by Courtney Gray
Mulder felt strange in his suit. Even a year after the end of the War, it still felt strange.
Years of living in makeshift camps, bunkers, and sometimes even caves, wearing camouflage fatigues and, in the worst days, little more than rags, had left him feeling like he was pretending to be someone else in the elegant blue Armani. Even the designer tie with its splotches of orange and blue didn't feel...familiar.
He wasn't the Fox Mulder he used to be.
He fingered the finely woven silk lapels and tugged at the end of one sleeve.
"One more committee appearance, one more round of testimony, Mulder. Then, finally, we can get back to living our own lives."
Mulder turned from the window that looked out over a vista of government buildings and gave Scully a half-hearted grin. "I just want to get out of this suit."
One finely arched eyebrow rose as Scully stepped closer. "Do you really want to do this, Mulder? You could've had them videoconference you in, same as the last two hearings." She kept staring at him when he didn't reply, her blue eyes as shrewd as ever. But after all their years as partners of one sort or the other, he knew her just as well and didn't answer. Predictably, he heard her sigh.
He shook his head, knowing he owed her a response. "I'm fine. Just...antsy. I want to do this." He picked up his cane, fingers playing over the burnished handle for a moment. He looked down at his right shoe, at the shiny black leather.
"Is the leg all right?" Scully asked.
"Yeah, it's a wonder of modern science," he deadpanned. "I'm getting the hang of it. The sensors are a bitch sometimes, still a little rocky with that. But, hey, it's got the ever popular natural look. Tanned even. I could probably be a limbo dancer in a few months."
"That conjures up an image I'd prefer never to actually see," she replied with a smile.
They were easier with each other, almost comfortable. He was glad about that. Glad he hadn't completely fucked up at least one significant relationship in his life. He and Scully had gone through some rocky periods, especially over the last few years, what with the War and losing Will. And then, there'd been his own near death, his...injury.
Mulder shook his head again. He had to look forward, not back. He gave Scully a genuine grin, giving up some of his pretense. "Did all the scheduled witnesses show up?"
"Yes, there's only the two of us plus Walter and," she paused, deliberately drawing it out until he puffed out an impatient breath. Her lips twitched slightly. "And Alex Krycek."
"So, he's here." A sense of anticipation mingled with a little tendril of dread in the pit of his stomach.
"Yes. I suppose this is the first time any of us has seen him since Resistance Headquarters was dismantled."
"Yeah." He'd been half out of it during those last days, drugged to the eyeballs in the makeshift Clinic. He'd been helicoptered out before the others had left. "How...how does he look?"
Scully actually seemed to consider the question for a few moments. "Good. He looks good. Handsome as ever. Healthy. Still has eyelashes he doesn't deserve." She brushed a wave of red hair behind her ear. "And he still carries the aura of a man who seems like he's ready to jump off a cliff."
Mulder snorted, pleased by her easy, snarky tone. "His arm?" he ventured.
"Looks state of the art."
"Good. That's good. Technology knows no bounds." He nodded to himself and looked down at his shoes. "Have you talked to him?"
She fingered a button on her rust-colored blazer. "We greeted one another when I was pacing the hall. He said I looked well. I asked him how he was doing. He said, 'fine'. So, no, we didn't talk."
Her wistful tone had him glancing back up to meet her eyes, full of emotion, full of too much understanding.
"I know, Scully," he said. "I guess this is it. Now or never, right?"
She nodded in her turn, her expression somewhere between sadness and resignation. "Well, this is the Special Committee's last meeting. Krycek's finally agreed to answer their questions in person. He's the reason you're here, isn't it?" She made it more a statement than a question. "Unfinished business, right?"
The phrase brought back their past conversations, past arguments. He wasn't going to obfuscate, not to her. Scully had always deserved better. "Yeah. I have to clear the air with him and get...things settled, once and for all." He mentally winced, realizing it sounded like he was dissembling anyway.
"If that's what you want to call it, fine, but then you better burn all those old bridges."
"They've been ashes for quite a while now, Scully." He fidgeted with the knot of his tie, resisting the urge to pull it off. "Are we still okay?" he asked.
"We'll always be okay, Mulder." She pursed her lips for a moment. "I'm thinking of moving to San Diego. Fresh start. More sunshine. I could use more sunshine."
An unexpected pang of loneliness shuddered through him. "Oh. That's...that's closer to your family, too, isn't it?"
"Yes." She smiled. "Mom's resettled now and my brothers are there, too, of course."
