Even while he was sleeping he reminded Mulder of a sleek, tightly wound panther ready to pounce.
Krycek lay facing the bedroom door, one arm curled beneath the pillow, with the comforter hiding what remained of the other. It surprised Mulder that Alex didn't immediately wake after he had opened the bedroom door this morning.
After a few hours spent uncomfortably sprawled on Krycek's functional yet draconian kitchen chair, Mulder had settled into the leather loveseat. Other than a short trip to Krycek's surprisingly clean bathroom, Mulder remained there on the couch, steadfastly monitoring every squeaking floorboard outside the apartment.
He had stayed awake all night, senses alert and his body on edge in case they had a visitor. Mulder paused at the thought and smiled to himself. They. What bizarre happenstance caused this combination of paranoiac FBI agent and his...what was Alex to him now?
Enemy wasn't right. It never had been. An enemy did all he could to destroy you, to bring you crashing down into ruin. Krycek may have had motivations that were suspect, but he never intended to harm Mulder in that way. Rival would be an accurate term, but it was unclear exactly how much Krycek had actively plotted against him. It was doubtful that Alex purposely derailed Mulder, knowing what Mulder did about the other man's surreptitious dealings. Nemesis may have been true before tonight, but one look into Alex's eyes from across the kitchen table -- and past the gun that rested ominously between them -- changed the status quo.
Once the morning hours crept closer and the world began to wake, Mulder got up to stretch and put an ear to the bedroom door, wondering why Krycek hadn't risen yet. He didn't know what Alex was to him anymore, but when he heard nothing from the interior of the bedroom he began to get worried.
Odd that he could feel anything other than derision toward Alex Krycek.
But his heart began to react at the thought of Krycek breaking his promise and taking his life some other way. Fear coursed through him, and he suddenly realized this man wasn't just his constant: he made up a piece of Mulder's soul.
If Scully was like the ship in the storm that protected him and kept him tethered to all that was warm, emotional and *human*, then Alex was the churning ocean, wild and dangerous, something always to be respected and never to be underestimated. Alex made up that half of him that reacted in anger; the side that was quick to judge and mete out justice; the unhinged, feral aspect to Mulder he worked so hard to control.
And Mulder realized he needed them both to stay afloat.
There was no lock on the bedroom door, and once Mulder got over the initial fear that he would find Alex dead, he breathed a sigh of relief over the sleeping man's body.
So now here he sat, watching the gently rising and falling white down comforter and Alex's tense, cat-like form. It felt surprisingly intimate, staring into the soft, almost gentle face of the man who a few hours ago had begged for help from the person who had done nothing but hurt him.
Mulder had raised the blinds halfway this morning -- after checking out the relative safety of Alex's brick-walled view -- hoping the light would rouse the sleeping man. The sun was streaming in through the edges of the window blinds, casting a mixed dance of light and shadow over Alex's nose and mouth. He must be exhausted, Mulder thought, tipping his head to get a better look at Alex's peaceful features that were marred by the red, split lip and bruised cheek. Mulder noticed the swelling had gotten worse from the previous night, as if someone had painted angry, purple and blue marks across Alex's face.
Mulder felt mesmerized for a second, simply looking at him. In reality, they were so much more alike than Mulder had ever imagined: both seeking some kind of quiet release, a sense of peace from the harsh, angry world they had been forced to become accustomed to. Mulder felt like he was banging his head against the wall in his quest for the truth -- it was probably like Krycek had said to him all those months ago. There is no truth. There was no Holy Grail or shiny plastic prize at the end of this fight. There had been nothing but death, sadness, and guilt for the past few years, and it hadn't gotten him any closer to the great mysteries of the universe. All it did was fuck him up a little bit more every day.
It had to be like that for Alex as well. But, unlike Mulder, he was alone through the worst of it. Alex didn't have a Scully. Alex didn't have anyone to hold him when it felt like the world was crashing down, when having someone to trust meant more than life itself.
His eyes drifted to the empty space below Alex's left shoulder. He wondered if Alex had been alone when he lost his arm. Aside from the half-assed quip tossed between them when Alex visited him that night, Mulder had no idea what had happened. Of course it was a result of the gulag experiments because of what the truck driver's wife had said: "No arm, no test."
