Familiar with the streets of London, Alex chose to walk to Portobello Road from his hotel. The morning mist had burned off, allowing glimpses of spring sunlight through the otherwise perpetually gray sky commonplace to the region. His leather jacket might prove to be overly warm, but he could always unzip it.
In contrast, the wet street and sidewalks were awash with color in the market place. He passed knots of tourists, and smirked over arguments going on in various languages, understanding just about all of it, while the local vendors could do nothing more than apologize over their lack of comprehension. Sure, Alex could have translated, but he didn't really give a damn.
Finally reaching his destination, he stepped into the shop. Savoring the fragrant aromas of coffee beans and tealeaves, he weighed his choices. One thing about the British--they did have some excellent blends of tea.
Prepared to return to his hotel room and make use of the complimentary teapot and hot plate, Alex tucked his spoils within his jacket to meander back up the road.
Along the way, a few onlookers had stopped on the sidewalk to gawk at a minor fender bender. The drivers were standing on the street, both perfectly intact. It was the British driver who was causing the distraction with her shrilling at the other driver--another foreigner who didn't seem to understand a word she said.
Fuck. To get past the gathering throng, Alex tried to slip between them and yet another storefront.
The sun had broken through the clouds again, creating a reflection on the windowpane of a rare bookshop dealer. He had to squint to see through the glare, but right up front, amidst a plethora of books, was one with a painting on the cover that blew him away.
To hell with the shrilly bitch, the crowd, or the tea; Alex rushed into the shop, to the display in the window. He didn't care what he knocked down to get at that book.
At last, he seized it in his bare hand. It was full-sized, with a glossy dust jacket. A dust jacket that displayed an unbelievable oil rendition of the most incredible model. A model Krycek knew, intimately.
An elderly clerk rushed up and quickly began to straighten the books Alex had knocked down. "I beg your pardon, sir, but I'd be more than happy to--"
Alex read the name off the dust jacket. Somerton. Perry Somerton. "Are there any other books by this artist?"
Through his glasses, the old guy peered at the book then cleared his throat. "Uh, yes, sir. In the art and photography sections. I'll show you there straight away." Only he went on fixing the books.
"Show me there now," Alex demanded dangerously.
At once, the old guy led Alex off. Amidst the seemingly unorganized clutter, it would have taken him all day to find the art section on his own. Which, fortunately, was adjacent to the photography section. Nervously, the clerk took Alex to the S's. Then held out another stately looking book. Only that one had a plain, glossy black and white dust jacket that simply read "Somerton."
Tucking the first book under his prosthetic arm, no sooner did Alex take the second book when the clerk vanished.
At the end of the aisle, Alex lay the second book open on a table bearing more stacks of books. Whoever the hell Somerton was, he or she exhibited a level of talent to be reckoned with. There was everything from pencil to charcoal to watercolors, and oil paintings. The subjects covered still life, landscapes, animals, and humans with equally impressive talent. That was a hell of a thing. Most artists tended to be good at only one particular subject.
The text was nominal; it provided the titles of the artwork and little else. This became even more disconcerting to Alex when he stumbled across more artwork of the same exquisite model who graced the cover of the first book.
When he found a few portraits, there was no doubt. He didn't even have to read any titles. It was Mulder.
Young and innocent with an abundance of thick, wavy hair that grazed his shoulders, but damn if it wasn't Mulder.
And they were beautiful sketches and drawings. Nude drawings. Drawings that showed off Mulder's every single awe-striking asset. Drawings that hinted at a warm familiarity with the subject. Oh, and not just every delicious curve and line of muscle and tendon of his body--front and back--but his generous male endowments in full erection.
Who the hell was this Somerton dildo so Alex could hunt it down and slice its throat?
Hastily, he scrabbled to the last pages of the book. There, he found what he was looking for: a photo of the artist with a brief biography. An annoyingly good-looking blond prick. Then Alex read the summary. Oxford grad with a masters degree in fine arts, with honors. Son-of-a...
In moments, he was in the photography section, fumbling through the S's. He yanked out the first book with the name "Somerton" on the spine. Then tossed it on the table where he'd left the other two books. All he had to do was open it to understand why the clerk had disappeared in such a hurry; the photos were erotic male nudes.
No photos of Mulder, but Alex had to slam the book closed. He had enough of a hard-on, already, from studying the drawings of his boyfriend.
A check of the biography in the photography book revealed that Somerton was a Londoner.
Alex bought every book on the artist in the shop and arranged to have them delivered to his hotel room or to be forwarded to his present P.O. Box in the States. He wasn't sure how long he'd be in London, now--at least until he'd tracked down the pervert.
The clerk had neatly wrapped the two books of varied artwork for Alex to take with him. He wasn't going to wait around for those books to be delivered to his room. While opening his first purchase, he paused, eyeing those goddamn books that sat on the small table by the window. It took a monumental effort not to rip them open and to fully savor those pictures of Mulder this time and find any others he may have missed.
Patience deteriorating, he left the teapot full of water on the cold hot plate, seized the parcels, and rushed back downstairs.
At the concierge's desk, he tore just enough of the brown wrapping to reveal the spine of the book. He wasn't about to flash Mulder's nude likeness around. "Can you tell me where I might be able to procure any of this artist's actual work?"
The concierge was more helpful than anticipated. It seemed the prick had a studio there in London. The concierge was courteous enough to place a call for Alex to ascertain the hours and days it was open.
It was around one-thirty when the taxicab dropped him off on the sidewalk at the address Alex had been furnished. To his disdain, while he'd been hoping to be let out at some crappy dive that reeked of stale food from some cheap next-door deli, instead the place was modern London posh. Lustrous hardwood floors, expensive, state-of-the- art lighting fixtures, pristine, off-white walls. A pretty receptionist, wearing a low-cut, ostrich feather-trimmed collar greeted Alex. She offered him tea, espresso, or wine.
"I'd like to talk to Mr. Somerton," he told her, declining any proffered beverage.
"Do you have an appointment?" she asked.
"What? You mean I need an appointment?"
In answer, she stepped behind the desk and began to peruse an appointment book. "And what is the nature of your inquiry?"
"The nature of my...?" To beat the holy crap out of him, then find out how he got a hold of those photos of Mulder to commit to canvas. "To buy some of his artwork."
"Oh. Well, then." She looked up again. "Why don't you have a look around? I'll be happy to quote the price of any piece you may be interested in."
"Specifically, I'm interested in this painting." Only then did Alex tear a little more wrapping from the book.
She blinked at the printed dust jacket. "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm not familiar with that particular piece. May I?" She reached for the book.
"No, you may not." He tucked the book against himself again. "That's why I need to talk to him. How can I find this particular piece?"
"I-I dare say it was probably sold some time ago. That looks like his older work."
"I don't care, I want to find it. That's why I need to talk to this Somerton."
Taking a seat at the desk, she steepled her forefingers, showing off her expensive nail job. "I'm sorry, sir, but it's doubtful Mr. Somerton has any idea of the whereabouts of the painting, either. However, if you give me the title of the painting I can make sure he receives your inquiry. If I can have your name and a number where you can be reached, someone will be in touch--"
"Doesn't the guy have a phone? Can't you just give me his number? An address?"
"Mr. Somerton only sees clients by appointment." She checked the book on the desk again. "As it is, he should have just returned from a photo shoot, yesterday. He's quite busy, you know. How long will you be in London, Mr...?"
"That depends." Alex tried not to sound as sarcastic as he felt. "Did he get back from this shoot or not? I can't rearrange my schedule for this guy, either."
"I'm afraid I don't know for certain, sir. If he has, the inquiry--"
"Can you find out? Now?"
She opened a drawer and took out a business card. "I'll tell you what. Why don't I refer you to Mr. Somerton's agent?"
In the taxi, after reading off the address to the driver, Alex carefully unwrapped the book. Somehow, the page with the painting seemed to have disappeared. He was sure they'd reach the agent's office before he could locate it. Once he did, he snapped the book shut loud enough to cause the driver to jerk his head and glance back.
Divine inspiration. This goddamn jerkwad had so obviously been getting inspired ogling Mulder's naked body. Considering all the paintings and sketches there were of him, clothed and unclothed, no doubt at one point or another, the degenerate wouldn't have been able to keep his hands off. And considering how young and innocent Mulder looked at the time, he'd probably been taken advantage of. Hell, he'd be pretty innocent about something like this, even now.
Replacing the paper to hide the cover, Alex relaxed a few degrees, recalling that even so, Mulder could always think straight in a crisis.
The receptionist at the agent's swank office made a similar attempt to talk Alex into making an appointment. At least the agent was present, unlike the Somerton slob who didn't bother to go to his gallery and probably hadn't even dragged himself out of bed yet. Alex insisted he'd wait if she could try and work him in to talk to the agent however briefly sometime during the afternoon.
The moment her reception duties occupied all of her attention, Alex got up, pretending to admire the décor on the shelves then surreptitiously slipped into the other room. She didn't see him until the last moment, and by then it was too late.
A gaunt blond guy in his late 50s to early 60s sat behind a huge, mahogany desk that dwarfed him. He was animatedly gabbing away on the phone. Though his office was as opulently furnished as the rest of the place, it was cluttered and messy. He wore an obscenely expensive designer suit, perfectly tailored to fit his bony body, and his legs were crossed in an effeminate manner.
