad that there were men in his life who could daddy him enough to smooth over Mulder's absence sometimes. She spectated silently until Will's first success, the ball making a lucky hop from his ankle to his knee and back down before rolling off haphazardly to the side. She clapped and laughed as Alex tossed Will into the air, the flush of pride on her son's face reflected moderately in Alex's as well. They knew she was there and Will raced to her.

"Did you see me? I didn't miss, I hit it just like Mr. Hale said!"

"I saw you, Sport! That was great! You're getting better and better every day," she said enthusiastically. Alex's smile widened as he rubbed Will's sweaty red hair with his knuckles, male bonding over a good noogie.

"You're gonna be a killer with moves like that, Squirt. Good job."

Alex was sweaty, too, and Scully realized that it was unbearably hot outside. She ordered them to come inside for a drink and something to eat and soon they were sitting in the air-conditioned kitchen, sipping water and iced tea and eating potato chips. Will regaled Alex with the story of the garage sales they had been to that day. After a third glass of water, he begged to play soccer with Alex again.

"Maybe later, Squirt. Your mom and I need to work."

"It's okay, Alex, you go play. I'm fine." She gave him the arched eyebrow and an elusive, Mona-Lisa smile that told him everything he needed to know about what she did after he left and how she was feeling today. He raised his own brow in gentle mockery and, behind Will's head as the boy headed outside, very slightly made the lewd hand gesture again. She blushed, but winked at him with a bigger smile, then got up from the table and headed for the basement stairs.

"I'll let you know if I need anything, but I think I'll be okay now."

"Good. Glad to have been of assistance," he smirked. When she was gone from his sight, he blew out a loud breath. Yeah, he thought grumpily, glad to make your sex life even better. He stepped into the yard and immediately got hit in the stomach with a soccer ball.

Scully finished the work she set out to do by mid-afternoon. She cleaned up the work area, leaving the roughly shaped ring out for Alex to check over, then went upstairs and into the yard. Alex and Will were still playing, Will dribbling and shooting while Alex defended the second-hand net she'd bought that morning. Alex was making occasional bloopers that were obvious to her and letting in every second or third goal. Nothing too blatant, not letting Will win too easily, but still...

"Hey, Hot Shot. You're wearing Mr. Hale out. Come on back in for some more water and then I need to work with him for a bit."

"Two more shots, Mom, please? I'm getting really good."

"Yeah, two more, Mom, please?" begged Alex in an irritating whine.

"No whining allowed, Alex. You know the rules."

But she let Will take the shots, trying not to laugh as Alex, hands outstretched and with a fiercely determined snarl on his face, feigned astonishment as one of Will's shots trickled past him.

"Okay, two shots, time to come in. It's hotter than the Sahara out here," she added as they trooped into the cool house. She tossed Alex a roll of paper towel to wipe his face with and the two sweat-soaked soccer players flopped into kitchen chairs and began guzzling glasses of water. When Alex had finished his, he set the glass down and got up, heading for the stairs.

"How far did you get, anyway?"

"I pulled the rough form off the mold. I want you to check it for cracks before I start polishing."

"You got that far without me? I'm impressed," he joked.

"Yeah, well, I muddled through somehow."

Alex looked at the ring carefully without touching it, putting on his glasses and peering at it under a magnifying glass, not finding any of the minute flaws that would splinter and split the ring the instant the polishing and engraving tools touched the metal.

"Pretty good, Scully. I really am impressed. There's nothing I can see. Did you measure the dimensions yet?" She nodded and he said, "Okay, pick it up and roll it like this-" he pulled his own ring off and gently pressed it between his thumb and index finger. She copied his movements as he continued his instructions. "Increase the pressure gradually until you're putting full weight on it. See if you feel any give or movement at all and then check the circumference and diameter again." He watched as she performed the dainty measurements and smiled with her when there was no variation in the numbers that would indicate movement, and therefore a flaw, in the metal.

"Excellent," he praised her, "you're ready to start polishing."

The rings were done.

She wore hers on her right ring finger and Alex kept his on as well. September was over; they had decided to wait until Mulder's birthday in mid-October to put the rings on his hand. Finishing Scully's ring had taken next to no time. She had amazed Alex with the dexterity of her hands when the time came for the polishing and engraving of the ring. She could maneuver the small tools with an easy precision that Alex, despite his lengthy training with Anna, knew he would never be able to match. He had found himself providing less and less guidance to Scully as she developed her own rhythm and found in herself an untapped artistic ability that led to the creation of the beautifully crafted piece of gold she wore.

"I almost want to start over and have you make my ring for me," Alex said to her as they sat together in Mulder's room on an early October evening. They were playing cribbage and Scully's ring, more brightly polished than Alex's, twinkled on her hand in the fading sunlight.

"Yours is fine, Alex. I'm not waiting anymore."

They played peacefully until Will came bouncing into the room from the walk he and Maggie had taken in the wood behind the hospital.

"Hi, Sweetie. Nice walk?"

"Yeah, it smells really good outside. Someone's burning leaves, Grandma says." Will bent over to kiss Mulder's still cheek, then climbed onto the bed to watch the card game.

It was becoming routine for Scully and Will to meet up with Alex two or three afternoons a week after he finished his shift at Townsend. They would all visit with Mulder, talking with the comatose man and each other easily until dinner time. Sometimes the three of them would head over to the IHOP or go to Alex's nearby home for dinner. There were nights when Scully would let Alex and Will go on without her, leaving her alone with her love and her memories. And she knew there were nights when Alex would go back to the hospital and sit silently with his Lisa. The friendship between them grew, bound together in the man they hoped to heal, and Scully found the thought of the 'old' Krycek, the one she had feared and hated, fading from her memory.

The night before Mulder's forty-eighth birthday, Alex and Scully were sitting in the lounge off the lobby of the hospital, discussing plans for the next day.

"Is your mom okay with taking Will home tomorrow?" Alex asked as he idly plunked the keys of the old piano sitting in the far corner of the room.

"Yeah, she's fine. I told her enough to let her know I was serious about not wanting Will here for this. If anything goes wrong, I don't want him to see it."

"Nothing's going to go wrong, Dana. Relax."

"Aleksandr, don't you know better than to ever say nothing's going to go wrong? It's like asking God to cold cock you."

"Such irreverence, Dana Katherine. Seriously, the worst thing that can happen tomorrow night is that nothing happens."

She was sitting on a couch beside the piano and she leaned her elbows on her knees, resting her face on her fisted hands. "I'm really nervous, Alex. What if what happened to you happens to him? The burning and the labored breathing, that could kill him."

"Nothing bad is going to happen, Dana," Alex repeated consolingly. "You need to keep your focus still, there's more work for you to do tomorrow than me. After we put the rings on him, you sit tight, hold onto him and think those happy thoughts you're always making smart remarks about."

"And you do what, exactly?"

He swiveled around to face the keyboard squarely and began playing a slow, mellow piece Scully vaguely recognized from an old movie.

"Not a blessed thing. My job is pretty much done. I put the ring on, I make sure it's seated well and I back off and let you do your stuff. Now relax and don't think about anything except him being well again."

"I'm trying." She leaned her head back on the sofa and closed her eyes, trying to let Alex's playing lull her worries away. After a few silent minutes, she said, eyes still closed, "That's beautiful. Very plaintive."

"It's called Solace. Scott Joplin."

"The guy who did all the Ragtime?"

"The same."

"It's beautiful. What movie is it from?"

"The Sting."

She let herself drift away, thinking about Mulder and having him home again. The song ended and she heard Alex start getting up from the bench.

"Play something else."

"Happy or sad?"

"Mmm, don't care. Something soft like that."

Another melody began, even softer than the Joplin piece, flowing from a minor to major key and back again. Scully listened without comment until he finished.

"Nice. What's that one?"

"Elegie. Jules Massenet."

She still sat with her head back and eyes shut and when Alex turned away from the keyboard, he saw that her face had finally relaxed.

"Feel better now? No more worries?" he asked, leaning on an elbow.

"Still worries, just not overwhelming."

"Come on, you need to get home and rest for tomorrow." He got up and pulled on her hands to bring her to her feet. She got up stiffly and they walked to the front door together. A thought flitted through her mind and she stopped and looked at him.

"Why don't you have a piano at your house?"

He glanced at her with a surprised frown. "Because I don't plan on staying here long enough to spend the money on one. I play this one a bit every day, to keep in practice."

"Do you have a cello at home?"

Another frown and he nodded slowly. "An old, beat up one. What's with the sudden interest?"

"It just occurred to me that when you lost your arm, that must have been really difficult."

"Gee, you think?"

"No, I mean, losing your music, not being able to play. That must have been one of the hardest parts of losing your arm."

"It was the worst part of it." He held the door open for her with a pointed look, then said, "Stop looking at me like I'm a kicked puppy, Dana," as she brushed past with a saddened face.

"You've just had a lot of shit to put up with in your life."

"So has Mulder. So have you, if it comes to that. It's not a nice world. Crappy stuff happens." He shrugged as they walked through the cool, smoky night. They stopped at Scully's car and Alex waited while she climbed in and started the engine.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Scully."

"Night, Alex."

"Well, don't you look like crap," Alex said when he got his first glimpse of Dana the next afternoon.

"Hello to you, too, asshole," she replied in a hoarse, tired voice.

"Did you sleep at all last night?"

"Umm, maybe for about half an hour." She held her hands up as if to fend him off when he bristled up angrily. "Kidding, Alex, lighten up. I slept, I slept. For about two hours, at least."

"Shit, Scully, why didn't you take something? You're going to need all eight cylinders for this, kiddo."

"I didn't want to take anything that would make me foggy later. I'm fine, Alex, it's not a big deal. You forget I went to med school. Two hours of sleep is plenty."

"I hope so," he said darkly. He looked more closely at the smudges beneath her dull eyes, her freckles standing out clearly against her white, white skin. "You know, it wouldn't kill us to wait one more day. Go home after we have dinner and sleep. We can do this tomorrow."

"No way in hell, Alex. Tonight. My mom's bringing Will and cake in an hour. We can get set up and ready and then do it just as soon as they leave."

"Dana, come on..."

"No. Tonight. Got me?" He smiled to himself at the voice he remembered Mulder describing as two tons of fist in a smoky alto.

"So bossy. Fine. But I want you to rest until your mom gets here. I'm going to change. When I get back we'll do the baselines and then you rest. You got me?"

"You don't do bossy as well as I do," she said with a sleepy grin as she settled herself in the Lazy-Boy.

When Alex came up from the locker room in jeans and a flannel shirt, Scully was asleep in her chair, her face turned to the window and her red hair curtaining her eyes. Alex sat down as gently as he could on the bed beside Mulder, holding the man's hand and stroking the palm softly, not really thinking of any particular memory, letting the deep emotions swirl around in his heart and brain. Minutes passed, close to a quarter of an hour, before Alex heard the soft swish of Scully's hair brushing the chair as she turned back to face the bed. He dropped the soft hand and stood up, meeting Scully's curious gaze.

"You're supposed to rest," he said softly.

She didn't answer at first, just held her eyes on his face as worry began to crease her forehead.

"Alex, are you... are you going to be able to leave after this?"

"Yeah, I'll go. I just wanted..." his voice trailed off as his eyes turned from Scully's face to Mulder's.

"What is it, Alex?"

"I don't know. Being a sap, I guess." He flashed a crooked little smile her way. "Don't look so worried, Scully. I'll go. Promise."

"I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound..."

"Possessive?" he cut in. "It's okay. You are the possessor. I told you, he won't even see me once he sets eyes on you."


"Give it a rest, okay, Scully?" He slashed his arm across his chest, a gesture Scully recognized now as a sign of his impatience. "If you're not going to sleep, let's run the baselines."

He walked out of the room, but came right back in, followed by Maggie and Will carrying balloons and a big white cake box.

"Look who's early," he said as Will twined the balloons around the bed rail and Maggie began unloading plates and napkins from the box. Scully jumped up to greet her mother and hug Will and they all talked animatedly together for a few minutes.

"Will, you and Mr. Hale go ask the nurses and the orderly if they want to sing to Daddy with us and have cake, can you do that?" Scully asked as she lined up two dozen tiny white candles on the chocolate-frosted cake.

When they were gone, Maggie gave Scully the raised eyebrow and said, "Did you want to talk to me alone, Dana?"

"Not about anything big. I just wanted to say thank you for taking Will today and tonight. I can't tell you everything about what Alex and I are doing, but I appreciate your help while we do it."

"Is it what you've been working on in the basement all summer?"

"Yes, we hope to finish tonight. And I wanted to ask you tokeep Mulder in your prayers tonight."

"I always do, Dana. Every single day."

