Disclaimer: X-Files and its characters do not belong to me.XXXXXX
Mulder stood in shock as Skinner aimed the gun at Krycek. He heard him whisper 'I have to do this,' and then the shots rang out. Two hit Krycek's chest and then there was a third. As the bullet pierced Krycek's brain, Mulder felt as if his head exploded. He gasped, feeling nauseous. Blinking his eyes and squinting painfully through the pain, he was shocked to find Skinner once again holding the gun on Krycek while the younger man kept babbling incoherently. He couldn't understand what was happening.
"I have to do this," Skinner said, his finger tightening on the trigger.
Without conscious thought, Mulder was throwing himself over Krycek... no, not Krycek, Alex. He only dimly felt the bullet hit, as the pain in his head was all consuming. Whimpering, he clenched a hand around around Alex's jacket. 'Alex...'
Skinner and Krycek both froze. Alex recovered first, scrambling for Mulder's gun and bringing it up before Skinner could fire again. "Drop it," he growled. His heart was thundering in his chest. What the hell was going on? Had he really come here to kill Mulder? Or be killed by Mulder? And Skinner was going to shoot him... He had been dead. No way even he could have survived a bullet at point blank range. But Mulder... He cut the thought off. Now was not the time to sort out the mess that was the relationship between him and Fox Mulder. Not with Skinner still holding a gun and Mulder bleeding.
"Mulder," Skinner whispered. He couldn't believe what had just happened. Mulder had jumped in front of his gun to save... Alex Krycek. It made no sense.
"I said drop it," Alex ordered again.
Skinner looked up, confused, and met the hard green eyes of Krycek over the muzzle of a gun. Mulder's gun. He looked down again, seeing the blood that now stained the back of Mulder's jacket. Swallowing hard, he carefully lowered his gun to the pavement.
"Kick it away," Alex said, not moving a muscle.
Skinner complied, raising his hands, his eyes not moving from his agent's... former agent's still form. He'd shot Mulder... in the back. But Mulder had jumped in front of the bullet... Krycek had been ranting like a maniac, but now he seemed normal--well, normal for Krycek. What the hell had just happened?
Once the gun was out of Skinner's reach, Alex chanced a quick glance down. Mulder still wasn't moving, and he could see the blood seeping through his clothes. Trying not to move the other man more than necessary, he wriggled out from underneath him, never letting the gun waver away from Skinner. He had been surprised to find Mulder holding onto his jacket, but the limp fingers had fallen away as he moved. He wasn't sure what to do. Mulder needed a doctor... Mulder had saved his life...
"I need to call an ambulance," Skinner said quietly.
Alex frowned, looking from Skinner to Mulder and back. He knew it made the most sense, but for some reason, he was reluctant to allow Mulder out of his sight. And there was no way he'd be able to visit the man in the hospital. Skinner and Scully would see to that. His mouth twisted. "I don't think so," he whispered. He'd figure out what was going on once he and Mulder got away from here.
"Damn it, Krycek, he's going to bleed to death if he doesn't get medical attention soon," Skinner said. 'If he's not dead already,' a bleak voice inside his head added.
"'m not dead yet," Mulder mumbled. Moving slowly and painfully, he managed to turn himself over, coughing slightly as he did so. Blood dribbled down his chin, and he shuddered as he collapsed onto his back.
"Mulder?" Skinner asked, starting to move towards his fallen agent... ex-agent.
"Hold it! Don't move," Krcyek said, bending down while keeping the gun trained on Skinner. He was relieved that there was an exit wound. If the bullet had still been inside Mulder, it would have been worse. "Mulder, what do you want me to do," he asked softly.
"Alex," Mulder whispered. "No hospitals... promise..." He winced as the intense emotions of the other two men swept over him, and he could already start to hear the whispers of so many others. He squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered softly.
"All right, no hospitals," Alex agreed. Looking back up at Skinner, he thought quickly. He stood back up and moved away from Mulder. "You heard him--no hospitals. Put him in the car," Alex said, motioning to the car behind them.
"That's insane! At least let me call Scully," Skinner protested.
"No!" two voices cried out. And both Skinner and Alex looked at Mulder in shock.
"Mulder..." Skinner began, but Mulder cut him off.
"No... sir." Pained hazel eyes opened and the gold in them almost seemed to glow. "Don't tell Scully. She has a new baby, a new partner--a new life. I don't want her to be dragged back into the chaos that is my life," Mulder stated firmly, then he spoiled it somewhat when he started coughing again. "Please, help me into the car."
Shaking his head, and not quite sure why he was doing it, Skinner bent down and lifted Mulder up, both men groaning as he did so. "And just why is it that you need to go with Krcyek?" he muttered.
"It'll be all right. Just tell Scully I'm going underground for awhile--which is true," Mulder said, focusing all of his attention on the conversation even as his vision started to dim. "I'm serious about this. Don't tell Scully and... don't look for us."
Skinner was frozen for an instant, staring into Mulder's eyes. 'Don't tell Scully and don't look for us.' The command almost seemed to echo over and over in his mind as he fell into a soft, golden haze.
Alex waited impatiently as Skinner got Mulder into the car, settling him in the passenger seat, reclining it, and fastening the seat belt. "Good enough. We've got to get out of here. I'm sure someone will be coming to investigate the gun shot. Move over to that stairwell and go inside. We're leaving."
When Alex spoke, Skinner came back to himself with a start, shaking his head to clear it.
Mistaking the head shake as an indication of refusal, Krycek changed the angle of the gun somewhat. "Move it or I take out your knee cap."
Fuming, and still a bit dazed, Skinner backed slowly away, his eyes never leaving Krycek's. "If he dies..."
"If he dies, we're all screwed," Alex stated, and somehow he knew that it was true. It was fact. He frowned, trying to recall how he knew that. As soon as he judged Skinner was far enough away not to be able to interfere, he got in the car, reaching under the mat for the key.