When Will had died during that first year of the War, only months after they'd found him again, Mulder had thought they would lose Scully as well. But she was strong, much stronger than he was in some ways. She'd struggled through her own dark night while she tirelessly used her medical skills to help the wounded and dying as the War raged on. In the process, she had, at last, made peace with it all.
There was a knock at the door and then a Secret Service agent poked his head inside. "The Committee's ready for you, Ms Scully, Mr Mulder."
Krycek forced himself to sit still. The hum of low voices around the room was like bees buzzing. Even though it was a closed session, the seats behind him were slowly filling up with the select, invited guests, government VIPs from around the world, coming for the show. There were no reporters, no media. Krycek had stipulated that he would not appear if the media was present. There'd been enough of that over the past year.
Despite the fact that virtually all communication satellites had been destroyed by the Aliens, forcing a return to slower, ground-based communications, the press was still supplying as much coverage of the "Alien War Victory" as they could. While Krycek was all too aware of the importance of the free flow of information, he wasn't thrilled with being the object of their focus, especially with the kind of limelight they had been shining on him.
He checked that the microphones on the table were off before he turned to the man in the chair beside him. Walter Skinner was reading through one of the earlier Committee reports and jotting a few notes here and there in the margins.
They weren't friends, exactly, but fighting side by side for years in a War unlike any other, had left little room for enmity. They were certainly past killing each other. Been there, done that. Never wanted the t-shirt. The tired clichs rang through his head. "How long will this hearing last?" he asked.
Skinner pushed his wire rim glasses up slightly and set the report back in a manila folder. "The first one took fourteen days."
"Everyone wanted answers and only we had them all. The War took over four years. Those fourteen days seemed just as long. They weren't happy when you refused to show." Skinner gave him a sidelong glance. "Smart man. This one shouldn't take more than a few hours. They just need to wrap up a few loose ends for the final summary. I think they just want to give us our official pats on the back."
"Hell. Great. And then comes the judiciously edited public report," returned Krycek with a smirk. "I don't want to be here now," he added honestly.
Skinner just gave him a look that took him back almost a year and then confirmed it when he started to speak. "I remember that night when the rest of us thought we were done. Finished. We'd lost too many fighters that day, left too many dead and dying in the fields when we pulled back to the caves. Even Mulder, finally, thought it was over. We were sure there were too many of them left and we were cornered."
He paused and took off his glasses. "You stood up and clipped on that belt of magnetite grenades and then you picked up your rifle. You turned to us and you said, *"Listen to me. We're not going to sit here on our asses with our heads hanging down and just let them come in and take us. Now, all of you, stand up and fight."* Skinner gave a soft chuckle. "That was the most you'd said at one time to most of us in months. There was dirt and dried blood smeared over your face and hand but you had this incredible...fire in your eyes. I'll never forget it. It felt like it was going to burn right through me. So, we all got up." He shook his head with a smile. "We won that night, Krycek. We won the whole damn War that night."
"Only because they were bluffing. Only because we'd already caused more damage than we realized. They were trying to trick us into giving up."
"Yes, but we didn't know that. You didn't know that. No one knew they were even capable of bluffing. You just refused to give up. You went beyond being a survivor that night, Alex, and you took us all with you."
Irritated, Krycek looked away from the older man as a set of doors behind the Committee table dais opened and the Committee members walked in and settled into their chairs. He didn't like to think about that night. They'd won all right, but it was the night Mulder almost died.
He glanced back at Skinner. "What does any of that have to do with the fact that I don't want to be here now?"
Skinner snorted and put his glasses back on, replying in a voice that came from years of giving orders to recalcitrant agents. "Being a hero can be a bitch. This is about acknowledging what we accomplished. What you accomplished. For the record. For goddamned posterity. So, you just sit there and take it."
Krycek lifted his chin. Aw fuck, he thought. He still wouldn't have come if Skinner and Scully hadn't both threatened to find him and drag him here. Skinner's insistence wasn't completely unexpected. But Scully? He was still trying to figure that one out.
Just then the side door opened, the one that he'd come through earlier, the entrance for the witnesses. Dana Scully entered, looking serene and polished in a pantsuit that set off the red luster of her hair. She scanned the room quickly before heading for the witness table. Following a few steps behind her was Mulder.
An instant later, they were looking at each other, and Krycek realized that the hokey, old adage, 'their eyes met and the world stood still' was actually true. The rest of the room seemed to recede and fade into a colorless haze. There was only Mulder in sharp, bright high definition: designer suit, crisp white shirt, a tie that only he could appreciate and that spoke of long-ago days in the Hoover Basement. Mulder looked...healthy, very handsome, no longer haggard and weary. The pain lines were gone from his face. Of course, they would be after all these months, thought Krycek. The image of Mulder screaming in agony, explosions, gunfire and flames all around him, blood-covered hands clutching his thigh, that image was burned into his mind and haunted his dreams. Still. But now Mulder was looking at him calmly, steadily, aware and...expectant?
