Phantom Pain

by Dr. Ruthless

Mulder/Krycek | Rated T | 2002 | 7,587 words

 

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Hush Alyosha; don't say a word Mulder's gonna buy you a mocking bird

Mulder. I remember Mulder. I remember the taste of his mouth and the curve of his lip when he smiled. I remember the stars that his fist induced in me as he struck me again and again. I remember passion and fury and a need that had no logic.

And now, I remember his incurious face as I fell.

What I don't understand is why.

I mean, I understand that I was shot, and that they wanted me dead. I don't know why I'm here. My head aches and my arm doesn't work too well. What happened? Fuck, I feel strange. Sticky and aching and somehow incomplete. Stumbling out of the darkness is my forte, but I know that I've done it better than this.

Lights flashing, and sounds that I can't make sense of, and a hand on my arm.

Please, lady, help me?

My God, Austin, he's been shot. Get some help.

And then the colors whirl me away like a leaf on the back of the wind.

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Voices prick me like needles. "Who is he?" Got a John Doe here. Headshot. Get me some assistance.

John Doe. That's me. I'm smiling a little wryly when the hypodermic slides into my vein, it's out before I can say my name. Fitting really. I mean nothing to anyone - John Doe forever. If I die at last, there won't be anyone to collect my remains and mourn me.

Not Mulder. I always thought that he would be at my shoulder when the end came, yet he stepped over me as I lay on the dirty floor and walked away without a backward glance.

Sounds that make no sense, brightness that hurts, and here I am, floating in a morass of sensation that stings, tingles, grants me nothing but more, and brighter, and faster until finally my voice tears unbidden from me in a shriek.

Nova coalescing before me - perhaps within me; who's to tell? The sounds and the lights all gather, a pinpoint before my eyes, blazing as I reach to hold it in the palm of my hand.

There it is. There are all the answers within my reach, if I can just capture it. My hand stretches for it, and its cold. Colder than anything I've ever touched, and you're talking to the boy who discovered what would happen if he touched the frozen fire escape with his tongue.

My hand closes around the pinpoint of light and its like a jolt of electricity. So cold that it burns me, burns me. Not my hand. Please, not that hand. It's all that I have.

Tearing, twisting, gone. The answer is gone, and all that I held in my hand along with it.

Suddenly pain free, I can hear a voice. Soothing and gentling, it's soft at first, and I can't hear what it's saying to me. I strain in the darkness, unaccountably numb, but its to no avail.

Who are you? Where are you? don't leave me here in the silo. Come back. COME BACK!

My throat's raw from screaming my panic as the acrid oil stands out on my pores, stings my nostrils and terrifies me with its presence.

Hush, Alyosha, don't say a word, Mulder's gonna buy you a mocking bird

Who are you? Where are you? don't fuck with me. My Mulder is gone. He's dead and gone. That wasnt him. It couldnt be.

don't you want to know what happened to your Mulder? In the darkness there is movement, and a little girl appears within the gloom, walking forward to stand before me. She's a little more than half my height, her dark hair neatly braided in long pigtails. I could tell you, if you want. She speaks in a sing-song voice, as though she's playing a game. Reaching forward, I grip her shoulder, as much to hold myself upright as to keep her there, in place. She laughs up at me.

Samantha knows. Samantha knows everything. Ask Samantha. Ask Samantha; ask Her words grow shrill, and the echoes suddenly hurt my ears. Finally, I lift my hands to them, trying vainly to shut out the sound, and all goes quiet.

A thought flashes through me, and I take my hands from my face to look at them. Samantha grins at me, a gamine smile that makes me grin in return. Hands. I have two hands.

Okay, Samantha, tell me where to find my Mulder. Tell me what happened to him? I sound needy. My voice cracks as I ask the question, and deep down in the back of my mind is the thought that she's just a little girl. What the hell would she know?