Mulder coughed again, turning his head to look at Alex. The other man had ceased to be Krycek the minute that other bullet had hit Alex's brain. For now and always, he would be Alex, as in that one instant, all of the sins that Mulder had held against him had ceased to be important. He finally realized that having Alex alive was necessary--necessary to him. 'Alex,' he thought, and smiled slightly as he finally allowed unconciousness to take him.
When Alex glanced over at the unconscious man, he was surprised to see the small smile gracing Mulder's face. 'The man is insane,' he told himself, not for the first time, but that fact didn't keep a small smile of his own from forming. 'I guess that makes two of us.'XXXXX
Watching every move the doctor made, Alex still couldn't believe the way the day had turned out. For one thing, he seemed to have lost his mind. Suicidal tendencies were not one of his faults. But he couldn't dispute the facts. He'd confronted Mulder and Skinner with every intention of dying, and then Mulder had turned everything upside down. Per usual. Never in his wildest dreams would he have expected Mulder to take a bullet for him. And even more than that, Mulder had chosen him over Scully and Skinner--trusted him not to take him to a hospital. Once he'd seen the scars, he could definitely understand Mulder's aversion to hospitals. He'd known that Mulder had been experimented on while he was 'missing,' but the reality had been worse than he'd imagined. He winced in sympathy as he followed the map of pain that scored the other man's body.
"What happened to him?" the doctor asked, his voice hushed in shock and horror.
"You don't want to know. Once we're gone, forget you ever saw him, and forget you ever saw me. It'll be safer that way," Alex said.
The doctor flicked a quick look over at Alex and nodded. "I'm just about done. He was lucky. If the bullet had struck just a tiny bit more to the left, it would have nicked an artery and he would have bled out."
Lucky, right. Alex nearly snorted at that, even as he shuddered internally at how close it had been--for both of them. "Any special instructions?" he asked, instead.
"I'll send some painkillers and antibiotics with you, to prevent infection. You should probably remove the stitches in about a week or so." The doctor glanced up at the bag of blood he'd hooked up. "He's lost quite a bit of blood, but this transfusion should be enough. If he seems anemic at all, get some iron supplements or feed him liver," the doctor suggested.
Alex nodded. "Any restrictions?"
"Just use common sense. He needs to rest for a few days, so the wounds can heal. If he moves around too much, there's the possibility of the stitches popping and he could start bleeding again."
Oh, Mulder was going to love that. From what he'd observed, the man hardly ever sat still. Well, if necessary, he could always handcuff the man to the bed. Which might not be such a bad idea, anyway... You just never knew how the man was going to react. Although, he had to admit, that just might be part of the appeal. Things were definitely never boring when Mulder was around.
"Could you help me for a minute? I need you to hold him upright while I wrap his chest," the doctor said, efficiently snipping the thread from the knot he'd just made.
Alex came forward slowly. He hesitantly reached out and grabbed hold of Mulder's shoulder on his uninjured side. He was momentarily surprised by the solid warmth under his hand.
"Good, now just hold him steady," the doctor approved, as he began wrapping gauze around Mulder's chest, careful not to bind it too tightly.
Suddenly, Mulder tensed under his hand and Alex looked down to see Mulder staring up at him, his eyes almost seemed to be glowing.
"Alex, we have to leave... now," Mulder said.
Alex stared at him and then looked over at the doctor.
"No, he didn't," Mulder whispered and then his eyes squeezed shut tightly.
Not questioning his acceptance of Mulder's words, Alex simply stood up straighter. "Doctor, grab the stuff we need. We have to get out of here.
The doctor looked in confusion from one man to the other. He didn't understand what was going on, but he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck starting to stand up. There was fear in the air, and it wasn't all his.
Mulder forced his eyes back open to look blearily at the man who had been tending his wounds. "Take a long vacation, Doc," he suggested.
Staring into those strangely mesmerizing eyes, the doctor nodded. That sounded like a very good idea. With adrenaline now pumping in his veins, he taped the gauze down and hurried to grab a bag in which to dump supplies. "You'll need to change the dressing at least daily, more often if he starts to bleed again or there's any sign of infection," he said as he threw in gauze, tape, antiobiotic cream and other medical paraphernalia.
Alex was silent as he tried to get a scrub shirt on Mulder as quickly as possible, while at the same time causing as little pain as necessary. He could feel the tension thrumming through the other man and wasn't at all surprised when Mulder took a deep breath and stood up. Mulder swayed and then leaned against Alex for support, trying to clear his head. "No time, move," Mulder urged.
Alex didn't argue as he shuffled Mulder toward the door, but he did mutter under his breath, "Once we're out of here, you ARE going to explain what the hell is going on..."
Mulder started to laugh and immediately regretted it as pain shot through his chest and changed it to a cough. "Isn't... that... my... line," he managed to gasp out.
Giving him a sardonic glance, Alex just shook his head and kept moving. If the other man hadn't been about to fall over anyway, Alex would have taken great pleasure in strangling him... or maybe beating his head against a convenient wall. He was beginning to think like Mulder, and wasn't that a scary thought. There was another choked sound from Mulder, but he didn't attempt to say anything else.
Mulder sank down into the passenger seat of the doctor's car with a quiet sigh of relief. Every nerve in his body was screaming for him to move, but he hurt and he was too tired to do much more than twitch at the moment. Silently, he urged Alex to hurry. The hunters were getting closer.
The balls of his feet were itching, and Alex felt like he was watching a fuse quickly burn down on a stick of dynamite. He had to force himself to go back and grab the medical bag. All he really wanted to do was jump in the car and get the hell away from this place as fast as he could. As he took the bag from the doctor, he stared directly into his eyes. "Leave now. Don't pack. Just buy whatever you need. In a couple of weeks, you can probably come back, but if you don't leave now, you may never do so," he stated as he handed over the keys to the car he'd snatched in the parking garage. "Ditch the car as soon as possible. The Feds are probably looking for it."
The doctor hesitated, but then reached for the keys and followed him out, and Alex breathed a soft sigh of relief. He'd rather not have any more unnecessary deaths on his conscience.
