They Watch You 2: No Way Out

by David S.


Title: They Watch You 2: No Way Out

Author: David S. david@hegalplace.com

Website: http://www.hegalplace.com/david/

Rating: NC 17

Keywords: M/K, Horror, Hurt/Comfort

Disclaimer: The X-Files are not owned by me. No infringement or profit is intended. But cookies are welcome.

Summary : In "They Watch You," Krycek saved Mulder from a fate worse than death. But before the healing can begin, old ghosts have to be put to rest.

Sequel to: "They Watch You" This will make NO sense at all, none, unless you've read that. Maybe not even then.

Archive: Yes. Just get me drunk first. And wear something frilly.

Notes: I listened to Peter Gabriel's excellent new CD "UP," while writing this, so a lot of inspiration came from him.

Special thanks: Tina & Shan. No one could ask for two better loves. To Tina, thank you for the beta. There was a lot of heavy lifting involved, and I apologize. To Shan: Thank you for the tips on exercises Mulder could do in recovery. I assure the readers that any inaccuracies or general writing clumsiness is purely my fault.

Spoilers: Um, well, you might want to check out "They Watch You" first. It's shorter. I'll wait.

Feedback: Well, yeah, that'd be nice. Send all love letters, chain letters, SPAM, Internet hoaxes, virus alerts, really bad jokes, movie reviews, and good, oldfashioned hate mail to: nakedmanatee@yahoo.com

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"I'm not quitting on you, there's no one else. You're not quitting on us, there's no way out. No way out."--- Peter Gabriel "No Way Out"

"My ghost likes to travel." --- Peter Gabriel "Growing Up"

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The thing that I notice most is the thing that seems the least important.

It's quiet.

I look down the hallway. So still.

There are rows of light bulbs, swaying slightly, hanging by sickly dark cords, providing a drab sort of illumination. The shadows flicker, dancing by me as the light bulbs dim then brighten, threatening to give it up all together so I better be grateful for what I get, goddamn it.

But there is nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the faint squeak of my wheelchair as I roll slowly down the hallway. I'm alone with myself and my metal prison.

Bleached white doors to the left and right of me, all flowing endlessly down the hall forever, reaching a vanishing point. I roll, uneasily, somewhat glad I can't see into the milky opaque windows on those doors.

These are not the kind of doors I wish to be opened. Whatever secrets they contain, I do not wish to know. Whatever precious truth is behind them can belong to someone else. I'll stay in the lie. Safety in the lie. Warmth in the lie. Keep it close and the truth can't hurt you. So nice.

So keep quiet. You don't want to disturb the sleeping.

My mouth is dry and I try to breathe quietly. To roll quietly. Why does the end of the hallway look so far away?

"Gaaarryyyyy," her voice says, seeming both very close and yet so far away. I stop wheeling and I jerk my head, first to the right, then the left. I twist as far as I can to see if she's behind me. A droplet of sweat has taken residence on my brow and is threatening to trickle into my eye.

Then, in the awful stillness, a doorknob begins to turn.

No. No. You fucking bitch, no. I turn to the side and my eyes confirm what my ears are hearing. The knob is turning, slowly, like a spider, trying to seem innocuous.

I muster a dry swallow and I start wheeling as fast as possible. I hear the door swing open with a creak. Then the clack of ugly, hard-soled loafers echoes through the hall, slow and with purpose.

"Gary." Hot hiss of breath in my ear. I smell her.

Don't look back. Don't look back. Because if I do...

I blink rapidly, the salty sweat stinging my eyes. My heart is thumping from all the fear I've managed to swallow. Jesus, slow down, slow down. Dear God, I'm going to die without her even touching me. At this point I think that might be the most optimistic resolution to all of this.

The door looms closer, just out of reach. If only I can make it. So close, so close...

I push the wheels harder, my hands burning against the rubber. The clackityclack -clack-clack of her shoes behind me, next to me, everywhere.

"Leavemealoneleavemealone," I chant.

"No fun," I hear. "No. Fun. At. All." Gnarled, bloody hands, strong with life, grab the handles of my chair, and my body jerks against the back of my seat.

"I killed you," I reason, my voice so tiny and so far away.

"We're going to have such fun you and I," she says, her face, burnt, cracked, and bloody lowering towards mine. "So much fun!"

"OH GOD, NO!" I scream, and as I wake up in a bed far, far away from the house where Kathy kept me, I can still hear her laughter echoing in my head, as clear and as real as the day I first met her.

A door busts open and he runs across the room to my side. "Mulder," he says, in a voice trying to be calm without betraying fear. I've heard it before. The kind of voice that says, "Yeah, Mulder, never mind the monsters under the bed. They're not as hungry as they look."

"A-alex," I croak, my arms going around him. I squeeze him tightly. "You're real," I whisper, still unsure.

"Yes," he says, not uncompassionately. "I'm real. The nightmares are not." He holds me gently. "She's dead, Mulder. She won't ever hurt you again."

"I," I say, tears starting to fall. "I'm so tired, Alex. Eh- every time I guh-go to sleep..." My words are no longer words and I let it all out and begin to sob.

He holds me closer, this man that once I could not trust not to put a gun to my head and pull the trigger. "Shh," he says, and it's the most comforting word that I've ever heard. "Shh," he repeats, and we wordlessly sit there, facing the night together.

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"Well, here we are, Mulder." Alex turns the rusty knob and opens the door of the cabin. "Home sweet home." He sniffs. "For now, anyway."

I hobble on my crutches up the two steps to the entrance. My legs are fine, or so Alex keeps on reminding me. I believe him... or more than likely, I want to believe him. But, given the right circumstances, I've been known to easily believe in many things. Lake monsters. Vampires. Compassionate conservatives. All right, even I think that last one is a bit sketchy.

All I know is that my legs are weak. I do have feeling again. And Alex has been helping me with the conditioning and exercises. But there's a mental block in there somewhere. Or so he keeps on telling me. Not a big deal he says, like my legs not working properly is a temporary condition, a bad habit I have to break.

Because, y'see, in another crazy example of strange shit taking over my life, I was brainwashed into believing I was another person. Gary Weston. A paraplegic under the direct supervision of a psychotic. Alex Krycek rescued me, used some funky alien technology on me to erase the false memories and turn me back into everyone's favorite Weirdness Magnet. But the shit I've been through has a way of sticking with you, creepy alien devices or not.

The door swings open and we go in. I have to say, the place is sparse and dingy enough to make my old apartment look like a House Beautiful glossy pictorial in comparison. There's a dark blue futon, covered in plastic. Annnd that's it. Laura Ingalls Wilder had more furniture than this.

There is a fireplace. That's good. Because I have the strangest feeling that this place does not come with central heating.

"Alex?" I hear him rifling through the cupboards. Unless there are Twinkies in there, I don't want to eat anything that could possibly be lying around. Those looking for eternal life need to study the Twinkie. Like the cockroach, they just don't die.

"Yeah," he responds, now standing behind me in the doorway. He looks guilty, like I've caught him doing something bad, like he secretly ate all the Twinkies. But all he's doing is standing in a doorway, and the last time I checked there was no crime against that.

"I'd rethink your choice of travel agents," I smirk, poking the futon with my left crutch. "Because whatever you paid for this dump, it was too much."

He smiles briefly, cutting through the cold fall air. "Would you believe I won it in a card game?"

I look at him, dubious. "Yee-haw."

"It's true," he says, his smile turning into a laugh. It's a warm laugh, unguarded. My ears try to reconcile the beautiful foreign sound, and I realize that he's sharing this side of him with me, letting me in on a secret that has nothing to do with a stupid card game. Joy, laughter, Krycek. These things are not all mutually exclusive.

I look away, imagining him playing poker and laughing, throwing down the winning hand. "Okay, James Garner. Whatever you say."

A wave of exhaustion hits me, draining the levity of our moment and replacing it with the ooze of dread. I really hate sleeping. And what I really mean to say is that I fucking hate sleeping. Really.

Alex pulls the dust cover off of the futon and then guides me to it. "Sit down, Mulder. You don't want to over-do it."