"Thank you, Mom. But pray extra-hard tonight, okay?"

Will and Alex returned, followed by Margaret and Carrie and a third nurse Dana didn't know by name. They all stood clustered round Mulder's bed, singing without much tone but with plenty of spirit and then tucked into the cake.

Maggie and Will left by 8:00. While Alex picked up the cake plates and coffee cups, Scully ran a series of tests on Mulder to establish base measurements of his brain's electrical activity and looked over his latest MRI and CAT scans.

"I wish I could have gotten some brain stem response data before we started, just to see if anything's changed from the last one," she fussed as Alex untied the festive balloons from the bed.

"I think what we have here should be enough. Any small changes that the stem responses would tell us about will show up soon enough on the EEG, won't they?"

"I suppose. You know me, face the unpredictable with plenty of hard numbers." She watched the EEG patterns dapple the monitor, resigned to the smooth waves she'd been seeing for almost two years now.

"You ready?" Alex asked, coming up to the bed next to her.

"I guess so. What do I do first?"

"I'm going to leave you two alone for a while. Just clear your head and get your focus on him. When I get back, we'll put the rings on."

She nodded briefly, pursing her lips together and drawing shallow breaths.

"All right. I'm going down to the lounge to get my own act together. I'll be back in fifteen minutes, okay?"

"Yeah, go."

Alex reached for her hand suddenly and squeezed it. "I'm counting on you, Scully. You're the strongest-minded person I've ever met. Use it to bring him back."

He walked out of the room and Scully held a deep breath before perching on the bed next to Mulder. She picked up the limp hand and held it tightly and started the process of smoothing her jumbled thoughts away, searching for the precious image of Mulder in her arms and in Will's life again that she had held in mind throughout the making of her ring. Alex had drilled her again and again on how to keep other thoughts and worries from intruding when she was establishing her focus, how to brush mental pictures away like dust without breaking her increasing concentration.

She wasn't surprised to feel Alex behind her suddenly.The act of focusing her mind so stringently often caused a narrowed reception of outside noises and sights and skewed time perception. If anyone had asked her, she would have said Alex had just left the room, not been gone a quarter of an hour. She had also learned to maintain focus even if she needed to do something else and so she said, without turning away from Mulder, "Ready when you are."

"Good girl, you didn't even hear me, did you?" Alex whispered as he stood next to her.

She shook her head absently, eyes closed, mind serene and full of Mulder. Alex's rustling next to her barely registered until she heard him speaking in low, rumbling tones in Russian. She felt herself wanting to wonder what he was saying and flicked the thought away gently.

The words flowed on for some time, then broke off as Alex said, "You'll feel my hand on his and yours in a minute, then my hand on his head. Don't move, okay? And don't think..."

"Won't," she whispered languidly.

The Russian went on and on. She felt Alex's strong hand wrap around hers and Mulder's, then felt his arm brush across her shoulder as he moved his other hand to Mulder's head and kept speaking softly.

"Okay. I'm going to put my ring on, then yours. You shouldn't really feel anything, just a little warmth maybe. Don't lose your focus. You can't let go once I put these on him. Are you okay? Do you need to take a break?"

"No," she whispered again, Mulder still filling her mental visual field. She felt Alex's arm come down again and his hand release hers. She barely registered Alex's movements as he removed the ring from his hand and pulled Mulder's hand to place the ring there and when Alex took her hand and pulled the ring from her finger, she only had to lower her head slightly to make the feeling of the tug melt into irrelevance. She let herself sink further into the thoughts and image of Mulder, knowing only in the most peripheral part of her mind that Alex was moving Mulder's hand into position, that he had taken back hers and Mulder's other hands and was speaking softly again. A tiny perception of warmth began filtering into her mind and she made to brush it away when she realized Alex was speaking quietly to her.

"Dana, can you feel anything? Just nod, don't talk, but let me know."

She nodded once and said, "Warm."

She felt Alex move away, still holding both hers and Mulder's hands, but no longer standing beside her. She never felt the point at which he released their hands and sat down in the chair beside the bed.

She was immersed in her mind so deeply Alex had to shake her shoulder gently when 11:00 came near.

"Dana, you okay? Hey, you with me, kiddo?"

She opened her eyes dreamily and realized she was laying beside Mulder, still clasping his hand, now bearing the two rings.

"Come on, I need you to sit up."

She got up a little unsteadily and Alex put his hand under her shoulder to bring her the rest of the way up. "Was I sleeping?"

He laughed softly. "No, you're just very good at concentrating."

"I'm exhausted."

"It's almost 11:00. Shift's going to change and they're going to come in to reposition him pretty soon. I've got the door closed, but..."

"Any change in him at all?"

"Not yet, but you knew there wouldn't be, not tonight," he said in a softly chiding voice.

"I know. The Catholic in me was just hoping for a miracle." She rolled off the bed and stood up, stretching her stiff back and neck while Alex reattached the EEG electrodes and flipped the monitor back on. They stood beside each other, watching the monitor flicker to life and the smooth waves began spreading across the screen.

"Nothing," she said dully.

Alex punched her arm lightly. "Nothing is exactly what we expected, okay? Relax. We're just starting. Let's get a coffee or something downstairs and let the shift change do their stuff. We'll come back up when they're done and get back in position."

He opened the door and waited for Scully to pass him, then turned to look back at the still form in the bed before following her down the hall.

The next week passed in a blur for Scully. She spent nearly every waking and sleeping minute propped up next to Mulder in the narrow hospital bed. She got cramps in her fingers from clutching Mulder's hand endlessly. Her back complained whenever she moved, her neck was perpetually stiff and she missed two soccer games. The fatigue and mental wear brought to mind aching and endless shifts during her residency when she was so tired it seemed as if she'd never slept in her life. She found it increasingly difficult to keep her focus sharp, found herself more and more frequently brushing intrusive and despairing thoughts away.

But it all slipped into insignificance when, on the tenth day after they had placed the rings on his finger, she saw a blip on the EEG monitor, the barest, tiniest ripple where for so long there had only been an endless line of smooth waves. She thought she'd imagined it, thought it might be a side effect of her struggle to stay focused and positive. But then she saw it again and, in a flash, was reaching for the phone to page Alex.

"I saw something, Alex, I know I did. Get up here, please, hurry!" she breathed into the phone.

He was in the room in less than two minutes, breathless from running up three flights.

"What did you see? Was it on the monitor?"

"Yes, there was a small peak, I swear it."

Alex picked up the strip of paper trailing from the machinery while Scully continued to stare at the monitor.

"I don't see it on the readout, Dana. Are you sure?"

"Yes," she hissed at him, eyes still adhered to the monitor.

A hushed, tense silence settled over the room. They stared, willing the machine to pick up something, anything that would encourage them in their hopes. Minute after minute passed. Finally, with a soft grunt, Alex turned away, gnawing his upper lip in angry disappointment. He scrubbed his hands across his face and turned back to Scully, whose face was stony with sadness.

"Okay, don't let this throw you..." he began.

"Oh! There it is again! Look!"

She grabbed his arm and pointed to the screen, then snatched up the readout and began hunting for the telltale markings. He saw the faint blip on the screen this time and turned so he could read the tape as well. Scully found it, a tiny scratch on a thin strip of paper, but it may as well have been the Rosetta Stone for the magnitude it held for the two of them. Their eyes met over the piece of paper and then Scully threw her arms around Alex, laughing delightedly. He picked her up, echoing her joy with a loud, gleeful yell. They settled down quickly, turning back to the man in the bed and Scully resumed her position next to him. She picked up his hand and squeezed it tightly, then raised it to her mouth and kissed it roughly.

"Wow, okay, this...this is working," Alex said with dark, excited eyes. "Umm, we should check him out again, do a CAT scan, maybe, huh?"

"Now? I mean, today? Not yet. I'd rather get my focus back. Let's monitor the EEG for a while and see if the activity picks up over the next hour or so."

Their euphoria dwindled rapidly over the next few days. The occasional peaks continued, increasing neither in duration nor strength nor frequency. Scully requested and oversaw a full battery of brain activity tests and only one or two showed miniscule, barely recordable traces of improvement. Just enough to raise their hopes, but not enough to keep them afloat.

Scully's seemingly endless supply of energy and focus finally gave out the second Saturday after Mulder's birthday. She had gone home for dinner with Will, then come back to Townsend. She was by now absolutely determined to stay at Mulder's side until the changes she could see on paper manifested themselves in the body beside her.

Alex came into the room to check on her at 10:30 and stood in the doorway, looking at her without speaking for a moment or two. Finally, he went to the bed and pulled her tangled, unwashed hair out of her gritty eyes. The solid, strong grip she'd been able to put in place with no effort two weeks ago was beyond her now and her mind drifted away the moment Alex touched her.

"It's not really working after all, is it?" she asked softly, turning her head away from Mulder for the first time in three hours.

Alex didn't answer, swallowing the nasty burn of anger that crept into the back of his throat. He put his hand on her shoulder and felt her slump into the pillow.

"It will, kiddo, we just have to give it a bit more time. Maybe you should take a break, though. You're worn to the bone. Come on, I'll drive you home and you can get some sleep."

"I can't sleep. I want to stay here, just in case..."

"Dana, you won't do him any good dead on your feet and starving yourself." He pulled her gently off the bed and stood her in front of the mirror in the bathroom. "See? You've probably lost six pounds in the last two weeks, your eyes are pissholes and your hair looks like...I don't even know what to call that. What happened to it?"

She looked at herself and sighed, silently agreeing with Alex that she looked like hell.

"I let it dry by itself last time I washed it. It curls like that if I don't brush it out."

"Interesting look, but if Mulder did wake up right now, you'd scare him to death."

"Screw you, Alex," she said, too weary to put much bite in it.

"Same to you, sister. Come on, let's take you home."

"I should be here."

"I know, but you've got to take care of yourself, too. Come on, just a couple hours. We'll come back first thing in the morning."

She walked beside him, letting him lead her sleepily to the elevator, through the lobby and out to her car. She leaned on his shoulder while he dug the keys out of her purse, then sank back with a weak sigh as he gently guided her into her seat. The drive to Ten Hills passed silently, Scully drifting in and out of sleep and Alex humming softly with the radio.

By the time they reached the house, Scully's meager grip on consciousness was gone and Alex, after a moment of lip-chewing thought, shrugged and lifted her out of the car. He carried her up the front walk to the door, kicking it softly. A sudden shaft of light hit them as the porch light came on and the front door opened. Maggie smiled in greeting, then walked ahead of Alex to turn on lights in the hallway and in Scully's bedroom. Alex laid Dana on her bed, then stood up to see Maggie pulling pajamas out of a drawer. He went to the door and would have walked out if not for Maggie's gentle hand on his arm and her warm voice in his ear.

"You're a good friend to her, Alex. To her and Mulder both. Thank you."

He looked down, nodded silently and left the room. He wandered down to the basement after Maggie left. He was becoming more and more comfortable here, with hints of Mulder all around him. Sprawling on the couch, he thought of what Maggie had said, that he was a good friend to both Scully and Mulder. He remembered a day, long ago, when he'd heard those same words, sitting on a bed in an old white house in Burbank.

He'd watched while Mulder packed up extra shirts and jeans in an ancient duffel bag, then turned his eyes to the floor when Mulder sat down beside him and wrapped his arms around his waist, resting his chin on his shoulder.

"You were a good friend to me when I needed one, Alex," he had said softly, not hearing the crack and shatter of Alex's heart. "I never would have made it through all this shit without you."

Alex had swallowed twice before he could summon up any kind of voice at all.

"Hey, glad to help, Mulder," he'd managed to say almost steadily and he'd actually slapped Mulder on the back jovially before unwinding the man's arms and standing up. He held out his hand and Mulder took it, holding it as he looked intently into the green eyes that were cold now, at the normally expressive face that looked set in concrete.

"I'm Mulder again, then, huh? Not Lisa anymore?"

"You never really were, were you?" Alex broke away from the relentless gaze, walking out to the front room where Will lay sleeping in his car seat. "You'd better get going while Junior's still out. Got a long drive back."

He still avoided Mulder's eyes while they loaded the baby things and Mulder's meager bag into a rented Ford. Mulder took Alex's hand once more, rubbing the palm softly and said, "'Sandr, if you ever need..."

Alex cut him off, pulled his hand away and walked back to the house, saying lightly over his shoulder, "Yeah, sure, I'll give you a jingle, you and Scully. Maybe we can do lunch sometime." He stepped inside and closed the door, willing his ears to shut out the thud of the car door and the rise of the engine and the sweep of the tires rolling away.