Finally, Alex got in the car and started it up all in one motion. As he sped off, he could just see in the rear view mirror a dark van skidding around the corner and pulling up to the doc's residence.
For his part, Mulder was concentrating on how inconspicuous they were. Just another car on the road, no one interesting inside, nothing memorable about them at all. He kept it up until Alex had made more than a few turns and then allowed himself to relax somewhat. The pain in his head was making him see spots, and the press of so many other thoughts and emotions wasn't helping. This time, however, he managed to remain quiet, no howling out his agony for the world to hear. He didn't want to freak Alex out--well, any more than he already had.
"Mulder?" Alex asked when he finally chanced a glance over at the other man. Mulder didn't look good. His breath was coming in small pants and Alex could see the perspiration on his brow. He frowned. The other man hadn't looked this bad in the doctor's office. "Are you all right?"
At first, all Mulder could manage was a faint whimper. Then, taking a deep breath, he tried to assemble a coherent thought. "Need... someplace... quiet," he managed to get out through gritted teeth. "Please, Alex... hurry..." And then he snapped his mouth shut, biting his lip to keep from screaming.
'Quiet?' Alex thought in confusion. It was quiet. And then he flashed back to Mulder in a stairwell, curled up in a fetal position with his hands over his hears and screaming about voices. "Shit," he cursed softly.
"Yeah..." Mulder agreed breathily. He could feel the tension rising in the car as Alex began thinking through the ramifications of his realization. Fear, anger, concern, and a bunch of other emotions all swirled in the man grimly driving and Mulder felt the wave of feelings surge over him. "Alex, please..." he choked out and then let the tide simply carry him away as he surrendered finally to unconsciousness.
Turning his head to lay into Mulder about trespassing in his mind, Alex cut off his words as Mulder seemed to go completely boneless in his seat. Now, worry overcame the fear and anger he had felt and he increased his speed. Quiet, Mulder needed quiet... But first, they needed a different car.
'And here I was supposed to be ending this crappy life on the run with everyone after me,' Alex thought to himself wryly. 'Trust Mulder to screw up even that plan. Not that I'm complaining, mind, as it was a pretty piss poor plan. Doesn't seem like me at all.' He'd been surprised when Mulder had lowered his gun. He'd thought for sure the other man would be more than happy to put him out of both their misery. When he'd realized Mulder wouldn't do it, however, he'd had no trouble provoking Skinner to do the deed. But then Mulder had jumped in front of the bullet... Alex shook his head. All it had taken was Mulder getting shot and Alex had come to his senses. Why on earth would he be trying to get himself killed? And what was all that nonsense he'd been sputtering? That wasn't him, but if not for Mulder, it wouldn't have mattered--he'd still have been just as dead. He couldn't figure Mulder out. And now, it appeared that Mulder's telepathy had returned? When had that happened? And was that why...? Mulder had been calling him Alex... not a single Krycek since the other man had been shot. Alex swore again, but this time in Russian. No one else could confuse him and twist his insides into knots the way that one Fox William Mulder could... and did.XXXXX
"Mulder, wake up. We're changing vehicles and I need you to move," Alex said, shaking the other man's shoulder gently. He received an incoherent grumble in response, and then one bleary hazel eye opened and glared at him balefully. "You can go back to sleep once you're in the truck," Alex promised.
Mulder muttered under his breath, but allowed Alex to help him out of the car. When he got a look at the 4x4 pickup truck Alex was leading him to, he paused for a moment in surprise. It certainly didn't look like a vehicle he would have ever pictured Alex choosing.
"Hey, don't knock it. It'll be good for off road travel, which is exactly what we need for where we're going. You wanted quiet, I'm going to give you quiet," Alex said, urging Mulder forward.
Swallowing down the redneck comment that had popped into his brain at the sight of the truck, Mulder just ducked his head down and concentrated on reaching the truck. The force of gravity seemed so much stronger than usual, and Mulder was breathing heavily by the time they managed to get him into the truck. A feat which was made all the more difficult by how high the cab was from the ground. By the time Alex was fastening his seat belt, Mulder was already sliding back down into unconsciousness.
Alex shook his head as Mulder went completely limp again. It amazed him how much Mulder seemed to trust him all of a sudden. Of course, if Mulder really could read his mind, he would know that Alex would never hurt him--at least, not intentionally. He quickly checked the bandages to make sure the bleeding hadn't restarted and let out a soft sigh of relief when he didn't find any spotting. He stowed the bag of medical supplies behind the seat and climbed in the driver's side. Yawning, he glanced around carefully before easing the truck out of the garage. Sometimes, it paid to be prepared for almost any eventuality, and Alex had hidey holes set up in various places.XXXXX
Alex rubbed his eyes wearily. Dawn was breaking, but they'd finally reached their destination. Mulder had slept through the entire trip, but his color, at least, had improved. Reaching to nudge the other man awake, Mulder's eyes opened, blinking sleepily.
"We stopped moving," Mulder mumbled, peering out the window curiously.
"We're here," Alex said, and then his face split in a huge yawn.
Mulder smiled. "I think it's your turn to sleep for awhile," he said, and then his eyes widened.
"What? What is it?" Alex asked, looking around for a threat.
"It's so quiet," Mulder whispered, awe in his voice. "And my head doesn't feel like it's going to burst. Thank you," he said sincerely.
For the first time in a long time, Alex felt his cheeks heat in a blush. He'd only ever heard Mulder use that tone with Scully, and it was not even a common occurence then. Swallowing, he looked away. "Come on, we need to get you inside."
Mulder nodded, unfastening his seatbelt. 'I'm going to have to tell him soon, although he's already figured it out,' he thought to himself. 'Suspecting is never the same as knowing.' He watched as Alex came around the front of the truck to open his door. Alex wasn't moving quite as gracefully as usual, fatigue and stress pulling at him. Mulder could feel it, himself, teasing at the edges of his mind. He was trying to ignore the other man's thoughts and emotions as much as possible, but that was his biggest problem--he had no control. Thankfully, Alex had found them a place far from other minds to shield against. Mulder was hoping that, with Alex's help, he would learn to block the constant deluge of feelings and voices that tried to overwhelm him when he was in the presence of many people.