I sit down, or more accurately I fall onto the futon, not really graceful, but not a Chevy Chase pratfall either. Shivering. Getting cold, but that's not entirely the reason and we both know it.

"Where are we again?" I ask.

He rests his hand on my shoulder. Comfort. Safety. It seeps into me, his hand a form of healing. How did that happen? "Idaho," he says, sounding somewhat tired himself. "We're in motherfucking Idaho."

I nod slowly. "Well, they'll never think to look for us here."

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The next few hours we settle in. It gets dark early here in the plausible state of Idaho. The sun fades and makes its exit. Why couldn't he have won a bungalow in Tahiti? A condo in Miami Beach?

I handle the light stuff, even though I get pissed off at my legs. I'd like to be the one who brings in the firewood, not just unpacking the groceries and making Folgers.

We have breakfast for dinner: eggs, sausage, and pancakes. Every now and then I get whopped up the side of the head by the surreality of the moment. Sitting around a shabby, ready-to-fall-apart table, in a cabin... with Alex Krycek fixing me eggs. And damn good ones, too. It's all a bit weird, I'll admit-- him cooking for me. It makes about as much sense as Moriarty sitting down to watch "Friends" with Sherlock Holmes and a big tub of popcorn. I think I've had it with sense, though. Fuck sense. When the weird becomes the comfortable, go with it, I say.

"You missed your calling, Alex," I say, shovelling in another mouthful. "You could have had your own cooking show." I'm being Mr. Funny--ha ha, but really, it's a big deal. I've never needed food. Not really, not like most people do. I just wander through life subsiding on My Quest For The Truth. Eating has always been an annoying chore, like flossing your teeth or clipping your toenails. But this... it's like I've never had eggs before. I've never tasted a pancake.

He suppresses a grin, poorly. "Uh, Mulder. I'm sure you'll find out soon enough. There are about five things that I can cook without destroying the ingredients. So it'd be a pretty short run, I'm afraid."

"What are the other two?"

"You'll find out," he says and takes a large bite of pancake.

"You're damn mysterious."

He shrugs, smiling and saying nothing, content to finish his plate. He seems rather pleased, though. He's radiating. Like I said, it's weird.

"Eggplant?" I suggest.

Nothing. I resolve to question him mercilessly, once on the hour, every hour, until he breaks.

After dinner, Alex prepares the futon, the mattress unfolding into a bed. "You can have the futon. It'll be warmer, next to the fire."

"I can take the bedroom," I assure him, determined to be a man. "You don't have to totally caretake for me."

"Oh no," he dismisses, pulling a thick blanket from a cupboard in the hallway. "It's not that. The bed back there is nicer. I don't want to have to sleep on this shitty futon." He pulls the plastic covering off of the futon.

"Ah," I respond. "That's okay then."

As it gets closer to bedtime, the fear seems to creep its way in, like the flow of the evening tide. I try my Mulder-best to quip my way out of it, but that Gary Weston fuck keeps on bitch-slapping me.

And I know that there is a better-than-average chance that she will be waiting for me when I close my eyes. I swallow, trying not to look like I'm scared to go to bed.

Alex helps me to my new bed, having draped the crazy-quilt blanket on the futon mattress. His hands, strong and sure on my forearms, hold me and guide me down. I probably have enough upper-body strength to do this myself, but it feels nice to let him.

"I'll come out in a couple of hours to check on you and put more wood on the fire."

"Tell me about this place," I say, lowering my head onto my pillow, attempting to stall sleep. "How can you be sure they won't find us?"

"Well, nothing is for sure, Mulder. They are out there looking for us. I can guarantee it." He sits down on the edge of my bed and stares into the orangeyellow of the fire, now popping and crackling. It reminds me of a different sort of fire. The fire that destroyed her.

"But I can tell you this...We are presently in the last standing building in the former mining town of Pearl. There are a few silver mines nearby, but they're boarded up. There's a book I found in the bedroom when I first got the place. I guess there were a few Japanese immigrants that settled here." Alex stands up, his voice as excited as I've ever heard. "Let me show you something."

He strides down the hallway to his bedroom. I hear a bit of clanging and shuffling, and he returns carrying a long, rectangular box, somewhat shabbylooking. Okay. He's got my attention.

He looks at me, a childlike excitement on his face that I didn't think was possible, setting it down at the foot of my bed. I can't help but grin back at him. "All right, I'll bite. Whatcha got?"

He opens it up, carefully, reverently, and reaches in. "These were here when I got the place. Under the floorboards, mind you," he says, lifting up two beautiful, shining samurai swords, one in each hand. Reflections of flames lick up and down the perfect blades, and the beauty of it takes my breath.

"There has to be a story, I'm guessing," I say.

"Of course," Alex responds, holding one out to me. "Take it."

I reach out and take it, his fingers brushing mine. At his touch, the reflected flames seem to travel up my hand and throughout my body. The metal itself feels warm, soft. I finger the embossed green dragon carved into the handle.

"These...must be...priceless," I say, holding it into the air, examining it. "They're so light! Who made these?"

"From what's in the few history books in the bedroom, these were crafted by a man who worked in these mines in the 1930's. Name of Satake. Him and his family had moved here to make their fortune in the silver mines. His wife died on the trip over, leaving him to raise their daughter, Tomoko, alone."

"Out here? This is pretty unforgiving land."

"He was a strong man. She was strong, too. Unfortunately, the influx of white settlers didn't admire such traits in women and Asians. And they especially didn't care to share U.S. silver with foreigners. Never mind that they had been in America for a good ten years and spoke fluent English."

"I'm sensing a not-so-happy ending here."

Alex shifts on the bed and puts his sword down. "Satake made these swords. The craftsmanship was...is unheard of in these parts. Many offers were made to purchase these swords, all of them refused. Satake meant for them to stay in the family. One night, a couple of good-ol'-boys, courage strengthened by whiskey, came knocking and made Satake an offer he couldn't refuse."

"You mean..."

"Yeah. They ambushed him just as he was going to bed, shot him and his daughter."

I lower the sword. "As far as bedtime stories go, Alex, this one really sucks. Give me something to work with."

Alex shakes his head. "I wish I could. But it's still not the end of the story. Despite being shot twice, Satake gets up, like a man possessed, and takes one of the swords and slaughters both of them. With his dying breath, he curses the swords, saying that whoever uses them will be cursed until death."

"That's pretty vague."

"Well, you wanna use 'em and find out?"

I'm silent for a few seconds.

"Don't answer that," he says. "Mulder, Mulder, Mulder."

"I'm glad the cowboys got theirs, though. Pretty amazing. We're in an actual ghost town."

"There isn't enough left to even be considered a ghost town," Alex responds.

"We've brought our own," I whisper, crawling beneath the blankets.

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When I wake up, she's standing over me, her thick fingers wrapped around my neck, squeezing the air out of me. I gasp and thrash about, but I feel so weak.

"You poor, dead, cripple," she coos, somewhat sadly.

The air sparkles in front of me. Then I fall, fall into the darkness.

I wake up, for real this time, unable to scream for lack of breath.

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"MOTHERFUCKING-PUS-BUCKET-SHIT- MOTHER...MOTHER!"

"Mulder...come on." Alex leans back. He's sitting on the floor at my feet, now resting his weight on his arms. His arm muscles are tight. His face, bless him, is trying to remain calm, professional, serious. He kills people wearing that face. But he can't...quite...do it. A hint, the subtlest whiff of a smile, is struggling to curl up one side of his mouth.

"You've run out of swears, Mulder. You're beginning to repeat yourself."

"FUCK YOU!" I yell, letting my body relax. I'm sitting on the futon. Niiice, uncomfortable futon. I hate the futon. I want to kill the futon. Alex got the brilliant, somebody-should-give-him-a-cigar-type-of-brilliant, idea for me to try to exercise my legs. Get them moving again. A little physical therapy. So, for the last thirty minutes I've been attempting to straighten my legs, lifting my calves from the vertical to the horizontal. He might as well ask me to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls into Klingon. There's a stain I never noticed on the futon cushion before. It's in the shape of Richard Nixon's head, profile. I let out a petulant sigh, free associating Woodward and Bernstein, then Laugh-In.