An echo of the searing ache of that morning and of the many mornings that followed it coiled in Alex's belly as he lay on the couch in Scully's basement. He thought bitterly that Maggie Scully wouldn't have such a high opinion of his friendship for her daughter if she knew how he still had to bite back the angry, bitter words and jealous, hateful glares that boiled up in him sometimes.

He had come to care for Dana Scully in a warped way he'd never imagined would be possible after that February day when Lisa had gone. He liked her, found her funny, thought she was a wonderful mother to Will and an all-around decent human being. But there were dark and frightening times when he hated her passionately, hated the love Mulder harbored for her, the love for Scully that kept Alex out. He remembered the black desire to kill Dana that had swept over him for the better part of a month after Mulder's departure, the plotting and planning to eradicate the one obstacle between he and his Lisa.

Alex shrugged his shoulders roughly, pushing Krycek back into the murky part of his brain where the dark part of him still lived. He'd be Dana's friend, he'd be Mulder's friend, if it killed him, which, on a night like this, seemed all too likely.

He stood up, going to the workbench to pick up his notebooks and began searching through them.

Dana woke up just past 6:00 and stretched, feeling the tight, sore muscles in her back and neck pull and pop. She lay in bed for a few minutes, thinking long, dull thoughts about going back to Townsend, back to Mulder's room, back to endless hours of staring at the monitors and searching the readout tapes. She felt a tiny quiet thought seep into her mind--I don't want to anymore--and sat up quickly, guilt and anger flooding her body as she threw on Mulder's old robe. She peeked into Will's room to make sure he was still sleeping soundly, then stomped into the kitchen and began making coffee. She was rummaging in the refrigerator for cream when she heard a sleep-roughened voice saying from the basement door, "What's for breakfast?"

Her heart jumped into her throat for a moment as she whirled around, then she heaved out a shaky breath as she recognized Alex.

"Don't sneak up on me like that," she snapped at him.

"Sorry," he said with a tired smile. He yawned as he came up the rest of the stairs and settled himself in a chair. "How come you're up so early?"

"How come you're still here?"

"I wanted to look over my notes last night and I was too tired to drive back to Bethesda, okay with you?"

She sat across from him and pushed a cup towards him. "I didn't mean to sound so snappy. I'm just wiped out." She took a sip of her coffee and sighed. "Thanks for driving me home last night."

"No problem," he said and drank some of his own coffee. He raised his eyebrow at her. "This is real coffee, Scully. From beans, not a can. What's up?"

"You spoiled grocery store coffee for me. I had too much of the good stuff when you brought it here over the summer."

"Good, another soul corrupted by the coffee demons. It's my mission in life to put Folger's and Maxwell House out of business."

"You really can be the most pretentious snob, Alex," she said after they shared a laugh.

They sat in companionable silence together for some minutes before she nodded at the notebook he'd brought upstairs with him. "What are you reading up on?"

He flipped through a few pages, then passed it to her. "I'm trying to figure out what's blocking the flow between you and Mulder. I was up till 3:00, working it out in my head. I can tell the energy is leaving you, you're so drained, but it's not getting to Mulder. Something's in the way and I'm hoping something in my notes will tell me what it is."

"Come to any conclusions yet?" she asked as she read through the pages he'd indicated.

"Not really. I keep thinking about what Anna said, about barriers between people. I'm trying to think what reason he would have to fight you on this."

"I don't think I'm following you. You're talking like Mulder is making a choice here, like he's involved in this somehow."

"Of course he's involved, Scully. He knows you're there, he's got to feel you trying to pour your energy into him. Why won't he take it?"

She frowned into her coffee as Alex stood up and began pacing the kitchen, his brows drawing together as he thought aloud. "Okay, what kinds of barriers are between people?"

Scully's forehead wrinkled in concentration. "Anger, hatred..."

"I don't see how those would apply, unless you guys were having problems you haven't mentioned."

"No, there was nothing like that. Unless maybe there was something he wasn't telling me about." The words were barely out of her mouth when the insight flashed through her mind, like the lightbulb over a cartoon character's head.

Alex looked at her frozen expression. "What is it?"

"It's you, Alex," she breathed. "You're blocking it."

His face froze as well, then he shook his head. "I doubt that, Scully. It would have to be something pretty big to interfere with the feelings between you two."

She snorted indelicately. "Not telling me he was bisexual and having a year-long affair with you, of all people, is pretty important, don't you think? You say he knows I'm here, pouring myself into him. Does he know you're here, too?"

"Yeah, he knows, but..." Alex stopped pacing, leaning against the counter as he listened to Scully's argument.

"But nothing, Alex. He knows you're involved with this, but he doesn't know I know about the two of you, right?"

"Right," he said cautiously.

"And if Mulder is still Mulder, he would feel guilty about not telling me about his sexual preferences and his past with you, right?"

"Of course he would."

"And guilt would make a great barrier between people, wouldn't you say?"

"I suppose," he admitted.

"So, that's probably the problem. We tell Mulder I know about you guys and that he doesn't need to feel guilty about it."

"And you think that'll make everything rosy in the garden, huh?" He shook his head again. "Dana, I agree that it's likely guilt that's got Mulder pulling away from you, but it's going to be about something momentous. The abduction or Melissa..."

"Alex, do you think Mulder and I never worked through all that? In all the time we were together?"

"I just don't think it's me. There could be something else, something neither of us knows about."

"If that's the case, then we're screwed, aren't we? Let's work with what we have, what we can do something about."

Alex sat down across from her and scanned her face, looking for something besides the tenacity there. He wiped his hands across his own face and said with a resigned sigh, "Fine. I know better than to argue with you by now. But you better hope to God this doesn't set us back or I'm going to kick your ass."

"Oh, yeah, I'm so scared," she sneered good-naturedly, then went back to her coffee while Alex lost himself in dark, worried thoughts.

They stood beside Mulder's bed, Scully clasping his hand, Alex standing just behind her, nervously watching the EEG monitor. She glanced over her shoulder at him and, at his hesitant nod, stroked Mulder's forehead as she began speaking softly.

"Sorry I didn't stay the night with you, love. I needed to go home and get a good night's sleep. Listen, Mulder, you know Alex is here with me. He's trying to help you. I'm trying, too, but you're fighting us. I want you to come back to me, love, I miss you so much and Will needs you so much. Please don't pull away from me. Let me help you. I've been telling you, since we put that ring on your finger, that I want you to come back." She kissed his hand gently and continued running her fingers across his unresponsive face.

"Mulder, I know. I know all about you and Alex, about what happened when you left at Christmas that year. You turned to Alex because I hurt you and I understand that. It's okay. You don't have to worry about it upsetting me. I love you, I never stopped loving you and nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you. I'm sorry you thought you couldn't tell me about...everything about yourself. So you like guys, too, do you, you kinky bugger?" she said with a shaky laugh. "Well, that's part of you and I love you. And if Alex was what you needed back then, that's okay. He told me, he told me all about Christmas Day that year, when you had a gun to your head. Alex stopped you, babe, and for that, I'd forgive him anything he's ever done. Alex can help you, sweetheart, he can help bring you back to me and Will. He wants to help us, Love, help us have our life back, but you have to let us in. Don't worry about me and Alex, we're okay. I know everything that happened between you two and it doesn't change a thing." She took a deep breath. "Nothing changes the fact that I love you, Mulder. Everything you are now and everything you were back then, I love it all, every last thing that makes you, you. Let me in, Baby, so you can come back to me." She kissed his hand again. It felt natural to climb into the bed beside him and curl herself smoothly around his wasted body. Alex walked out of the room without looking back at the entwined couple.

Scull's revelation seemed to prod Mulder along another inch or two. The brain activity increased in frequency over the next ten days until two or three peaks were registering every hour. The changes were still almost imperceptible, still weak and insignificant in the face of the damage they were trying to reverse. Then the faint signals stopped increasing, stalling out by Thanksgiving. Scully found herself almost dreading the moment when she climbed into Mulder's bed each day to begin the painful staring and hoping and waiting that went on hour after hour.

Alex and Maggie were practically living at her house while she spent every spare moment at Townsend. Maggie held her tongue as far as she was able until she came to the hospital a few days after Thanksgiving and found Dana, dull and waifish, asleep on her knees beside Mulder's bed. She'd tried to understand her daughter's manic need to find a way to help the man Maggie loved as much as her sons. She'd taken up slack with Will to free Dana's time for this bizarre experiment she and Alex were wrapped up in, but she couldn't stand to watch her daughter waste away anymore. She stood in the doorway, knowing the mute, cutting grief was eroding her only daughter and decided enough was enough.

"Dana, get up. I need to talk to you." Dana heard Maggie's voice dimly through her miserable, exhausted fog and turned to look at her mother. Maggie looked the same as she had years ago, when she was telling a defiant fifteen year old Dana that she was not going to stay out as late as Melissa. She got creakily up from the floor and cast a wary, questioning gaze at her mother.

"Come on, let's go to the lounge or the cafeteria. You need to be out of here for a bit."

"I'd really rather stay here, Mom. I need..."

"You need to eat, sleep and bathe, Dana. And that's just for starters. Come out of here. I don't want to talk in front of Fox."

Dana raised her eyebrow at her mother's words, but followed her out into the hallway. They sat down in the small lounge and Maggie took a deep breath before starting.

"Dana, do you remember what I said to you back in the Spring? Before you went to Russia and started working with Alex?"

"You said Mulder didn't need me anymore," the younger woman replied stonily.

"I said he didn't need you the way Will did. And that's still true, Dana. Whatever you and Alex are trying to do, it's killing you. How much weight have you lost since you started this project?"

"I don't know."

"I don't either, but it's more than you can afford. When was the last time you slept in a bed? Or in your own home, for that matter? When was the last time you put Will to bed, instead of Alex or I doing it?"

Dana winced, realizing she couldn't remember the last time she'd been the one to oversee tooth brushing and story reading. "I told you, Mom, we're getting closer. He's getting better a little bit at a time and it's taking far longer than we expected, but..."

"Dana, Fox isn't going to get better," Maggie said sharply. "Is that blunt enough for you? He isn't going to get better, whether you spend ten minutes a day with him or ten hours. You sitting next to him in that bed isn't going to change anything."

"It will, Mom. I can't explain it to you..."

"No, you can't. It's unhealthy, Dana. And it's so very bad for Will, to keep him thinking that anything will make a difference at this point. He needs to understand that his father is not coming back. And he won't understand that while you're glued to Fox's side every minute of the day and night."

"Alex and I have found a way to cure him, Mom. It's working, just very, very slowly. The amount of damage that was done and the length of time he's been unconscious is slowing the process down, but it is working. I know it is."

"How long are you willing to wait for that to happen, Dana? Another two years? Five? Ten? Until Will grows up the way Fox did, chasing a ghost and living in shadows?"

Dana recoiled at the words as if she'd been slapped. Her mother painted a horrifying picture of Will growing up in the haunted netherworld of bitter dreams and crushed hopes that had so defined his father. The image dashed through her soul like ice water. Was that what she was doing? Instead of healing Mulder, instead of bringing Will's father back to him, was she condemning her son to his father's fate?

Maggie read the tumult of emotion in Dana's face and took her daughter's hand, rubbing it gently and speaking softly.

"I know you don't want to quit, Dana, you never did. But sometimes, the strongest, wisest thing we can do is accept the truth, however painful or ugly it is. Letting go of a dream hurts, I know. But hanging on to a dream that keeps you from living your life is going to hurt more, sweetheart, because one day you're going to wake up and realize that you've let your life pass you by. And I don't want you to miss out on whatever might be ahead for you and Will. I know you love Fox, no one who sees you with him could ever doubt that you love him. But he's gone, Dana, even if his body isn't. Love him, mourn him and let him go. Please, sweetheart, don't give up your life and Will's precious, short childhood waiting for something that just isn't going to happen."

Dana crumpled sideways into her mother's lap, shaking and gulping with sobs she'd never learned to release. Maggie combed her fingers through the tangled coppery mass, murmuring soothing words while her daughter fought against her dreams.

Scully's battle raged for almost a month. The days and nights beside Mulder's body blended together into a ceaseless stretch of wasted time. There'd been no further change in Mulder, no differences in the blips that just went blithely along, never getting stronger or clearer, never meaning anything. As much as she tried to embed the old picture of Mulder in her arms, another picture was becoming clearer and clearer. Will in Mulder's shoes twenty years from now, arrested, frozen in time while he waited for his mother and hoped that his father, almost dead for years, would somehow come back to him.

Scully reached her own epiphany the gray Saturday morning before Christmas, waking up beside Mulder, his eyes open and dull and not seeing her, spit shining on his chin, his fingers tightened into the hooked posture she hated, and she broke. She loved him, but he was gone. It was that simple. She stood up, clasped his hand to her heart tightly and kissed his unresponsive lips.