"It's going to be cold inside," Alex warned as he helped Mulder out of the truck, steadying the other man as he swayed slightly. "I'll get a fire going as soon as I get you settled."
"And then you should get some sleep. It won't do either of us any good if you get sick," Mulder said, gasping a bit as the movement jarred him.
"Yes, mother," Alex answered sardonically.
Mulder just grunted. Between the drugs the doctor had given him and Alex's fatigue, he was having problems just getting his feet to move one in front of the other. When they finally reached the door to the cabin, Mulder leaned against the wall with his eyes closed, trying to catch his breath as Alex worked the lock.
"I should have done this before getting you out of the truck," Alex muttered under his breath. It would have made a lot more sense to check out the cabin and get the fire started before making Mulder move. It was obvious the man needed to lie down. But Alex's own tiredness was working against him. 'That's no excuse. You've done much more on less sleep,' Alex criticized himself as he got the door open. 'Of course, considering you just barely missed a bullet with your name on it, I guess you're doing pretty well.' A slight sound from Mulder made him turn and he was pinned by a burning hazel gaze.
"Don't..." Mulder whispered, his throat tight. He could feel tears stinging behind his eyes and once more he saw Alex being shot in the head by Skinner. He shuddered.
"Mulder? Are you all right? Just hang on, you'll get warmed up again once the fire is going," Alex said, reaching out to touch the other man's shoulder. To his surprise, Mulder gripped him firmly in an embrace, holding him tightly. He could feel shivers running through Mulder's body and hesitently returned the embrace with his good arm, trying not to press too closely against the wounded chest. At a loss as to what exactly was wrong, he pulled back a bit, trying to direct Mulder toward the doorway.
Mulder wouldn't release Alex, but he did allow the other man to guide him inside. He couldn't believe Alex - Alex the survivor - had been plotting suicide by cop, or, in this case, suicide by FBI agent. It was contrary to the man's very nature. Had he just been worn down by the seemingly impossible fight? Tired of constantly being on the run with no one to trust? Mulder could relate to what he guessed must be battle fatigue, but he'd never thought to see Alex, of all people, fall prey to it. At least Alex didn't seem depressed now. Anxious, yes. Confused, yes. Concerned, even, mixed with some anger and frustration. But suicidal, no. Finally, Mulder allowed his grip to ease somewhat, although he still kept the contact with the other man. "Why, Alex? Why did you do it?" he rasped out.
"Why did I do what, Mulder? You're going to have to be more specific," Alex retorted wearily, exasperated by Mulder's return to form--always wanting to know the whys about things. He continued to walk the other man inside, slowly and steadily. Almost to the couch...
"Try to get yourself killed," Mulder whispered. "I don't understand..."
Alex blew out a breath. Well, that was the question, wasn't it? Alex didn't understand it himself and that scared him. For he had always known his own mind before--what his motivations were, what his options were, why he did the things he did--but this... "I don't know," he finally admitted.
Mulder blinked. He hadn't been expecting that. His brow furrowed. Alex's words and thoughts coincided, so he wasn't lying--he truly didn't know. And that was a cause for concern. Deep in thought, he didn't even notice that Alex had gotten him down onto the couch until the other man tried to pull away. Reflexively, he tightened his grip.
"Mulder, I have to check out the cabin and get the fire going. You have to let go," Alex was saying, his voice low and soothing.
"Sorry," Mulder said, reluctantly releasing his hold. He wanted to stay in contact with Alex, just to reassure himself that the other man was still alive.
"S'all right. Just rest now."
Mulder nodded obediently, his eyes never leaving Alex's form. He watched him move silently about the cabin until he disappeared from view and waited patiently for him to return, following him mentally as Alex kept a constant string of Russian curses flowing in his mind. Mulder smiled slightly; it seemed he was going to become quite fluent in Russian profanity in the near future. The soft litany was somehow relaxing and, sometime after Alex stubbed his toe in the kitchen, Mulder drifted off.
Muttering to himself, Alex cut himself off when he saw that Mulder had once again fallen asleep. He debated between waking the wounded man to take his medicine or letting him sleep, but common sense won out. It would be stupid to allow the man to get an infection just because Alex hadn't had the heart to disturb him when he looked to be resting so peacefully. Well, he could at least wait until he'd built up the fire and fixed some food. It wasn't good to take medicine on an empty stomach, after all, and Mulder would need the nutrients in order to heal.XXXXX
Alex jerked himself back awake. He'd been stirring the soup when he'd started to drift off. Not good. He had to eat, get Mulder to eat, give Mulder his meds, and then he could sleep. Banging the spoon on the pot more to keep himself awake than to get the excess soup off, Alex turned off the stove. He already had the bowls ready, so it was quick work to pour the soup evenly into each one. Once that was done, he rinsed the pot out in the sink and dropped a spoon in each bowl. Time to wake up Mulder.
The gentle touch on his shoulder woke him even as he heard his name being called. Mulder blinked his eyes open and found Alex standing over him. "Mmhh?" he managed.
Alex grinned tiredly. A sleepy Mulder was always amusing. "Time to eat."
At the mention of food, Mulder noticed the appetizing aroma coming from the kitchen and sniffed appreciatively. "Mmm, smells good," he observed. Wincing as he tried to lever himself up, he was grateful when Alex offered him a hand. "Thanks," he said, as between the two of them they managed to get Mulder into sitting position. He looked at Alex with some concern. "You haven't rested yet, Alex," he scolded.
"I'll lie down after we eat," Alex promised, baffled by the concern and the gentle nagging. He was amazed when that got him a brilliant smile from Mulder.
"All right," Mulder agreed.