"And you seem to rely quite heavily on the 'mother' expletive. I think you should ask yourself why."

I'm not looking at him, but I can feel the smirk. Damn him. I can't do it. I can't... My legs...Why are they so weak? I scream heavy thoughts, full of purpose, full of confidence... ordering them to move. And they barely respond.

I can stand up, and yes, I can support myself and even make it a few steps. It's all quite moving, movie-of-the-week stuff, I assure you. But all of that seems to be a prelude to falling on my ass. There is nothing wrong with my legs. It's all in my head, Alex has told me. It's more than I can bear sometimes.

If you had told me a year ago I would be so dependent on him, a rival, an enemy, I would have laughed and probably have felt the need to pummel someone. Anyone. Nuns. Blind nuns. Small children on crutches. Girl Scouts. Repeatedly. With brass knuckles. Dependent on him. Yeah. Right. But here we are. Me crashing before him, in failure, in humiliation, for the hundredth time as he tries to teach me to walk.

And even now, there is still a part of me, a lower, shadow self that expects him to turn on me. I realize with every time he holds his hand out, that shadow self grows smaller and smaller. And I wonder, I have to wonder if never walking again might be worth it, just to give Alex the chance to send my shadow self packing its bags for Kalamazoo. I wonder.

All in my head. A little present from the Consortium. A mental residual echo of a different man. A man created by some fucked-in-the-head scientist who fancied me a lab rat. A man paralyzed from the waist down, kept in check by a sadistic nurse.

He's still there, that man, keeping me from walking. Still hiding, still whispering, still being chased, by her. Kathy.

"C'mon," Alex says, interrupting my reverie. I feel his hands on my left leg, one on my calf and one on my thigh. Goosebumps march up my body and my breath seems to have vanished. "I'll help you." He lifts it slightly, almost cradling the muscle. "Just a few more. You're doing good, Mulder." His eyes lock onto mine for a second, a precious second of encouragement, before looking back downward. "Just lift. Use that muscle. I can feel that muscle."

A few seconds ago, it felt impossible. Now, with his hands on me, it feels, well, it feels, improbable, but possible. The cold in the air is cut by the escalating warmth in his hands. My whole body feels warmer somehow.

I clench my teeth and will my leg to move. MOVEMOVEMOVE! You are going to move, you fucker.

Alex's hands are barely there, barely touching, but I can feel his strength. There's a subtle shift, a different heat and I don't quite know what to make of it. But it means everything, giving me the mental and physical courage to even try the blamed thing.

MOVEMOVEMOVE! I strain and breathe violently through my teeth, and I arch my back.

"Keep your back straight, Mulder," he whispers, his eyes concentrated on my leg, looking as if he's trying to will it himself.

I relax my shoulders, letting a few more curses fly. Concentrate, concentrate. Fuck, with this much mental focus, I should be able to levitate the futon Yodastyle.

This isn't working. I can't believe I'm doing this. I can't believe--

"Mulder!" Alex breathes. "You're doing it!" He lets out a laugh and I look at my lower calf, cradled lightly, but not supported by his hand. It's in the air, trembling, risen.

"Ha," I say, astonished. "HA-Hah!" I exclaim, and my leg buckles, falling firmly into his grip. He lowers it the floor, trying to hide the out-of-control grin on his face.

"Toldya," he says, getting up. Our eyes connect again. When his hand reaches out for mine, I take it, freely accepting his energy, his strength. "You did good, Mulder. You did good."

His confirmation, his praise, courses through my veins. Maybe I can do this.

"You look like you could climb a few mountains," he says. "Let's say we get some fresh air."

"Sounds good." And it does. It really, really does.

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"Shh. Hold it." Alex's hand reaches out, stopping me. He points out into the field and I see them. Two of them, in fact. They're beautiful. I'd have to go back to my pre-teens to recall a time I actually saw deer this close.

They're white-tailed doe, I believe, if what I have read off postcards was correct.

One is peering at us from behind a couple of trees. Its slightly bigger partner looks up from eating grass and stares back at us. I think they're watching us. A couple of weird two-legs, that's us.

This is quite a place. It's fall, and make no mistake about it, it's getting cold. But it's not quite balls-shrinking-in-between-your-legs cold. Not yet.

The brilliant orange-browns of autumn pepper the hills, the leaves abandoning the branches of their former homes and choosing instead to cover the land and let the wind carry them to places I imagine they've only dreamed about.

I feel like we've travelled a few hundred years in the Way-Back machine. Of course we drove here in a Jeep Cherokee, and every now and then we'll see the vapor trails of jets, but considering the overpowering encroachment of technology, this is still quite a miracle of nature.

Alex has been working with me out here, getting me to work my legs. There's an old fence along the dirt road outside our cabin. I stand, or more accurately, lean against it, while he crosses to the middle of the road. It's my Herculean task to leave my crutches behind and cross over to him.

The first few times he made it easy on me. I would start off just standing, putting my full weight on my feet. Not as easy as you might think. But it got to where I could do it. After taking the Lord's name in vain A LOT.

Then phase two. He put himself just out of arm's reach and called me a few Russian terms that I correctly identified as not being endearing.

I stumbled, but with every step, my confidence and strength grew. Every successful attempt, I was rewarded with one of his smiles and a firm grasp of his hands on my shoulders. And with every one of these baby step triumphs, Alex gives a blow to Mr. Shadow Self, and I feel something that I haven't felt for a long time in Alex's presence: trust. Trust without fear.

And, of course, every single time, he raises the bar, walking out just a little bit further and further. It's hard, but he makes it easier, usually by telling me that I can't hit him unless I get closer. Of course, when I do get closer, it's not to hit him. I've given that up. To see more of Alex and less of the Krycek I thought I knew: that's a nice reward.

I've made it to the middle of the road now. I have a few cuts and scrapes on my hands to mark my progress, but what the hell.

And you certainly can't beat the scenery. This is the first time I've seen any deer around here. I figured they would stay as far away from us as possible. Surely Idaho deer would know better than to get this close to humans. Maybe it's because we're not wearing orange vests and carrying beer cans?

"They're not afraid of us," Alex whispers, echoing the thoughts in my head.

The larger one breaks its gaze from me---and it's looking at me, not Alex-- and takes another bite of yellowed grass. Even though the animal is no longer looking at me, the connection remains somehow. I think I'll call him Spooky.

"Two of them," Alex repeats. He's doing that radiating thing again. Hello, Alex Krycek. I don't think we've ever met. "It's a good omen."

I look at him, nodding slightly.

"Let's do the fence while we've got sunlight."

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Again, the sheer beauty of this land slaps me. I've needled Alex about our meager and humble shack that has fallen into disgrace, but in all honesty, it's hard not to feel abundant surrounded by all of this. The richness of the mountains far outweighs the debits of the ramshackle flat boards nailed up to resemble a cabin. Alex has set me down in front of the cabin where a porch would go if someone had the time or inclination to build one. A couple of folding lawn chairs resting on the dry Idaho dirt will have to do.

The day is starting to abandon me like it must, and I feel like a toddler being left by his mother. I don't want it to be dark again. The trees are reduced to their most powerful essence: dark, perfect lines, giving form to shadow. They are now a pantheon, a tribunal of gods. Whether there are judgments wrapped up in the thick branches, I don't know. Like most gods, they are inscrutable.

As the sun fades, the sky does too, a soft ribbon of white bleeding out to blue, then black. The stars. Count the stars, Alex has been telling me. It's great psychology and I had to laugh when he said it, because it was something I would have advised: Count the stars. New place, new ritual. Eradicate the bad stuff. So I've been taking his advice, feeling somewhat better knowing that it was my own, and it's been helping curb the anxiety. The nightmares are still present, however. Whenever my eyes shut, she's there, waiting for me. Sometimes she doesn't even have to show up in my dreams, but I feel her presence, her hatred of me hanging in the air, wound up in the turn of a door knob, a breathing climbing up my back like a thousand little spiders. I tear up thinking about it. Count the stars. Count the stars.