"I love you, Fox Mulder, no matter what else happens in this stupid, crappy world, don't you ever forget that I love you."

She walked out of his room, leaving the half-widow behind and decided that she was going to go home and make pancakes for her son and then they would go Christmas shopping.

The same Saturday that Scully conceded victory to Fate, Alex ended his shift at 3:00 and, as usual, went straight to the fifth floor, ready to relieve Scully for a bit from her tedious vigil. He stopped short at the door to Mulder's room, surprised and vaguely concerned at seeing only the prone man in the bed. Her jacket and change of clothes were gone from the closet and her purse wasn't on the table by the door. He turned quickly to check the bathroom and saw that her toiletry bag was gone as well.

What the hell, he thought to himself, frowning deeply as he sat beside Mulder and mechanically picked up the other man's hand. He ran through the last few conversations he and Scully had had, looking for a reason for her absence. Maybe Will or Maggie had gotten sick? But she would have called him, right? Rather than break off the energy and leaving Mulder like this? She wouldn't just go, right? Alex felt his gut clench at the thought of Scully packing up her stuff and walking out the door without making sure that Mulder was taken care of. They never left him alone anymore. Alex would take over for odd half-hours while Scully took a break, but one or the other of them was always there, always trying to maintain the energy and the focus. So where the hell was she? He flipped open his cell phone and hit the speed dial for the house in Ten Hills, frowning when the answering machine came on.

"Scully, it's Alex. You need to let me know when you leave. It's a bad idea to break off completely, you know that. Call me and let me know when you'll be back. I'll be here." He ended the call, then immediately dialed Scully's cell number. At the atonal voice telling him the customer was unavailable, he slammed his own phone shut and threw it onto the Lazy Boy.

By Sunday afternoon, Alex was beyond concerned and verging on panic. He hadn't left Mulder's side, except for one quick trip to the cafeteria, since Saturday afternoon. He'd left five messages on Scully's home phone and had called the cell at least twice that number. He swallowed his pride on Sunday and tracked down Maggie Scully's phone number. He bit his lip in an effort to keep from yelling his frustration into the phone when Maggie's answering machine came on.

"Hi, Maggie, this is Alex Hale. I'm trying to get a hold of Dana, I need to talk to her about this project of ours. If you see or talk to her, tell her she needs to call me, pronto. I'll be at the hospital, in Mulder's room."

He hung up the phone and lay back on the bed beside Mulder. He took his hand, stroking the palm softly, prying the stiff fingers open and toying with the two gold bands.

Scully stood in the doorway of Mulder's room Sunday night, blocking Will's view of Alex sleeping beside Mulder, still clasping his hand. She made up an errand for Will at the nurse's station, then walked up to the bed and chucked Alex under his chin. He woke with a start and sat up, stiff and awkward. Scully assumed he'd spent the night in either the Lazy Boy or Mulder's bed and she pursed her lips at the thought of the upcoming scene she knew Alex was going to make. He didn't give her even a moment to collect her thoughts.

"Where the hell have you been?" he demanded, getting to his feet.

"With Will and my mom."

"You should have let me know you weren't going to be here," he said shortly. "I was getting worried."

"I know, I got your messages. All of them," she said with a gentle smile.

"Why didn't you let me know you were going out? He shouldn't be left like that. It'll set us back." Before Alex could go on, Will came back into the room with a glass of water for Dana.

"Hi, Mr. Hale."

"Hey, Will. What's up? You getting excited about Christmas?" He asked jerkily, trying to quickly shift gears from angry to friendly.

"Yeah, only two more days. We went Christmas shopping yesterday and I saw Santa at the store. Well, you know, it's not really Santa, it's a guy pretending, but he's the one who sends a letter to Santa to let him know what you want."

"What did you ask him for? Or is it a secret?"

"It's not a secret. I want a dog and a skateboard. And I want Dad to get better, but I don't think that's a Santa thing. It's probably a God thing."

Alex laughed but still felt a jolt of pain at Will's words. "Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to ask Santa, too."

"What do you want for Christmas, Mr. Hale?"

Alex looked surprised by the question. He answered slowly and honestly. "Nothing, really, Will. I'm lucky. I have just about everything I need."

"But what do you want?" the boy persisted.

Alex looked out the window and said, "I don't want anything anymore." He turned to face Will, picking him up and plopping in the Lazy-Boy with Mulder's son. "How about you, Will? What can I get you that you didn't ask Santa for? "

"Alex, you don't have to ..." Scully began, but Alex cut her off.

"I want to, Scully. Who else do I have to get presents for?" He gave her a sickly smile. "I'm trying to capture a little holiday magic here. Don't be a killjoy. Come on, Will. Give me some ideas."

Will leaned back against Alex, tired out from his long day and long-used to Alex's presence in his house and his life. "I think a new soccer ball would be cool. A real one, like they use in the pros. Or a computer game."

"Okay, I'll see what I can do. Did you have fun today?"

"No, I don't like shopping. Grandma and Mom kept looking at clothes and it was really boring."

"I bet it was. Next time your mom says she wants to go shopping, you call me and I'll rescue you from her, okay?"

Scully was sitting beside Mulder, stroking his head absently and listening to Alex and Will. Hearing Alex's last comment, she turned her head to him and stuck out her tongue. Will giggled, then yawned and nestled closer to Alex, who rocked the chair lightly and held the boy tentatively. The room grew quiet. Will was almost asleep while Alex kept a wary eye on Mulder and Scully. Dana finally collected herself, knowing she had to tell Alex tonight that their work was done.

"Will," she whispered. "Come on, we need to get home. It's past your bedtime."

Alex's head jerked up and he looked at her intently. She was going home, after being gone all weekend? What the hell was she thinking?

"I'll take him, Scully. You need to stay here."

"No, Alex. I'm going to take Will home and put him to bed and then I'll be back," she said firmly. "Come on, Will. Grandma's going to be worrying when she sees it's snowing."

With another yawn and a spontaneous clasp of his arms around Alex's neck, Will climbed down and went to his father's bedside. Alex stood up and turned away from Scully, looking out at the moonlit yard below.

"See you later, Daddy," the boy said in his cheerful voice and placed a quick kiss on Mulder's cheek. He waved to Alex and bid him good night and they left the room, leaving the man near the window alone, angry and apprehensive.

"What the fuck do you mean, you're finished?" Alex's angry hiss sounded loud in the quiet, late-night stillness of the fifth floor lounge.

Scully had returned to Townsend around 11:00 Sunday night, tired in her body and weary in her heart, knowing what kind of scene she would be in for. She had convinced Alex to leave Mulder's room, not wanting the man, even in his unconsciousness, to hear that she was giving up.

"I mean I'm not going to spend the next God knows how long staring at a monitor and measuring improvement in microns. It's been over two months and there's been nothing. The system damage is continuing and the brain activity never increased beyond the most minute increments. And even that's stopped. It's not working, for whatever reason. At this rate, he'll die of old age before he comes out of this."

"You can't give up on him, Dana. Just give it some more time."

"I don't want to give up Alex, but I think we have to. I don't have all the time in the world to give him. I have to save some for Will. This, all this waiting and worrying and hoping and nothing happening, it's all going to hurt Will and that's the last thing Mulder would want."

"It's not hurting Will to bring his father back to him."

"Alex, please believe me when I say this isn't what I want. But it's what I have to do. I have to take care of Will and I haven't been doing that lately..."

"I have. Will's fine, Scully. He'll be even better when Mulder is back."

"Will isn't your responsibility. He's mine. He's all I have left and I'm not screwing that up."

"Don't do this, Dana, please. Don't quit yet. We're getting there," Alex pleaded in the most pained voice Scully had yet heard from him.

"Alex," she began as gently as she could, "do you remember Mulder when you first met him? The basket case who wanted to find his sister? He was an emotional cripple, always one step on the skinny side of crazy. Because he let his need for Samantha consume him. He lost twenty-five years of his life to that need. I've already taken two years from Will while I focused on my need for Mulder to get well. I have to accept that that isn't going to happen. I won't let Will become Mulder, giving up his childhood and his youth to some fruitless pursuit." She reached out for Alex's hand, but he jerked away from her touch.

"Alex, we tried. I know you did everything you could and you'd do more if there was something else to do, but Mulder's gone, Alex. No matter what we do, we can't bring him back. We tried..."

Alex jumped up and paced the hall restlessly, reminding Scully of agitated, caged animals she'd seen in zoos. She'd never seen anyone's anger and sorrow so naked, almost like another skin and she felt one of the brief, fearful twinges that came on her whenever she got another peek at the cold, blood-stained Krycek. She'd known, ever since she'd forced herself to accept what Maggie had said to her, that telling Alex would be close to the hardest thing she'd ever done. She knew, even if Alex didn't, that part of the drive possessing him through this whole ordeal had been a frantic desire to see his Lisa one last time, to close that chapter of his misspent life and find a way to move on to the next. And taking that last bit of hope from him was wrenching her heart. She realized suddenly that there was a tie to Alex that had tightened so much that hurting him would hurt her, too.

Alex crossed the room and came back to where she sat, stunning her when he fell to his knees in front of her and grabbed her hands in his, tears pouring from his glassy, frightened eyes and his voice breaking passionately. The odd thought flickered through her mind--what must it be like to be able to pour yourself out, heart and soul, this way, to not worry about what you look like or who's going to think you're weak? Just then, she envied Alex his easy emotions, even as they tore through her heart.

"Jesus, Dana, I'm begging you. Don't leave him to die. Don't let him go away for good. God, Dana, you can't do this to him." He swallowed convulsively, then let the sobs tear out of his throat, sinking his head into her lap. "You can't let him die, you can't, please don't..."

She stroked the trembling shoulders and whispered soothing nonsense into his ear, but minutes passed and the crying and pleading went on, his body shaking, his lovely voice becoming more and more ragged.

"Shh, Alex, it's okay, it'll be okay," she said softly, the first clear words she'd spoken in almost ten minutes.

"NO!" he suddenly bellowed, jumping away from her and knocking her from her chair to the ground. "It's not okay! It's never going to be okay without him! God, I believed you, I believed you trusted me enough to bring him back and now you're quitting. You're going to turn your back on him again, aren't you? You did it before and left me to pick up the mess you made. Well, you know what? Fine. Go to hell, Dana, and leave him to me."

He bolted from the lounge and headed straight for Mulder's room. Scully, still shocked, sitting on the floor, heard the door down the hall close sharply. She wondered if she should follow him or if Alex was so angry he'd hurt her if she tried to talk to him. She shook her head, deciding that leaving Alex to work out his pain in solitude was still the best way of dealing with his dark side. She knew without question that Mulder would be safe with Alex, no matter how ugly his mood, so she determined she would wait for him in the lounge.

Alex stood looking out the window of the dimly lit room, breath still coming out shakily, his eyes swollen, his throat burning and his heart, that he'd thought was already broken, crumbling into even smaller fragments, as if Scully were dancing on the shards left behind when Mulder had gone back to her in the first place.

Damn you to hell, he thought blackly. I should have killed you when I had the chance.

Finally controlling his breathing, he turned from the window to lean one hip on Mulder's bed, the black scowl on his face melting quickly when Mulder gave one of his twitches, his hand spasming tightly shut for a brief moment, then resuming its painful clawed position.

"Shhh, Lisa, relax," Alex murmured as he picked up the rigid limb and began flexing and massaging the fingers and wrist, working the cramped joints as loose as he could. "Am I making you tense? I'm sending out bad vibes, huh? Don't worry, she's safe. If I didn't kill her then, I won't do it now, not when it won't make any damn difference anyway."

He sat down, swinging his legs up beside Mulder's, still working the fingers, picking up his other hand and massaging that one as well, watching the dim light reflect off the rings placed there.

"Lisa, I want this to work so badly. Why won't you let it? What else can I do?"

He lay back, closing his eyes, trying to find an argument that would convince Scully to keep working with him, trying to find something they'd missed that was causing the healing to fail, trying not to think of nights with his arms wrapped around this man. The tears began again and Alex turned so that his chin rested on the top of Mulder's head, a position he'd slept in almost every night for the best year of his life.

"Lisa," he whispered to himself, trying to soothe his stormy mind with the sound of his beloved's name. His memories poured in unbidden and unstoppable, and he cursed himself for a besotted fool for the thousandth time since he'd first admitted he had gone beyond an engulfing lust for Fox Mulder. Somehow he'd crossed over some subtle threshold into love, affection, respect, warmth-all highly dangerous things for assassins and skulkers to indulge in.