As Mulder began to approach the long witness table, Krycek saw the cane and quickly turned away. Suddenly the world crashed back around him, the buzz of the people in the room seemed to rise as Scully sat down beside Skinner. He knew Mulder would have to take the chair next to Scully, the only chair remaining. Krycek had been careful to sit at one end of the table, making sure Skinner would be next to him.
He didn't turn to look at Mulder again. In his mind, he could only see the cane. His belly felt like a lead weight had settled into it. As the Committee chairman gaveled the meeting to order, Krycek thought about how much Mulder liked to jog. Recalled the times he'd seen him running, smooth and effortless, wind catching his hair, the long legged strides... His jaw tightened as he tried to focus on what the Chairman was saying.
Skinner was right. The hearing wasn't so much a final round of questions and answers as it was a platform for allowing the politicians to put their collective, appreciative foot forward to thank "the brave leaders of the Resistance." That he and Mulder seemed to be singled out in speech after speech became a source of increasing discomfort for Krycek. It took a force of will to keep him from jumping up and running out of the room.
Hours later, it was finally, mercifully, over to the sound of a standing ovation from the Committee and all the VIPs. "I'm getting out of here," muttered Krycek as he rose from his chair. He wasn't about to spend the next hour trading handshakes and stiff smiles with a roomful of self-satisfied politicians. More than that, he had to get away from Mulder.
"He's leaving." Mulder didn't know he'd said the words out loud.
"What do you want to do, Mulder?"
He felt Scully's hand on his shoulder as she gave him a little push. He bit down on his lip. He couldn't seem to move. People were starting to crowd in around them. Krycek was halfway to the door, pushing through a knot of VIPs who had surged up from their seats to try and talk with one of the 'heroes of the Resistance'. Krycek's face looked grim as he tried to avoid them.
"God dammit, Mulder, get your ass moving." Skinner's harsh whisper almost singed his ears.
"I don't know if I can catch him," he said as he grabbed his cane and stood up.
"Do you want me to make sure he doesn't get away?" asked Scully as she rose from her chair.
He looked down at her, into her steady blue eyes, knowing she meant it, despite her own conflicted feelings.
"Yes," he said.
She nodded slightly and began making her way through the crowd, smiling tightly, her eyes on Krycek's back as he pushed his way to the Witness entrance and out of the Committee Room.
As Mulder edged around the table, fending off questions from two grinning Senators and the Chinese ambassador, Skinner stepped up beside him and proceeded to play battering ram as the made their way towards the same door.
Thankfully, the uniformed security guards began gently herding the VIPs back towards their seats as the Committee Chair gaveled for attention, requesting that everyone "respect the Witnesses' preference to leave the premises without further ado."
Once the door closed behind him, Mulder spotted Scully and Krycek at the end of the long corridor. Scully was gripping Krycek's right arm as she talked to him. He wished he knew what she was saying as he quickened his pace towards them. He suddenly realized that Skinner had stopped just inside the door and turned to give him a questioning look. Skinner just gave him a brief smile, "Go on, Mulder. I'll talk to you later."
Feeling a little uncertain and yet impatient at the same time, Mulder only hesitated for a moment before continuing down the hallway. He wished he didn't need the cane but the leg still felt wobbly at the oddest moments. He made himself take smooth, even steps as he approached them.
Scully had stopped talking but her fingers still held Krycek's forearm in a firm grip.
Mulder walked up to them and glanced at Scully's somber expression before he turned to Krycek. Krycek's eyes were lowered and Mulder realized he was staring at his cane. Slowly, Krycek's gaze moved upward until they were looking at each other.
Neither of them said a word. Mulder felt like his mind had suddenly gone blank. Krycek bit down on his lip.
Scully's voice gave him a start. She let go of Krycek's arm. "We're switching cars. Krycek can drive you back to the hotel. I'm going with Walter. We're going to have an early dinner. I suggest the two of you do the same. It's been a long day." Her voice was brisk and all business. She gave them both a look that brooked no argument. "I'll call you in the morning, Mulder." And then she was walking away, her heels clicking on the tiled floor.
"Wait!" It was the first word Krycek spoke and it was to Scully.
Scully turned back for a moment. "Walter and I will leave through the Committee Room. You two leave from the side exit. Keep in touch, Krycek."