Alex comes out, door falling shut behind him, the slam jetting me back to the real world. Our world, really. It gives me time to wipe my eyes and pull myself together. He must really pity me, seeing me as this weakened shadow of myself.

He sets down a box and hands me a shot glass full of amber liquid. "Drink this. It's got vitamin B in it."

I look at it dubiously, shrug my shoulders, then down it. "Uhh! `S good...Bourbon?" I wince. "My favorite vitamin drink. What's in the box?"

He opens it up and pulls out a stack of albums. "LPs, Mulder!" he enthuses. I'm getting used to the kid-face. "Look at these." He starts pulling them out, one at a time, marveling at each cover, a lot of which seem to feature the respective artists wearing really dorky clothing and boasting even dorkier hairstyles. Yup. They're from the seventies.

Alex gulps his shot glass clean, then sits down beside me.

"Do we have anything to play these on?" I ask.

"Nope. Just thought it'd be good for a laugh."

He's pointing now to the back of an old Boston album, specifically to the largest `fro I've ever seen on a white man. Fleetwood Mac, America, Captain and Tennille, and oh my god, it's James Taylor. I start to crack up. "It's too bad really, because I had my heart set on hearing `Mockingbird'."

We both stare in silence at each other and for a second I get the vibe that Alex is considering shouting, "Mock!" in anticipation of hearing me answer with "Yeah!"

"Don't!" I order. "Not even."

"What?" he says dismissively. He shakes his head and looks up into the sky. We sit for a few minutes, just absorbing everything: the night, the liquor, and the albums. Each other.

"Now `Muskrat Love'..." he says, not even finishing. He won't look at me and he's hiding a smile. I smile, no, grin, lopsidedly, and it escalates into a chuckle. He catches it, and within seconds, it's spread into two grown men who have lost all dignity, laughing uproariously over bad pop music. When we settle down, he says, "Want some more vitamin drink?"

I nod and he fills my glass. Fifteen minutes go by and we sit, saying very little. Every now and then, he points to a star or planet and we both bask in it, as struck by its beauty as anything else. It's amazing to think that something so enormous, so powerful, and yes, so mystical could reduce an otherwise articulate man to 'gee, ain't that purty'. The same reaction to a sun that you would have to a sunflower. Thinking of it that way elevates the sunflower, and I realize that the flower is just as cosmic and breathtaking as the largest and most bright star in the universe. How could it be any less?

I've spent all my life looking to the stars, sometimes ignoring the starstuff in front of me. Did I have to endure the horrible tragedies in my life because of it? I honestly am not sure. I'm a dreamer, but more than that, I am a dream-maker. I chase the dream, catch it, mold it, and play with it, and I could never be satisfied with less. 'Your money or your life?', goes that joke. Jack Benny stops time and responds with, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking." With me it's 'Your dreams or your life?' But my response is even more pronounced. I don't have to think. Take away one, and I lose the other. That's precisely what they tried to do to me. And how ironic that a former agent of theirs, a former dream-stealer, gave me back my dreams. I never would have guessed he would be the one.

Maybe I've been so blinded by my righteous anger that I could not see the good in him. Maybe I never really paid him the attention that would have kept him from betraying me. Maybe... Maybe I've had too much to drink.

I shake my head. He looks over at me. "You cold? You wanna go in?"

I sigh. My body is tired, but my mind is a beam of light racing across reality. Alex's eyelashes flutter and it occurs to me what a beautiful creature Alex is. Beautiful killer, beautiful savior. Who are you, Alex Krycek? The question , embedded in my brain since the day I met him, yearns to be vocalized.

"Did you kill my father?" I ask bluntly.

He sits up, just barely, and I realize he's trying not to wince, as if he had been slapped. Even more than that... he looks... I dunno, heartsick is the only word that comes to mind. He purses his lips together and then looks away. After a few seconds, he looks back, his eyes careful to meet mine, deliberately so. He wants to look me in the eye as he tells me. "Yes, I did, Mulder."

We both turn our heads away from each other and focus on the brilliant sky. There's a blue-white moon overhead and an army of crickets conversing noisily, probably wishing we would shut up.

I let the truth settle in the air, absorbing the finality of the words. I knew he had. I knew a long time ago. But I had to hear him say it. He knows I had to hear him say it. We've been avoiding it for so long, trapped in consensual denial. Don't ask, don't tell.

"So, what happened?" I ask calmly, without the fanfare that I always assumed would accompany such a question. I slump down in my chair a bit.

"The consortium..."

"The smoking man..." I specify, and he nods before continuing.

"Yes, the smoking man had ordered it." Alex pauses. "Listen," he says, voice cracking. "I've had to do things that I'm not proud of. I've killed many men... and I'm not much of one because of it." He takes a breath. "I'm trying to change that..."

"I'm not interested in other men. I want to know about my father. Who was he that you had to kill him?"

"Bill Mulder worked in tandem with the smoking man. They had differing ideas on the alien project. You probably won't believe me, but your father viewed everyone, including you, Mulder, as chess pieces in some game that he was determined to win. He wanted to tell you things...things that the smoker didn't want you to know."

"Are you saying that my own father was trying to give me information that would get me killed?"

"Yes."

"Why would he do that?"

Why would he sacrifice his own daughter?

The idea pulls up a chair, wordlessly, between us. Alex sits, quietly, letting me think it through. Why would he comply with (or demand!) any of my previous troubles with the consortium? The taking of Scully. The killing of my informant, Deep Throat. Many more setbacks, mere pawns shoved off the board, and for what? Some egotistical and self-serving endgame that he thought he could win with the aliens. And no children were going to get in the way.

Shit. I start to cry.

"Mulder, I'm sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. Appearances to the contrary, I always wanted to protect you." He moves his hand towards my shoulder, then stops, as if he doesn't deserve it, as if he might get violence in response.

I think about my father lying on the floor, giving his last breath away. I think about my father, wondering what sort of lies he might have told Mom. Did he ever see Sam? Did he make promises to her? "It'll be all right, pumpkin. Just a few more tests and you'll be home with Fox in no time. I love you and everybody is so proud of you."

I shake my head and dry my eyes with my shirtsleeve. "Why?" I ask up to the moon. Why did my father care so little for me? Why were me and Sam so disposable to him? Why did he have to torment me so?

I wait for an answer. I wait for my father to materialize in front of me, get down on his knees, and beg for forgiveness. "I'm sorry, Fox," he would say, celestial tears running down his face. I wait for him to do that. I wait.

"Why?" I repeat, my voice unrecognizable.

Alex swallows and says lowly, as if he doesn't want the owls to hear, "Because I love you." I look at him, frozen in disbelief. "That's why. "

I freeze, trying to decipher the words that I've just heard. I replay them in my head, a mathematical equation that will all be made clear as soon as I figure out what X is.

Oh my God. He thought that I wanted to know why he wanted to protect me. So naturally, it was because he loved me. Oh my God.

He shuts up, waiting for a response, laughter perhaps, or even more likely, a fist in the jaw. Frankly, I have no idea what to say, so I say nothing, dismissing his admission to a profound inability to handle alcohol. Love me! Hah! The idea is ludicrous. We're men. And men don't have the time or the capacity for such a thing. It's too complex, and complexity is the antithesis to having a dick.

Oh my God. A panicky terror takes hold and I feel the need to escape. I picture my legs working again solely for the express purpose of running away. What is happening to me?

I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do.

"Maybe we should go inside," I say, interrupting a very important conversation between the crickets. "It's getting cold."

He's looking at the stars, and I get the feeling he's silently counting them. His eyes are glistening, and he's making an effort not to let me see them. Finally he nods and gets up. He leans down so I can put my arm around his neck and shoulder so he can pull me up to standing. His shoulder muscles tense as he pulls up, and I realize that I've never noticed before how perfect they are.

I wanted to protect you. My heart feels like a hummingbird. Yes, they are in protection of me. Strong, capable, helping me to stand. Helping me to go inside. Getting me my beloved vitamin drink. I'm so scared, so scared.