He then had a horrible recollection of that night, sleeping on the floor of the tiny cabin and being awakened by what he thought were the sounds of animals coming from somewhere in the forest. At the time he thought it was the stress and fear overwhelming his senses, but looking down at Krycek he felt suddenly sick as the past came into clearer focus.
It wasn't an animal.
They were human screams.
Mulder swallowed and sighed deeply. Add those terrifying sounds to the cacophony that haunted his dreams, he thought soberly. He bit his bottom lip and stared at Alex's ravaged arm, hidden by the comforter.
Mulder lifted his hand and placed it gingerly on what remained of Alex's left arm, careful not to disturb the bedspread. He realized his hand was shaking slightly as it moved slowly up to where the comforter touched Alex's bare shoulder. Gently, he brought his fingertips down, almost feather-like, onto the smooth skin, his breath catching in his throat when Krycek moaned in his sleep. Mulder didn't move until he was sure Alex hadn't woken up, and then he began to stroke Alex's shoulder softly with his thumb.
"I wish I could make you stop hurting," Mulder whispered.
Suddenly Alex exploded upright in bed, his right hand coming up from beneath the pillow holding his Glock, which was now aimed directly at Mulder's head.
Mulder sprang backward, knocking over the chair he was sitting in. He held up the hand with which he had just been caressing Alex.
"Alex...whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait, wait..."
Krycek blinked in confusion, his eyes focusing on the other man calling his name.
"Alex, it's Mulder, remember? Don't! Don't!" Mulder still had his hand in front of him, pleading with the half-dazed Krycek.
Slowly, Krycek brought the weapon down. "Mulder?" He looked around for a moment. "Why the fuck were you hovering over my bed?"
Mulder released the breath he had been holding and picked up the chair. "I'm sorry, Christ, I was...I came in here to wake you up."
"It's morning?" Krycek asked, closing his eyes again.
"It's almost 9 a.m."
Krycek nodded and rubbed his temple with the heel of his hand, the Glock dangling from his fingers. "I haven't slept in more than three..."
When he looked up at Mulder and saw the expression on the other man's face, it took Krycek a few seconds to register that he was sitting up in bed, the bedspread only covering his bottom half.
"Mulder," he hissed angrily, "turn around. *Now*."
"I...I didn't mean...I'm sorry," he mumbled, averting his eyes by turning to face the window. He tried to keep the pity out of his voice when he answered, but he had a feeling he didn't conceal it well.
The arm had been removed just above the elbow, almost dissecting the bicep in half. It had been months since Tunguska, but the sight of the still-unhealed arm was a shock Mulder hadn't been prepared for. It was a horrifying mess of scar tissue and torn skin. Mulder reached behind him without looking and pulled the chair closer so he could sit. He needed to sit.
"Stop saying that," Krycek said quietly.
"That you're sorry."
"Please, don't," Alex said, the pain evident in his tone. Krycek rose from the bed, naked, and walked over to the dresser on the far side of the room. "Just..." He sighed. "I need to pack."
Mulder attempted to distract his thoughts by staring at his reflection in the window. He didn't intend to cause Alex more pain by locking his eyes on that missing piece of him when he sat up, but it was a combination of pity and pure curiosity that got the better of him. He needed to know more about what happened, perhaps to allay his own sense of guilt and fear over the sounds of Alex's screams ringing in his ears. Mulder doubted he could have done anything about it, but he needed to know. They never got a chance to talk about it, probably because Mulder was more concerned with pissing Krycek off to care.
Mulder also wondered how much the event in Tunguska had seriously damaged Alex emotionally. It had to be more than just a couple of Syndicate hit men to make him distraught enough to want to die. Maybe it was a culmination of the past few months and the amount of suffering he had endured that brought him to this level of despair. Mulder flashed back to a few hours ago, Alex sitting there across from him, eyes greedily locked on the gun...
Mulder had a sudden thought and he frowned at his reflection. "Alex...you had another gun under your pillow this whole time."
Alex made an amused sound from behind him. "Sloppy, Mulder."
"I promised I wouldn't kill myself, Mulder. I didn't promise to be stupid." Mulder picked up on the sarcastic tone in the other man's voice when Krycek continued. "Just because I've decided to embrace all the wonderful, joyful aspects of my pathetic existence doesn't mean I automatically let my guard down."