Mulder watched her continue down the hall. Skinner gave him a casual salute and a wry smile before opening the door and following Scully back into the bustling Committee Room.
He and Krycek stood without speaking for several interminably long seconds until Mulder couldn't take it any more. "C'mon, Krycek, let's get the hell out of here." He jerked his head towards the side exit next to one of the Waiting Rooms.
Krycek chewed on his lip again, finally let out a sigh, and headed for the exit. He walked slowly. Too slowly. Mulder's fist tightened on his cane in annoyance as he passed Krycek by, leaving him to catch up.
One of the security guards at the exit offered to bring Krycek's car around, so they waited again in uneasy silence. When he saw the shiny black Lincoln rental draw up into the covered driveway, it reminded him of an elegant, elderly Brit and the stark image of a car bursting into flames in a darkened alley. Like so many memories from that time, it now seemed ancient and muted, not even particularly shocking compared to the events of recent years.
Mulder got in the car and gazed out of the passenger side window as Krycek drove sedately through the security gates. He gazed up at the blue sky and the sunlight reflected off the windows of the government buildings all around them. Strange how Washington had been left nearly untouched by the War. The most obvious target for the Aliens had been left alone because they already had much of it in their control. In fact, Washington hadn't been run as effectively before or since. What was it Harry Truman once said? 'Whenever you have an efficient government, you have a dictatorship.' He felt a chill run up his spine. The Aliens had come so close to winning the War, to winning the Earth. So many died, so many injured, yet there were still areas around the globe where the effects of that monumental struggle were hardly visible. Still, it would be a long time before the world was fully recovered.
"What happened to your apartment?" Krycek's husky voice brought him back to the moment.
"It's been years, Alex. Someone else lives there now, I assume, if the building's still there. Never went back. Never want to." It felt good to call Krycek by his first name again. He could feel the tension in his muscles ease a little.
Several seconds ticked by. "You don't have a place here anymore?"
Mulder smiled. Hell, they were finally managing a conversation. "No, I live in Rochester, Minnesota now." It was another city that had been minimally affected by the War. There was another reason, too.
"Mayo Clinic?" asked Krycek succinctly.
After those first weeks of recuperation, Mulder had moved there and become a patient in their Rehabilitation program. He still used their Outpatient Services, especially now with his new leg. There were other Resistance fighters in the rehab center. Far too many. They would be there for a long time. It might've taken him a while to realize it, but Mulder was a very lucky man.
"Yeah, but I'm thinking of moving soon. It's too damned cold in the winter."
Krycek merely nodded, lips compressed into a tight line for a moment. "What hotel?"
"Uh, the Four Seasons, um, Georgetown."
Krycek raised an eyebrow and maneuvered into traffic. "I know where it is."
"Where are you staying?"
"I'm not. I landed in Dulles early this morning. I'm leaving on a redeye tonight." Krycek didn't say anymore and kept his eyes focused on the road ahead.
Well, so much for conversation. Mulder didn't even know where Krycek lived. He rubbed his thumb back and forth over the polished handle of his cane. He stared at Krycek's profile, at the faint scar that ran along the edge of his jaw. There was some grey in his dark hair, near his temples, but no more than before. Mulder looked at the steering wheel, at Krycek's hands, the real and the fake. At first glance, it was difficult to tell that his left hand was a prosthesis. The skin tone was perfect, with faint blue veins, and grooves around the knuckles, and neatly trimmed nails. It was only when he moved his hand on the steering wheel, adjusting his grip, that Mulder perceived a stilted quality, a slight, unnatural jerkiness.
Mulder glanced at his leg. He remembered those first days in the hospital, after the drugs had cleared a little from his head, how he'd look down at the space where his leg was supposed to be. He wouldn't look when they lifted the sheet to move him or do...whatever they had to do. He'd turn his face away. He'd wait until the sheet was settled in place, covering that empty space, before he'd look again.
He would never forget how much it scared him the first time he felt it; felt a pain in something that wasn't there any more. After all the suffering, death and destruction he'd seen in the War, the fear from that...phantom pain was almost shameful, but he couldn't help it. He felt...diminished in a way that shook him down to the core. Even though he understood the psychological basis for his reaction from that objective, analytic distance in his mind, he couldn't shake the feeling, however illogical, of being less than a man, and of somehow being horribly alone with that knowledge in a way no one else could comprehend.
That was the day he began to truly understand Alex Krycek.
Coming back to the present, Mulder realized that they would arrive at the hotel in a few minutes and wished he'd picked something further away. He and Krycek both remained locked in their own private thoughts for the remainder of the drive.