And suddenly I realize that I'm terrified because I might be dreaming, that this is some sort of memory implant, that it isn't real. This can't be happening. I hated him. I'm supposed to hate him, and I've always been up to the challenge of playing that part. Me, Fox Mulder, running away from the truth, hiding in a preordained role, the Good Guy vs. the Bad Guy? This isn't the truth. This isn't the way it's supposed to be.

"You got it? You okay?" he whispers, his breath smelling good, like an open bar at a wedding reception. Our faces are so close. His lips, saying such nice things, protecting me. I never thought I needed protecting, really. Maybe part of that was him, secretly keeping as many bad things away as he possibly could. His lips look so soft. And the rest of him looks so...

Because I love you. He said he loved me. And I immediately disbelieved. I disbelieved. And I never immediately disbelieve. Which means there's another layer there. Which means...

I can't... I can't stop myself, and I pull his face to mine, his lips to mine.

Oh my God. They are as soft as they look. Our eyes close and every disbelieving thought is vanquished, every rational thought is defeated, every thought has gone home for the night, leaving this: his lips on my lips.

I borrow a kiss, then return it.

He makes a tiny whimpering sound, and it has the most wonderful effect on my cock. He makes another, mewling, and I swear I feel the need to bury it in him.

My tongue pushes into his whiskey-mouth and he pushes back. He tastes wonderful, and I feel a different sort of inebriation that has nothing to do with the alcohol in his mouth.

As my body becomes alive with his vibration, his energy, I become drunk with the thought that this strange feeling could in fact be my natural state. My god, what if it is? What if this is who I am?

Kissing Alex is a search for myself, and every God-blessed atom in the world seems to know it, even if my rational mind does not. I have forged a very interesting career out of not listening to my rational mind. Maybe it's time I apply this to my romantic life as well.

I feel stronger than I have in eons, even my legs feel like they have more power to them, as if they, too, are going to stand erect in Alex's presence.

"Help me inside," I breathe, taking two seconds away from his mouth. He grunts and pulls me in. We make the way over to my bed and I force myself to stop kissing him so we can see where we're going. I feel this incredible need to devour him. I feel crazy, and he is some sort of pill that I need to absorb to feel sane again.

He lays me down on my bed and looks at me. His cock is pushing against his jeans, and I can't help but feel a sense of pride. I did that. I wonder what else I can do.

He stands there, just looking down at me. Face inscrutable. Maddeningly, I know I'm going to have to call the shots on this one. "Take `em off," I say, and there is no question of what I'm talking about. He looks down and undoes his jeans and slides them off.

God, it's delicious, the look of pure want on his face, probably mirroring my own, the demented need, flush on his usually imperceptible face. He takes off his underwear and tosses them into the dark. I stare at his cock, bulging, standing straight out like a diving board. The tip of it seems wet, and I wonder if I could make him come just by thinking about it.

"Take off your shirt and undress me," I say, as calmly as I possibly can given my current state of desire. He complies, tossing his shirt, the stupid hindrance, and then kneels in front of me, the tips of his fingers shaking as he undoes my buttons. My dick comes out, and Alex stares at in wonderment.

"Mulder," he says, and it sounds like begging.

"Suck it," I whisper, confirming his request.

Then the world explodes with a brilliant white, the lights around my peripheral vision bleaching into an overwhelming cascade of light. The pleasure... His mouth is firmly around my cock and I never knew how good it could feel. Every tactile sense is now rerouted to pure ecstasy, emanating straight from Alex Krycek's mouth and tongue. It flows from him to me and I swear I see supernovas flare in my mind's eye.

His tongue falls and rises in a mixture of merciless, Machiavellian twirls engineered to make me crumble with pleasure, and a feral, out-of-control bobbing of the head suggesting a need so base that no premeditated thought could have designed it.

He grunts as he does this, and I try not to be louder with my gasps than he is, but I am on the losing end of that one. I moan and make pleading noises that mean so much and so little all at the same time. He seems to know exactly what I'm saying.

My eyes vacillate between being shut tightly when he makes a particularly devastating swirl, and opening half-mast to sneak a peek at him, so beautiful, so mine, sucking my dick with an enthusiasm that takes my breath away. I am rewarded by watching him jerk himself off while he gives me head.

He slows down the tiniest bit just when I feel that physical-psychological rush of orgasm approaching, and I want to smack him right then and there. He grunts empathetically, and I grab his head with both of my hands and begin to push him down faster, fucking his mouth. His grunts turn into feverish moans, and I know that this is exactly what he wants.

Alex lets out a muffled scream and I feel his come on my leg and fuckfuckfuck, I not only let go of that disbelief, I slam it into the ground and spurt down Alex's throat. My fingers twist into his sweaty hair, gripping him tighter, and I let out a moan of release.

"UHHHHHhhhhhhhgoddddd," I whine, and Alex swallows, working hard.

I rewind everything in my head, replaying his mouth on my cock again and again. There was a time when I never thought I'd be able to have sex, any sex again. Alex has saved me from that fate, making good on yet another unspoken promise of healing.

"Thank you," I breathe, and he tilts his head up and looks at me. There is a purity on his face that can only be summed up in one word: love.

He doesn't quite get it and says, "Thank you."

He doesn't realize how much I'm thanking him for, and I'm not sure I have the words right now to make it any clearer. So I say it again. "Thank you, Alex. For everything." Then one by one, the words come. Words I didn't know I had been saving, carefully storing them away for this moment in time. "I thought you were my enemy. The enemy." I shake my head. "For too, too long. This also my father did not want for me."

His eyes start to water, and he wastes no time climbing up my torso to get his mouth to mine. Two separated halves finally connecting, finally fulfilling their purpose. He seems to need this. To kiss me. I need it too.

Like teenagers, we make out for the better part of the night, saying little and not needing to. A beautiful, peaceful sleep overcomes us, crowded onto my shitty little futon-bed, and I find myself not fearing it.

My sleep is dreamless.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I wake up before the world does. It's so quiet. Even the crickets seem to have piped down, maybe leaving or just resting. Or maybe they've run out of things to say.

Alex is asleep, nestled next to me. I bring my hand to his head and stroke his hair, light enough not to wake him.

My mind tries to digest what has happened.

My life seems as slippery as the black oil, swirling one way, sure of its purpose, then mysteriously curving another way, a better path chosen.

One moment I'm Gary Weston, living a life of horror, trapped by a monster of a nurse.

In a different moment I'm Fox Mulder, seeker of truths, avenging his father's death, determined to find and punish the one who killed him, Alex Krycek, my own personal Judas.

In a very different moment, I'm a New Mulder, a Mulder being rebuilt from the ashes of Gary Weston, a Mulder being saved by Alex Krycek, a Mulder finding love with Alex Krycek.

Maybe it was always meant to be this way, several divergent paths, all leading the same truth: Alex. He is somehow tied into everything that is me: my father, my beliefs, my desires. It doesn't take an intuitive leap of faith to see what the universe is trying to tell me.

Who knows, maybe tomorrow I'll be someone totally different.

I look down at Alex's face, seemingly boyish and innocent, and decide to hold onto this version of myself for as long as I can. I go back to sleep.

The sun rises and everything feels different, like it's my first day on this planet. I vaguely wonder if I am on the same planet as I was yesterday. The air, the heat of the sun, the birds chattering in the trees--- it's like I'm experiencing them all for the first time after just reading about them in books.

I can live like this. Even if I never walk, I can live like this. Fuck sense.

Alex is gone, but not really. He's not in the bed with me, but I can still feel his warmth. I can still feel his kiss. He's in the kitchen, I know it, because I smell the food and I hear the sizzle of oil. And while I've never been considered a romantic in the most perfunctory sense, I know that if I was robbed of all of my senses I would still know exactly where he was.

"Hey Mulder," Alex says, walking into the room. He's smiling, but it's a nervous, guarded smile, kept under wraps.

"Hey," I say, lazily.