Ah, ah, ah! What will you give me for telling? Her pixie face contorts into a childish attempt at a wink, and I suppress a smile. What do you promise to a figment of your own imagination? I stroke her hair.

What do you want me to give you? She cocks her head on one side as she considers, and a dimple makes a brief appearance. It's infectious; I find myself grinning back down at her. When she speaks, her voice lilts.

I want you to damn the soul of that cigarette smoking son of a bitch. I'm transfixed. Her words chill me and I put up my hand to ward off a memory. Then she smiles again. It won't be easy. Your Mulder was taken from the game. To get him back, youre going to have to pay the ferryman, Alex.

Pay him? What do I pay him with? I don't understand. She's smaller now, insubstantial against the night that seems so real.

Youll know.

But where do I go?

You need to get the golden bough.

She's almost gone now, a fading memory skipping away across a field of stars. Turning back to me she waves and points, and there I can see a darker place amongst the night-dark sky. Shrugging my shoulders, I walk towards it.

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Twisting in time, in space, at last I fall to land on my ass in a wooded glade. A red dawn is breaking, seeping through black trees like blood. It's almost light, the promise of brightness stings my eyes and makes them feel gummy. I'm tired, and I don't have a clue what I'm doing here.

Groping through my pockets I find a napkin gleaned from some fast food joint and kneel to dip it into a small pool of water, swiping it over my face. The blood on it gives me pause, but I shrug. Theres nothing to be done about that here. I look around me, half expecting Bambi and his woodland friends to come tiptoeing out to join me, but all remains still. Kneeling to rinse my mouth, I see - not my reflection, but his, the way I remember him best, eyes half closed as he waits for my kiss. My Mulder, the one I seek.

I cup my hands and break the surface of the water, raising it to my lips as though to drink him, and the image shatters, catching the dawn as the ripples spread, reflecting the bloody light until everything before my eyes shimmers red.

I pause to drink - the water tastes of the earth, metallic against my tongue as I lap, and there is only the faintest of breezes to ruffle the grass and tickle the hairs at the back of my neck while I stoop. My Mulder is gone; in his place is my own face, white and drawn, the eyes twin black holes into which hope has fallen. There's no wound now on my forehead, and I am puzzled as I raise a hand to finger it.

Sometimes its as well to accept and move on. I am whole for now; Why not enjoy it while I can?

My thirst satisfied, I rise and look about me, taking in my surroundings the way I've been trained. There, by that rock, is good cover. Here in these bushes could be a waiting assassin, but when I check of course there isnt. Behind me lies a cave. It's interesting, but I'm wary, of course. I keep to the shadows and sneak towards the darkness of the cave mouth.

There is a pile of leaves on the soft turf at the entrance to the cave. Kneeling again I examine them, and find that they are all inscribed with writing. Gathering a handful of them, I drop to a sitting position and start to study them. Astonished, I recognize my name on the top leaf in the pile. Alexei

It's strange - more than strange. I read on. You need a golden bough. Well, fine. I need a fucking golden bough. It doesn't say why I need one, or where I'm going to find one, but that's about par for the course right now. Checking around me, I see nothing that remotely resembles a golden bough, so I stand, and then I hear the voice, as faded as whores chances of happiness, almost the whisper of a breeze.

You need to pay the ferryman, Alexei.

Who are you, and what will I give him? A tiny, frail hand protrudes from the cave. Its brown and gnarled, seems almost transparent. It holds something out to me.

I am the Sybil of Cumae. You are here because you need something. I am here because I cannot leave. The words jar me.

You want to leave? I take what she is offering me without looking at it. I'm too horrified at what I see. She is tiny, older and more withered than any other human I have seen in my life. Only her eyes seem to live, and they are dark, shining and brilliant, pools of utter beauty set in her wizened old face. Her intelligence shines like a beacon from those eyes, but there is more. She is looking at me with the utmost compassion, and I find it unnerving, as though she knows everything I am or have ever been.