Too soon, Krycek was pulling up to the Four Seasons' stylish entrance. "Here you are," he announced, not bothering to turn the engine off.
"I'd like to buy you dinner," blurted Mulder.
Was that surprise or pain that flashed over Krycek's eyes? "I..I don't think---"
"You have plenty of time before your flight."
Krycek's gaze lowered, lashes hiding his eyes. He shook his head. "Mulder--"
"C'mon, Alex, we haven't seen each other in almost a year. Let's just have a good meal, catch up on each other's lives a little," cut in Mulder again, growing more determined about it by the second as Krycek's jaw set in a stubborn line.
A tap on the window startled them both, Krycek reaching towards his belt for a gun that wasn't there.
"Would you like us to park your car, sir?" called the uniformed doorman through the window.
Mulder rolled down his window. "Yes, thank you, we'd appreciate that," he said, giving the doorman his name and room number before turning back to Krycek's frowning face. "C'mon, Alex." He drew in a breath. "You owe me." It was playing dirty and he knew it.
Krycek's chin lifted. "Fine, have it your way," he answered, throwing open his door and getting out.
Krycek looked around Mulder's suite. The Special Committee had offered to set him up at the hotel as well, but he'd refused. As he took in the lush furnishings, the perfectly coordinated blue and cream color scheme, the artwork, the bar and wall length media screen and the view from the tall wide windows, he had a moment's regret at not taking them up on the offer. But only for a moment. He'd stayed here once, a lifetime ago. If he'd had the same priorities now as then, it might've been different. Then again, he'd probably be dead.
The French doors to the large bedroom area were open and he could see Mulder pulling off his tie and flinging it on the king-sized bed where it landed next to his suit jacket and cane.
He should've said 'no' to Mulder and left. *"You owe me."* The words echoed through his brain. He swallowed and turned away, walking to the bright windows with their blue and cream silk brocade curtains. The spacious courtyard below was filled with trees and blooming plants. Roses the color of golden apricots were climbing over artfully arranged trellises. There were carved fountains with dancing sprays of water and little stone pathways that wove towards a pretty gazebo at the far end.
"Those climbing roses are called 'Bridge of Sighs'." Mulder's voice was close behind him and Krycek felt himself tense. He let out a slow, measured breath.
"I thought that was an old bridge in Venice, Ponte dei Sospiri," he replied with as much nonchalance as he could muster.
"Yeah, but that one was named by Lord Byron. The British horticulturist that bred those roses down there named them after a bridge near his college in Oxford." Krycek could sense the grin in Mulder's voice as he continued, "Which was designed in the style of that bridge in Venice. There's a kind of appealing symmetry in there somewhere."
Krycek gazed over the courtyard again. "Looks so exquisitely normal, doesn't it?"
"Appearances can be deceiving," returned Mulder as he stepped up beside him.
The grand hotel was operating at barely half capacity. There was only a fraction of the usual number of employees around. The rest weren't needed. People were just starting to travel again. Most of the airlines were finally flying again. Restructured governments were subsidizing everything. Perhaps within another year or so, life for much of the world would be close to what it once was.
For the Resistance fighters, the world would never be the same.
"Do you want to go down to the restaurant or order Room Service? The Room Service menu is spectacular."
He felt Mulder's eyes on his face. "The restaurant," he said.
"It'd be more comfortable if we stayed here. Hell, this suite is bigger than my old apartment. Even beats the unique amenities of the Appalachia caves."
Krycek rolled his eyes upward, but he was secretly relieved to hear Mulder's familiar brand of sarcasm surfacing again. Still, he preferred not to be alone with him. "If you aren't offering me a choice than why bring it up?"
Mulder snapped his fingers. "Dammit, you know, you're right. Okay, I rescind the question. Lemme find that Room Service menu."
"Mulder, I--I'm not really hungry."
"Well, you can have some coffee or a drink and I'll order something for myself."
Damn but the man was a stubborn son of a bitch. Krycek knew he should never have let Mulder talk him into coming up to his suite. Why couldn't he just fucking walk out? What the hell was wrong with him? Back in the bad ol' early days, he used to think he had serious masochistic tendencies where Mulder was concerned. Either that or he had a secret desire to be a punching bag. Well, at least he'd managed to get over that particular urge. Unfortunately, that left a lot of other urges unresolved.
Suddenly, he really wanted a stiff drink. "Is there any Scotch in that bar?"
"I think I saw Macallan single malt. There's vodka in the refrigerator section, too."