Alex bit his tongue before he blurted out the questions that were burning in his brain. Why did Mulder care? Why did Mulder take the bullet meant for him? How did he know the hunters were coming? He shook his head, which turned out to be a bad idea as it made him dizzy and he lost his balance. He was steadied by a strong hand at his waist.
"Easy there. You're just about dead on your feet. We'll eat, then you'll sleep, and then I'll try to answer your questions," Mulder said.
Alex couldn't argue with that logic, so he simply returned to the kitchen for Mulder's soup. Once the other man was eating, Alex rummaged through the medical bag for his medicine and brought the tablets along with a glass of water.
Frowning, Mulder opened his mouth to argue against the pain killers, but taking in the weariness in Alex's eyes, he changed his mind. "Thank you," he said instead, taking the medicine meekly. He didn't need to read Alex's mind to know his thoughts, his smirk told it all--Alex had known perfectly well that Mulder was about to protest the drugs and had already been prepared with his arguments.
"You're welcome," Alex said, relieved he hadn't had to fight with Mulder already. He was just too tired to argue.
"Go get your soup, Alex," Mulder urged quietly.
"Yeah..." Alex agreed and trudged back to the kitchen.XXXXX
Mulder watched Alex sleep from his place on the sofa. The younger man had insisted on sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor in front of the fire. Mulder had offered the couch, but Alex had refused. Sighing quietly, Mulder sat up and rubbed his face with his hands. The pull on his stitches hurt, but he ignored it. He had more important things to worry about. Things were coming back to him now, things that he had learned while in the hands of the aliens, things that Alex would need to know. He shivered as some more visceral memories flashed briefly in his mind and he forced them away by returning his gaze to Alex. Alex, who he now realized had become his touchstone, displacing the position that Scully had held for so long. But now, he understood that although his connection with Scully was strong, the need he had for Alex far surpassed it. Convincing Alex of that fact, however, was going to take some doing. Mulder himself had been fighting the knowledge for years, and it was only in the instant of losing Alex forever that his heart and mind had acknowledged the truth. He couldn't quite keep the whimper from escaping as he once more saw the bullet heading straight for Alex's head.
"Mulder?" a voice thick with sleep queried.
Mulder coughed, clearing his throat. "It's OK, Alex. Go back to sleep," he said, relieved that his voice didn't sound as shaky as he felt.
There was an unidentifiable response, and then Alex's breathing evened out again. Leaning back against the sofa and allowing his head to drop onto the back, Mulder studied the ceiling as he gnawed on his bottom lip. There was so little time. He cursed the mind wipes that had caused him to allow so much time to pass without action. But now... now, the blanks in his memory were slowly filling in, and the connections he was making were frightening.XXXXX
Alex didn't know precisely what had awakened him, but something in the room had changed. He kept still for a moment, re-orienting himself with his whereabouts and his mission. Mission. He almost snorted at that, as the events from before he finally allowed himself to rest came back to him in a rush. Evidently, his current mission was Fox Mulder. No different than normal, then. Except that it was. This time, Mulder had saved him. Mulder. With a gasp, he sat up and looked at the couch. It was empty. "Shit!" Scrambling up, he already had one boot on and was jamming his foot into the other when the door opened and Mulder came in. "What are you doing up?" he yelled, anger and worry evident in his voice.
Mulder blinked, a bit stunned at Alex's volatile reaction. "I... I just... needed some air," he said weakly.
Alex was already in front of him and guiding him back to the couch. "Then you should have woken me up. Jesus, Mulder, you've been shot. The doctor said you had to rest, not give me a heart attack by disappearing."
"Sorry," Mulder said faintly, allowing Alex to lower him to the couch and drape the blanket over him. He was cold, so cold, but there were things that needed to be done. One thing that needed to be done right now. He stared at Alex, wondering what he would do if it didn't work.
Alex opened his mouth to scold Mulder some more, but the man already looked miserable. And it wasn't as though Alex couldn't understand the need to just go outside. He sighed. "It's fine. Just don't do it again." He caught a whiff of something and frowned. Was that gasoline? Before he could ask about it, Mulder took his hand.
"Alex, I need you to come outside with me," Mulder said, his tone serious and urgent.
"But you just came back inside," Alex protested.
Biting back the questions he wanted to ask, Alex reluctantly nodded. "All right. But then we're coming back in and you're going to rest. Understood?"
"Understood," Mulder agreed.
Alex gave Mulder a puzzled look. Mulder never gave in so quickly. There was definitely something up. 'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth,' he told himself. 'Just be thankful he's not fighting you every step of the way.'
The blanket slid off Mulder's shoulders as he stood up, and he immediately missed its warmth. Well, in a few minutes, he'd hopefully have something else to keep him warm. Alex insisted on helping him, so he allowed it, easing some of his weight onto the other man's shoulder. Not only did it allow him to save some of his strength, but it would make what had to happen next that much easier.
"So, what is it you wanted to come out here for?" Alex asked.
"Over here," Mulder said, leading them off to the side of the cabin.
Alex could see that a small circle, like a fire pit, had been dug up in the ground and the smell of gasoline was strong. "What have you been doing out here?" he asked, suspicious. "If you wanted a fire, there's a nice one burning in the fireplace--inside."
The faintest hint of a smile crossed Mulder's face. "I know. But this is something you don't want to do inside. Trust me."
Almost blanching at that, Alex instead gave him a hard look. "What's going on? Tell me right now or I'm dragging your sorry ass back inside the cabin where it belongs."
Now, they were right next to the firepit. Taking both Alex's hands in his own, the real and the artificial, Mulder stared into his eyes. He'd never been able to make out the exact color, as they'd always been some indeterminate shade of grey to him, but he could still read the emotions in them. He had to act now or Alex was going to bolt. Tightening his grip, he focused all of his will upon the man in front of him. *Leave him now!*
Alex started and his hands jerked, but Mulder's grip was unyielding. And then he felt it. Something wriggling inside him, something he'd felt before... Eyes widening in terror, Alex wanted to scream, but instead he found himself on his knees and heaving. The viscous, brownish black substance was once more coming out of him. There wasn't as much of it, this time, and when the spasms in his gut stopped, he scrambled away, staring at the small puddle with horror. A high keening noise was coming from somewhere, but he couldn't take his eyes off the oilen long enough to look around and find its source.