Mulder heard Alex moving around behind him, and then he caught sight of the other man's reflection in the window. Two large duffle bags lay open on the bed, and Alex began filling them with clothes from his closet. He was still nude, half-facing Mulder with his left side and back turned toward him. Mulder got a good look at both the damage inflicted on Alex's arm -- and the rest of his body.
The arm was bad enough, but there was thick scar tissue crisscrossing the small of his back, over his left buttock, and down across the top of his left thigh, ending just above the back of his knee. Mulder stared, horrified, trying to imagine what had caused it.
The tissue looked hard and ugly compared to the rest of his body. He was lean, with a wrestler's physique and strong shoulders. The muscles of his back were well defined: they stretched taut as he bent down to retrieve his jeans from the floor, relaxed again when he straightened, and Mulder couldn't help but follow the curve of his ass every step of the way. Thighs, calves, upper arms -- Mulder knew Alex could probably drop him with one well-placed punch. He was grateful he had never been on the receiving end of a truly savage attack from Alex.
Krycek rummaged around in the drawers of the dresser, removing a few items of clothing and tossed them into the duffle bags. From the top drawer he took out black Jockey briefs and wiggled into them, emptying the remaining pairs onto the bed.
Alex then leaned over and stepped into his jeans one leg at a time. As he did so he glanced up and caught Mulder's reflected eyes staring at him from the window.
Mulder looked down abruptly, pretending to be interested in something on the patterned rug.
Krycek shimmied his hips to inch the jeans to his waist, and then lay down on his back on the bed. He slid the zipper up, then hooked an index finger through the buttonhole and pulled it over, fastening the jeans.
"They used a knife," Krycek said, sitting up.
Mulder, his back still to Krycek, turned slightly so he could be heard. "What?"
"You want to know, don't you? I could feel your eyes on me even before I caught you staring, Mulder."
"You were," Krycek said pointedly. "You can hear some bullshit story about aliens and your interest is piqued enough to travel across the country to track down the lead, Mulder. I know how your mind works; you're just afraid to ask me."
"Maybe...maybe I am," he admitted.
"Why do you think that is?"
"Because..." Mulder took a breath and let it out slowly. "If I...could have done something to prevent it, and didn't, I'll never forgive myself."
Mulder sat there, hoping, praying, that it wasn't his fault this happened. After all Alex had been through, he couldn't bear that he could have had a hand in ruining the beautiful man sitting behind him.
"Turn around, Mulder."
Mulder shook his head. "Alex, really, I'm sorry for staring. You don't have to..."
"Fox," Krycek said gently, "look at me."
Mulder sighed, and slowly turned around. His eyes drifted to Alex's, and he held his gaze.
"It's all right," Krycek assured him. "It's different when you can look at me without all the hate in your eyes."
Mulder held his emotions in check, and after making sure Alex was really okay with it, dragged the chair back over to the bed. Mulder let his eyes trail over the path of destruction that made up Alex's left arm.
"Now I see why you don't like wearing the prosthesis."
Krycek merely nodded.
"Will you tell me?" Mulder asked softly.
Krycek nodded again, but didn't look at Mulder when he spoke.
"It was the middle of the night, and I was barely warm enough to sleep. I don't know how many of them there were, but they held me down so I couldn't move. They assumed they were helping to protect me from the experiments by taking...by cutting it off. I remember...screaming...the feel of the dull blade on my skin, struggling to get away..." Krycek shook his head. "I don't remember how often I drifted in and out of consciousness, but I must have..."
He stopped for a moment and cleared his throat, reaching over unconsciously to touch his ribcage.
"I think I rolled into the fire."
Mulder closed his eyes, hearing Alex's far-off screams echoing through his memories.
"And, uh, the next thing I can clearly recall is ripping apart my sweater to tie off the arm, and then I somehow woke up in a medical clinic."
"How did you get there?"
Krycek shrugged. "I have no idea, Mulder."
"You couldn't have done anything," he stated. "There were too many of them, and I doubt you would have risked yourself to save the son of a bitch you thought deserved it."
"You're a bad liar, Mulder. But believe me when I say I don't blame you or hold you responsible for what happened."
"I don't think you deserved it."
"I know. At one time you did, but not anymore."