"I'll have the whisky." Maybe being with Mulder would be easier if he was drunk. Vodka rarely made him drunk. Krycek walked over to the bar and pulled out the bottle and a glass, pouring himself a shot. He took a careful sip, then a full swallow, tongue licking appreciatively at his lips. The liquor was smooth as honey and went down far too easily. Mulder was watching him from across the room with an odd look on his face. Krycek reached for the bottle and poured himself a more liberal amount. "This is extremely good," he muttered. At least getting drunk would be easy.
Mulder came up to him and tossed the room service menu aside. "You're not thinking about getting drunk, are you?" he asked with irritating insight.
Taking another, more restrained, swallow, he licked at a stray drop on his lip and shrugged. And the next thing he knew, Mulder had plucked the crystal tumbler from his hand and set it on the bar. Disconcerted, Krycek opened his mouth to tell Mulder to fuck off, when he felt a hand hook around the back of his neck and jerk him forward.
Mulder took his mouth like a wild storm, fast and fierce. Completely stunned, Krycek's mind flash-backed to the old days as he thought Mulder was attacking him, but his body instantly knew the difference as Mulder's mouth moved relentlessly against his lips, tongue pushing in deep. Fingers gripped and pulled at his hair while Mulder's other hand kept a tight hold around his neck. Mulder's body molded against him, rocked against him. It was like being enveloped in a perfect storm, thunder and lightning and silver fire in the sky.
Krycek kissed him back, drowning in arousal. Oh, god. He felt Mulder's erection rubbing against his hardening cock. They swayed and fell against the bar. Something heavy tipped over and shattered with a spray of glass on the marble-tiled floor.
They broke apart panting, their eyes wide, faces flushed. Mulder took a step back, arm flaying as his leg seemed to buckle under him. Krycek reached out and caught him. Glass crunched under his shoe. He looked down and saw a long thin shard embedded in his pant leg near his calf. A sudden sting of pain told him it had pierced his leg. Glancing at Mulder to make sure he was steady, Krycek bent to pull the shard from his leg. He winced, holding up the bloody end for a moment before throwing it on the bar top. "Must have been one of the decanters. At least it wasn't the Macallan."
The taste of Mulder's mouth still blazed against his skin and his cock was still half-hard. He wanted to curse the damn bottle for breaking. And then a sensible voice in the back of his mind told him it was probably for the best.
Krycek looked down at the dark, widening stain on his pants leg. "Must've nipped a vein. Shit."
Mulder found a linen napkin in the bar drawer and held it out. "Press this against it. I'll call the concierge and ask for--"
"Forget it, it's nothing," replied Krycek as he took the cloth. "It'll stop in a few seconds." He cursed under his breath and headed for the bathroom.
They spent the next several minutes pointedly ignoring what they had done as Krycek cleaned the small wound and bandaged it from the first aid kit in the well-appointed bathroom. He sank into a chair by the bathroom vanity and gazed down at the tear and the bloody circle around it.
"What's wrong?" Mulder asked. "I have a pair of slacks you can borrow, if you like. They should fit." Mulder's voice trailed away...
There had been so much blood that night. The memory rose before his eyes.
He never thought they would make it. He figured their situation was hopeless. It had just come down to how he wanted to die. He chose to lead an assault against the location where they knew the concentration of supersoldiers was highest, where their mobile control center was likely to be. It was the hardest target, the most dangerous. He didn't think they'd be successful, but if they could just hold out long enough, cause enough disruption, it would give the other units a chance to get away, at least temporarily. And he would make sure that he was not taken alive.
Except Krycek hadn't expected Mulder to insist on going with him. Krycek had argued, threatened, but as always, Mulder refused to budge. They'd gone out in the darkness with the rest of the crazy fighters who somehow seemed willing to follow him. It was the most terrifying few hours of Krycek's life.
He heard the explosions again, heard Mulder's terrible, awful screams. He saw the image of debris and burning metal and ash raining down around them and, worst of all, that ragged, empty end of Mulder's pant leg, raw stump protruding, soaked in blood.
If only he'd kept Mulder behind him. If he'd acted just thirty seconds sooner. If only...
His head snapped up, the memory receding at last as his gaze froze on the cane in Mulder's hand. After a moment, he heard Mulder sigh.
"I didn't mean it, you know, about you owing me." Mulder's voice was subdued and steady. "You don't owe me anything, Alex. You saved my life that night. If it wasn't for you, I'd be lying dead in those hills along with all the others."
"If it wasn't for me, you'd have two legs right now," said Krycek bitterly.
"And if it wasn't for me, you'd have two arms."
Krycek got up slowly until they stood staring at each other. He shook his head. "No, that's not the same."