If I could leave this place, I would. I'm cursed, and cannot die. You, however, Alexei, can leave. You have the tools about you to fulfill your destiny. Use them wisely, Alexei. She pulls back the hand that I've been holding, and retreats into the cave where I see her still, a shadowy presence with lambent eyes that catch and hold the light of the morning, eyes that seem to smile at me with an expression that is almost regret.

Where do I go, Ma'am? She glides forward once more, and I lean to listen as her faded voice rustles like leaves in a breeze.

Follow the pathway forward. I gave you the ferrymans fee, Alexei. I stoop to lay a kiss on her brow, and she laughs girlishly, those eyes glowing up at me as she raises her hand to pat my face. Go! Youre a flirt, and you tempt me to give you that which I refused Apollo. Pointing to where a mossy pathway leads from the clearing, she backs into the shadows once again. As I turn to go, her last words follow me. May Apollo stand between you and harm in all the empty places where you must walk, Alexei.

It's only as the trees close behind me and I start to descend through green twilight into the gloom, that I think to look at what she has given me. I take it from my pocket, expecting it to be a talisman of some worth, but it's disappointing. It's merely a stick of some yellowish wood, short and broken at either end with bark that curls away as though the wood beneath were somehow unwholesome. Shaking my head, I return it to my pocket, and instead take out my gun.

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There are sounds now, in the darkness. The kind of noises that one doesn't wish ever to hear when there is no light to be had. Soft chitterings and squelchings fill the hungry blackness around me, making my stomach churn as I fumble my way forward. It's so dark that I can't see my hand as I reach out to feel my way, but the sounds are becoming louder, squeaks and snarls, and I'm afraid.

To my side I feel a rough, stone wall. It's wet, covered with spongy vegetation. I come to a standstill, and turn to rest my back against it. I feel blood trickle down my forehead again, and swipe it away impatiently. I have to do something. This place is too dark, too frightening. I grope in my pockets, searching for a lighter, to no avail. I'm at a loss. Holding the piece of wood that the Oracle gave me, I wish that there were some way I could see. As I bow my head, light flares from between my fingers and I am so astonished that I almost drop the stick.

Able to look around me at last, I see a cavern formed from a fissure in the rock. The roof overhead is way beyond the scope of the light that I hold. The walls are covered in pale, wet moss, and there are things in the shadows at the edge of my vision. Things that I can barely see, that writhe and slither until I feel the gorge rise in my throat.

Turning, I walk on downward, ever downward, until I believe that I have always done this. In a way, its an allegory for my life. My path has been downward from the moment of my birth.

The rock beneath my feet is slick and slippery. The air is chill and damp, and my jacket doesn't afford me much warmth in the dank air. My toes are frozen now and I'm stumbling, hungry and thirsty and tired.

It's a long, exhausting time later when I reach the stairs and see a figure climbing towards me. For a while, I can't see who it is, merely that he wears a long, black coat, but finally he draws near, and I can see that it's Spender. He looks much more healthy than he did when I threw him down the stairs.

Hush Alyosha, don't say a word

I'm silent as he plods towards me. If ever there was an architect of evil, this is he. I recall my promise to Samantha and grit my teeth. He lifts his head and smiles at me.

Alex. How nice to see you. He holds his hand out to me, but I recoil and back away. It seems important that he shouldn't touch me. When he advances, I point my gun.

Thus far, and no further, damn you.

But, Alex He looks at me, wet-eyed and soulful - the very image of a kicked puppy. My skin creeps to see him, to watch his ingratiating smile bare his yellow teeth as he stops, cups the flame of his lighter against the faint eddies of air, and lights yet another cigarette, then exhales the blue smoke to hang in the air between us, a foul cloud that makes me feel nauseous.

But nothing. Go back to hell where you belong, old man.

He laughs then and takes a step towards me. It's enough. Thus far and no further. I fire, and he rocks backwards on his heels, looking down at his chest in surprise, as blood foams, bubbles, soaking his overcoat and dripping to the floor where it smokes

It smokes.