Though he didn't hang up, he gestured, cigarette in hand, for Alex to sit down welcoming him in despite his unannounced intrusion.
Just then, the receptionist poked her head in. "I'm dreadfully sorry, Mr. MacAlister, but this fellow--"
"Never mind, dear." He waved a hand at her, scarcely covering the mouthpiece as he continued his conversation.
Tempted to rip the phone jack out of the wall, Alex shifted impatiently, standing before the desk. He'd already been fucked around that day more than he usually put up with.
With some manipulations, the agent finally got the caller off the line. Then he uncrossed his legs and sat forward in his expansive chair, elbows on the desk, to look Alex over. "And what can I do for you, my dear sir?"
"I'm looking for a painting by one of your clients," Alex stated flatly. "Perry Somerton."
"Oh, of course." The agent took another draw on his cigarette, still scrutinizing Alex. "I'd be more than happy to help you. He's quite gifted, wouldn't you say? Have you been to the gallery?"
"Yeah. And I was referred here."
"I see." It seemed to take the guy some effort, but he finally quit gawking, and turned his chair away to open a credenza behind him. "You wouldn't by any chance know the title of the painting you're looking for, would you?"
While the old queen's back was turned, Alex secured the book against himself with his prosthetic arm then made a subtle reach for the Rolodex. "Divino Spiratu. At the gallery, they told me it was one of Somerton's older pieces of work."
Apparently, the agent was familiar with the title. He'd probably drooled over Mulder, too. For a moment, the old queen paused, then swiveled back in his chair with a portfolio, forcing Alex to step back without locating the indexed info. "The boy's quite marvelous, isn't he?"
Defensively, Alex narrowed his eyes. Was this old fuck blatantly admitting his lust over Mulder's body?
MacAlister casually proceeded, not missing a beat. "He began drawing when he was two or three."
Once more, Alex breathed. "Whatever," he dismissed. "The painting."
"It wasn't until he was attending university that he seriously took up photography, but that certainly didn't interfere with his talent."
"The painting?" Alex reiterated, allowing his lack of patience to show.
Laying open the portfolio, MacAlister displayed paintings of other nudes, also evidently Somerton's work executed with irritating skill. "These are some of his more recent paintings that may interest you."
Alex glanced at them only long enough to ascertain that they weren't Mulder. "I'm really only interested in the paintings or drawings of the one, particular model."
"Oh, I see. Well, that's going to be a bit of a problem."
"Mr. Somerton has never sold any of those studies. He absolutely refuses to." Leaving the crushed-out cigarette in an art deco-styled, frosted glass ashtray, MacAlister leaned back in his chair. "I finally gave up trying to change his mind."
That was better still. Ideally, Alex would prefer to get a hold of all of them. "Well, I'd like to discuss it with him, myself. I'm not worried about cost. I'll only be here in London another day then I've got business, elsewhere. Can you give me his phone number and address so I can arrange a meeting with him, personally? The lovely lady at the studio offered to make me an appointment, but I'm afraid I just don't have the time to wait a week or two and it'll be a long time before I have another chance to return to England."
"There'd be no point in it, my dear sir." MacAllister smiled understandingly. "Mr. Somerton simply won't part with them. It's not a financial matter."
"Anything can be coaxed into a financial matter. Let me speak to him, myself."
"Given the proper sort of seller. Mr. Somerton's not and never has been very cooperative with the business end of things, I assure you. What I can do is discuss the matter with him, myself, and express your interest--"
"I've heard this song and dance, already; the lady at the art gallery performed her version of it. Like I said, I don't have time to wait around."
"I'll talk to him today. This evening." Sitting upright again, MacAlister found a note pad and pen on his desk. "If I can have your name and number."
"Tyson. Adam Tyson. But now, if you haven't been able to persuade Mr. Somerton to sell these studies before, I don't see any way your discussion with him is going to bring about any different results. I suppose we'll just have to forgo this entire transaction." Straightening his leather jacket, Alex made to leave. "I was prepared to begin at a six digit bid." He started for the door.
Behind him, MacAlister cleared his throat. "Why-why don't I give him a ring him right now and see what he says?"
Pleased, Alex returned to take one of the leather visitors' seats.
Before the agent could lift the phone, the secretary buzzed him. "Never mind that right now," he said to her. "I'll be there in a few minutes. Get Perry Somerton on the line for me, will you?...Yes, I know, I know." He was beginning to sound as impatient as Alex felt. "Just get Perry on the line, first."
As expected, there was some delay. Obviously, the snob thought he was too good to talk to anyone on the phone--even his own agent. Alex began to formulate a strategy for dealing with an arrogant British asshole.
Once MacAlister got his client on the line, the conversation was surprisingly short. He stated the situation, waited, then responded, "Very well, then. I'll send Mr. Tyson over, directly." Evidently, the agent didn't know his client as well as he thought.
Exactly one street over from the art gallery, the taxicab stopped. Son- of-a-bitch. The ostrich-feathered whore at the gallery could have easily just instructed Alex to walk to the other side of the block. He pressed the buzzer for the intercom and the unmarked door unlocked. He didn't see any cameras, but he knew someone must have been watching for him.
The interior of the building was austere. Not like the opulent interior of the gallery. On the upper floor, the strong, pungent odor of chemicals struck him. Specifically, photography chemicals.
Another buzzer. Then he realized the steel door was already open a crack.
Cautiously, he entered.
Inside, he passed through a dark, empty anteroom. Beyond that, another door stood wide open, inviting him into a studio. The large space was illuminated from a row of high windows, a light box, and a single work lamp. There were metal shelves stocked with supplies, state of the art equipment, workspace counters and tables, and plenty of cabinets.
There was only one inhabitant in that room, and he was hunkered over the light box with a magnifying loupe. Unlike the showpiece bitch in the gallery, this assistant was dressed in rather ordinary, wrinkled, baggy, casual clothes, and athletic shoes.
Clearing his throat, Alex announced himself, playing the game. "My name is Tyson. I have an appointment to speak with Mr. Somerton."
"Oh, yeah, I know." The guy looked back over his shoulder.
Alex was surprised when he recognized the artist from the photo in the biography. Or at least sort of recognized him.
The blond curls he'd seen in the photo had been cut short enough to suggest only a hint of wave. A gold hoop glinted at the guy's right ear, he was tanned, and sported a thin moustache and modified beard. He appeared more mature than in the photo, but not by much. Worse than that, he was actually at least ten times more goddamn good- looking than the small photo had alluded. Unlike Alex who chose to wear an earring in his left ear, this guy didn't mind proclaiming his homosexuality.
He got off his stool and stood to take Alex's hand. Krycek noticed the guy wore a natural-colored macramé bracelet on his right wrist and in fact, gold hoops in both ears.
"Perry Somerton," the guy introduced himself. Motherfucker was even taller than Alex. "I understand you're looking to buy some paintings." Backing to the stool, Somerton gestured at another one close by.
Though Alex stood in front of the stool, he didn't sit. He did extend the book, relieving it of the brown wrapping. "That's the painting I'd like to start with."
The guy's long, thick eyelashes flicked on sight of the cover. "Holy shit. I never saw this dust jacket before. Where'd you find this?"
"At a rare bookshop here in town. Does it matter? Your agent told me you aren't interested in selling."
Blinking, he set the book on the counter between them. "My agent told you right; I've no interest in selling that painting or anything related. I was awful put out to allow those paintings in any book, in the first place. So I sure as hell won't sell them. I'm flattered, but that's all there is to it." Withdrawing to his stool, he perched again and resumed studying the negatives on the light box with the loupe.
"I'm talking a hundred thousand pounds as an opening bid. Your agent seemed quite interested."
"Don't give a damn," Somerton murmured, focused on the negatives. "I only agreed to meet you to tell you as much, myself, so you'd leave off him about it."
Goddamn prick. Though he was skinny, he was wiry with hard muscles. And big enough to put up a hell of a fight. "Can I at least see the paintings? As opposed to reduced prints?"
It was a moment before he answered. "Won't make no difference; I won't sell 'em."
At last, Alex drew the other stool closer and perched on the edge. "The reason I'm interested is because I personally know the model in those studies."
Pay dirt. Somerton fumbled, dropping the loupe, and looked to Alex anew.
"Even if you won't sell any of the originals, I'd like to see them, just the same." Painful as it was, he glanced at the book to pick it up and hide the front cover. "How did you come to know Fox Mulder?"
Consternation settled on Somerton's brow. He reached to a multi-line phone tethered by a long cord and lifted the receiver. "I'm sorry, Mr. Tyson, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave now or ring security."
A defensive posture wasn't something Alex had anticipated. In fact, nothing he'd anticipated about the guy had proven to be accurate, yet. Somerton was far from a snob and like his agent had warned, wasn't remotely swayed over money.
Alex stood. "Now wait a second. Let's not get bent out of shape over this. I merely asked to see the paintings, even if you don't want to sell. I don't see how that can be misinterpreted to warrant calling security."
Evidently deliberating, Somerton paused then replaced the receiver. Frown intact, he finally advanced, "Take off that jacket."
Confused, Alex glanced down at himself. He even allowed a slight laugh to help put Somerton at ease. "My jacket? What's that got to do with...?"
"Do you want to see the paintings or not? Take it off."
"You mean...if I take off the jacket, you'll show me the paintings?" He reached for the zipper, and looked around the room. He saw only photography-related equipment, but there were several doors that led elsewhere. "Where are the paintings?"