There was a time when Alex thought if he could just throw Mulder down and fuck him senseless, that would be the end of it, of sleepless nights and unsatisfying dalliances and unfamiliar and frightening bouts of distraction. But each exposure to Mulder's razor of a mind and strong, beleaguered soul led Alex further from the scorch of lust and closer to the warmth of love.

And after a three-hour long meeting in which Mulder agreed to work with him and admitted that Alex might not be evil incarnate and thought his erstwhile antagonist might actually have some redemptive value, Alex's soul sang for the first time in his adult life at the thought that Fox Mulder might someday like him.

And on the night he'd told Scully about, the night he'd asked Mulder, in between hard, hungry kisses and fervent strokes at burning groins, if he was going to regret what they were doing once the afterglow had worn off, Mulder had held Alex's chin and locked his changeful eyes with the deepened black-green of Alex's and said, "I want you, Aleksandr. God help me, you'll probably fuck me to death, but I want you so much my blood's burning with it."

Alex had needed a few moments to steady himself while he searched out a tube of KY, almost unable to bear the thought that Mulder would give this to him. He stared into the bathroom mirror, hoping to God he didn't ruin this, then laughed and splashed cold water on his face when he heard Mulder's voice, coming from Alex's bed, asking if he needed help finding his dick.

Alex rolled to his back in the narrow hospital bed, keeping his arms around Mulder and letting the memory of that night wash over him.

They had quickly satisfied each other and afterwards Mulder lay on his back with his eyes almost closed, one hand resting behind his mussed head and one lying across his damp chest. One of his long legs was wrapped comfortably around one of Alex's and Alex lay on his side, head propped on his hand, the other one playing with the fingers splayed across Mulder's chest. There was a comfortable silence between the two men for some minutes until Mulder turned his head and opened his eyes to meet the strong green gaze of his new lover.

"You're staring, Krycek. That's not very polite."

"I'm trying to ingrain this picture of you in my head. Naked and sweaty in my bed...it's unspeakably beautiful."

Mulder's face reddened and he turned his face away with a self-conscious laugh. Alex laughed softly in turn, then tweaked one soft brown nipple and, hearing the slight intake of breath and seeing Mulder's stomach muscles clench, lowered his mouth to the peak and gently licked it. Mulder pulled the dark-haired head up abruptly, looking down at the green eyes and shook his head.

"I want to ask you something before you do anything else unspeakable to me tonight."

"Umm... you were the best ever?" Alex said with a smirk

"Asshole," Mulder laughed. "Seriously, I know this is probably none of my damned business, but who's Lisa?"


"You said, well, you yelled it, really, if you want to get picky...you said 'Lisa' a couple times when things were heating up. And you really let it fly about two seconds before you blew your load. I'm trying not to be insulted."

Alex burst into laughter, turning onto his back and pulling Mulder's hand so that the other man lay facing him. "I babble a lot when I fuck. Not always in English."


"Well, I'm old-fashioned about some things and I flatly refuse to call anyone by his last name while my cock's in his ass, so I call you 'Lisa' to myself. It means 'fox' in Russian."

"Is this some kind of gay pride thing? Call me by a woman's name, reclaim your masculinity?"

"What makes you think I'm gay?"

Mulder tipped back his head to eye Alex dubiously and waved his hand between their naked chests. "Kind of a dead giveaway, don't you think?"

"Are you gay?" Alex asked with an upturned eyebrow.

"I am right now. It comes and goes."

"You make it sound like psoriasis. The PC term for people with our proclivities is bisexual. Say it with me now, boys and girls..."

Mulder slapped the broad chest in front of him and they laughed together. "So, Lisa, huh? That's...acceptable. You have my permission, in the privacy of our home, to call me that. Don't ever do it in public or I'll kill you."

"Okay, I'll stick with 'Fox' when we're out and about."

"I'll kill you, then, too."

"How about 'Hey, you'?"

"That'll do." Mulder sighed contentedly, then reached out to smooth Alex's messy hair while he picked up their previous conversation. "So, Russian when you fuck, huh? And what does 'gospodi' mean?"

Alex chuffed out another quick laugh. "That means 'God'. More along the lines of 'Oh, god, fuck me now, you sweet hunk of man.' Not like, 'God's going to send me straight to hell when I die.'"

"So, 'Gospodi, Lisa', that's just your basic grunt and moan type talk, huh?"

It was Alex's turn to blush. He'd conditioned himself during the course of his misbegotten career to keep himself back during sex, just so that his tendency to vocalize wouldn't get him killed. He hadn't realized how much his finally unrestrained mouth had spilled during the night's action and found himself hoping nothing horribly embarrassing had slipped out.

"Yeah," he finally answered Mulder. "I can grunt and moan in about six different languages."

"Gee, I'm impressed. I've only picked up one so far."

"French, German or Spanish?"

"You'll love this...Latin."

"Latin? God, you are the most bizarre person. What the hell good did Latin ever do you?"

"Latin is dead useful. Lots of cognates, the grammar rules teach you to think logically and you can curse the hell out of people and it sounds erudite and scholarly."

"Let's hear some."

"Umm...e pluribus unum."

Alex laughed until he nearly fell out of bed, Fox's hand around his wrist the only thing that kept him from tumbling to the floor.

"Okay, how about...aurea mediocritas, est modus in rebus."

"It sounds sexy as hell. What does it mean?"

"Loosely translated, it means 'all things in moderation.' It was my high school Latin teacher's motto."

"Oh, come on. That's boring."

"Well, what were you expecting?"

"Curse words. Dirty words."

"Odi profanum vulgus et arceo."

Alex waited for the punch line and Mulder smirked. "'I hate and shun the profane crowd.'"

"Come on. Teach me something good."

"I'm not teaching you Latin curse words."

"Lisa, moy mal'chik, tell me something dirty."

"What did you just call me?" Fox asked suspiciously.

"Nothing bad. It means little boy. But I'll tell you something dirty in Russian. Fair trade?"

"This is perverse. Latin is a rich and beautiful language and you want to degrade it, saeve puer. Es Barbarus."


Fox rolled his eyes. "I should make you figure it out yourself. 'Brutish boy, you are a barbarian.'"

Alex felt a jolt deep in his stomach and an echoing twitch in his cock. It was Latin, a Latin insult and it was making him hard. Again.

"Sweet talker," he said huskily.

"Sceleratus... lutulente..." Mulder drew the unfamiliar words out in a seductive, low drawl.

Alex closed his eyes and let the warmth in his crotch wash over him. He reached for Mulder's shoulder and pulled him down into a quick, fierce kiss.

"I don't even want to know what kind of names you just called me, but it's turning me on like you wouldn't believe," he growled when they pulled apart. He pressed his rejuvenated erection against Mulder's hip and started rocking gently.

"You like being called scoundrel and dirt bag in Latin, then?"

"Love it."

"Merus stupor...verbero..."

"Oh, baby, do it to me..." Alex laughed.

"Bellus homo..."

"Hey now, that's getting personal."

It was Mulder's turn to laugh, then he leaned closer and said, "It means 'pretty boy,' you paranoid freak. Pretty boy, like you...livide furia."


"Green-eyed fiend."

Alex's stomach gave another hectic jump at the husky whisper against his ear. He groaned and moved against Mulder harshly, feeling an answering stir in the other man's cock. The movement between the two men quickened and Mulder's voice was deep and rough as he said, "Let's hear it, pervert. It's your turn."

"Mmm, huyesoska...zloy yobar'..."


"Cocksucker...nasty fucker..." Alex punctuated each word with a grinding thrust, then took both cocks in his hand and encouraged Mulder's growing erection.

"Your turn, Lisa."

"I think you should go again."

"Really? Why is that?"

"I have a feeling you know more interesting words than I do."

"You think? Words like...plutovka...suka..."


"Slut...bitch...God, Lisa, do that again," Alex rasped out as Mulder's teeth worried his neck and shoulder. "Tselui, Lisa." A pause, then, "Kiss me, Lisa."

Mulder moved his mouth up to Alex's, hungrily sucking and biting at his tongue and lips while Alex groaned beneath him. "Ya tebya hochu, Lisa," he hissed between Mulder's frantic possessions of his mouth. "I want you."

Mulder pulled his head up and looked into the darkening green eyes. Alex ran his hands across Mulder's strained nipples, then reached lower to wrap his fingers around the other man's thickened cock, gauging his readiness for another round.

"Lozhis', Lisa, i razozhmi nogi." He wriggled out from under Mulder and turned, pushing the other man's shoulders down.

"Do I need to know what you just said?" Mulder asked breathlessly.

"You might want to pick up a few handy phrases. Like, lie down... 'lozhis'' and spread your legs... 'razozhmi nogi.'"

"How do you say hurry up and fuck me?"

Alex dropped his head at the jolt of excited pleasure warping through his body, still almost unbelieving that this was Lisa, his long-desired Lisa, writhing beneath him and asking him to fuck him. Alex moved down Mulder's body, greedily licking and sucking any bit of skin he could pull into his mouth.

"Bystraye i yeblia." The words were muddled from being muttered around Mulder's cock and soon any other words fell into gibberish as Alex pulled all of the man's throbbing dick into his throat. He sucked heavily for only a minute before he felt hands pulling at his hair.

"Christ, Alex, come on ..."

With a last, regretful suck, Alex moved back up to Mulder's mouth, then reached over the side of the bed for the bottle he'd brought out of the bathroom earlier. Mulder rolled onto his stomach while Alex lubed his stiff and aching cock and began working his cool gel-slick fingers between the smoothly muscled flesh of Mulder's ass, finding him still soft and receptive from their first hasty coupling.

"Krasiviye zhopa, Lisa..." he whispered reverently and began pressing into the opening that bloomed and widened beneath the force and made his Lisa twist and cry out. "You okay?"

"Unh, god, yes, good..." Mulder rose to his knees, rocking back against Alex to absorb the blood-ripened organ into his muscled passage, wrapping his arms around the other man's neck and groaning along with him at the fullness and heat. "What ...did you just ...god, Alex... what did you say?" he asked, grunting at Alex's first slow thrusts.

"Fuck, I don't know..."

"Zopa something..."

"Mmm, beautiful...ass... oh, god, Lisa, keep moving like that...Christ, so good, Lisa...Lisa...shit, you better hang on..." Those were the last words in English Alex let out for the wondrous timeless minutes he pounded into Mulder, stroking one hand fiercely along the other man's steely flesh and caressing the broad chest with his other, pulling and palming at hard, eager nipples, until he heard throaty moans, rising in volume and liberally sprinkled with coarse pleas, until Mulder came, semen jetting out onto the bed and his clenching muscles pulling Alex's cock deeper into the hot channel, squeezing him until it almost hurt, until Alex, burying his teeth in the straining cords of Mulder's neck, felt himself spasm and jerk, pouring himself into the other man's still shaking body.

Alex's cries trailed off into a soft, moaning sigh as Mulder fell onto his hands and knees, then dropped to his stomach, and Alex sank with him, still sheathed in his heated ass, mouth still working at the back of the sweat-slick neck.

They lay like that, spent and panting, until Alex rolled over onto his side, threading his fingers lightly through Mulder's damp hair. Mulder still lay on his stomach, but turned his head to face Alex. They lay regarding each other for a few silent moments until Alex got up, left the room and came back with two damp washcloths. He dropped one gracelessly on Mulder's back and began wiping himself off with the other. Mulder pulled the cloth off his back and turned over, wiping up the sticky residue from his belly and from the bed. He hooked the cloth through the air into a half-full laundry basket next to the door and Alex applauded his shot as he climbed back into the bed.. Mulder smiled at the peaceful look on Alex's face that he knew wasn't there often and was only there now because of him. Alex smiled back, then ground out a yawn that Mulder quickly echoed. The room grew restful and silent as the two men curled around each other, sleep claiming them at almost the same time.

"So good with you always, Lisa," Alex whispered sleepily against Mulder's ear, arms still wrapped around the frail body. He roused himself reluctantly, clutching Mulder to him tightly for a few quiet minutes, then kissed the short-cropped head and ran his fingers across the slack face and wet lips.

"You remember the game we used to play? Latin and Russian. You were the only person I ever laughed in bed with. God, I loved laughing with you." Alex stood up slowly, leaned over Mulder and kissed his mouth, then turned out the bedside lamp and walked out of the darkened room.

He expected Scully to waylay him the moment he stepped out of Mulder's room and so was vaguely comforted when he passed into the hall unmolested. He had no choice but to walk past the lounge--he had to hit the locker room to get his wallet and keys--but he prepared to fend off the little dream-killer before she could work against him anymore.