I fire again and this time he falls, a wound neatly punched through his ugly face. Theres a cawing. A raucous sound as though all the crows in the world are giving voice, and then the body of my nemesis shimmers, melts, disappears, leaving only the part-smoked cigarette and the sound of a thousand flapping wings.

For the second time in my career I step over the place where his body lay and continue on down the steps.

They open out before me, continuing down into a gloom that my eyes can't pierce. My legs feel heavy and my mouth is dry but down I go. I have no choice. After a while, I hear sounds of running water, and my thirst intensifies. A long time later, I emerge from the mouth of the tunnel, to stand bemused on the rocky shore of what seems to be a lake, so far away is the opposite bank, although the black water that washes against the shore is flowing rapidly away, glinting like hematite as it gurgles and ripples.

I stand beside the water for a while, unsure of what to do. I see no boat, and the caverns boundaries cut off the beach a little way in either direction. Looking about me, I almost panic. It's a monochrome vista, black and white with few shades of grey. The harsh white light comes from no particular source, seeming to be born from the grim, dull bank of fog that eddies and curls around the shore. Occasionally a strobe bursts behind my eyes, forcing the tears to gather. Black pebbles, black water, black, black, black. I sink to my knees. This is the end; I know it. Theres no way out from here.

Bowed head, hands before face, nothing, nothing to aid me; I despair. This must be the end. I'll die here on this barren little apology for a beach, and my Mulder is gone forever. A sob escapes me. I don't try to stop it. Why would I? There's no life here, and nobody to see me shedding my tears for the hopes and prayers that I'm giving up. One sob begets another and finally I'm weeping like a little child, for Mulder and for all my lost dreams.

I don't know how long my grief takes to unfold. It might be a minute, an hour, or a day. It feels as though it were a lifetime. The sense of time drifting over me, settling like fine dust, to reach a moment where it is easier to remain in one place than to move. Maybe if I stay silent and don't move for long enough I might become a tree, though that seems a paradox in a world where vegetation has never grown. Fanciful as that idea is, it has to be a cipher for myself.

Nothing happens. The world keeps on turning, I guess, but I remain a watcher, no more. The shingle feels rough beneath my knees, and the pain merely serves to keep me aware of the fact that I exist, and am alone. I'm not prepared for the touch on my shoulder, so when it comes, I am startled.

The man standing behind me is one that I well recollect. He was a naïf, and I taunted him until he became a weapon to my hand. I hadnt cared what became of him after hed served my purpose, and now here he was.

Hello, Jeffrey, what are you doing here?

Jeffrey Spender stands, pale and only partly complete, as though he's a sketch by an artist who someday will make him his masterpiece, but who today merely doodles. His face is set with suffering. Somehow, I know that I have placed that there.

I'm dead, of course. I'm here because I have no coin for the ferryman. The answer drifts to me, a whisper that I barely perceive. Again this ferryman is mentioned. Who or what he is, I have no way of knowing.

What coin does the ferryman require? I ask Jeffrey, and he shakes his head.

Any coin will do, I guess. He doesn't take credit cards.

Searching through my pockets, I find the Susan B. Anthony dollar that I've carried around with me all through my adulthood. For a second I gaze at it, then I extend it to Jeffrey, and his face lights up in a smile that transforms him.

Alex, he says, positively glowing as he speaks my name. Thank you. Now I can cross and find peace. He leans forward and kisses me. I'm not expecting that, and it takes my breath away. His mouth is warm and soft, and its wonderful to be kissed again, even by a dead man. I cup his cheek and return the kiss for just a second, and then draw back once more.

Where is the ferryman? How do we cross, Jeff? He doesn't answer me in words, but steps forward, cups his hands around his mouth and shouts, a loud, low, eerie sound that seems to shimmer in the mist, silvered motes pouring from Jeffs throat to stream over the black water, piercing tendrils of fog as they spread.