A timer at the end of the counter went off, arresting both of them.
Rising, Somerton headed for one of the doors. "Pardon me; I've got film to tend. You can either see your way out or get the jacket off. I'll be back in a moment."
Instead, Alex eyed the proof sheets on the counter. He began to examine them under the work light affixed beneath the cabinet. Using the loupe that had been abandoned, he started at what he saw. More well-built males like in Somerton's other works, but these were dressed for an S&M club: latex suits, chaps, vests, penis pants, studded-leather body and cock harnesses, cuffs, and collars. Some subjects were bound by their cuffs and black leather straps, some with nylon rope. Not just their arms and legs but their cocks and balls, too. In some of the photos, the models were posed with like- attired, unbound subjects who wielded different objects of painful gratification.
Catching his breath, he had to admit the photos were artfully done. In fact, the sight of the supple muscle, hard bodies, and erections was damned arousing. Suddenly, it was too hot for the jacket; Alex stripped from his leather outerwear, down to his long-sleeved Henley then picked up the loupe again. It wouldn't hurt to humor the artist-- for the time being.
Eventually, Somerton returned, shutting the door again. He thoughtfully went around Alex, to lean on the other side of him. "Hmm. If you'll model for me, I'll let you have a look at the--"
"Model for you?" Alex pushed away from the counter. "To take your pervert pictures? Not in this life. I'm no model, anyway."
Perching on the other stool, Somerton stroked his beard. "That's all right. I'm quite used to working with all sorts. You've quite an interesting face, plus you've got the body for it. What happened to your left arm?"
Totally taken off guard, Alex picked up his jacket. "You wouldn't tell me how you know Fox Mulder; why should I be any more forthcoming?"
"You want to see the painting," Somerton said matter-of-factly.
"Fine." If he had to pose for the pervert, then so be it.
"I'll do it--pose for you."
For another moment, Somerton continued to study Alex, then finally responded. "Very well. Let's be off, then."
"What? Where are we going?"
"I told you the paintings aren't here. Fox is for home, not work."
Somerton's casual use of Mulder's given name stole the breath from Alex's lungs. He sized up the taller man again. Could this be some sort of trap? Yeah, right, the Consortium placed copies of the damned book all over town, just in case he happened to walk by. Who would have thought paranoia was catching?
"Are you all right, Mr. Tyson?" Somerton asked, apparently noticing something untoward about Alex's reaction.
"Are we doing this or not?" Krycek asked testily.
"Only if you want to see the paintings," Somerton said.
On their way out of the studio they paused by one of the racks of supplies where a leather jacket hung. Next to it on one of the shelves, a dark purple, full face, graphic motorcycle Symax helmet rested. Somerton tucked it under his arm then took down a solid anthracite one from another shelf and handed it to Krycek.
"You've got a bike?" Alex asked.
Perry just smiled on their way through the studio space.
As they passed a small security office on the ground floor, Somerton acknowledged a couple of guards. Evidently, he hadn't been bluffing about the security. Then he led the way out a steel door exit at the rear of the building. In the alleyway between the rows of business fronts, Alex instantly espied a two-tone deep violet on violet Honda Shadow cycle.
Fuck. Alex didn't want to be impressed with the A.C.E. Tourer VT100 so he repressed his envy and kept his mouth shut. Watching Somerton effortlessly throw one long leg over the bike, Alex balked slightly at the prospect of sitting in such close proximity with the stranger.
Oblivious, Somerton fixed on his graphic helmet, mounted the bike, and cranked the engine. Expectantly he looked back at Alex.
Lacking any choice, he donned the anthracite helmet and with a push of the button lowered the front of the helmet. The bulwark this established between them was nominal; he still had to slide onto the back of the motorcycle with the guy and hold onto him for stability.
"Yob tvayu mat," Alex swore as he unwillingly placed his right arm around Somerton and tried not to notice how goddamn sleek and toned the waist felt beneath the fitted leather.
They zipped through the crowded London streets with a dexterity practically befitting a motocross bike. This forced Alex to hang on tighter than he'd cared to in the first place--especially on the turns-- his inner thighs pressing into the hard muscles of the rider. God, he hoped it wouldn't give the libidinous queer ideas.
Fortunately, at the accelerated rate they reached their destination-- an underground parking structure--in haste.
Gliding into a parking space between a sleek, black, sporty sedan and a white Porsche Boxster, Perry cut the engine and pulled off his helmet.
Taking the hint, Alex climbed off the back of the bike and took off his own helmet, eyeing the black vehicle, trying to place it. The size of the alloy rims rivaled those on a full-sized pickup, making a substantial statement. Adding to the effect, the car rested on--what were those? Fifty series--perhaps even forty series?--tires of high performance Toyo rubber. The no-nonsense racing spoiler and body molding were irrefutably sexy.
Dismounting next, Somerton led the way toward the elevator. Krycek hung back a short distance taking in his surroundings. The two men entered the elevator and Somerton put a key in the slot next to the P2. They rode in silence until the doors opened again into a large, airy room.
Alex stepped out first and looked around at the art-covered white walls. One particular painting caught his eye; his black boots echoed on the walnut floors as he crossed the room to stand in front of an artist's rendition of a large landscape.
"Can I get you something to drink?" Perry offered.
Alex wanted to ask for a straight shot of Vodka, but shook his head in the negative.
"Well, make yourself at home. I just need to grab a couple of things."
"I thought you were going to show me the paintings," Alex said, turning a murderous look on Somerton.
"They're at my home. I don't live here, Mr. Tyson, this is where I entertain and sleep when I'm in town. I'll just be a minute."
Alex turned his attention back to the landscape, his anger simmering. So the little fuck's been to Quonochontaug, he thought as he stared at the view of the backyard of the Mulder's summerhouse. He hadn't realized how long he'd been staring at the painting until Somerton cleared his throat behind him.
"Ready?" Somerton asked.
Back in the garage, Somerton deactivated the alarm as they approached the VT100, but it was the taillights of the gleaming, black sedan that flashed--not those on the bike.
"All right," Krycek heaved. "What the hell is it?"
Opening the trunk, the blond tossed his overnight case in. "A 2000 Nissan Skyline GT-R R34."
Once more, Alex fought himself not to be impressed. From what he knew of them, they were premiere cars both on and off the racetrack in Japan. With six cylinders, they cranked around three hundred horsepower.
"Want a look under the bonnet?" Somerton queried with a teasing smile, as if reading Krycek's mind.
Exasperated, he headed up the left side of the vehicle. "No, I don't. Let's just hurry up and get where we're going."
In the Skyline, Alex leaned his head back against the headrest in the passenger seat and studied Somerton's profile. It was annoyingly cute with a perfect nose and long eyelashes. Hell, Mulder often teased Krycek about his long eyelashes, because he liked them; he hated to imagine that his lover may have noticed the characteristic in this prick.
After their stop at the artist's riverfront flat, they had gone by Alex's hotel. He had his own duffel packed and ready to go in moments. Then left instructions to have the order from the bookshop routed to the P.O. address in the States for certain, and checked out of his room. He still wasn't sure how all this had happened. It was a little too reminiscent of the time he'd spent working with Mulder. "So how did you meet him?"
"Fox, you mean. We attended the same university."
"And just because of that, he took off his clothes for you?"
Perry smiled at the memory. "Hardly. He had no idea how beautiful he was. He thought I was daft, wanting to draw him. He used to hide behind his books, swotting."
That sounds just like Mulder, Alex thought to himself.
"Were you in an accident?" Somerton suddenly asked.
"If you're one of those sick fucks who gets off on amputees you can let me out right here."
"Is that what you think?"
Alex let out a sigh and turned his head to look at the countryside streaking by his window. How do I get myself into shit like this? he wondered.
"I was just curious. You don't have to tell me, if it makes you uncomfortable."
"Uncomfortable? Why should it make me uncomfortable? It was in Spain. At the bull run in Pamploma. Right at Hamburger corner, I got pinned against the wall. I heard and felt the bone crack right before the bull's horn ripped through the other side of my arm. You ever heard that sound?" Krycek looked to Somerton levelly, eliciting no horror. "The sound of your own bones breaking?"
He glanced to Alex, blue eyes sparkling in amusement and chuckled. "You aren't half a liar."
Goddamn motherfucking asshole...Krycek glared out the windshield. That's right the son-of-a-bitch went to Oxford; he had to be pretty damn smart. "What were you doing in Rhode Island?"
"Sounds like you know Rhode Island pretty well yourself. Why would that be?"
Biting down on his lower lip, Alex continued to stare through the windshield as they waited at a stoplight. Feeling Somerton's eyes on him, he turned to look at the Englishman.
Somerton's bright blue eyes were fixated on Alex's mouth.
Realizing all this thinking about Mulder had caused him to emulate one of his lover's endearing nervous ticks, Alex turned to look out the passenger window.
"I spent summers with Fox in Quonochontaug," Perry offered breaking the silence.
Alex exhaled hard. Every time Somerton called Mulder by that hated name, he wanted to pull out his gun and splatter the man's brains all over the dash. Too bad he wasn't carrying his weapon.
"What do you call him?" Perry asked.
Okay, now that was downright spooky. "He prefers to be called 'Mulder'," Alex enunciated acerbically, figuring it didn't matter anyway. Everyone who knew anything about Mulder knew that.
"By distant acquaintances."