As he approached the lounge, he saw her curled awkwardly asleep on one of the sofas, hair wild, face pale and strained even asleep, clothes rumpled and uncomfortable looking. He stood over her sleeping figure and regarded her coldly as long minutes passed, seeing the traitorous author of his greatest loss instead of the woman who, beyond any reasonable explanation, had become his best friend and comfort.

You did this to me, he thought, you took him away before and you're taking him away now. And you'll have Will, you'll always have a part of him, and I've got nothing.

He didn't even try to choke back the seething rage that flooded him. Months of checking the anger, months of refusing to let the jealous heat take over him and he still lost. His black thoughts swirled in his sorrow-clouded mind, the helpless fear that Lisa was gone forever taking the shape of an almost-forgotten burn to rip and tear something apart. A small tic began jumping in his sharply clenched jaw and he fisted his hands at his sides. He tried to fight back the urge to wrap his strong fingers around Dana's fragile exposed throat and stop her daintily throbbing pulse. A cold wave swept across the back of his neck as he realized his hands were coming up from his sides and curling towards her anyway, and he stepped back from the sofa with a low snarl. She sat up instantly at the sound and he turned quickly away, walking toward the stairwell door.

"Alex?" she asked in a sleepy voice. "Are you okay?"

He stopped but didn't turn to face her. "Do you know how easy it would be for me to kill you? I could do it, clean and barehanded, in five seconds and be out of here in less than fifteen."

"Is that what you want to do, Alex? Kill me?" she asked quietly.

He didn't answer for a long time and then, finally turning to lock stormy forest-green eyes with calm blue, said, "I promised him I would never hurt you." He turned back and walked through the doorway and was gone.

Christmas Eve came and then Christmas morning. Scully spent both days with Maggie and Charlie and his family, trying not to worry about Alex and fighting the urge to call and check on him. She'd stayed the night at the hospital after he left, sitting beside Mulder again and wondering if she'd really seen the look of hatred and rage in Alex's normally warm eyes. Of course he was upset, so was she, this wasn't supposed to be how it ended. But they would fix their friendship somehow, god knows they'd managed before. That friendship, hammered out over the past long, trying months, had come to mean a great deal to Scully. Alex understood things about Mulder that no one who wasn't intimately mixed up with the man could comprehend, what mingled pain and pleasure loving Mulder was. The man, in his endless array of moods, could be a thing of soaring joy one minute and a cause of hopeless anger the next. Scully could talk to Alex freely about Mulder, satisfying a need she hadn't realized was there until Alex filled it. She couldn't lose that, not now when she was going to lose Mulder for good.

She pushed impatiently away from the dining room table at Maggie's house and went to sit out on the front porch swing in the cool late afternoon air, watching the pale sun, starting to set already at just past 5:00, and tucking her hands into soft leather gloves. Maggie and Yvonne, Charlie's wife, had both commented on her preoccupied air during the course of the long day. She had pacified Yvonne with vague references to work and getting ready for the new semester, but to Maggie, she admitted that she'd taken her mother's words to heart and was trying to let go.

She was rocking back and forth with a distant look on her wan face when Charlie came out and sat beside her. They rocked in comfortable silence until she pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and started rooting around for her lighter. At Charlie's upturned eyebrow--so incongruous on a male face--she shrugged sheepishly. He took the lighter from her cool hand and lit the cigarette for her, then pulled one out of the pack and lit it for himself.

"Don't tell Yvonne."

"I won't if you don't tell Mom," she replied.

They smoked in the same easy silence until Charlie said, "Yvonne wanted to know if Will could come back with us for the week. We're going to Canaan Valley for a couple days, to teach Danny and Colleen to ski. They'd love to have Will along."

Scully turned her face to her brother, loving him for the gentle concern she saw on the face so like her father's.

"And it would be nice for you to have a few days to yourself, huh? Mom says you've had a rough couple of weeks with Fox."

"She did?"

"Yeah, that you thought maybe he was making some progress, but it didn't happen...something like that."

"Well, something like that. Yeah, it's been a rough couple of weeks."

"Couple of years is more like it, huh, DK?" he asked sympathetically but without errant pity.

She nodded silently, turning away so he wouldn't see the tears that filled her eyes. He touched her hand, then pulled her chin around so she faced him again.

"Day, we all think you're a rock, but everybody's got their limits and I think you're about there, aren't you?" Charlie pulled her into an embrace, encircling her with his strong carpenter's arms and stroking the shining hair. "You can cry in front of me, you know, Dana. I won't tell anyone, I promise. But you've got to let it go sometime. I worry about you, about all the shit you're carrying around that never gets unloaded. Gonna get pretty heavy someday, you know. I'd hate to see you get crushed under it all."

"That's a great image you're putting in my head there, Charlie Boyo. I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine."

"I hate it when you say that."

She gave a tired laugh. "I hate saying it sometimes. It's like a reflex, it just comes out."

"Why is that? Of all of us, why did you turn out so...cool and collected?"

"I don't know. Sometimes I wish I weren't. I want to scream and cry about Mulder, but it just doesn't..." She shrugged. "Never mind. I'm okay. I'm just really, really tired and if you and Yvonne want to take my little monster with you to spend all week cold and falling down, you have my blessing and my thanks."

"It's a good thing you never went into sales, DK. You'd suck." He paused for a moment, looking first uncomfortable, then decided. "I want to ask you something else, but I think you might get pissed at me. So just save it till I'm done, okay?"

Dana quirked an eyebrow in her turn as she hit her cigarette, then nodded.

"I'm only asking you this because I love you dearly and want your happiness more than anything in the world. And I promised Yvonne I'd do it." He breathed out his nose heavily, then plunged ahead. "Do you think maybe you're ready to meet somebody...well, somebody new?"

"I'm not sure I'm following you," she said, smiling at his obviousdiscomfort.

"Somebody like a guy, somebody to go out with."

"You mean like on a date?" she asked with lively amusement.

"Yeah, on a date. I don't know how you'd feel about it, but, well, we think you need to see more of the world than Townsend. Live a little."

"I see. Does Mom know you're asking me this?"

"Not really. But she said you've got a friend, a guy that used to work with Mulder. Is he...anything special? You know what I mean, right?"

Dana laughed in a teary sort of way, then shook her head adamantly. "If you mean Alex, yes, he's a friend, but no, he's nothing special."

"Well, it might not be a bad idea to find someone special, huh? I know how you felt about Mulder, sis, it was plain to all of us years ago. But...well, it's been almost two years and...I don't think it'd be a bad thing to get out there, maybe find someone to give you a little of what you had with Mulder."

"That's never going to happen, Charlie. Mulder was unique."

"I know. And if I lost Yvonne, the very idea of someone else would make me sick. But I know Yvonne wouldn't want me to spend the rest of my life sitting around missing her. She'd come back and kick my ass with her halo and harp if I did that." He pulled her even closer and plopped a noisy kiss on Dana's bright hair. "I think you're a wonderful, exciting, fun person and you should have someone doting on you and treating you like a princess. And I'm willing to go prince-hunting for you, if that's something you want."

"Charlie, how come Bill can't be like you?" She returned his kiss and scruffed his beard, a new addition since she'd last seen him and she'd been teasing him mercilessly about it all day. "You're such a good guy. I'll think about what you said, but it's still a little soon. Maybe in a few months, when school's out. I was thinking the other day about taking a trip after Winter term..."

"I hear Daytona Beach is pretty hopping during spring break."

"Very funny. Although I would go somewhere warm."

"Not Russia this time?"

She laughed again. "Definitely not."

They stood up together and, arms entwined, went back into the warm house. The three grandchildren were playing a board game with Maggie and Yvonne and Charlie demanded to join in. Dana sat on the couch near the fireplace, watching Will's animated face, bright with pleasure in the company of his family. She smiled peacefully and turned to face the weaving flames, letting her thoughts drift back to Alex and to what he might be doing today. She decided, impulsively, that if Will would be going home with Charlie's family, she could head out to Townsend tonight and, if her nerve held up, she would stop at Alex's house and check on him.

She got to Townsend by 9:00 that night. Most family members had stopped by earlier in the day and the halls were unusually silent as she sat in Mulder's room, telling him about the gifts Will had received and how excited he was to be going to Uncle Charlie's.

"So don't worry when you don't see him. Charlie and Yvonne are taking all three kids to Canaan Valley to ski. They're at the perfect age for it. Everyone sends you a Merry Christmas. Colleen remembers you still, as young as she was last time she saw you."

Dana laughed at a sudden memory of her niece, two years old and just starting to speak, calling Mulder 'Fucks' quite clearly at a formal Thanksgiving dinner. Of the boisterous laughter that had rippled across the table after a moment's stunned silence, at Bill's red-faced, blustery outrage and Maggie, tears of mirth streaming from her blue eyes, telling Bill to lighten up.

"Do you remember Colleen calling you that, Babe? God, we laughed so hard. I loved that, that you could laugh with my family. That they made you one of us." She picked up his hand and kissed it, then stood up. "Well, if I'm going to check on our wayward companion, I'd better go." She kissed his cheek softly, then stroked it with her fingertip. "I'll be back tomorrow or Thursday. I'm going to make sure Alex isn't tossing back whiskey like it's lemonade."

His hand clenched on the bedcovers and Dana smiled wistfully at the thought that a week ago that motion would have sent her running for the EEG readout tape and ordering up another MRI. She shook her head and lay his stiff hand across his chest, then left the room.

The house was dark as she pulled up to the curb. She checked her watch - 9:40. Not too late, she decided and shut off the engine and climbed out of the car. She walked briskly up the front walk and rang the doorbell, hearing the chime echo through the small house. She could see dim lights through the front door, but couldn't hear movement inside and she wondered if maybe Alex was sleeping. As she debated ringing the bell again, she saw his shadowed figure cross the hallway and she knocked sharply on the door to catch his attention. The porch light snapped on and he stood at the door for several long moments, not opening it or speaking to her, until she was tempted to turn around and leave. He opened the door at last, however, and leaned against the jamb, his coldly piercing stare unnerving her a bit. He didn't open the screen door, just stood with his bloodshot eyes on her, his unshaven face and lank hair giving witness, along with the smell of stale cigarettes and a body steeped in whiskey, to his mood.

"Can I come in?" she finally asked, willing her voice to remain steady.

He still said nothing, just continued with the icy, appraising stare until, with his most condescending bow and smirk, he stepped aside to allow her to enter. As he straightened up, her eye was instantly drawn to the band of dried blood crusting the bottom hem of his white shirt where it met the waistband of his sweats. She stopped cold and turned to face him squarely.

"Alex, there's blood on your shirt. What happened?" She waited to see if he would meet her eye and, when he did, reached for his shirt, only to have her hand slapped away hard enough to sting.

"Nothing," he snapped and walked around her, heading back to the kitchen.

"Nothing?" she said incredulously as she followed in the wake of the whiskey smell wafting behind him.

"Go home, Scully. Go make sure Will's not wasting his precious childhood hoping Santa's gonna bring his daddy home."

"Alex, are you all right? Are you hurt?"

He laughed, not with anything resembling real mirth, but with a bitter harshness tearing from his throat. "That's a pretty stupid question, don't you think, Scully?"


"Go home. I don't want you here."

He walked through the kitchen into the family room and Dana still followed, watching as he threw himself down on the couch and picked up a half-full glass of whiskey from the coffee table. She settled herself gingerly on the table and watched with concerned eyes as he drained the glass, then exchanged it for a cigarette and lighter. He leaned back, closing his eyes and Scully wasn't sure if he was actively ignoring her or really wasn't aware that she was still there. When he lay his arm above his head and his t-shirt rode up, exposing his stomach and the jagged gash that marred the muscled surface, she didn't bother to stifle her surprised gasp at the sight of the ugly wound. He turned an irritated face to her, but, seeing where her eye was held, hastily pulled his shirt down to cover the lacerated flesh.

"Jesus, Alex, what the hell did you do?" she asked.

"Leave me alone." He sat up and scratched at his roughly whiskered face, then got up and walked over to the fireplace. He tossed his cigarette on top of the pile of kindling and papers that lay in the grate, then knelt down to blow the tinder into flame. He watched them grow, fixing his moody eyes on the brightness until he felt her come to stand behind him.

"Alex," she said softly, "let me look at that cut. I'm your friend and I'm worried about you..."

He turned angrily to face her. "My friend? You're out of your fucking mind. Friends like you I don't need."

"Fine, then as a doctor, can I please make sure you're not going to die from a staph infection?"

"Like I care anymore. Listen, go home, you don't want to be anywhere near me right now, I can promise you that."

"Why? You gonna try to kill me?" she asked with a sneering challenge.

His hand went to her throat almost automatically and he squeezed enough to make sure he had her full attention.