With the sound of his call the mist begins to clump and then to part. We hear a swishing, a gentle plashing, and then a dark shape suddenly looms. It would seem that the mysterious ferryman is approaching.

The boat runs up on the shore with a satisfyingly real crunching noise. At the stern stands a figure in black, a midnight shape against the eerie, glowing darkness. As we watch, the creature moves, coming up to the bows to step ashore, where he towers above us.

Jeffrey moves forward, and the dark shape puts out an arm from which the sleeve falls away, revealing the bones of a skeleton, with the hand splayed against Jeffreys chest.

You do not have the fee. The voice is sepulchral. Jeff raises his head and stands proudly, his dollar in his hand.

I can pay. Let me on board. The hand takes hold of the coin, and the clink of silver on bone is distinct, ringing out over the suddenly silent air. Stepping aside to allow Jeffrey to pass, the creature turns to me.

As Jeff climbs onto the ship, I study the shape that stands before me, searching the blackness for any sign of his features. There is no impression of a face within the all-enveloping shadows, but yet I stand uncertain as I feel the weight of his regard on me.

You do not belong here. You still live. The words hiss like serpents, and I lift my chin. This, at least, comes as no surprise. Fumbling in my pocket, I bring forth the stick given to me by the oracle.

This is for you. Take it and let me pass. The bony hand trembles visibly as it reaches for the stick, then snatches, as though the creature fears that I didnt really mean to give it.

Step aboard then. We are ready to go. I don't see him move, but suddenly he is back on the vessel, and the sound of the pebbles grating along the keel makes me rush to scramble on board. For whatever reason, I don't want to touch that black water. As the boat pushes back from the shore I suddenly find that were afloat, and there's Jeff, smiling, a look of eagerness on his face that makes him seem absurdly young. I take a seat beside him and he puts his hand in mine, laying his cheek against my sleeve in a gesture of affection that brings a lump to my throat.

Jeff, don't you blame me for your death?

He laughs. The clear, happy sound of his merriment rings across the water and elicits a rumbling, throat-clearing sound from the ferryman who stands motionless in the stern. It doesn't faze him. For the first time in my short acquaintance, Jeff Spender is happy. My heart flutters and clenches with the sad knowledge that he was never permitted to be this way in his life. Oh, Jeff, if I could send you back

But I can't do that for you, and I can't go back myself. We're victims of a world that laid too heavy a burden on us.

The boat has no visible means of propulsion, but the far shore draws closer and closer with every moment, and I can make out figures there, obviously waiting for us. Jeff stands up to crane his neck towards the rapidly approaching dock, and his face creases delightedly as he spies someone. Its a blonde woman, frail looking and old, but she's waving madly, and just for a second he turns towards me to include me in his joy.

There she is. She's fine now. He bends his gaze on me, and for a moment I feel that he looks through me, through all my defenses to that place within where everything I want, and feel, and see lies vulnerable. Alex, you helped me. You saved me when I didnt know what to do to save myself, and although you thought that you were manipulating me, you told me the truth. I don't blame you. Everything I did was ultimately because I chose to do it, and here you are once again when I needed help. Thank you. I blink, owlishly. I killed him, just as surely as if Id aimed the gun myself. I killed his dreams, and his father too. How can he possibly forgive me?

He looks at me as though he knows what I'm thinking, then puts up his hand to stroke my face. I hear the rasp as his fingers draw across my unshaven chin, and close my eyes. I didnt expect such tenderness from one that Ive used and discarded. I feel humbled.

There is the faintest of bumps as the boat docks and when I open my eyes, Jeff is already scrambling ashore onto rotting wooden planking. Unsure of what other options I have, I follow him, and as I leave the boat behind, it pulls away from the dock once more. I'm here, and here I will have to stay.