"Distant, my ass!" Krycek started. "Look, who the hell do you think you are? You don't have a clue. You obviously don't know fuck one about him."
"I knew him well enough to be invited to stay at the Mulders' summer home in Quonochontaug, didn't I?"
And how the hell did he know how to pronounce that damn word so easily? Hardly anyone other than the Mulders' could say it. "You could have found out about it and gone there any time."
"When was the last time you were there?"
"What difference does that make? The point is you don't know him or you'd know he hates to be called Fox."
"Actually, the point is if you knew him as well as you profess to you'd know that he doesn't hate it at all."
Seizing his seatbelt, Krycek nearly freed it to lunge into the backseat and dive for the nine-millimeter H&K in his duffel. It wouldn't be an easy maneuver over the front seats even if he had both arms. "Ne pizdi, zalupa!"
Instead of insulted, Somerton was impressed. "What's that? Is that Russian? Tyson isn't really your last name, is it? What are you after?"
"I already told you."
"You also told me your name is Tyson and it isn't."
"Does it really matter what my name is, all things considered? You've just asked me to participate in a rather bizarre proposition--you sure as shit can't expect to take any legal action in the future, in light of the circumstances." Impatiently, Alex assessed that they seemed to be heading out of town. "Where the fuck are we going anyway?"
Completely unruffled, Somerton glanced at Alex again. "Amesbury."
"Amesbury? Where's that?"
"Just north of Salisbury."
"How far is that?"
"Do you have somewhere to be, Mr. Tyson?" Somerton checked the onboard clock.
So did Krycek. It was 3:40 in the afternoon. He sighed. Anywhere but there. "If I did I wouldn't be here, would I? So how far is it?"
"About eighty miles, so you may as well get comfortable."
"I think I'm about as comfortable as I'm going to get."
"Why don't you have off that jacket? I'd like to have mine off if you'd just grab the wheel a moment." Without waiting for Alex's affirmation, Somerton released his seatbelt and proceeded to do as threatened.
Because he used a knee to attempt to steer in the middle of heavy traffic, Krycek was forced to obey. "Shit, are you trying to get us killed?"
Somerton just laughed.
Another twenty minutes later, eastbound on one of the major motorways, Alex was already bored. It had seemed easier not to talk to the khueplet; he'd been driving Krycek crazy. By then, it was getting too fucking warm in the car. With a quick evaluation of the unit, he cranked on the air conditioner.
Seconds later, Somerton punched it off. "Don't go mucking about with my car."
"It's fucking hot in here." Krycek lowered the window halfway.
"I told you to have that jacket off, didn't I?"
"I said fuck off."
Once more Somerton was amused instead of insulted. "How do you say that again?"
"What was that?" Further entertained he laughed.
"It means leave me the fuck alone." At that point, Alex released his seatbelt and took off the jacket.
"Your American's too good and your Russian's pretty impressive. You must be second generation. I'd like to learn to cuss in Russian. What was that again?"
Ignoring Somerton Alex leaned against the door to sleep during the course of the long trip, strategically draping his jacket on his lap. If he succeeded in falling asleep, he sure didn't want to wake up to find the oversexed homo leering at him.
Who the fuck was this interesting fellow and how did he come to know Fox? Perry mused.
An hour into the trip, the bloke had fallen asleep. Turning on the stereo hadn't disturbed him so Perry had closed the passenger side window to deaden the road and wind noise.
Perry stole a glance at his companion as he turned into his long driveway. Stopping outside the gate, he lowered the window and punched in the security code. He drove through as the gate opened. "We're here," he said reaching out to shake Tyson's shoulder.
He woke instantly, throwing up his right arm to protect himself.
Pulling back, Perry eyed his guest. This bloke was more tightly wound than anyone he'd ever met.
"Nice house," Tyson said staring up at Perry's French chateau-style estate on the hill.
Perry smiled at the easy way his passenger shifted seamlessly into what would be considered normal behavior. Parking the Skyline in the circle in front of the main entrance, he climbed out of the driver's seat and greeted Finnegan, his assistant, who came out of the house, demonstrating his consistently impeccable timing. "Could you bring in the luggage and ask Fielding to park the car?"
With seeming reservation, Tyson followed Perry up the steps and into the foyer.
"We'll be having an extra guest for supper," Perry informed Svetlana, his housekeeper when she appeared. "We'll be in the studio. Will you inform me when Mrs. Elden-Beck arrives?"
"Of course, sir," she replied.
Evidently recognizing her accent, Tyson addressed her in her native language. "YA nadeyus' chto ya ne zastavl'ayu Vas slishkom mnogo dopolnitel'noj raboty," he said.
Delighted, she flushed. "Takoj prekrasnyj mal'chik nikogda ne mog byt' nikakoj nepriyatnost''u," she said, patting his cheeks.
In pleasant surprise, Perry looked after the old woman as she bustled off toward the kitchen. "That's the first time I've ever seen her really smile."
"What would she have to smile about?" Tyson asked coldly. "She breaks her back for a spoiled Westerner who doesn't have the manners to call and let her know she'll have a guest to feed and an extra room to clean. Only a party member could live like this. And you don't just have one ostentatious house you have two. Now show me the damn paintings so I can get out of here."
Perry led the way up to the second floor, into the east hall. He pointed out the studio doors at the end. "Go on in. Svetlana will bring tea."
He was met with another hostile glare from those striking, green eyes before Tyson proceeded down the hall, alone.
For a man who thought he was anything but desirable, Mulder would have been disturbed and embarrassed by the number of photos of him, Alex thought, standing in the center of a mahogany-paneled and floored room. Even though he'd come to see the painting, and the artwork showcased in the room weren't Perry Somerton creations, Alex was drawn to the photos of Mulder. There were several taken in his youth that Alex had never seen before. One in particular made his blood run cold. In a small frame was a photo he's seen many times: a pre-adolescent Mulder with a small girl with long, brunette hair. Turning away, he found himself face to face with a picture of a youthful Mulder and Somerton in black tuxedos, arms draped around each other. As in the paintings, Mulder's hair was unfathomably long and shaggy--for him, anyway. Though he'd tried to smile for the camera, his slight underlying anxiety wasn't lost on Alex. It could have been, if he didn't know Mulder so well. To Alex's perturbation, he found that that wasn't the only photo of the two together.
At the other end of the small room was another pair of doors, which Alex bypassed on his way to the other side. This indicated he was in an anteroom of some sort, decorated with a center table and settees on both sides. If Somerton didn't show up before Alex finished inspecting that room, he'd gladly take the liberty of further exploration upon himself.
Goddamn, did the son-of-a-bitch take incredible pictures; he managed to both vividly and eloquently capture Mulder's beauty in every shot. The fact that they depicted a considerable time span was no less discomfiting.
Before Alex could pry himself from his scrutiny, he heard his host's and the housekeeper's voices in the hall through the open doors. At his insistence, he brought in the tea service, himself.
While he set the tray on the table, Alex lingered by the wall, savoring his survey. What he wouldn't give to own many of the photos. "I suppose these are also part of your personal collection."
"Everything in here is my own personal collection, yes."
"Well, I don't see any of the paintings."
"If you're so eager to see them, why haven't you undressed already?"
With their tea, Perry led Alex through the second set of double doors. Beyond, was a vast room with the same mahogany floors, that opened into one of the turrets he'd noticed on his survey of the house from outside. In there, the scent of oil paints, paint thinner, and photography chemicals filled the air. Within the room stood an entertainment center, a built-in wet bar, and plush, sectional sofa. At the far end of the large room, Alex saw the trappings of a photography studio. A set with backdrops, standing studio lights, tripods, and ample photography equipment.
Turning to Alex, Somerton gestured at one of a couple more single doors. "Loo's right there. You can get undressed."
Naturally, Alex balked. "Wait. I thought you said some missus somebody is coming by."
"Oh, just my mum. You needn't get your knickers in a knot. And she won't be here for a couple more hours. I'll set up while you undress."
"Der'mo," Alex mumbled. "Look, I thought you said you wanted to do a painting. This looks like a photography studio."
Amused, Somerton nodded toward the turret. "Art studio's in there. You'll find dressing gowns in the loo, if you're shy."
Alex stood in the bathroom and reminded himself to breathe. Finding his resolve, he sat on the commode and worked off his scuffed boots. "Why am I doing this?" he asked himself. "It's just a stupid painting."
"Did you fall in?" Somerton called through the door.
If that sentence had come out of Mulder's mouth, Alex would have laughed. But in this case, the familiar sense of humor just added to his anxiety.
"Tie a knot in it, already--I'll be right out."
After toeing off his socks, Alex stood and shucked off his jeans and boxers. That just left the hard part. Hanging his leather jacket on one of the hooks on the wall, he wiggled out of his long-sleeved Henley and stared at his reflection in the mirror. Finally, he released the straps and carefully removed his prosthesis and hung it by his jacket. Then he gingerly peeled off the liner. Grabbing one of the robes off the hooks, he slid it on and used the countertop to brace one side of the fabric to loosely fasten the belt. If he was lucky, the nearly empty sleeve would scare Somerton off, but he doubted it. Stepping back into the photo studio he found it empty.
Late afternoon light filtered in through the long windows of the turret. It was an art studio, all right; there was an easel, a drafting table, and art supplies on tables. A canvas was set on the easel, which was stationed to view a waiting fabric-draped stool. More lights were trained to illuminate both the subject and the canvas. The tea service was on the closest table to the spot lit area.