"I made breakfast," he says, as if it wasn't clear what he was doing in the kitchen banging pots around. "Pancakes. Eggs. Sausage."

"Ah." I won't find out today what the other two things are.

He looks stressed out as if he might either cry or break something. Or both. Then comprehension sinks in. Last night. He's worried that last night didn't count. Time out on account of booze. I smile.

"Any freshly squeezed orange juice?" I ask.

"Uh, they're out of season," he stammers. "Look, if you're upset with me--"

"Hey. Hey. I'm kidding." I can't help but grin. I know he's so worried, but it seems a bit silly, considering the rather obvious effect on me he had last night.

"If you want to leave..." he says, not finishing the sentence.

"I'm free to walk away?" I say, smirking, making two of my fingers walk across the air.

"Mulder, I'm serious here."

"So am I. And even if I could, I wouldn't walk away. Not now."

A glow seems to wash over his face and he flutters his eyelashes.

"Now or you going to help me up or what?"

"Of course," he says, trying not to let his happiness come across as neediness. One hand is on my shoulder, the other is gripping my hand and the current passing between us is palpable. My goodness. What a difference a day makes.

I contemplate using my weight to pull him down, but I'm so frickin' hungry I really can't.

So Alex guides me to the table, and he hands me a plate with the largest pancake I have ever seen. It is full of blueberries, blueberries which we haven't had before, and I am pleasantly stunned to think of his resourcefulness, scouring the woods for blueberries. Maybe he killed somebody for them, I think playfully.

It is delicious, and despite it being bigger than the plate, I eat it all and then I eat my eggs. I wonder if I somehow rate more food now that we are lovers. I can't get over this domestic side of him. It seems unreal, as if Martha Stewart kills people in between concocting recipes for grilled asparagus and pressing pansies onto homemade stationary.

We eat and talk and drink coffee. I praise him for his culinary skills and am rewarded with him looking down at the floor shyly. It is as if the universe is allowing us to cultivate new experiences to replace the old, mangled, dark memories that plague our knowledge of each other.

It is a good morning, and I drink it in.

"Mulder, will you be okay if I leave you here for the afternoon? I've noticed a few smoke trails coming out of the west hills. Probably campers, but I should check them out." He says this casually, as if he is going to head on up to a creek to do some fishing. And while I feel I have new knowledge of him, a lover's knowledge, I am unable to read him, to ascertain whether there truly is any danger.

"I'll make it... somehow," I sniff. "Just make sure I've got enough water where I can reach it. And maybe an axe in case bears attack."

He snickers, and it's simultaneously absurd and endearing.

"I'll be fine!" I declare. "Really," I add softly. With that, I reach over, touch his hand and give it a squeeze. "Just hurry back. I think I owe you one."

His eyes flare up and his mouth opens just slightly.

Damn. To think we wasted all that time just hitting each other. Well, I hit him. He usually would just take it. Makes a strange sort of sense now.

"Go," I say. "The sooner you go, the sooner you can come back."

He just looks at me.

"And then, the sooner you can come," I add, teasing.

He gets up, pretends to pick up some dirty dishes, then drops them, all a ridiculously unconvincing pretense for moving closer to me. He is at my side.

He kneels so he's on my level and kisses me once, tenderly, then twice, much harder. It's a pleasant crescendo of sensation, feeling his warmth. His fingers brush up against my neck and along with everything, I'm filled with exciting suspicions of what each one is capable of. His mouth is wet and hot, a flame threatening to turn into an inferno.

Finally, he withdraws his mouth and whispers, "I better go. Or I won't ever leave."

I can barely speak, so I nod.

Fretting, he says, "You gonna be all right? How do you feel?"

"Like Scrooge on Christmas day. Now shut up and go."

He smiles and leaves. I know that in seconds he'll be out of sight, swallowed up by the woods. He has his gun on him, taken with no mention of it to me. He's worried, but hiding it the best he can. Left behind is his spare, laying right next to me with a bottle of water, some peanut butter sandwiches, and an old, crinkled-up paperback: Heart of Darkness.

Loss is thick in the air, and I suddenly despair at his absence. A panicky need to shout, to call him back goes through me. Don't go. Don't leave me here. With her.

I feel bad for not making him stay. For sleeping instead of fucking, instead of talking. I don't know why this fatalistic vibe has taken root, but it's powerful, and I mentally make a list of all the things I don't yet know about Alex, that now seem out of my reach to know. What his first memory is. What his first kiss was like. His favorite song. Does he have a favorite song? Does he like hockey? Or German chocolate cake?

It feels so odd to be like this, to feel I know another man so completely on a soul level that can not be rationally explained, but to be utterly clueless about the million little specific details that made Alex complete.

I take a swig of my water bottle and then look at my watch. It's 3:14. He thought he might take a couple of hours, three at the most. I set my water bottle down, deciding it might not be a good idea to fill my bladder. I pick up the book and try and get lost in it.

My position is quite comfortable, and I'm soon up the river with Marlowe, and I'm practically sweating myself from the descriptions of the sweltering Congo heat. My mind wanders and I imagine Alex as Kurtz, wandering into the jungle, becoming a part of it, being absorbed by the wildness of it, adhering to no code.

Is there a code we should live by? Is living by that code a way of escaping "the horror"? Alex has killed and I can never forget that, but I know I don't want to deny him redemption, that I can't anymore, that it would be unforgivable for me not to forgive. I've killed too, and I know how diminishing it is to the soul. I can only imagine the effect it has had on Alex. He said that he is trying to be a different person. He wants to be whole again. So do I. Together, we might just stand a chance.

I continue reading, checking my watch. It's a pattern I'm self- conscious of, but I can't stop myself. Outside, the sun is steadily working a path of inevitability towards the west, and the further it gets, the more I start to get worried.

There is nothing else to do but read, and Conrad's thick prose eventually wears me out and makes a fool of me, pulling me into the lull of sleep.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Mulder."

I jerk up, awake, scanning the room. One solitary candle is lit, the thinnest threads of light straining against the darkness. It's dark out. Night. How long have I been asleep?

"Alex?" I ask tentatively. I heard his voice, but he's nowhere to be seen.

The front door slams open, a fierce wind stealing my breath. The door slaps several times against the wall, each one getting more and more diminished.

"MULDER!!!" Alex shouts. But from where?! A ball of fear coils up in my belly. "Mulder, I need you!" the shout comes, terror laced with hopelessness. The words lacerate me from the inside up.

Dear God no. Don't hurt him. Please.

"Work...damn...you..." I spit through gritted teeth toward my legs. I push and push--physically, psychically, and all that answers in return is a cold numbness and a maddening indifference to my will. My arms still work, goddamn it!

I pull myself up, using my arms, feeling like they might snap off. The wind howls and crushes the tiny flame and I am once again plunged into darkness. Through the window and the open, rattling door, the moonlight and starlight beckon me.

Standing and leaning on the futon, I push myself forward several feet, totally overworking my arms. I don't know what I am thinking, getting myself in this position, as if the mere illusion of standing will give me the strength to use my legs again. Alex said it was all in my head. So why can't I make them work?!

"MULDER, PLEASE!" he yells, and it sounds like he is in pain.

Morality, a code of living, is shattered by the wildness residing in me, and I vow to kill anyone who has hurt him. I can't abide it. I can't live with it.

I have to run to him. Taking a deep breath, I thrust myself towards the door, willing my legs to follow suit, one foot in front of the other. I take one step, then two, and for a second the illusion becomes real and they are obeying me! I'm walking! Then the wind hits me again and it's as if it's stealing my mind-energy from my legs, and they buckle, and I crash to the ground, defeated to the soul.

"God, no!" I sob, the tears rolling down. How weak I am. How useless. He's out there, in pain, and I am powerless to help him.

The ground has me and it won't let me go. Any minute I expect her. Kathy. She's come to take me back, to shove me into the Gary Weston jail cell, where I belong. I'm absolutely undeserving of being Fox Mulder, and the universe needs to set things right with me.

"Fox," an Asian girl says, and the candle is lit once more.

I tilt my head up.