"How can you know that?" Mulder asked.
"Because you wouldn't be sitting here with that look on your face if you did."
Krycek rose from the bed and again walked over to his now almost-empty closet. He selected a light green dress shirt from the wooden hanger and slid his left arm in first, then slipped his right into the other sleeve.
"What look?" Mulder asked curiously.
Krycek glanced over at him and lifted a shoulder up and down in a shrug. "I can see it in your eyes," he said, looking down as he began to work the buttons of the shirt with practiced fingers. "It's a combination of guilt, remorse, sympathy, and..."
He got distracted by one of the stubborn buttons and muttered a soft curse.
Mulder sat watching him as Alex struggled with the lower buttons of the shirt. Mulder then got up and walked over to Alex, and stood in front of him.
They were staring at each other, Alex's troubled green into his own hazel. Mulder moved closer, his eyes never leaving Alex, until he could feel their bodies touching. Reaching down, he took hold of Alex's hand. His voice sounded ragged and hoarse when he spoke.
"Let me help."
Krycek drew in a sharp breath at the request, and after a moment closed his eyes.
"Guilt, remorse, sympathy...what else, Alex?"
Mulder slid his arms up Alex's chest as he moved upward from button to button, his fingers lightly brushing the fabric with every touch.
"What else?" Mulder asked again, the question sounding foreign to his own ears.
Krycek opened his eyes and looked up at the other man's mouth and lips that were now only inches from his. "It's...complicated," he whispered.
"It doesn't have to be, Alex."
Krycek's breaths were coming in shallow gasps when he answered. "I want...God, Fox...you have no idea..."
Mulder let his hands drift to Alex's waist. He could feel him, smell his scent, and suddenly he could sense that connection that had him so confused in the past. Only this time being close to Alex didn't make him want to lash out in violence. He felt that haunted side of his soul that Alex inhabited wash over him in a warm rush, filling the emptiness. It didn't feel harsh or cold anymore; standing there, touching Alex -- he began to embrace the thing that had been missing for so long. It fit. He fit. It was as if...he started to feel complete.
Krycek reached down and took Mulder's left hand into his own. "I know. But Fox...I...we can't."
Mulder shook his head, speechless. This wasn't...it couldn't be happening after everything they had gone through to get to this point.
"I know this seems sudden, but you have to believe that I've been thinking about," Mulder waved his free hand, "this, us, whatever it is, ever since that night."
The other man sobered, looking down. "You saved me from taking my own life. I guess you were thinking pretty clearly."
"I meant the night you kissed me."
Krycek blinked. "You've been thinking about us..."
"How could I not?" Mulder asked incredulously. "I told you it was hard to explain what I felt -- that I was confused about everything."
Krycek squeezed Mulder's hand, and then let go, stepping back a few paces. He smiled sadly. "But I'm not, Fox. I know exactly how I feel, and that's why I have to go."
Mulder started to speak, but Krycek held up his hand.
"It's better if we stay apart, Mulder. Safer for both of us."
"How can you possibly assume that you know what's best for me?"
After zipping the duffle bags, Krycek turned back to Mulder.
"Because you're my weakness, Fox. I can't think clearly when I'm around you, and that's going to get us killed if we're together when they come."
"You said 'when'."
"That's why I need to keep running."
"But..." Mulder sunk down onto the bed, and put his head in his hands. "I finally feel safe enough to stand still."
Krycek dropped his bags in the bedroom doorway and came to stand next to the bed by Mulder. He softly laid a hand on Mulder's head, and ran his fingers through the other man's hair.
"And when I feel that way, I'll be back."
Mulder looked up at him, and stood so they were close enough to touch again. He reached out and gently placed his hands on either side of Alex's head.
"When you told me about the alien war that night...remember how you didn't know how to say goodbye?"
Alex nodded, a curious look on his face.
"Well, I do," Mulder stated, pulling Alex's lips to his and drawing him into a deep, long kiss.
When they finally parted, Alex closed his eyes and sighed deeply. He stepped back into the doorway and lifted the two bags.
"I can't think of a better reason than that to stay alive."
"I've never broken a promise, Fox," Alex said, smiling at him.
Then Alex turned and walked through the hallway, until the last sound Mulder heard was the apartment door closing with a soft, audible click.