As soon as Alex had started to expel the alien, Mulder had dropped his hands and stepped away. Not far, but enough so that none of the oily substance could touch him. He waited, teeth clenched against the migraine that was threatening to descend upon him at any time, and watched as Alex finally rid himself of his unwanted rider. He made himself ignore the terrified sounds the other man was making, lit the match he had been holding and let it drop into the pre-soaked pit. The fire was immediate and hot. Mulder watched it dispassionately, staring hard into the flames to ensure that the oilen could not survive it, and then it was his turn to drop to his knees and vomit. He could no longer keep his eyes open against the pain in his head and he simply allowed himself to fall onto his side, his head buried in his arms as he moaned in agony.XXXXX
Alex wasn't sure how long he'd been staring blindly at the fire, but it had begun to die down to ashes by the time he started to become aware of his surroundings once again. The first thing he noticed was that the awful keening noise, which he now realized had been himself, had ceased. The next thing he noticed was the stillness. It was as if he were the only person in the world. And that... that wasn't right, was it? Blinking, he peered through the smoke, looking for someone. Someone who was supposed to be there... He gasped as memory returned--Mulder! Getting unsteadily to his feet, he looked around frantically. There! Through the smoke, he could see a figure crumpled on the ground. Coughing softly, he slowly made his way over to the other man. He wrinkled his nose at the vomit. 'Well, what a waste of soup,' he thought to himself briefly before dropping to his knees next to the unmoving form. "Mulder," he said quietly, reaching out to turn Mulder carefully onto his back. The agent was out cold. What really worried Alex, though, was the carmine trickle of blood that was slowly dripping from Mulder's nose. "Mulder," he said again, a little louder and accompanied by a soft shake of the man's good shoulder.
Pain streaked through Mulder as something pulled him back from the comforting darkness of unconsciousness. He groaned as he tried to resist, but the movement and voice above him were persistent. "Oh god," he rasped out painfully, once more trying to bury his head.
"No, no, don't do that. Come on, Mulder, we've got to get back inside. You're not in good shape," Alex said, his voice shaking just slightly. Mulder looked bad. Very bad. And he wasn't the one who had just ejected an alien visitor from his body. His mind veered away from that thought for the moment. There were things he needed to think about, and questions he needed to ask, but later. Right now, he just needed to get the two of them back into the cabin. "Can you stand up?" he asked.
Mulder really just wanted to curl up in a ball and die, but it seemed unlikely that Alex would let him. It was almost as if the man received some perverse enjoyment out of forcing Mulder to continue his miserable existence. "Give me a minute," he finally managed to get out between clenched teeth. Squinting through eyes that refused to open all the way, he tried to focus on Alex, who was hovering over him with barely restrained worry and fear coming off of him in waves. "Couldn't you just kill me now, instead?" he asked wistfully.
"No," Alex retorted sharply. "Come on." He got his good hand under Mulder's elbow and pulled the other man to his feet.
Choking as a miniature fireworks display went off in his head, Mulder stood swaying with his eyes tightly shut as he waited for some sense of equilibrium to settle into his body. "Please don't ever do that again," he whispered, grasping Alex's arm in an almost painful grip.
"Can't promise that, tovarich," Alex whispered back.
Mulder grunted, but he didn't have the breath to argue. Alex seemed bound and determined to get him back inside, and he supposed he'd just have to go with it. Narrowing his entire focus down to moving his feet forward, he allowed Alex to handle everything else. By the time he was once more on the sofa, his muscles were trembling with effort. He remained unusually pliant, allowing Alex to situate him on the couch with his feet elevated and then covering him with the blanket. He didn't even protest when Alex appeared with a warm wash cloth and wiped his face. He just kept his eyes firmly closed and wished for unconsciousness to claim him once more.
"Can I get you anything?" Alex finally asked, careful to keep his voice quiet.
"A new head?" Mulder replied, his own voice equally quiet.
"Sorry, I'm afraid you're stuck with the one you have," Alex said. He itched to brush the hair off Mulder's forehead, but was fearful of the other man's reaction. The agony he could see in Mulder's face pulled at something within him and he wanted to do something... anything... to help. In his mind, he couldn't help but think of another person who had had nosebleeds, and what it had meant.
"It's not that," Mulder said, startling Alex out of his thoughts.
"It's not cancer. Scully had my blood checked quite thoroughly," Mulder said, peering up at Alex through mere slits.
Immediately, Alex had hundreds of questions he wanted to ask. He was certain, now, that the telepathy had returned, but there was more to it than that.
"Yeah," Mulder sighed, "there is. And I'll tell you, Alex. But I'm going to need some of those painkillers first."
That sounded like a reasonable request, so Alex went to get Mulder's meds. While he was in the kitchen, he also took the time to medicate himself with some fine Russian Vodka. He needed it. When he returned, he helped Mulder sit up to take the medicine, and even had to hold the water glass, as the other man was still trembling too hard to do it himself. Mulder shivered as he laid back down and Alex stared at him with growing concern. He wanted answers, but he didn't want Mulder to kill himself in the process. Finally, he made up his mind. Giving in to temptation, he brushed his fingertips gently against Mulder's forehead, smoothing the bangs back. "Rest now. We can talk later."
With a weary nod, Mulder acquiesced, relaxing more deeply into the cushions of the sofa. The soft touch of not only Alex's fingers, but of his concern, acting as a balm against the pain in his head. "Thanks," he breathed.