"Go to him, Fox. He needs you."

She looks about 16 or 17. She's wearing a blue-white robe with symbols on it. She looks at me kindly.

I don't have time to wonder about her, so I don't bother. She knows me somehow, and I must take it at that. "I can't walk," I say plainly, hating myself.

She walks up to me and kneels down beside me, resting her hands on my shoulders. "You can walk," she says, as if it is an explanation.

"Am I dreaming you, Tomoko?" Even in my distraught state, I recognize her from Alex's story. Real or imagined, she's here to help me, and I know I must listen.

"Yes, Fox," she says joyously. "When are you not?"

"I can't walk," I restate. "He's suffering and I can't go to him."

"Oh, Fox-san, you not only can walk... you can fly."

fly

A door opens in my mind, and a butterfly slowly flaps its wings, going inside. I feel the sun again and the truth, the elusive truth downloads into my system: I can FLY.

She lowers her face and kisses me on the forehead. I look into her eyes, which are sparkling with playfulness. An echo of Samantha shimmers in her eyes and then she is gone.

I look to the light of the moon and breathe in. The atoms move and sing the original song of life, and I take off into the night, blurring the line between me and the wind.

Trees zoom past me, and my reflexes are lightening. The air is mine, the world is mine, and nothing in this world could possibly be against me. I can't help but laugh and marvel at the dizzying ascension of my spirit.

I no longer hear his voice, but I will find him. I sense a coldness and go in that direction.

A thickening of trees, dark and ancient, looms ahead. I flow and rise above them. They are thicketed together, encircling a clearing as perfect as the ground surrounded by Stonehenge. Not knowing why and not caring, I realize that there is where I need to go.

And there, in the center of the clearing, is a shadow with no owner, a blackness taking the shape of a person. It fluctuates as I draw near, pulsating, its dark energy flowing and ebbing with desire.

I touch the ground (with my feet!) I can feel them: my toes, my feet on up through my thighs. In dreams. I can do this in dreams now.

My skin tingles, breaking out in gooseflesh. My heart quickens, and the shadow tilts its shadowy head toward me. It's then that I realize a sound, a low frequency that has been there all along, twisting my vibration without me knowing it.

The shadow. She's welcoming me home.

"UuuuhhhhhhYouuuuuuu cammmmeeee, Gareeeeee," it wails, and my legs buckle underneath me and I'm pulled to the ground.

No. God no. Fear swarms around me, buzzing in my ears like wasps, but wasps with her voice, whispering, embracing me back into her care. And the fear is given form, as the shadow leaps towards me, its tendrils caressing me, freezing the flesh that it touches.

My teeth are chattering and my arms are flailing, trying to get it off, GET IT OFF OF ME GODDAMNIT! But it won't come off, the shadow is seeping into me through my fingernails, through my nose, through my mouth, through my ears (Gaaary!), through my eyes, fuck my eyes!

"Gary." The word sinks into my flesh like a fish hook, jerking me down.

And she curls up to me, Kathy, my caretaker. My owner. And I see her now, getting more real by the second, feeding off of me, and why shouldn't she? I'm hers! My soul!

"Come back home," she coos, and I'm falling, falling, the old house where she kept me being built for me board by board, nail by nail. There's that ratty old couch! There's her Coke! Why, there's my chair! She stands behind it, smiling. "It's all ready for you," she says, waving her hand around the room. "Come on back, that's a good boy."

Tears well up and I start to sob. Who am I? I...I don't ruh- ruhmember.

"I know who you are," she says, her lilt sounding sweet and helpful. "You're Gary Weston and I take care of you."

She looks like she wants to help me. Who is she? I feel like a hollow man, my body a shell, filled up with nothing but air. Maybe I should go to her. Maybe she can tell me about myself.

I guide my body to her, falling through the vortex, but my anxiety won't go away, the emptiness won't go away. This doesn't feel right.

"You don't know right from wrong," she says. "I'll tell you those things," she says reassuringly.

I fall towards the wheelchair, the hospital smell of the house overwhelming me. And then a whisper, flying on wings, breathes in my ear. Words, spoken by the tongue of an Asian girl, flutter through my head. "Look at the calendar, Fox."

It is like coming awake from a coma to hear that word. Fox. My name. From the corner of my eye, I see the calendar, mere feet away from the chair. On it is a picture of a beach. I fall toward that instead.

"NO! Don't you fucking dare, Gary!!" the nurse cries.

Her words sting, the name stings, but I realize that the word Gary, her word of power, is not as strong as it was.

And I am on the beach, golden-copper sand glittering with the promise of summer. The waves are crashing, and the scent of sea salt is in my nose. Two seagulls fly over, headed toward the sun. I scrunch my toes up in the wet, cold, malleable sand.

I'm back with my family. The beach!! I love to go to the beach with Mom and Dad and Samantha, and we build sand castles, except mine is a sand fort. Samantha makes castles with princesses and stuff. Mine is a fort.

"Is not," she says, laughing and pointing. "You made a castle, dorkus."

"It's a fort!" I yell, exasperated. "And it's going to attack your stupid castle." I pick up a dried up starfish and sink it into her center tower. "BLAUSSSH!" I shout. "The alien starfish conqueror, Klaw-Dor attacks!"

"FOX!" she screams. "I'm going to tell Dad!" she warns.

And then, perfectly, the tide laps up and gives us a sloppy kiss, and we scream, laughing and running away. She's a pretty cool sister, even if she's a girl. I see my parents further up shore, my Dad, a very important man and scientist, struggling with a beach umbrella. Mom is trying not to laugh, but not very hard. They're pretty cool parents for being, well, parents.

I like being Fox. I like having a snot-nose sister and a worrying mom and a stern dad--

"Gareeee, come back," a voice in the sea beckons. I turn toward the ocean, its roar crashing with the waves. The water is dark, and I wonder how far I would go if I fell in.

"Fox! Get over here," my mom shouts. Samantha has tattled on me, pointing to the wreckage of her sand castle, partially devoured by the fearsome Klaw-Dor. "Come over here, right now, Fox Mulder!"

Mulder.

Mulder.

"Mulder, it's me," the woman says, and I'm holding a phone, walking down an alleyway in broad daylight.

"Yes?" I ask. Her voice is breathy, like she's been running or climbing stairs, but crisp and full of purpose as well. There is an unspoken confidence and a measured rationalism that I can feel between each breath.

Scully.

"I think you'll be interested to know that your werewolf, Sergio Chavez, has turned up dead. The time of death was estimated 12:35 a.m. Last Monday."

"Really," I say, not listening to the words so much as the sound of her voice, absorbing the drive behind her report, her breathtaking desire to make order out of chaos. I suddenly know that if anybody can do it, she can, even if she has to make the molds herself and pour the uncategorizable into it, boiling and all, to gel into something rational, something safe, something good.

And I know that I love her. She asks the questions I don't have time to think about. But her curiosity and her desire to understand rival my own. Scully. The word warms me. I am Mulder and she is my Scully. My soul tingles.

"Don't leave me, Gary," a voice wails, coming from the sky. I look up and the clear blue is being invaded by swirling ribbons of black and grey clouds, forming quicker than is possible. The wind is picking up and I am cold again.

"Are you listening to me, Mulder? Our primary suspect is dead. Which, logically, leaves either Wes Trudon or Alex Burke."

Alex.

Alex.

And I am back in the cabin. Awake. And Alex... Alex is here. Stepping through the door. I get up off the futon and run to him, cupping his face and pulling it to mine. My mouth is pressing into his, all neurons flashing, our tongues wrapping around each other, our throats mewling. Finally! FINALLY! He is here. Alex Krycek, standing here, the answer to my question, the question to my answer.

Tumblers sliding into place with interlocking precision. An itch on my right calf. A wonderful pain in my big toe on my left foot. My memories flood into me, washing away the preprogrammed life of Gary Weston. My molecules are mine again, my thoughts are mine again.

The kiss is broken and he speaks. "Mulder, you're walking!" he says with smiling astonishment.