Mulder shifted against his cane. "Damn right. I dragged you to Russia where they hacked off your arm. You pulled me away before an explosive went off. If I'd gone the way I wanted to go, it wouldn't just have torn my leg off; it would've blown me to bits. Yeah, it's not the same. I blamed you for what happened to me because I was feeling sorry for myself and you were the logical target. I can be very good at that, as you know. But I don't feel that way anymore. Haven't in a long while."
"I shouldn't have let you come with me at all. You should've been with the flank unit or with Skinner's troop. Then, you wouldn't have--"
"I was not your responsibility. I'd led as many missions as you did. It was my choice. For fuck's sake, Alex, we won the War that night. Half of us died that night, but we won. And we saved a helluva lot more lives. We won our world back, Alex. If you hadn't made us get up and fight--"
"No. Don't you start with that crap," snapped Krycek. "Don't you make me out a hero. I've had it with all that shit, you understand?" He walked towards the door, pausing to look back over his shoulder. "I just didn't want to be captured. Death was a much better alternative to me. I'm sick of people making me out to be something more than I am. I'm very good at killing, that's all."
He turned away from the sad expression in Mulder's eyes and went into the living room. It would be better for them both if he left. He stood in the middle of the room, his heart pounding in his chest. Anytime he was around Mulder, he felt...too damn much. He looked up as Mulder stopped beside him.
"After I lost my leg, one of the very few things I remember was you sitting by my cot. I had no idea what time it was, probably the middle of the night, knowing you.
"I was hazy from the pain and the drugs, which weren't nearly strong enough, but I knew you were there. I felt you take my hand. You held it for a long time. I wanted to pull away, wanted to hit you, curse you. Yeah, I blamed you for what happened, Alex. Oh, I hated you that night." Mulder moved to stand in front of him and gave him a little smile. "Just like old times, huh?" His smile faded. "I didn't have the strength to push you away. I couldn't even open my eyes. You were talking, I think, but I couldn't understand what you were saying. I felt your touch though, Alex. I felt the pressure of your hand. I felt your lips on my fingers. I remember feeling your tears on my skin. Everything else about those hours is blurry, but I remember that as clearly as I see you now."
Krycek squeezed his eyes shut. He remembered that night, too.
The touch of Mulder's hand against his cheek made him open his eyes again. "Neither of us is the same man we were before the War. You're not a killer any more, Alex."
He covered Mulder's warm fingers with his own real hand for a moment before pushing it away. "That's all I've ever been."
Mulder's hazel eyes narrowed and Krycek could almost see the wheels turning in that remarkably singular brain of his. A grin slowly lit Mulder's face. "My land is bare of chattering folk; the clouds are low along the ridges, and sweet's the air with curly smoke from all my burning bridges."
Krycek blinked. Sometimes Mulder could be as clear as a sandstorm. "What?"
"Dorothy Parker," replied Mulder as if that explained it.
"What?" repeated Krycek.
"She was brilliant, and a little nuts, but she definitely had a way with words. Come to think of it, Scully gave me the same advice this morning. What I'm saying, Alex, is that we're not going back. The past is done, no repeats, no rewinds. So you can call yourself anything you please. C'mon, I think we both need a little air. We're going for a walk in that courtyard downstairs." Mulder grabbed his arm and turned him towards the door. He gave Krycek's leg a quick glance. "You know, I think the bloody pant leg adds a certain panache."
"You're the one who's nuts," muttered Krycek but he couldn't quite make himself shake off Mulder's hand as he found himself being led out of the suite towards the elevators.
They got off the elevator, Mulder making sure he stayed close beside Krycek. The object of his scrutiny looked fidgety, the worry line creasing above the bridge of his nose. There was hardly anyone in the lobby as they made their way towards the Garden Courtyard.
The waning afternoon sunshine threw a golden patina over the garden and they paused beside a small fountain. The steady patter of the water over the smooth stones was soothing to Mulder's ears. "Let's walk over there," he said, angling his head towards the rose-covered trellises.
"Mulder, I really think I should--"
"Humor me," finished Mulder. "We've been sitting on our asses all day in that Committee Room. We need to stretch our legs. Or leg, as the case may be." At Krycek's suddenly shuttered expression, he blew out an exasperated breath. He now realized that Alex was a man who felt guilty, felt undeserving, felt confused. It was the residue of a life lived under many guises and agendas and the consequence of their own peculiarly labyrinthine relationship over the years. The reasons might not have been the same, but Mulder was all too familiar with the emotions. He'd used up enough years of his life feeling much the same way.
They'd both wasted so much time. "Does this mean I can't make any peg-leg jokes?" he quipped.