The crowd mills around Jeff; I hear his delighted laugh as he greets people that he once knew. There's a pang as I realize that nobody awaits me, but it's fleeting. Most of those who have gone before me I don't want to see again, and for the rest, well, I'm not dead yet.

People gradually disperse until I alone remain on the dock. The mist swirls around me, clothing me in a damp, white silk veil. It clings to my skin as though alive, its very essence frightens me. I feel its eldritch sentience as it creeps up my body to poke my eyes and mouth with knowing fingers.

At last I'm scalded into action by my fear. I walk away from the waters edge to the stairs that loom at the rear of the dock. As I set my feet on the lowest step, I draw in a breath and grit my teeth. Then I begin to climb.

Phantasms emerge from the mist to float before me as I ascend. The first man that I killed - Coles, I think his name was - smiles and fades. The others flicker past me, some smiling too, and some with features set in hatred. Bill Mulder, Charles Spender, Bonita Charne-Sayre one by one they pass me by, and still I climb the stairs.

At the top is a door, and as I open it a lush chord swells, making me gasp. As a doorbell the thing can't be beaten. It hums beneath my feet, hangs in the air around me, and shivers through my body like an orgasm. I stand on the threshold of this place, and as the sound fades I hear that high, clear voice singing once more.

Hush, Alyosha, don't say a word, Mulder's gonna buy you a mocking bird

And then laughter.

Frowning, I push open the door and walk through it.

No mist here - it's a room. The floor is rough, uneven stone, and there are Doric columns bounding it. I sigh. The Grecian metaphor is everywhere. I should have brought my fucking chariot. I resist with difficulty the urge to start smashing amphorae, and look around me.

Feeling barbaric -- and pissed off -- I stomp towards the presence that I feel rather than see at the other end of the room. As I draw closer, I'm aware of subtle music that swells all around as though I carry it with me.

He's waiting for me as I end my weary hike. He's tall - far taller than I, and has the remote beauty of a Minoan fresco. He's dressed in leather and silk, that exposes thickly muscled arms and his powerful chest. He has long black hair that is caught up in a knot, trailing down like silk across his body to swirl around his thighs; his skin is the color of cream. I flinch as a pair of cold blue eyes see through me, know me as though I am transparent. My body is stiff with the fear of what I will find in this place, but my chin goes up of its own accord, and for a second we stand facing each other, perfect in our arrogance. When he speaks to me, I feel as though spring has come at last with a rush of warmth that floods my bones at the sound of his voice.

Alex... Dear one. Your visit is welcome, but I don't know what I can do for you. You still hold the flame of life inside your body. He knows me, and from his guarded eyes I read that he knows why I'm here. I have to tell him anyway.

I've come for my Mulder. He's been replaced, and I want him back. There's a moments hush as my voice rings out, uncompromising, and then he chuckles.

You believe that you have a Mulder, and that he is here to be found? Very well, I concede that we have Mulder here, but what can you offer me that I would give him up to one such as you, Alex? The icy eyes soften with faint amusement, and I bite my lip in annoyance.

What do you want for him?

At least Orpheus could sing for me. You don't profess to sing do you, my little one? I snort at that, irritated in spite of my efforts to remain calm.

Sing? No better or worse than any other, I suppose - though for Mulder I would learn. All I can offer you is my work. I can kill.

And do you not think that your victims would reach me sooner or later, with or without your expertise, little mortal? He's laughing at me now, and I feel a faint unease. To have come so far, yet return empty handed is not my choice. I shake my head and glare at him in numb defiance.

You took him and it wasn't his time. Give him back to me, if you value justice. I have no idea what I can do to sway him and turn away to leave, but he calls me back.

He means a lot to you, your Mulder? I meet his eyes and nod. There are no words to explain how much my Mulder means to me. I will give him to you, if you can find him. He flashes a white smile which reveals altogether too many teeth for my comfort. Gracefully he moves to my side and puts his arm around my shoulders - his touch is a terrible delight as he guides me, unresisting, to a small door in the corner of the huge room.