"Dana, if you stay here ugly and unpleasant things might begin to happen to you." His voice was glacial, the once-gentle eyes glittering like icy obsidian and the person in front of her was Krycek, not her friend.

"Go ahead. Like I care anymore, either." She met his frigid gaze with an eerie stillness to her features. He shook her loose, then turned back to face the fire.

"Why are you still here? Aren't you afraid of me?"

She stepped closer to him and put her hands on his rigid shoulders. Her voice, when she spoke, was full of the warmth she carried for Alex and not the hatred she sometimes still felt for Krycek.

"I'm not afraid of much anymore, Alex. And if you promised your Lisa you wouldn't hurt me, than I'm safe from you for the rest of my life." She pulled on the stiff shoulders until he reluctantly turned to face her again and met the brittle eyes squarely. "Aren't I? You couldn't break a promise to him anymore than I could."

He shook his head once and stepped around her to return to his position on the couch. He refilled his glass and began to recline, but jostled the glass enough to slosh the liquor onto his belly, the alcohol soaking through his shirt and burning into the torn flesh.

"Goddamit!" he bellowed, hurling the glass across the room and kicking the table away from him, then jumping up from the couch and stomping into the kitchen.

Dana picked up the bottle before it could empty itself on the floor, then grabbed hers and Alex's cigarettes before following him into the other room. He was in the bathroom off the breezeway, shirt stripped off, holding a wet towel against the nasty looking wound. She watched him wince at the friction of the cloth against the inflamed skin and said with a sardonic smile, "Well, that should keep it from getting too badly infected."

He looked at her in disbelief. Nobody had ever baited him like this and lived to tell about it. "God, you are one cold bitch."

"So I hear. Are you going to let me look at that now?" She set the things she was carrying on the table and joined him in the tiny bathroom, pulling the towel away, noticing the blood that had seeped onto it. "When did this happen?"

"I'm not really sure. Sometime between Sunday and today. ...Is it still Monday?"

"Nope. Tuesday. You been drinking all day?"

He snorted out a laugh as she bent to look more closely at his injury. "I've been drinking for two days. Tuesday, two days, whatever." He trailed off with another drunken laugh and she looked up at him quizzically before returning to her assessment of the mess around his navel.

"You got a first aid kit around here somewhere?" she asked as she straightened up and began washing her hands.

"In the other bathroom, under the sink. What are you going to do, bleed me?"

"Not this time. It's not as deep as I thought it was. A good clean up and Neosporin should take care of it."

She led him gently to the kitchen and pushed him into a chair before turning to a cabinet to pull down fresh glasses. When she turned back he was resting his head on his crossed arms and staring glumly at nothing. She set the glasses down and poured him another drink, then left the kitchen. He listened to the sounds of rummaging in the bathroom and then the linen closet, listlessly sliding the glass back and forth in front of his bleary eyes. He heard her come back into the room but couldn't dredge up the energy to look up as she stood before him.

"Come on, I need you over here," she said as she tugged on his knee to turn him away from the table. "You need to stand up, too. I can't get at it if you're sitting."

He shoved away from the table and stood up without saying anything. Picking up the full glass, he drained most of it as she began dabbing at the mangled skin with a soapy washcloth. She blew her hair out of her eyes impatiently before looking up at him.

"Can you move your pants out of the way? I can't get at all of it with them there."

"Are you asking me to drop my drawers, Scully?" he asked with another smirk.

"Just move them down a few inches, okay?" she snapped back with a flushed face.

He gave a short laugh as he shoved the band of his sweats and shorts down until they hung low enough on his hips to expose his belly. She bit her lip as she realized the full extent of the wound, examining the reddened, inflamed skin and deciding to call in a penicillin script first thing in the morning. She finished cleaning the area with the soapy cloth, then pulled a tube of antibiotic cream from the box and began working it into the ripped flesh. The kitchen grew silent as she worked carefully, trying not to reopen the wound and trying to minimize his discomfort, although, she thought in some disgust, it'd be amazing if he felt anything she was doing anyway.

After a few quiet minutes, she said distractedly, without looking up from her work. "Whatever the hell you did, you did it well."

She finally began pulling the wound closed with butterfly bandages, but frowned when the muscles surrounding the gash moved jerkily. She looked up at him and saw his face contorted as he struggled to hold in laughter.

"What the hell are you laughing at?" she asked huffily. "And stop moving, you'll undo the bandages."

She turned back to his stomach, moving her head closer to give a final once-over to her work. At that, he stopped trying to hold back the peals of laughter and they echoed in the kitchen as he gave full vent to his amusement. She sat back on her heels and gave him a stony glare until he calmed somewhat.

"What was that all about?"

"That's just not an angle I ever thought I'd see you from," he sputtered out through his last giggles.

She looked up at him in confusion until it dawned on her that she was on her knees in front of him, her eyes level with his belly, so that made her mouth level with his...

She smacked his thigh in embarrassed irritation, then stood up hastily. Alex roared with laughter again at her blush, then flung himself back into his chair and filled both glasses with the rescued whiskey, pushing one to the empty seat across from him in silent invitation. She sat down huffily and picked up the glass, taking a healthy swallow and resting her feet on the last vacant chair. After a few silent minutes, she set her now-empty glass down and settled a patiently inquisitive gaze on him.

"What?" he finally asked.

"You gonna tell me what happened?"


"Come on, Alex. I'm really worried about you," she said earnestly and gently. "It looks...Alex, did you cut yourself? On purpose?"

He drained off the last of his whiskey and refilled both their glasses before shrugging and answering with a crooked smile. "Not with a knife or anything really sharp."

She sucked in a shocked breath and tried to keep her voice even. "Is this something you do a lot, Alex? Hurt yourself deliberately?"

"Put the brakes on the mental health assessment, Scully. I wasn't trying to rip half my stomach off."

"Then tell me what happened," she said before taking another drink. "And no bullshit, Alex. I'm really worried about you."

"Don't be. I'm not."

At her sorrowful expression, he smirked a bit, then relented. "Fine. I had a ring on and I got pissed off and ripped it out. And some of my navel came out with it. Happy now?" he ended with another smirk and a lifted eyebrow.

"A navel ring? Is that the truth?"

"Yes, it's the truth. You think I care enough to spend time making shit up?"

"Go get the ring and let me look at it."

"What for?"

"If it was cheap metal, if it had copper or tin in it, you're going to be in great shape for tetanus. When was your last shot, anyway?"

"When I got busted last time. You go to jail, you get a tetanus shot. It's very creepy, like they expect you to get cut up in prison." Alex's voice was slurring more and more and Scully decided it was probably for the best if he couldn't feel the freshly irritated wound.

"Okay, you probably don't need a booster, then. But I'm going to get you some antibiotics tomorrow and you better take them or that's going to be hellishly painful. It's also going to scar if you don't keep the Neosporin on it."

"Yes, Doctor," he snipped around his glass before emptying it again and leaving the kitchen. She couldn't keep track anymore of how many glasses he'd poured down since her arrival and she marveled at his alcohol tolerance while she waited for him to come back. He was gone longer than she expected and she was beginning to worry when she realized she'd been unconsciously hearing the shower running. She finished her drink and had just started on another when he came back into the kitchen.

"Here," he said brusquely, tossing a bit of twisted silver metal in front of her and resuming both his seat and his glass. He shrugged into a fresh shirt and smoothed down his wet hair while she examined the ring.

"Nice piece. Did you make it?" she asked as she peered inside to see if there were markings to tell the purity, but found instead a familiar Cyrillic word. She raised her eyes to meet Alex's. "This was Mulder's ring?"

"It was one of them. I gave it to him for his birthday."

She looked at the piece, a flutter rising in her stomach as she pictured Alex fixing the shiny gift to Mulder's chest. She set the ring down abruptly and shook herself almost imperceptibly.

"If it was his, you shouldn't have been wearing it. You're lucky you didn't get infected before," she admonished him clinically, then picked up her glass and tossed down the remaining whiskey.

Alex looked at her in surprise that he quickly masked by draining his own.

"I think," Dana said matter-of-factly, "that you and I should get rip-roaring drunk tonight." She filled both their glasses again before saluting him and drinking half of the whiskey down. "This crappy world is getting the better of both of us and I'm tired of it."

"I'm already drunk. But feel free to join me. I'd get a kick out of it and I could use another laugh." He watched her empty her glass and shiver as the liquor burned a path to her stomach. "You know, if you knock it back like that without being used to it, you're going to puke it right back up. And I'm not gonna clean it up."

"No, I won't. I have great Irish genes. I've never puked from booze in my life."

He snorted a laugh into his own glass. "That figures."

"Why does it figure?"

"Because it would mean you'd lost control and you would never do that, oh my, my, no, no, no."

"Was that a snide remark, then?"

"Of course it was."

"You know, Alex, this is hurting me, too."

"Yeah, I can tell by the way you're crying in your beer."

"Just because I'm not screaming and beating my breast doesn't mean I'm not feeling."

"But you are giving up."

"I'm conceding defeat. There's a difference."

"Bullshit. Quitting is quitting."

He got up from the table abruptly, grabbing the bottle and their forgotten cigarettes and headed back to the family room. She followed slowly, finding him sitting cross-legged in front of the fire, and sat down near him with her arms hugging her knees. She kept her eyes on the fire and started speaking in a soft, wistful voice.

"I wish sometimes I could be like you, Alex. So passionate and fiery. I can't, I've never known how to let loose like that. I want to be able to scream and cry and do the whole raging King Lear thing. What I have in my heart for Mulder deserves that."

She turned her head from the flames to look at Alex, whose solemn eyes were fixed on her.

"The other day, when you cried so hard, and then later, when I woke up and you were standing there, so full of hatred and anger, I wondered if maybe you love him more than I do. All I have to show for my grief is this stupid lump that's been in my throat for two years. You hate better than I do, anyway, since I can barely remember how I used to feel about you and you were ready to crush my throat Sunday night." She turned back to the fire, resting her head on her knees and sighed. "I wish you didn't hate me, Alex. I don't want to lose you, too."

He spoke quietly as well, a small part of him sober enough to find it odd that, as drunk as they both were, this was the calmest discussion about Mulder they'd had recently. "I don't hate you, Dana. Not really. I just hate what's happening. Not happening, whatever." He shrugged and said, "I hate losing him all over again."

She tipped her head to face him again and answered, "I wish it was different, Alex, I really, really do, but it's not. And, when...when this ends, we're going to need each other. You're the only person who understands what loving him was like."

"Don't say things like that," he hissed, but his anger had cooled and it came out as a plea.

"I don't want to, Alex, but it's true. It's the ugly, shitty truth, that's the way it's going to be. I can't change it as much as I want to and you can't change it no matter how hard you try. And I know you tried, Alex, I could see you ready to sweat blood to make this work."

He stood up and braced his hands against the mantel, saying fiercely, "It was the one thing I could have given him, the one thing I could have done for him. I wanted there to be one goddamn thing that was mine."

After a moment he felt Dana come to stand behind him, her arms snaking around his waist as she rested her head against his back.

"You gave him so much, Alex, don't ever think you didn't. You gave him his life when he was ready to throw it away, didn't you? You made him stay. And you gave him your love. You don't love or trust easily and yet you gave all that to him. How many people in Mulder's life ever let him have that, without questions or conditions or pain? Not his parents, not even me. Only you, Alex." She tightened her arms around him and felt words rumbling in his chest.

"He didn't know," he said dully, then lay his head on his arms. "I never told him."

"Oh, Alex, he knew. I'm sure he knew," she whispered against his shoulder. "Mulder wasn't stupid, he had to have known."

She squeezed him still tighter and he felt the familiar sting of tears in his exhausted eyes. He slammed his hands against the wooden mantel, hating the fact that he could still feel anything, even after all the whiskey he'd poured down his throat. The feel of Dana's arms around his waist rang a soft bell in his wooly brain and he thought to himself that if he had to feel anything, it was going to be something good for a change. He turned to face her, his eyes red-rimmed and wet, the green heightened by the shine of his tears.

"What was it like, hearing him say he loved you?"

When she met Alex's eyes, Dana saw a hungry desolation there that made her heart give a quick, sharp extra beat. It had been a very long time since she'd seen a look like that, and that had been in a pair of smoky, hazel eyes. She pulled away from him in confusion. "I don't know what you mean, Alex..."

"When he told you he loved you, wanted you. I want to know what it was like to have him love you." His hand drifted up to her face and stroked her whiskey-flushed cheek carefully. "Did he touch you like this when he said it?"

Dana wondered dimly if she was so drunk she was imagining the heat in the green eyes and the tremor in the satiny voice. One small, sober brain cell made an alarmed noise as Alex's other hand came up to cup her face and his eyes darkened.