In front of the easel, Somerton perched on a cushioned stool equipped with a backrest and wheels, where he meticulously sharpened art pencils over a tambor cart. A spiral of steam from his teacup rose beneath the work lights. Surprisingly, he used a battery-powered electric sharpener, as opposed to a knife or at least a simple hand- held one like Alex thought all true artists used.
Pausing by the fabric-draped stool, he found the pot steeping on the service tray along with a waiting empty cup, milk, and sugar. At last, some tea to appease his craving. "How," Alex began, "how do you want me to pose? Like I said, I'm no model and don't know the first thing about this shit, either."
"That's rather a waste, innit? Let's have off the dressing gown."
Taking his time about it, Alex tugged the belt loose. "I thought no self-respecting artist would dare go near an electric pencil sharpener."
"What I may lack in self-respect," Somerton replied distractedly, while he continued to sharpen, "I try and make up for in common sense,"
That was a hell of an answer. Alex was nonplused. In a moment, Somerton was standing before Alex, prompting him to remove the robe. Expecting or at least hoping to invoke some sort of sign from his host that he'd changed his mind about the whole thing once his curiosity had been satisfied, Alex watched for any telltale body language. With those sky blue eyes, it would be impossible to miss a reaction, even if Somerton was adept at keeping a straight face.
It happened, all right, but for the wrong reason.
The sight of Alex's missing arm didn't faze Somerton in the least; it was when his gaze swept down his model's body that the pupils flared, just before long, dark blond lashes obscured them. Then he deftly posed Alex on the stool using strictly verbal prompts before returning to the other stool.
The whole scenario, almost from the start had been veering out of control. The way Krycek had been planning to execute the situation had been thrown all off kilter. He should have the coordinates of where the goddamn paintings were stashed by now. Under cover of night, he meant to slip in and steal not just the one on the cover of the book, but every nude painting of Mulder he could find. Of course he hadn't those kinds of funds to actually purchase them, and even if he were to steal that, too, he wouldn't give a cocky rich-ass prick like Somerton a crown.
Somehow, Alex wound up stark naked, right in front of the annoying son- of-a-bitch, unnerved and growing more so with each excruciating second. If Alex had to be there, he'd better get some answers.
"So I guess you did know Mulder," he allowed. "I saw the photos of you two, together."
Concentrating hard on his work, Somerton snatched the pencil from his mouth while he worked with another. "Not 'did'; couldn't very well stop knowing him, could I?"
"You mean you still have contact with him?"
"Technically, until one of us dies, we'll still know each other."
Damn son-of-a-bitch. Where'd he learn how to double-talk like he did? "What I don't get is how come I don't know anything about you already."
Somerton wasn't expected to know how to answer that one, but in time, while Alex puzzled, it came. "It hasn't occurred to you that you weren't supposed to?"
"Fuck this shit!" Krycek got up and snatched the robe off the nearby stool where Somerton had draped it and struggled to replace it in a hurry. "I want to know who the fuck you are and I want to know now!"
Sitting up behind the canvas, Somerton regarded Alex surprised but amused. "If you really want answers, Mr. Tyson, you're going to have to be a lot more forthcoming than you've been."
"You know what?" Alex finally gave up on tying the robe shut. "I'm fucking out the door. Getting a look at those paintings isn't worth these bullshit head games."
Switching off the light over his easel, Somerton got up. "And I prefer not to show them to you. You've evidenced behavior far too tenacious for me to trust."
On his way out of the turret, Alex halted. Like anyone who had close connections with Mulder, Somerton had apparently learned all the necessary precautions. His radar had been raised. Because of Alex's persistence, those paintings would probably be locked up in a Swiss vault by that evening. "What do you want from me?" he asked.
"Come back and sit down. We'll start over," Somerton said, retaking his seat.
Alex turned back around and started to remove the robe once more.
"Like you were."
Alex adjusted himself on the stool until the artist was satisfied with his position.
"Now, tell me how you know Fox," Somerton ordered as he tucked the other pencil behind his ear and continued to draw.
"I met Mul-der," Alex stressed the name, "while I was at the FBI."
"You don't really expect me to believe you were ever an agent."
"I was a damn good agent, you self-righteous prick," Alex snarled.
"Ahh." Somerton gestured with his pencil.
Alex repositioned himself on the stool.
"And?" Somerton prompted.
"There is no 'and'. I was Mulder's partner for a brief time."
A smile lit up the Brit's eyes before it reached his mouth.
"God, what now?" Alex asked beginning to get agitated again.
"Partner is such a generic term. It can mean so many things. I worked with him; I was in business with him; I was fucking him...Which one of those applies to your relationship with Fox?"
Alex sighed. "I worked two cases with him at the FBI."
"And that's all there was to it?"
At the very last, Alex thought he heard footsteps on the hardwood floor in the outer room, just before he heard an elder woman's voice call, "Svetlana said you were up here."
Hastily, Alex hopped off the stool, nearly knocking it over to grab the robe to cover himself.
A slender, silver-haired lady dressed in expensive, eclectic, draping clothes entered. On seeing Alex, she remarked, "Well, what've we got here?" She walked up to stand behind Somerton. "Go ahead and sit back down, dear," she waved at Alex. "I love to watch Perry work."
Frozen, Alex just stood and gaped.
"He's shy," Perry smirked.
The lady pinched Perry's ear right above his earring. "Don't be cheeky."
"Ouch. Jeez, Mum," Perry said, jerking his head away.
"And where're your manners?" the woman asked.
"Mum, this is Adam. He's..."
"Yes?" she prompted, seemingly amused at her son's hesitation.
"He's a mate of Fox's or something."
"Really?" She looked to Krycek again, appearing impressed. "Is that so? What a coincidence."
"Not really," Somerton explained. "He looked me up 'cause he recognized Fox from my paintings."
"You sold some of your paintings of Fox?" she inquired.
"Don't be daft. Mr. Tyson spotted them in an art book on my work and has more than a keen interest in purchasing them."
In defense of his actions, Alex spoke up. "I have every right to my reasons. But then your son blackmailed me into taking off my clothes just to let me have a look at the paintings."
From her handbag, the woman took out a pair of glasses for a better look at the canvas. Apparently pleased with it, she readjusted her glasses and approached Alex to size him up at a closer distance.
"I'm Anora Elden-Beck," she formally introduced herself. "Perry's mum. Can't say I appreciate your description of my son's tactics, but I can see why he'd make such a negotiation with a fellow with your assets."
Somerton provided her with little more insight. "Adam there says they only worked together, but it's pretty obvious there's a lot more to it than that."
Like mother like son, Alex thought, still holding the robe over his lap, looking anywhere but at her. Evidently, the oversexed, old dame had probably been remarried a dozen times during the course of her life. And they both liked men.
"You think they've slept together?" she asked her son.
"I get that impression," Somerton allowed dryly.
"Is that so?" she asked Alex. "You've been carrying on with my son-in- law?"
"What?" Alex nearly stood up again. "Son-in-law? What the hell...?" he looked to Somerton and saw only his studious expression as he concentrated on the canvas and Alex's body.
"Essentially, yes," Mrs. Elden-Beck went on. "Perry and Fox were married some time ago. Common-law alone should take precedence."
Stunned, Alex turned away to struggle into the robe.
"I suppose," Somerton said, "it's time we break for dinner, at any rate. Need some help with the dressing gown, Adam?"
"Look," Alex flustered. "If Mulder was married or ever had been, I'd know about it." He startled again when he realized Somerton was behind him, helping him off the stool and keeping him adequately covered on slipping him into the robe.
"I've got the wedding band and documents to prove it," Somerton stated calmly. "What my mother failed to mention is that we're more or less separated."
"I need to..." Alex broke off as he headed out of the turret.
While Perry temporarily repaired his station, his mother went on, her voice taking on a guarded tone.
"I'm not sure about all this."
"I dunno. Adam keeps calling him Mulder. Some of his mates call him that, but I can't imagine a lover doing it. It seems odd..."
"If that's what you suspected, how could you invite him 'round for a cuppa?"
"He's a right looker, that one. Makes a striking model. And," he added, "don't you think I'd want to get to know him?"
"If it was me in your place, I'd be right furious."
"It's not as if I'm pure as the driven snow, Mum."
She pinched his ear again. "I don't want to hear it."
"Ow." Just as he reached to bat her hand away, she let go. "I won't have an ear left by the end of this evening if you don't leave off. Look, it don't mean we care any less for each other." He went on strengthening some of the pencil lines and removing others with the drafting eraser.
"I can tell you, if Halley and I were ever separated like this, I couldn't bring myself to run off and sleep about."
"That's easy enough for you to say, being as you and Dad have been together forever. You know the subject matter of my most lucrative work is awfully compelling. Wanking isn't half--"
"Per-ry!" she rebuked. "There's no point in pretending it don't bother you, being separated. I know you." Still behind him, she ruffled his hair. "If you were all right with it, you'd be back to your old self."
"What you mean?" he said, mildly annoyed with her perspicacity. "I'm perfectly all right."
"Oh, no you're not. For starters, if you were, you'd quit having your hair cropped off. I know how much Fox loves your hair--same as I do." She kissed the top of his head.