Come, Alyosha, he says in a husky voice that prickles against my skin like static. Let us see if you can find your Mulder. I guarantee that if you do so, he may go with you.

As we pass through the door, I'm aware of a swelling noise. At first it sounds like the sea, but then I place it. Its the roar of a mighty crowd.

Your quest will be most entertaining for us all, says the being beside me. Entertainment is rare, here. The reward for the entertainment you give us will be your Mulder, should you encounter him.

The sound of the crowd swells like surf against rocks, just for a second I see an arena thronged with thousands of people, before the mists roll in and I realize I'm walking alone.

Not for long.

You son of a bitch!

He turns and smacks me with his cell phone as I walk through the door. I don't stand a chance; pretty soon he has me pinioned against a bank of phones. Ive been here before, and I didnt enjoy it then. I sure as hell don't enjoy it now. As he grinds his hips into me, I thump him in the solar plexus, listening as the air rushes out of him, and he folds in half. I should have done this right from the start; we would have been on a different footing.

As he crouches, panting, I haul him up by the hair and kiss his mouth even as he gasps for air. He tastes of anger, bitter and hardened. Not my Mulder.

Releasing him, I walk away, leaving him sitting on the floor beside the phones. As I come around the angle of the wall, he appears from nowhere to grab me and throw me bodily against the hood of a car.

Theres a gun in my face, and his mouth is twisted in rage. Oh, Mulder, Mulder, we did so many terrible things to each other. I squirm in an attempt to break his hold on me, and he shoves the gun against me, vicious in his knowledge that I am the cause of everything bad in his life. My hand raises at last, of its own free will, to stroke his cheek, and instead of the angry tightness of a man about to kill, I sense confusion. I wonder if this is my Mulder, but then he hits me with the gun and I see that it isn't. Its not him at all.

Biting back a curse, I knee him in the groin, and struggle up from the car. Scully watches me, wide eyed, but I don't care that she too is holding a gun. This is not my Mulder, so I turn away leaving them both behind.

The corridor becomes stairs, and I ascend them. He's lying there in the stairwell, moaning. I sense his distress; he's in pain that I cannot heal. I stop and touch his skin briefly, finding that it's cold and clammy. Not my Mulder, although how I know that I'm not sure. Stepping over his suffering body, I ascend, and open the door.

He's sitting at the desk as I walk through and into the bullpen, and he's transcribing tapes just the way I remember him. I hold out the 302 I have in my hands, calling out his name. He looks up, and the breath catches in my throat. Beauty's self he is, I think to myself. There he is, sullen and wasted. All that insight and intelligence confined to transcribing for someone else's case. I tell him that I've brought his papers, and when he queries them, I introduce myself, holding out my hand to him in greeting. He doesn't take it of course, so I lean forward, reach over to seize him by the tie, yanking him forward to meet my lips.

His kiss is tentative and sweet; I sense that he and I will someday become lovers, but not today. This Mulder isnt yet mine, and I turn my back on him, leaving him to read through the 302 with glee. Where is the one that belongs to me? I need him now more than I ever have.

I pause for a minute to picture him the way I remember him best. Hes strength and beauty and brilliance. Hes a taste of dark chocolate on the tongue; an icy cold bite as the shot of Absolut goes down; he's the sharp cry in the night that brings the warmth and solace of a kiss. He's mine, and he was always mine. Damn it all, he was born to be so. Where is he?

I open the door thats before me, and enter the room where he's lying.

His skin is grey; there are sores on his face. A respirator moves his chest, and he could be dead. There's no time to lose. I fumble in my pocket for the vaccine I've brought him and fill the syringe that's lying on the tray beside the bed. As I shoot the stuff into his veins, the tears well up in my eyes. I could have lost him. I was almost too late.