I nod, grin back, and we embrace again, my lips smashing into his, hot tears flowing from both sets of eyes. How is that I can I find myself in the kiss of another? I don't know, but I plan to spend as much time as possible finding out.

Our mouths finally separate and he staggers slightly back, his face failing to hold back what can only be fear. His eyes are full of ghosts and sadness, the green burning cold.

"Alex, what is it?" I say, my heart starting to pound, now fully cognizant of what could possibly be taken away from me.

"We have to get out of here," he says without a breath. "The alien bounty hunter... He's found us."

"What does he want?" I blurt out dumbly.

Alex looks at me, then down at the floor. "Clean-up." He breaks into a dark grin. "I think I pissed 'em off this time." He locates the gun that he gave me earlier, now sitting on the futon, waiting here all this time for someone to pick it up and kill something with it, its greatest wish, the full realization of its utility.

I take it from him, the metal feeling good in my hand despite it being a completely ineffectual weapon against the alien hunter's acid physiogony. My mind circles around, picturing the violent anti-life churning underneath the bounty hunter's thick, malleable skin, the hot steaming poison inside. Alex might as well be handing me a comb.

"Back of the neck, right?" I say weakly. He nods and loads his weapon. "Well, between the two of us..."

"Just be... just be careful, Mulder. He could very easily pull that shape-shifting shit on us, too." He bolts the door.

"That's pretty hard to say. Shape-shitting..."

His eyes flame bright at my joke and the corners of his mouth go up.

"You're okay, aren't you," he says in wonderment. "You came back."

"And I'm never going away. Even if I die, I'm never going away."

The shack rattles as an unnamable force hits the front door. The door shudders, but does not break. Alex hugs the wall and aims his gun toward the entryway. He motions for me to move, but I stand in the middle of the room, deciding then and there to make myself an irresistible target in a fit of pure fatalism. I do not wish to die, but I do feel fate guiding me, nudging me into playing my part. Alex motions again, violently, and I shake my head. Not moving. The air thickens with silence before erupting.

The bounty hunter, a thick ruddy mass of a man, slams through the door, chunks of wood flying in deference to his will. Alex and I flinch and brace ourselves. The hunter stares at me, a patient predator, an implacable calmness and sense of purpose on his face. He can change shape, though, I think absurdly. I wonder if he masks emotions like fear and doubt into an unreadable visage of surety.

Alex is to the side of him, but not far enough behind him to get a clear shot. He remains immobile, hoping that the thing that has come to kill us will not turn around. I cock my gun and the bounty hunter stands there. We both know that I cannot shoot it. I hope my nervous aggressiveness will keep him away from Alex.

I feel naked, defenseless in direct contrast with this creature whose every atom is designed to wipe me off the face of the earth. Still, I have one weapon that he couldn't possibly understand. My eyes hit Alex's in a silent exchange. He mouths the word "Go."

I can't shoot the fucker, so I throw the gun at him, turn and run. He catches the weapon seconds before it would have smacked him across the bridge of his nose. I run into the bedroom, panting, praying for him to follow me with his neck exposed to Alex. A shot rings out, cracking the air. In the corner of the room, two swords, slivers of light glinting off of them, beckon. Another shot rings out and I grab both swords and run back out.

I see the two of them, the hunter's powerful fingers around Alex's neck. He is inhuman, but not without irony. He is holding the gun I threw at him with the other hand and there is a thickening splotch of blood spreading around Alex's chest.

My heart forgets to beat. Alex has been shot. He is defiantly fluttering his eyes open, staring back at his killer as if to say: "Is that all you got?"

I see him slipping away from me, and my body shudders as if his ghost has already kissed me. I push any thoughts away into a ball in the center of my chest, an angry hard rock, and I focus on killing that thing, that disease. I rush him, almost certain he has never had someone rush at him with two katanas before.

His neck has a lovely ugliness to it. It is wide, a seemingly easy target, and yet, as evidenced in the hunter still standing after many years of cat and mouse, maddeningly difficult to actually touch. I ask the neck to give itself to me. I will give it my rock of grief in return.

The hunter turns as I thrust upward with the sword, going for that singular vulnerability, and he parries with his arm in a swift, economical motion, using it as a blunt object to send my blade flying. He lets go of Alex, who slumps to the ground, leaving a column of blood painted on the wall. I take the other sword and cut into the side of his neck, hoping I can cut close enough to get to his weak spot. Thin wisps of acid gas curl out of him and my face seems to boil in pain. He punches me in the face and I can't see anymore. I fall to the floor. My eyes won't open. I hear Alex trying to talk, but it comes out as gurgling.

I begin to cry, the loss of him hitting me, an anaesthetic to the pain of the acid, a perfect numbness. "I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry," I whisper, feeling for him. I pull my body over to his, so he can feel my breath, so I can try to feel his. I don't know where the Bounty Hunter is, and I don't care.

"We...we found each other... didn't we?" Alex wheezes. "That's worth something, isn't it?" There is a longer pause between his breaths now.

I hold his face in my hands. He's burning up, as if his life is boiling up out of him. My tears baptize his face. "You can't leave, Alex. I still owe you, remember? You can't leave!"

A breath slips out of him, and I know he's smiling. "Y-yuh do, don't you?" He sighs. "I love you, Mulder," he says plainly.

My voice breaks as I answer. "I love you, too." The sorrow rushes to overtake me. I won't let it. "You're so strong. No way out, Alex. You're not leaving! So strong. So strong."

He takes my cue. "Yu-yes. `S-strong. Fuh...feel better." He smiles. "I'm feeling st-stronger." The blood stain on his shirt blooms outward, like a rose.

"Shh, shh, yes, we're going to walk on out of here. You're going to tell me what the other two things are that you cook. You have to tell me that, Alex. You have to. And we're going to live together for a very long time and have more--have more sex than you can handle."

"Uhh can huhndle lot, Muhl... Muhl..." Alex takes a breath.

And then, he doesn't.

I see him as when I first met him, dressed like it was the first day of school. Then it all speeds up, trapped in fast forward.

"It's your 302. Assistant Director Skinner just approved it. That would be me. Krycek, Alex Krycek." I try to hold onto the images, but they stream away from me, water slipping out of my hands.

I begin to wail and curse him, the alien monstrosity that has taken him away from me. I finger along the floor and grab the hilt of the sword and raise it up, jabbing blindly.

"Do you even know what you've done?" I yell through sobs. "Do you have any conception of loss? Of love? You fucking monster! Have you ever done anything but destroy?"

An intense purple invades the blackness of my sight before bleeding into white. My pain goes away and I start to float, and I'm flying to the ceiling, my body and Alex's down below. The Bounty Hunter is standing over our bodies curiously. I watch him, wondering if he will destroy our bodies.

He kneels down to us, and he speaks. "I have not," he says. My body's fingers are laying across Alex's, tenderly. The bounty hunter traces along our fingers with his own. Then he raises his hand up to his face, examining it. "But I do not lack the capacity," he says slowly, carefully examining each word.

He lowers his hands to our bodies and shuts his eyes as if he is praying. Maybe he is. Then the world dissolves and I feel like I'm falling off the Empire State Building.

My eyes flutter and I push myself up. I jerk my head over to Alex. He opens his eyes, lazily. He's smiling.

"Lasagna," he croaks. "And stuffed peppers. I make really good stuffed peppers."

"Alex!" I answer, and I lean into him and hug the shit out of him. We're alive. He's alive. Jesus, that fucking alien did it. He healed us. I feel dizzy thinking about it, our love for each other more powerful than acid, stronger than a bullet to the gut. My heart swells, realizing that the alien bounty hunter is no longer a bounty hunter. He looked at us, then at himself, and realized he was a healer.

I let Alex go, after squeezing him for two full minutes. "This--this is a sign."

"That God likes us?"

"That we're on the right path."

I kiss him, like, forever. Then we get up, packing everything, including the swords. I don't know if they really are cursed, but they are a part of us now. Forged in love, tempered in hot blood and regret, and all that washed away with redemptive tears. We are bonded to them as we are bonded to each other.

They are our responsibility now.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The End


 

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