"That's just plain loony, Mum. It's not you and Fox who keep after it day in and day out, is it? It didn't occur to you I might just be tired of it all?" He took a sip of his cooling tea. As well as he knew Fox, it was surprising to learn that he'd taken a lover. Or so Adam seemed to be. "To be honest, whatever's going on between Mr. Tyson and Fox seems right fascinating."
"Good lord, Peregrine," his mother lamented. "I've never understood you, and from the looks of it I never will."
Over dinner, Perry's mother proved to be no less an asset. Without his father around, she was free to be her candid, inquisitive self.
"So," she asked their guest. "How long have you and Fox been sleeping together?"
Tyson had redressed to a much greater extent than hoped; he'd replaced everything but the leather jacket. He'd only have to put himself through all the same amount of trouble to undress, after dinner. "Pardon me, ma'am," he enunciated pointedly, "but what or if anything transpired between Mulder and I, it wouldn't be any of your-- "
"Bloody hell," Perry interrupted. "It bloody well *is* my business how long you've been sleeping with my husband, isn't it? My mum asked you a simple question; if it wasn't her business, too, I'll be the one to let her know, not you."
After setting down his fork, Tyson wiped his mouth with his linen. "Six years. Off and on."
"Six years." Perry considered. What had been going on six years ago? Nineteen ninety-four. "How much off and how much on over those six years?"
"An answer for an answer," Tyson proposed. "I gave you one. All your mother said was that you were married 'some time ago'; what does that constitute?"
Toying with the fork, Perry hesitated. "We married in 1989, soon after he graduated Quantico."
For a second, Tyson froze. "That was eleven years ago."
"We met eight years prior to that, at university, like I told you. Same- sex marriage is hardly recognized anywhere, so Fox and I arranged other means through which to legalize our commitment to each other. We share numerous palimony agreements that entitle us to essentially the same rights we'd have if our marriage were legal. In other words, we're about as married as two people of the same sex can possibly be in any society on this planet."
In another moment, Tyson shrugged and resumed eating. "Sorry, old boy; I guess Mulder just lost his taste for blonds."
"Are you suggesting your relationship with Fox has been steady and serious over the past six years?"
"If you figured that much in his life, I'd know 'bout it."
"Maybe *you're* not supposed to know about me."
"Bollocks," Perry's mum said abruptly.
"What's that, Mum?" Perry prompted her, amused.
"Bollocks," she repeated. "Fox could never keep a secret like that from you. And you'd have come across Mr. Tyson already if he and Fox were all that involved. He's just trying to get the better of you, Perry."
Leaning back in his chair, Perry regarded Tyson. "I think Mum's right."
"You can believe whatever you want," Tyson replied. "What does she know about commitment? How many times has she been married?"
"Just the once," Perry's mother responded happily. "To the father of my two lovely boys. Wonderful fellow he is, too."
Confused, Tyson glanced back and forth between Perry and his mother. "But she said her last name was something else. Elton--Alden-- "
"Elden-Beck," Perry supplied. "Same as mine. I use my middle name as a surname to keep my career and the family name well apart from each other. Like Mum. She's always used Anora Bryson as her professional name. We'd rather not be associated with the snotty Elden-Becks and they're happy enough with the arrangement. My father understands. Always has. He's never been particularly proud of his heritage, either."
Pushing his plate away, Tyson seemed to have lost his last shred of patience. "Enough already. Show me the goddamn paintings now. I did what you asked."
"Hardly," Perry scoffed. "I've only started the preliminary sketch. I'm afraid it's going to take a little while longer.
"Fine, let's get it over with," Alex said through clenched teeth as he pushed back from the table.
"You look tired, Adam," Perry remarked, looking up from his canvas.
"I just want this over," Alex responded, cracking his neck.
"Give me a minute," Perry said and disappeared into his photo studio.
Slumping to a more comfortable position, Krycek hooked his heel on the rung of the stool and leaned forward, elbow on his knee. He'd been in horrific predicaments before, but despite the present non- life threatening situation, he'd have to rate this one on par with some of his worst moments.
Somerton returned with a digital camera.
"What's that for?" Alex asked warily.
"I'm going to take a couple of continuity shots then you can turn in. I'm ready to turn in, myself," Perry said. "We can get on with it after breakfast."
"How many times do I have to tell you I want this over," Alex growled.
"It hasn't been as bad as all that has it?"
"I don't particularly enjoy being displayed like an Amsterdam whore."
Perry laughed. "If you could just hold that pose again a minute."
Making no effort to disguise his impatience, Alex readopted the position.
Like a practiced professional, Somerton swiftly framed his shots. The motor drive thankfully expedited the photography session.
Shutting down the camera, he glanced up. "Oh, I almost forgot. Your room's past the balcony where we came up, first door on the left. See you at breakfast, then."
Climbing off the stool, Alex wrapped himself in the robe. He went to collect his belongings from the bathroom before heading off to sleep.
In front of the computer in the turret off the master suite, Perry waited for a response to his hastily-sent instant message. On retiring to his room, he had showered then slipped into his silver, silk pajamas before stationing himself, one knee raised so his bare foot was tucked up next to him on the ergonomic seat, to compose a brief of the situation. He was sure that his husband's friends, the Lone Gunmen, could help him with the mystery that was Adam Tyson. It should be early evening East Coast time and the blokes were sure to be available, if not online.
He jumped at the relatively loud computerized knock in the otherwise silent room that emanated from the speakers. A response from Frohike appeared in the messenger window. "Turn on your webcam, dude."
In doing so, the webcam window opened and Frohike's image flickered onto the screen. He adjusted his glasses to peer at his own screen. Then he added to his message. "What's with the beard and short hair? Going for the conservative look these days?"
In his timeless manner, the only change Frohike had ever made to his appearance was to do away with the length of his hair in back.
Amused, Perry smiled. "The dashing Byers look. Just got lazy and sick of it all 1 day. What can you tell me about Tyson?"
"Need more description."
"He claims to have ongoing sexual liaison with Fox for 6 years. Very good-looking. Dark hair. Green eyes. Missing left arm for reasons yet undisclosed."
Addressing someone off-camera, Frohike looked aside and spoke. He and his addressor exchanged another few words then he returned to the keyboard. "Oh, shit. That's Alex Krycek. Steer way clear of him. He was once employed by same thugs who've been after Mulder. Watch your back!"
Onscreen, Frohike pointed wildly at his webcam.
"Checking up on me?"
Perry startled outright at the abrupt inquiry from close behind.
Leaning into view, Adam--or Alex, according to Frohike--reached forward and punched off the main switch of the master power device. The computer went dead.
Regarding the guest in a new light, Perry pressed his chair back for a better look.
The fellow had replaced his black trousers beneath the dressing gown. Beyond that, he was barefoot, his hair was damp, and the left sleeve of the gown was empty. Evidently, he'd also helped himself to a shower and not fully redressed.
Relaxing, Perry lowered his foot to the carpet, slid comfortably down in his chair, and rocked. "That was rather rude, wasn't it? My hard drive's going to have a wobbly when I power up again. What you doing poking about my house, anyway?"
Casually, Alex strolled around the study area. "Is it any more polite to perform unauthorized background checks on your guests? All right, so you know my name. And a little about my employment background. But that was a long time ago."
"It must have been, if you're shagging Fox. He wouldn't make a bed partner of you, otherwise. Still, he must have been hard to convince. He's never been one to hand out trust very easily."
Settling on the corner of the desk return, Alex waited. "Now that the introductions are aside, you can pretty much figure out why I want those paintings."
"And you can pretty much 'figure out' why I've been refusing to sell them at any price." Perry got up. "I am flattered that you appreciate my husband as much as all that. You've gone to an awful lot of bother over the things." He started for the dressing room of the master suite. Realizing Alex wasn't following, Perry turned back. "Come along, then."
With a hunted expression, Alex joined his host in the main part of the master suite.
"What is it you do for a living now, Mr. Krycek?" Perry asked.
"I'm self-employed and have several private investments."
"Self-employed at what?"
"Does it matter?"
"You can't blame me for wanting to know." Perry proceeded to the dressing room. "Of course if you'd rather not to tell me, I'll find out in time." Opening the walk-in closet, he switched on the light inside to collect the framed paintings from between the built-in cupboards where they were hidden. Minding the glass, he brought them out to prop against the exterior of the closet doors.
Crouching down, Alex attempted to spread them out for display--an awkward task for someone with only one hand.
Perry knelt on the carpet to assist.
When they were all set up, Alex marveled silently over each painting under the dressing area lighting.
"As it happens, they've become a bit of a burden," Perry admitted. "I've been wondering what to do with them."
Puzzled, Alex frowned. "A burden? They're fantastic. These paintings should be mounted on the walls. Why do you have them hidden away in a closet?"
"For a start, there's a certain amount of pain involved in looking at them when Fox and I are apart. I think I'll just give them to you."
"Give?" After the effort the poor bloke had put in over the course of the day, it was no wonder he about choked.
"Well, even though I had no intention of parting with them, you are sitting for me. That should settle it."
Alex continued to study the paintings a while longer.
Perry waited patiently. "I'll wrap them then have them packed for transport by the time you leave. And I'd prefer my agent doesn't find out about all this; he's likely to draw and quarter me, himself."
At length, Alex cleared his throat, gaze still fixed on the paintings. "I'm not exactly sure what to say. I suppose I should thank you, but you did put me through a lot of crap. On the other hand, I can't really fault you that; anyone who's all that well- affiliated with Mulder would be an idiot not to be paranoid. I guess I had you figured wrong."