Alex didn't reply, but he did remain by Mulder's side until he was sure that the man had fallen asleep. Building the fire up once more, he returned to his sleeping bag, but his thoughts refused to allow him to rest. He had hosted an alien and hadn't even realized it. When it had happened before, he had known and struggled against it--not that it had done him any good. But this time, he hadn't even noticed. He shuddered in fear and revulsion as he recalled how it had felt coming out of him. It had not been happy, and it had certainly not wanted to leave. And yet... and yet it had. Because Mulder had told it to.XXXXX
When Mulder woke up, he was relieved that his headache had dropped to a bearable level. It still ached, but no longer felt as though someone were stabbing his brain repeatedly with a dull blade. Sitting up carefully, he found Alex once more sleeping peacefully in front of the fire. A small smile tugged at his lips as he gazed at Alex. He seemed almost harmless, which Mulder knew not to be true in the least. Almost as if he sensed he was being watched, Alex began to stir and then turned sleepy eyes in Mulder's direction.
"Hey, how're you doing?" Alex asked quietly, his voice still hoarse from sleep.
"Better," Mulder answered. "I'd really like to brush my teeth, though. It tastes like something died in my mouth."
Alex smirked. "Thanks for that lovely image. There's stuff in the bathroom under the sink. Do you need some help?"
Mulder shook his head and immediately wished he hadn't. "I don't think so. But if you hear a thump, then you can come get me."
"I'd rather it didn't come to that. Give a shout if you start to feel dizzy," Alex instructed.
"Careful, Alex, you're starting to sound like Scully," Mulder teased and then he stood up. He closed his eyes against the dizziness and took deep breaths. Hay-soos. Standing up shouldn't be so difficult. He opened his eyes when he felt a touch on his arm. Unsurprised, he found Alex looking at him with concern.
"I think maybe I'll help anyway. It's too hard to get you up once you're all the way down," Alex said.
Mulder scowled but didn't argue. And, if he was truthful, he found the warmth of Alex's shoulder under him comforting. Alex was solid, someone he could lean on, depend on... trust. Sighing, he allowed himself to relax into Alex's presence. His headache receded even more as he felt waves of gentleness and care wash through him. There was still some anxiety and residual anger, but at the moment, they were subdued under the gentler emotions.
Once they made it to the bathroom, Alex made a discreet retreat, allowing Mulder some privacy. He kept an ear out, though, just in case. After a little while, he knocked on the door and Mulder opened it immediately.
"Might be a good time to change your dressing," Alex suggested, holding out the medical bag.
Mulder nodded and stepped back, allowing Alex into the bathroom. He sat on the toilet lid and waited, watching with interest as Alex laid out the supplies.
When everything was arranged to his satisfaction, Alex turned back to Mulder. "OK, first, we need to get that shirt off. Ready?" he asked, grabbing hold of the bottom. At Mulder's nod, he lifted up, being careful not to jar the injured side too much. Mulder hissed a bit as he raised his arm, but made no other sound of complaint. Once the shirt was off, Alex reached for the scissors.
"How did you know?" Alex asked as he carefully slid one blade of the scissors underneath the bandage.
Mulder shivered a bit as the cold metal touched his skin. "I felt it," he said. "I was going over what had happened in the parking garage in my mind, and I just couldn't get over how strangely you were acting. You didn't sound like yourself... you didn't act like yourself. And then I remembered that that had happened once before--in Hong Kong. So, I was sitting there thinking about that and watching you and then..." Mulder paused, shivering again, but this time it had nothing to do with anything external. "I felt it inside you," he rasped.
"How?" Alex asked. "What did it feel like? What was it doing? How did it get into me? How did you know it was there?" The questions came fast and furious and Alex was almost shouting the last one, the scissors held almost as a weapon in front of him.
Mulder cringed back, more from the fear and anger coming from the other man than the physical threat. Alex's emotions were battering against defenses that had already crumbled. He whimpered as he brought his hands up to his head, trying to curl up as much as he could manage.
Breathing hard, Alex just stared at him, waiting for answers. And then he abruptly realized that Mulder wasn't in any condition to answer him. Carefully setting the scissors down on the counter, Alex forced himself to calm down. He splashed cold water on his face and wiped it dry before turning back to Mulder. Now, he felt angry at himself for losing control. Mulder looked like a puppy that had been kicked twice too many times and expected it to happen again. Sighing, he approached the other man slowly and knelt down. He put out out a hand and was unsurprised when Mulder flinched away violently. Refusing to take it personally, he settled his hand determinedly on the other man's arm.
"Mulder, I'm sorry. I'm not going to hurt you," he said gently. "You need to relax so I can redo your bandages. Come on, sit up straight," he coaxed. Wary hazel eyes peered at him, but Mulder complied.
"I don't know," Mulder choked out. "I don't know how it got into you, or what it was doing. I just know that I could feel it. It... I think it could influence you somehow, without taking over complete control."
Alex frowned, his eyes narrowing as he thought about what Mulder had said. It made sense. It did explain just what he had been doing in the parking garage. But he still didn't know why, or how it had happened, or how long the alien had been in him.
"I'm sorry, Alex," Mulder said, looking at him with sorrowful eyes.
Sighing, Alex stood back up, but he kept his hand on Mulder's arm. "Not your fault. OK, let's get this dressing changed. I think we'll save the rest of the questions for later."
Mulder nodded, his eyes never leaving Alex's face. He understood the feelings of terror and rage about not being in control, of being helpless as things happened around or to you. He remained silent, however, simply following Alex's instructions to hold something in place or to turn slightly to the side to allow Alex better access.
Once they'd managed to get the shirt back on Mulder, Alex packed away the supplies. "All right, now you are going to lie down on the couch while I fix us something else to eat. We both lost the soup from earlier," Alex said as he helped Mulder to stand.
Food didn't really sound very appealing to Mulder, but he didn't say anything. He knew he needed to eat with the medicine he was taking. He shuffled back to the sofa in silence. Alex had regained control over his emotions, so Mulder didn't feel quite so much as if he was being attacked, but he was still tired.
After they had finished eating the sandwiches that Alex had prepared, silence reigned for a few moments as they both stared into the fire, lost in their own thoughts. Alex shook his head and turned to Mulder. "Why did you do it? Why did you save me?" he asked.