Krycek's eyes rounded as Mulder started to laugh. If felt good to laugh. He felt muscles stretching in his face that he hadn't used in much too long. He tapped his cane on the neatly groomed path, mulling over what he should do. A moment later, he started walking again, glancing back to make sure Alex was following.
At the end of the war, when he was still angry and healing, Mulder had thought that avoiding Alex was the best course. There was nothing safe or predictable about Alex Krycek. Mulder didn't trust himself around him. It just seemed...easier to keep his distance. At least, that's what he thought. It was ironic now to discover that Krycek probably felt exactly the same way about him.
Over the past year, as he and Scully had reconciled themselves to a future that would not be spent together, Mulder began to think more and more about Krycek. Scully had been the first to tell him that he needed to open a real dialogue with Krycek. It hadn't been easy for her to admit that she thought Mulder might have an unresolved sexual attraction for the man, but it was even harder for Mulder to face the fact that his feelings went well beyond the physical.
They ambled to a stop beneath one of the wide trellises. The amber colored roses gave off a delicate scent that wafted in the air around them. Mulder fingered a velvety petal, remembering the peculiar name of the flower.
"Byron called the place in Venice the Bridge of Sighs because it was the last thing a convict saw as he walked to the prison on the other side; it was his last view of freedom, of beauty, of the world he was losing. There are all kinds of bridges, Alex. Some bridges lead no where. Some only keep people apart." He sniffed at a rose. "Some are fragile and beautiful." He turned to look into Krycek's eyes. "Others can lead to a fresh start and a new life. I'd like to try and build one like that between you and me."
Krycek bit down on his lip, his voice a husky whisper when he spoke. "I don't know what to say, Mulder. I can hardly believe we're having this conversation."
"Does it seem so incredible?" Mulder watched as Krycek's gaze drifted over the garden. When he still didn't respond, Mulder let his cane fall to the ground and put his hands on either side of Krycek's face. "I kissed you when we were in the room because I've tried not thinking about how your mouth would taste for about, oh, five years, and probably a lot longer than that. With less and less success. Watching your face, watching you drinking that scotch, tongue licking your wet lips, well, my cock was up and half way across the room before I even started walking."
"Damn, Mulder." His voice was a rough with the barest tremor.
"It sure felt like you wanted me, too. I know I'm a little rusty, but I couldn't have been that far off the mark, could I?"
This time, it was Alex who covered his mouth in a sudden and greedy kiss, answering him with a need that was clearer than words.
The kiss thrummed between them like a song, with brass and strings and wild beating drums. Alex tasted like music and yearning and insane chances. Mulder answered with his hope, desire and stubborn conviction.
When they finally pulled apart, it was with the knowledge that their world had changed again. Alex looked shaky despite Mulder's euphoric grin.
"You could be crazier than me for wanting this," Alex told him. Still, his eyes shone with a light that kept Mulder's smile from fading.
"Got the tattered strait jacket to prove it, too," he replied with a wag of his eyebrows. He caressed the side of Alex's face with his palm, liking the feel of beard shadow against his skin, resisting the urge to run his tongue over the kiss-swollen lips. "So, how about we start by going back upstairs to that damn fine suite of mine. You can cancel your flight and then we'll take advantage of that luxurious king-sized bed. I'd like to become intimately acquainted with every orifice in your body and have you do likewise. We'll take a break to use the Room Service menu, and then we go back to bed." He watched as Alex's lips quirked upward in amusement. "And after we're so limp we can't even move, we'll start planning the rest of our lives together."
"Just like that?"
"Yeah, just like that. Say 'yes,' Alex."
The doubts, the risks, the fears, all looked back at him from those compelling green eyes. But Mulder had already considered them all, wrestled with them in his own mind for longer than Alex knew. He let his fingers drift up to feather through the soft dark hair near Alex's temple, touching a few gray strands with his fingertip. He knew that what they could have between them would be worth all the possible pitfalls. He knew it in his heart. So he met that questioning gaze with unwavering certainty and he waited.
A slight breeze drifted through the courtyard, carrying the scent of roses and new mown grass. Golden sunlight dappled through the trellis around them, the serene beauty of the place framing two scarred men who had traveled down a long and serpentine road that drew them back together, time and again, despite all obstacles.
Finally, Alex smiled back at him. "Yes."
"Go to the truth beyond the mind. Love is the bridge."
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Author: Courtney Gray [email/website]
Details: Standalone | R | 42k | 06/21/07
Category: Romance, Relationship
Summary: The Alien War is over and Mulder and Krycek meet again.
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