Forgoing words, Perry crawled behind his guest and slid his hands down the lapels of the dressing gown. He loosened it.
Instantly, Alex shot to his feet and turned to face Perry. "What are you doing?"
Standing, Perry looked down what he'd managed to expose of the smooth chest. "Don't get the wrong idea--the paintings are yours free and clear, in any event. But you are quite a looker, even if you weren't shagging my wedded mate. The combination of the two makes you all the more alluring. Not to mention my curiosity about what Fox has been enjoying these past six years, behind my back." Taking the knot in the dressing gown belt, he tugged Alex toward the bed.
"Hey, now wait a second," he protested. "You just gave me the right to tell you to fuck off and I'll still get the paintings."
"I did, yeah." Keen on getting a close view of Alex's chest, Perry drew the dressing gown further open beneath the belt.
"I don't get you." Alex retreated sharply into his own space. "You should be pissed off and want to kill me. You've treated this whole thing in the weirdest way. Don't you ever get mad?"
Amused, Perry laughed. "Haven't had any reason to."
Alex blinked. "When I saw the cover of that book, I was ready to go ballistic. Knowing some lech had been leering at Mulder's body then had the audacity to sell prints of the painting to the public market. If your relationship with him really is the way you claim, you have ten times more reason to want to see me dead."
"We've been through much worse over the years. I've had a few moments when I lost it, but not many. If you take yourself and everything too seriously, that's rather like setting yourself up in advance for disappointment and disaster, innit? Give fate half the chance to get the better of you and it'll run you over, for sure. Not much of a way to spend a lifetime." Perry eyed Alex's chest once more from that proximity. "Course, we're all entitled to our own ways. And our own opinions. You can tell me to sod off. I'll see you back to your room if you'd like or you can be on your way." Waiting only a moment through Alex's hesitation, Perry went to switch off the dressing area lights. It was fairly dark in the suite at that point, other than the dim illumination from the distant lamp by the computer. He fully expected Alex to be gone on turning back and thereby nearly crashed into him. "Sorry. I'll have a light on by the bed in a flash so you can see your way to the door."
"Wait." Alex's voice had dropped in volume and octave. "As much as you piss me off, I have to admit you're pretty damn intriguing, yourself. Look at all you have. Money. Talent. Intelligence. Looks. Personality. All that's reason enough for him to have married you. I guess I can't deny that I'm curious, too, about the one person he really chose to make his."
Accepting the telling admission as affirmation, Perry went to turn on the bedside lamp. He could see Alex's tense expression then. Returning to him, Perry untied the dressing gown. That time when he slowly ran a hand over Alex's lean body, he made no move to intervene.
There was no divorcing the connection between Alex and Fox when Perry pressed his guest back on his renaissance-style bed. Beneath the half tester canopy draped with amber damask, on the cushions of crushed velvet and brocade, Perry threw Alex's dressing gown open, laying his chest bare.
It was possible his chest was smooth by design. Fox had really fancied Perry's that way. Whereas Perry had an affinity for the pattern of thin, sexy hair on Fox's. All Fox had had to do was state his wanton desire of his lover's smooth, blond chest, and Perry adopted the habit of complying.
Whatever the case, it was a fitting look on Alex with his pale pink nipples. Up close, Perry observed that they'd provide a pleasant effort to capture for shade, on canvas. Intently, he traced them with his mouth and tongue, teasing them erect.
His manual exploration proceeded further over Alex's chest and belly, taking sensual inventory of the curve and line of each muscle. With desire, Perry soon enhanced his exploration with his mouth.
For a while, Alex had been silent. That silence was eventually broken by deep respirations and quiet gasps of pleasure. Perry's fervent sucking on the pink tits elicited impressive response. When he could force himself to let go, he glanced down; sure enough, the front of Alex's dark trousers stood tented by an unmistakable erection.
The moment Perry took the waistband to unfasten, Alex caught his breath. He raised his hand to impede, hesitated, then before Perry could unzip, Alex tugged on the shirt of his host's silk pajamas. "It's time I get to see something."
In Perry's singular enthusiasm, he'd not thought to undress. He got up on his knees and unbuttoned the shirt. Removing it made even less secret of the fact that beneath his matching trousers, his own erection was quite evident. Tossing his shirt aside, he reached for Alex's waistband again, but was arrested.
"Fuck," Alex groaned, getting up on his elbow to draw from reach. A fetching crease furrowed the bridge of his nose. "You look like *that* and you want to paint *me*?"
Glancing down at himself, Perry laughed. "I get by, I guess."
"What? Are you fucking kidding? God, it just figures you not only look like a male supermodel, you've got the body of one, too."
The compliment carried a decided significance, coming from Fox's extramarital paramour. Doubly enticed, he went at Alex's trousers again. His erection had daunted several degrees but hadn't gone soft.
Though he exhibited some mild resistance, he gave in to Perry's persistence. It didn't take too much of a struggle to get the trousers down past a thin thatch of dark hair that well suggested what Alex would look like bare. A rather interesting thought. The thick, cut pecker was only firm by then and nowhere near it's full state. Nevertheless, it was all the more handsome, close-up.
Knowing that the very piece of equipment pleasured Fox evoked deep arousal in Perry. He pulled the trousers the rest of the way off, to uncover the long legs. Amused, he felt and saw Alex perform another survey of his competition. Of note, he didn't ask that Perry do any more undressing.
Not to worry. He positioned himself between the thighs again and took the conical, fully exposed bell cap into his mouth. Not only was it scrummy, it felt fantastic and perked up, immediately. As he worked it toward the back of his throat pumping the base, it quickly responded. That was always a hell of a turn-on, let alone in Fox's fellow.
One swift sweep to the nightstand later, Perry had doffed the remainder of his night ware and climbed back on the bed between Alex's legs. Managing condom wrappers had required some practice, but Perry had finally learned with the aid of some of his photography models, how to tear them with his teeth. And how to roll the things down in the most efficient way.
All of a sudden, Alex scrambled back and sat up. "Now, wait--"
Ignoring him, Perry played at his condom-covered bell cap with the lubricant. Then he stalked his guest. "You were enjoying our interaction well enough a minute ago..."
"I don't bottom for anyone."
"I gathered as much. Only I don't set much stock in that sort of thing..."
"I don't care what you set stock in; I'm just telling you how things are."
Backing to a kneel, Perry was ready to accommodate. He nodded toward the nightstand. "Help yourself."
With the lamp on, Alex had a somewhat better view of the room, though much of it was still cast in shadow. It wasn't like the modern décor in the house in London. The bedstead was an impressive, beautifully detailed, renaissance-style antique made of walnut. It was crowned with a half-tester from which hung a set of damask, amber drapes. The tones on the thick bedspread consisted of various shades of amber and purple on ivory, a background that really brought out Somerton's golden hair and earrings. Alex wondered if Mulder had chosen the fabric colors. Sure, he was color-blind, but he could still match like with like-- whatever the heck he saw.
The other furniture that Alex could see also appeared to be walnut antiques of similar renaissance design. The nightstands matched the bed. All of it was quite a contrast to the way Mulder lived. Why he'd give this up to live in that crummy little apartment didn't make much sense. It could be argued that he wasn't the pretentious type but from what Alex had picked up about Somerton, neither was he. Nor was he stupid enough to live in a dinky apartment when he had money. Mulder shouldn't have been either.
One-by-one, the snap judgments Krycek had made about Somerton were being shot down. There was no mirror on the ceiling nor an array of them surrounding the bed. No strategically mounted cameras that Krycek could spot, either. If there was a collection of gay porno tapes, he sure didn't see evidence of it. In fact, in neither house had he witnessed the anticipated plethora of statues and/or paintings of male nudes.
If practically nothing else anyway, the judgment Alex had made about Somerton's advances had just been proven. He hadn't known Mulder and Krycek were having an affair at the time of the first come-on to do the modeling job. Alex now faced the very situation he'd been anticipating all along. What he'd not expected was an opportunity to turn it down-- and a casual one at that--and even less that he wouldn't take advantage of such an opportunity.
Maybe that was because everything else about Somerton was nothing like Alex had thought. The truth was he was cool. Amazingly cool. To the point that it was frustrating, yes, only that had everything to do with Alex's position in the situation. In fact, to Alex, in spite of himself, it seemed as if Dr. Mulder, with his advanced degrees in psychology and everything, oughta undergo some serious psychoanalysis, himself, for leaving this find.
Once again throwing Alex's bearings off, Somerton had just done another one-eighty. Knowing Mulder, it required a dominant aggressor to get anywhere with him. So the fact that Somerton didn't jump Krycek and demand his way was more surprising than the proffered chance to decline sex. Like Mulder, Somerton came off like an alpha for the most part. Except every now and then, he exhibited a flash of beta personality. In fact, Mulder was kind of like that. Apparently, the two were compatible because they shared the ability to be both alpha and beta, by nature. Thereby, Somerton didn't need to be the extremely aggressive type; a perfect dominant-submissive symbiotic balance between them would do the trick just as well, if not better.