I should say something, she thought. I should tell him his face is flushed and his eyes are turning black and his hands are shaking.

Instead, her hand crept up to his, lacing their fingers for a moment before she released his hand to put her own to his face in turn and stroke his rough-whiskered cheek. He turned into her palm, rubbing instinctively and felt her shiver slightly. He dropped his hand from her face quickly and began to turn away with a muttered curse, but she grabbed him, pulling his hand into hers and rubbing her own cheek against it.

Too long without feeling like this, she thought, feeling alive and awake, with Alex's warm skin raising once-familiar tingles in her own. She thought of the months behind them, the work and the worry and the tears and decided in a moment that tonight was not going to be about losing and hurting.

"It felt like this," she whispered and pressed a gentle kiss into his palm before returning it to her cheek.

He closed his eyes and released a shaking breath before letting his hands slide up through her tousled red curls and cup around her delicate skull, tipping her face up to his and pulling their mouths together, the soft friction of lip on lip lasting until an indistinct groan vibrated against Alex's mouth and he felt a first shy touch of her tongue. He met it with his own and felt her arms tighten around his waist, fingers clenching reflexively in the fabric of his shirt. His own arms slid down from her head to wrap around her slight body and he drew her closer to him, hungry and eagerly searching as they mapped each other's mouths. Dizzying moments passed until a sudden easing of the pressure in her back made her open her eyes, breaking off her grasp on Alex's back, to find herself at eye level with him and she realized he had lifted her against him while she was preoccupied with tasting the back of his throat. The green eyes still burned but a palpable uncertainty lay behind their fervour. He opened his mouth against hers to say something, but she slipped her hand between their almost-joined lips and shook her head.

"No stupid questions, Alex."

She moved her hand to the back of his head, wrapping the dark strands around her fingers as she pulled him into another kiss. He still held her up, eliminating the discomfort of their height difference and, at a strong lick against the roof of his mouth, he pulled her roughly against him, feeling her small body flinch at the unconscious thrust of his hips and the long-missed shock of hardness and heat pressing into her belly. A throaty whisper of his name swept away the moment's doubt her fleeting recoil gave him and when she echoed his thrust with one of her own, her name slipped from him as well, coupled with a shaky question in defiance of her order.

"Dana, is this a good idea?" he asked, his lips pressed nearly motionless against hers, the words sounding like a poor attempt at ventriloquism.

She laughed against him and answered back, "I think this is a great idea. This is something we both need."

She began sucking his lower lip into her mouth, trying to cajole his tongue into playing with hers again, but he insisted on asking another question.

"You sure? It's not a shitload of whiskey and grief, is it?"

"No," she answered calmly, finally pulling away from his mouth to speak clearly. He made a movement to lower her, but she quickly wrapped her arms more tightly around his neck and shook her head emphatically. "This is you and me, tonight, being somewhat happier together instead of being miserable alone."

He tried to keep his voice steady as he answered her. "Somewhat happier with both of us thinking of someone else? That's a little twisted, don't you think?"

She laughed again. "No more so than the idea of you and me working together in the first place." She stopped laughing at the abashed look on his face and pulled his head to rest against hers. "Forget it, Alex. Forget about the hospital and comas and regrets and lost chances. Okay?" She kissed his forehead, then his absurdly pretty nose and his voluptuous mouth, and felt him finally sigh and open his mouth to her gently searching tongue.

The room grew silent as they kissed for long, luscious minutes, staying gentle and curious, hands smoothing backs and stroking hair and passion slowly waking up. He wrapped his arms around her dainty waist and lifted her a bit higher, feeling a jolt in his cock at the soft swish of her sweatered breasts against his chest. He let out a brief groan and she pulled away from his kiss, mild concern mingling with languid pleasure in her eyes.

"Am I getting heavy?" she asked mutedly and raised her eyebrow at his gentle laugh.

He shook his head and squeezed her against him again.

"You're so tiny," he said in a soft, hoarse voice. "I think I can get my arms around you twice."

She laughed with him before pulling him into another easy kiss, this time letting her lips trail over his exotic jaw line to his vaguely pointed ears. Her hands strayed under his t-shirt, stroking the supple skin of his back and wandering down to the waistband of his sweats. She tugged the elastic playfully, then let it snap against his back and the sound, coupled with the smack against his skin, drew a brief jump from him. She laughed again, then let out an undignified whoop when, with a nasty, teasing grin, he dropped her to the floor suddenly, her shaky balance giving out and leaving her sprawled against him.

Her crotch pressed into his thigh, his hardened cock branded her hip and the playful, languorous pace of before incinerated at the intimate contact. He pulled her closer still and ground himself against her hip, gratified by her instant response, feeling the heat between her legs even through her jeans and his sweats. Their mouths met again, but the tender exploration was gone, replaced by ravening greed. Somehow, still joined at the mouth, they moved upright and he reluctantly backed away from her long enough to take her hand and tug her with him as he made his way across the room, grabbing the whiskey in passing and heading down the hallway to his bedroom. He stood aside to let her enter, but she stayed in the doorway, looking around the room. He felt a small wave of apprehension start in his stomach, wondering if she was changing her mind after all and trying to convince himself it was probably for the best.

"Just looking, Alex" she said over her shoulder as she finally moved out of the doorway.

"See anything interesting?" he asked, leaning against the door frame and taking a drink from the bottle.

She sat down on the neatly made bed, leaned back on her elbows and said, eyeing him lasciviously, "A thing or two maybe."

He walked into the room, set the bottle on a battered chest that was serving as a night stand and stood at the side of the bed, still regarding her with a serious expression.

"I'm not going to change my mind, if that's what the concerned face is for," she said lightly.

"Well, I am wondering if you aren't going to wake up with a hangover heavily laced with regret."

She sat up and grabbed his hands, pulling him down to sit beside her. "Do you expect every person you get into bed with to wake up with regrets?"

He shrugged. "My experience, for the most part, has been that people in my bed usually have some ulterior motive. Occupational hazard."

She put her arms around his waist and curled her head on his shoulder.

"I don't have any motives, Alex. I just want you."

He kissed her again, the urgency from before quickly reigniting. She left one hand around his waist and slid the other under his t-shirt, finding the bandages on his stomach and flicking at them idly before resting her palm against the quivering muscles of his abdomen. His shaky groan tickled her mouth and she pulled away to find him almost panting, his eyes screwed tightly shut.

"Alex? Did that hurt?"

He shook his head briefly, eyes still closed and said, "Just the opposite, actually. Don't linger in that spot too long unless you want this to be over in about three minutes."

She looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled in comprehension.

"Sensitive spot?" she asked as her fingers drifted innocently across his belly.

"Um hmm."

"Is that why you wear a ring in your navel? Because it's sensitive?"

"Um hmm."

"Should we talk about this later, maybe?"

"That would be great." He finally managed to grit complete words out even as her touch became bolder, flitting below the wounded area and toying with the threads of fine hair she found. She moved back up his chest, sliding his shirt higher, then with an impish smile, pulled it quickly and roughly off him, enjoying his gasp of surprise and the convulsive clenching of his hands into tight fists. His eyes came open then and he saw her thoughtfully staring at him, her head tilted to the left and her lower lip tucked under her top teeth. She met his gaze after some moments of silent appraisal and he felt a flush of heat creep up his chest and into his face at the secretive smile of anticipation that bloomed across her face.

"Beautiful," she whispered.

She leaned into him, latching onto his mouth again and he took the opportunity to lay back, bringing her down with him. She kissed and licked down the column of his throat and rolled to her side slightly so she could work her way across his chest and shoulders. Alex tugged on her sweater and nudged her with the shoulder she was teething on to get her to look at him. He nodded down at the silk sweater clutched in his hand and raised his eyebrow at her. She understood the unspoken request and sat up briefly to pull the sweater over her head, then, after a moment's consideration, unclasped her bra and let it fall to the floor as well before resuming her place aslant his chest.

"Now we're even," he muttered just before one hand swept across the swell of her breast and the other pulled her back into his kiss. Something unintelligible spoke against her mouth and he rolled them so they faced each other, never releasing her breast or her tongue. He moved his other hand down to where her back swelled into the slope of her butt and pressed her against his swollen flesh, showing her what she'd done to him. The pressure of her tongue as it moved through his mouth increased at the molten contact between their bodies and he felt her lips trying to make words, despite being wide open and sealed to his own. She met his thrusting hips with her own, the slow rhythm soon building into something quick and fierce.

Without any clear recollection of how it happened, Alex found himself lying over her, his sweatpants gone, Dana's jeans at her ankles, panties at her knees and both their hands struggling to finish removing everything that got between them. The last of her clothes fell to the floor and Dana immediately wrapped her legs around Alex's waist and pulled him down against her damp mound. He sucked in a harsh breath at the intimate contact and thrust his heavy, swollen prick against her softly crinkled curls.

"Last chance to back out," he ground out through a clenched jaw as her hand slipped down to tease the cleft of his ass.

"Pass," she answered before his mouth moved over hers again.

He kneed her legs apart smoothly, taking hold of his cock and readying himself, but suddenly found her tiny hand pushing his aside, wrapping her deft fingers around his straining member and guiding him to where she was open and sodden and eager. He slid into her tight, slick heat, but she kept her hand between them, lightly trailing her fingers across his stomach and making him squirm deeper into her body.

"Christ, Dana..." he panted against her neck, fighting to move slowly.

She removed her hand from its rapidly cramping position as she began to piston against him, urging him silently for more, harder, faster. A particularly vigorous upswing by her coincided with a harsh thrust by him when her hand slid around his thigh to tease his balls and she whined softly and bucked against him harder. Alex tried to back off, but her legs clamped around him and her voice rasped in his ear.

"No, Alex, it's good ... don't you dare stop...just like...that...again."

His brain managed to process her words and he strengthened his drives into her, finally letting himself revel in the ever-growing heat in his gut until he was slamming into her grasping cunt and muttering mingled curses and endearments in her ear. Each deeper stroke was pulling Dana with him, the long-untouched knot in her belly unraveling and spreading warm waves of increasing pleasure through her. Alex's smooth voice, tangling with the guttural words he was groaning out, stoked an unfamiliar set of responses in her, adding to the illicitly thrilling idea that the cock moving within her had once moved inside Mulder the same way. Images that had beset her since Alex's revelation, of he and Mulder entwined the way she and Alex now were, suddenly sprang into her mind, sending another surge of arousal circling out through her limbs and accelerating the speed of her thrusting hips against his.

Alex felt her response flare and propped himself on his elbows, giving her the leverage she was reaching for. Her clutching legs rose higher on his back until they encircled his shoulders and she opened her eyes and gasped out his name in approval of the deeper angle.

He looked down at her, wondering if she looked like this, so wanton and greedy, when Mulder was the one embedded so deeply in her deceptive body, looking so fragile and breakable but taking every punishing thrust he gave her and returning those delicious, fisting grips. The thought of his Lisa, so passive and receptive, plunging madly into this same small bit of a woman flitted through his hazy mind and sent an incendiary jolt through his tightly coiled gut.

He sped up still more, Dana meeting him thrust for thrust, the two of them pounding against each other, belly to belly and face to face. And then, far sooner than she expected, Dana was writhing and wailing against Alex, abandoned in the trembling, flying, sparking wash of her climax. Her strong hands dug into his back and his ass, clawing marks into them that slammed him up another level of sensation and, at the first gripping wave of her orgasm, pushed him past reason. He drove into her, the only things left in the world the feel of the pulsing walls of her cunt rippling along his swelling cock and the sound of her husky voice crying his name.

A groan grew from deep behind his balls and ripped from his throat as his body began to shudder, each spasm releasing and grabbing him again and again, feeling as if every seed in his body was flooding into her burning, clenching tunnel.

The buzzing in Alex's ears faded, replaced by the airy sound of Dana's shaky panting against his neck. He sprawled on top of her until his trembling slowed, finally rolling bonelessly to his side. She turned with him, letting her hand come to rest on his sweat-sheened chest. Their breath still came heavily, his rustling through her tangled hair, hers chilling the damp skin her hand lay on.

When she could finally speak without gasping, she tilted her face up to his, kissed the underside of his chin and husked out her words with an indolent smile.

"That was fun."

He snorted out a light laugh. "Fun, huh? Remind me to get you a thesaurus one of these days." He put his hands under her arms and hauled her up so they were face to face again, rubbing her nose with his before kissing her soundly on the mouth.


The Latin and Russian phrases were lifted out of context from two very perverse books, "How to Abuse, Insinuate and Insult in Classical Latin" and "Dermo--the Russian Tolstoy Never Used." Hopefully, the comic effect will make up for any gross errors on my part in the translations.

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