Mulder chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully. He wasn't sure he could really explain his reasons--at least not so that Alex would accept them. Closing his eyes, he forced himself back to the parking garage... was it only yesterday? "I saw you die," he finally said, his voice cracking a bit. "Skinner... He... he shot you twice in the chest, and then once in the head. And then the world ended." Mulder opened his eyes and looked at Alex, tears threatening to escape. "I couldn't do anything. I just stood there and he killed you and I knew... I knew that nothing mattered anymore."
Stunned, Alex didn't speak. What Mulder was saying made no sense. Mulder hated him... didn't he? And Alex hadn't been shot, Mulder had taken the bullet for him. But why would he take a bullet for a man he hated?
"Alex, I don't hate you," Mulder reassured.
Alex sucked in a breath and stared straight into Mulder's eyes. "Your telepathy came back," he stated flatly.
Mulder nodded miserably. "Right after I saw you die. My head just... I don't know, exploded, and it was there as if it had never left." He shivered. "Then I was standing there and Skinner had his gun pointed at you. And I heard Skinner thinking and I could feel his rage, and all I knew was that I couldn't watch it again. I couldn't let you die." Tears were leaking out now and slowly streaking down both Mulder's cheeks, making shiny paths over the still lingering scars from Mulder's abduction.
Entranced, Alex reached out and caught one before it made it all the way down. "Mulder..." he started, but he couldn't get anything else out. What was he supposed to say? And couldn't Mulder just read his mind, anyway? But since his thoughts were all confused, just what would Mulder get out of them? He cleared his throat. "How did you know about the hunters? At the doctor's house," he clarified.
"I'm not sure." Mulder shrugged and leaned back into the sofa. "I just... knew. I could feel them... bounty hunters." He peered at Alex through his eyelashes. "I can't control it. If you hadn't gotten me out of the city, I think I really would have gone mad. The last time it happened... the last time, Skinner had me committed and it almost destroyed me."
"That's not going to happen. Trust me," Alex said. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he paled and took a step back. Because he had betrayed that trust before, and how could he expect Mulder to believe him now.
"I do." Grabbing Alex's hand before he could retreat any further, Mulder tugged on it gently. "I do trust you. That's why I'm here, with you. I think, to win this war, we need to work together... and on the same side."
Alex snorted. "Yeah, right. There's no way I can work through official channels and you know it. I'd be dead as soon as I entered the Hoover Building." But he didn't remove his hand from Mulder's grip.
Mulder's lips quirked up and he squeezed Alex's hand. "I don't think that's going to be an issue. I'd probably be shot on sight, too."
"What do you mean?" Alex asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"I don't work for the Bureau anymore. I quit. Well, I suppose it might have been a mutual parting of the ways." Mulder shrugged. "But anyway, I'm pretty sure I'm the Bureau's least favorite person. Not that that's anything new."
For once, Alex was speechless. Mulder was no longer an FBI Agent? It didn't seem possible. The man lived for his job. And died for it, too. He'd never forget how Mulder had looked upon his return. He shivered.
"Hey, it's OK. It's probably for the best. It's not as if the Bureau was all that helpful. Most of the time, it was working against me anyway," Mulder said, trying to smile.
"I'm sorry," Alex said.
"Not your fault," Mulder repeated Alex's words back to him. "It's a miracle I managed to stay on as long as I did. I owe most of that to Scully and Skinner. Sure, I had a few friends in high places, but they weren't so friendly."
Alex nodded automatically. He knew that some of those supposed friends had only been using Mulder, anyway. "So now you're... what?"
"A free agent. Just like you," Mulder said seriously.
"Mulder... you're definitely not just like me," Alex protested.
"Well, all right, that's true. You're much better at it, for one thing. But I have some useful skills, you know. And now I have a few more--I just have to learn how to control them."
"And you want to do this with me?" Alex said, not quite believing what he was hearing.
"Yes. Think about it. Who has had the most success in disrupting the Consortium's plans? You and I. And that's when we were at each other's throats," Mulder said.
"I was never at your throat. If I had been, you'd be dead," Alex said.
Mulder nodded. "Sorry, you're right. And I am sorry." He looked down and started to pull his hand away, but Alex tightened his grip.
"I didn't say no." Alex searched Mulder's eyes, looking for the hatred and hostility that he had become so accustomed to seeing, but it wasn't there. "You really mean it," he said softly.
"Yes. Alex, please, let me work with you against them. I'm going to fight them, no matter what, but I think we'll be more effective together," Mulder said.
"You already know I'm going to agree, so why are still trying to convince me?" Alex asked, bitterness creeping into his voice.
Mulder gave a shaky laugh. "Honestly? Your emotions and mine are so mixed up right now that I have no idea what either of us is feeling, and our thoughts are just as bad." This time, when he tugged his hand, Alex let him have it back and Mulder immediately ran it through his hair, wincing a bit as the motion tugged on his stitches.
Sighing, Alex stood up. "You need to take your meds. We'll figure out the details later. First, you need to rest and recuperate. You've already been more active than the doctor advised."
"That's nothing new. I ignore doctor's advice on a regular basis. Just ask Scully... or not," Mulder trailed off, remembering the circumstances.
"Right," Alex drawled. "But if you're going to work with me, you're going to have to learn to follow orders. I don't want either one of us to get killed because you leapt before looking." He gave Mulder a hard stare that had the other man squirming a bit on the couch.
"I'll try. That's all I can promise. Sometimes, I just have to act on my instincts. It's my nature," Mulder told him truthfully.
"Yeah, I know. But we won't have the resources to fix you back up again if you get in over your head. Remember, no more Scully, no more Skinner, no more government health plan."
Mulder gave him a weak grin in response. "I don't know, you seem pretty prepared to me."
Alex snorted. "Don't expect it to last. I'm pretty sure we're both on the 'Most Wanted' list about now. And, since I don't know how long I had a silent partner, I'm not sure who I can trust."
As he uttered the last, Alex and Mulder turned to look at each other, smirked, and intoned together: "Trust no one."