Krycek tried not to over-analyze the precise mechanisms of the relationship he held with Mulder. Not that he hadn't wondered many nights. It was like making a wish on a shooting star; if spoken out loud, it wouldn't come true. It had started as an admiration through reputation from afar. But, when he actually came face to face with Mulder, the sparks of hostile disdain he turned on Alex ignited the flame of something much greater. Something that deeply enticed him, yet opposed and interfered with his occupational duties and then livelihood. Whatever it was, it tortured him. As reckless and irrational as it may have been, he had to have it.
To achieve it, he had to be aggressive--damned aggressive. To his astonished delight, though Mulder fought, he aroused. Still, it had been a lie when Krycek told Somerton he only topped. Somewhere along the way, Krycek had willingly given in to Mulder's alpha side and allowed him to satisfy it as the aggressor when he so desired. Far from discomfiting, in fact it surpassed all of Alex's euphoric dreams to be ravished by Mulder.
With all Somerton had going for him wrapped up in that package, even Mulder couldn't have resisted. Though Mulder could be stone blind to a lot of things, Somerton had an ingenuous charm about him that had been irritating the hell out of Krycek. Because it was so freaking genuine, it was really hard to find fault in the guy.
Then there were those fucking incredible good looks. Dazzling, bright blue eyes, long, curly eyelashes and blond hair--and that body. Jeezus, most men would kill to have a body like that. Not to mention a decent length of cock, and--Oh, fuck. What was Krycek thinking?
It had been one thing when Somerton was on Krycek. Actually, it had been one hell of an arousing thing. Considering who Somerton had to practice on, it was no wonder he got to be so damn good at it. He was probably great at every aspect of sex; with the mutual relationship between them, he and Mulder, they would have shared equal time doing both.
While Alex contemplated, Somerton closed the distance between them again. He didn't say anything, but went down on Alex again, once more placing his hard-on at the mercy of that skilled tongue, mouth, and throat. Falling back on his elbow, he found himself panting. It wasn't exactly fair. Then again, Alex hadn't initiated this. Just when he made up his mind to pull away, he couldn't. This guy had experience deep- throating Mulder; it was no wonder he had no problem taking Krycek all the way in.
It became apparent Somerton intended to satisfy his guest, no matter what. Like everything else about the Englishman, that didn't make a whole lot of sense. How did that benefit him? Yeah, well, whatever-- Alex was past the point of worrying about it. Despite his delirium, between his eyelashes, he did see Somerton get up on his knees, inadvertently showing off his great shape again. Then Alex succumbed to an explosive orgasm that left him reeling. God, only Mulder could do Alex like that.
Feeling the bed shake, he peered through his eyelashes again. Somerton was on the edge of the mattress, tying off the condom he'd just removed. What Krycek expected was that Somerton would press for cooperation after the favor he'd just granted. Apparently not. Unused condoms were stripped off, not tied off. The fluid-filled tip of the prophylactic indicated he'd benefited after all. And that his motives were genuine. Just like Mulder.
Another few moments later, Alex opened his eyes again and found he was alone. He wasn't sure where the bathroom was in the room, but could hear the water running. Was he invited to stay or was he expected to leave? Somerton hadn't said a word. Did he want to stay? Sticking around made him uncomfortable. Still, a million questions nagged at him and this would be the one time to ask--with Somerton's guard down.
Getting off the bed, Alex replaced the dressing gown. That way it would appear that he was preparing to leave, if he wasn't welcome. He folded his pants and draped them on a chair on the pathway out of the room. Very nice set up, he observed, now that he had a chance to turn on another lamp and explore. The shut door of the bathroom turned out to be opposite the large dressing area.
His short-lived search concluded when Somerton exited the bathroom wiping his face with a towel, dressed in only the pajama pants.
"Are you leaving?" he asked.
Alex found himself unable to respond with words. It wasn't an unattractive idea, crawling back in the warm bed with the sexy artist. He missed being able to sleep without having to wonder if he was going to wake up with a knife in his back, figuratively or literally. He began to like the idea of falling asleep with someone safe. But, just because he was safe with Somerton didn't mean Mulder wasn't going to add this to his list of cardinal sins. He had the feeling that this was going to go straight to the top. First, you helped them abduct Scully then you killed my father, and then helped them kill Scully's sister. Number one on the list was now going to be you slept with my husband.
"Come to bed, Alex," Perry coaxed, interrupting Mulder's voice echoing in Alex's thoughts.
Alex nodded, allowing Somerton to guide him back toward the inviting bed. He froze when Somerton rested his hand on his left shoulder.
"Take off your robe. I'll see if I can't rub some of the kinks out," he said.
Mulder was the only one Alex let touch him there and he wasn't sure he wanted that to change.
"I bet you let Fox do it for you," Somerton said.
Alex lifted his eyes to Somerton's searching blue gaze, more than a little uncomfortable with his eerie insight. "Okay," he said.
Perry peeled the dressing gown off of Alex's stiff but unprotesting body and turned him toward the bed. "Lie down; I'll be back in a minute."
Alex sprawled out on the bed and rested his chin on his right forearm.
"You don't have to look like a lamb being led to slaughter," Perry mused, straddling Alex's hips. Opening the bottle of baby oil, he poured some into his hands and let it warm before firmly stroking up and down Alex's broad back.
Alex felt himself begin to relax under Somerton's hands. "Can you do my neck?" he asked.
Perry moved his hands higher and began to knead Alex's neck. "You're in knots," he observed.
Alex replied with a tired moan.
"Does that hurt?" Perry asked.
"Yeah, but don't stop."
Perry continued to rub Alex's neck and shoulder with strong, sure strokes. "Is it okay to touch you here?" he asked resting his hand on the top of Alex's stump.
"You might as well before you die of curiosity."
"I didn't mean to be cheeky."
"Sure you didn't. And you're still wondering how I got like this."
"Only if you want to tell me the truth."
Alex's memory flashed back on the crush of bodies holding him down as the boy cut into him with a machete.
"I'm sorry," Somerton whispered by Alex's ear, placing butterfly kisses along his neck. "I didn't mean to make you relive it."
At first, Alex didn't know what that meant but then realized he was breathing hard and his skin was clammy.
Perry sat back and began the massage again, only this time with the intent to sooth. "Go to sleep, Alex," he said, continuing to stroke.
Before settling in bed to fall asleep with the TV, Mulder returned to the living room to power down the computer. In his pajama pants and open shirt, he sat down a moment and stirred the monitor to life. What the hell, he'd check his email one last time for the night.
As he'd removed his contacts already, he reached for his glasses' case on the desk. He found email from Frohike. The oldest was emblazoned with the subject line of BLITZKRIEG IN UK! READ NOW! Knowing Frohike's sense of drama and humor, it could mean anything. The fact that it had been typed in uppercase text, however, suggested a possible legitimate urgency to the message.
Upon opening the post, Mulder saw the time of receipt recorded at 6:36 p.m. that evening, a little over three hours ago. So much for immediacy.
"Dude. The shit just hit the fan. If I were you, I'd grab the next flight to the UK. The last two people you'd ever want to find out about each other just have. And your mistress didn't look thrilled just before he cut off contact."
"Mulder," Alex threatened, rolling away from the questioning finger that trailed down his chest toward his groin.
Perry set the cup of tea he'd brought for his guest on the nightstand and leaned over to press his mouth against the inviting ear.
"So you really call him Mulder," Perry whispered into Alex's ear.
Surging upright, Alex bumped the side of his head into Perry's chin.
"Good afternoon to you too," Perry laughed, rubbing his chin.
"Afternoon? What time is it?" Alex asked, looking around for a clock.
"Doesn't matter. Take your time. Have a shower, eat some lunch," Perry said, nodding toward the plate of sandwiches next to the teacup. "I'll be in the studio when you're ready."
Alex responded to the warm, friendly kiss brushed along his mouth and sat back against the headboard as his host sauntered through the open doorway.
Heaven help Krycek if he tried to mess with Perry. It was actually kind of funny. Imagining the confrontation. As well meaning as the Lone Gunmen were, the boys had never had the pleasure of getting to know Perry's full potential. Without even trying, he could kick ass before anyone knew what was happening. It never even had to reach a physical level, though he was six foot three and had a hell of a tough, lean build. If it came down to it, he could do serious damage. Mulder had heard about or witnessed the results, though they rarely occurred...
That didn't mean a trip to England wasn't warranted.
What was Scully going to think if Mulder were to suddenly run off to the British Isles without explanation? She'd have a million and ten questions. So he had to come up with something to tell her.
For a few years, he'd been interested in the computer-based research going on behind the manifestations of crop circles. Despite that it was a Saturday, Mulder went in to the office that morning to piece an excuse together to go to England. Prudently, he started out by ordering the airline fare from his office line to get to Heathrow. Then came the set- up. The files he'd acquired so far, some slides of computer-generated crop circles, then the phone call.
They'd been working an interesting case. Hopefully, Scully would have some lab results by then. Her cell phone rang three times before she answered. "Hey," he said. "What're you doing?"
"At the moment, I'm buying groceries," she replied warily. "Like any normal person does on her day off. What're you doing?"
"Did you get those lab results on the Szczesny case?"
"I got the preliminaries. It turns out--"
"Tell you what. Why don't you bring lunch and you can fill me in? Something else has come up I'd like to tell you about."
She hesitated. "Lunch? I still have to go back to the hospital to finish up the report."
"It's actually pretty fascinating and it shouldn't take long to explain."
Interference buzzed through the phone line, indicating she was probably impatiently checking her watch. "All right,I guess. I'll be at your apartment in--"
"I'm at work."