Replacing the syringe, I stoop to kiss the grey-blue lips. Mulder, come on. You're mine, or you will be. I turn to leave and the door opens on Walter Skinner. I don't have time for this. I know how deep into the Consortium this man is. I'm not playing games now and never will again. I raise my Glock and shoot the fucker. Tit for tat, Walter. Tit for tat.

Stepping across the fallen turncoat, I leave Mulder to the battle that's raging inside his body. Live for me, Fox. For me.

My Mulder is here, somewhere. Sitting down in the grey corridor, I ponder. If this is a puzzle, then there must be an answer. I don't know how long I sit there, working things through, but the mist begins to creep back, it's tendrils caressing me almost as though it loves me. This time I don't cry out or try to banish it. I'm too busy sifting my memories for that.

Finally, I know what I must do, and where I must go to find him. I stand up, staggering a little as my head swims. The door is there, in front of me, and the number 42 shines golden in the gloom.

Fumbling through my pockets, I find the lock-pick, and bend to work it into the keyhole. A few quick twists let me know that I haven't lost my skill. The click and give as the door comes undone is music to me. Turning the knob, I enter Mulder's apartment.

It's quiet, and at first I don't think that he's home, but as I round the corner into the living room, I can see the flicker of a porno on the TV. I realize then that he's fallen asleep on that ancient, hideous couch of his! Creeping forward, I stand and gaze at him. He looks tired, so tired. The bristles from his night on the couch stain his chin, lending him a romantic air that is enhanced by the locks of hair that have flopped down over his forehead. Hes wearing jeans, and a shapeless old grey tank top that shows his shoulder muscles; his feet are bare. For what seems like an eternity I drink in the sight of him. Mine. This man is mine.

And eternity passes. Time sifts over us as the world grows old. He's sleeping so peacefully I don't have the heart to awaken him. I know how precious sleep is to him, and how elusive it is. The tape in the VCR comes to an end and begins to rewind itself. I wait for it to finish and then eject it, insert it into its case and replace it on the rack from whence it came. He sleeps on. I don't want to wake him yet. I go to the kitchen and set up the coffee machine, then I return to his side, finally taking a seat on the floor beside his knees, the better to watch him sleep.

Sleepwashed, his face is defenseless. All his secrets lie there for me to read. The strain lines around his eyes speak of fear, and the crows feet of times when laughter was possible. His mouth is passion itself, not spent but merely awaiting a chance of release. I sigh - perhaps I make a little sound because he opens his eyes and sees me there.

Busted! I raise myself up to my knees and crawl forward along his thighs until I can drop my mouth onto his, and yeah! This is mine. This taste of soft acceptance, sweet, slick tongue stroking mine as he opens himself to me. I sob against his lips, and feel his arms go around me as though I'm home. In a way, I am.

Yes. I want this. This is my Mulder, I murmur, before he pulls me in once again to claim my lips for himself. As we kiss again, thunder rolls as the unseen crowd roars out its pleasure. I've found him, and I think that I would be happy to stay here forever in his arms, but its not going to happen. The apartment dissolves into haze, leaving us sprawling across the couch as the misty fingers creep in to caress us.

You found him, Alex. You may take your prize. My host is standing beside us now, and theres a flight of stairs up to a Doric arch, a huge temple doorway from which shines an intense white light. I'm put in mind of those old Pearl and Dean ads that they used to show in the theater on Saturday matinees before the main feature.

You want us to go up there?

Alex, Alex, Alex! You want your Mulder. You may have him. I'm sure that you know the drill. You will go up the stairs, and Mulder will follow you. You won't look back because if you do, youll lose him. I know that you don't want to lose him now. Once you and he step through the gate, he is yours. I frown. don't look back, Alex. You've been warned.

I turn to Mulder and cup his face in my hands.

Will you come with me, love? My eyes search his face, but I only see love reflected back to me. The hatred's burnt out leaving only a willing acceptance that he belongs to me.

He smiles, and it lights up his face until the pit of my stomach melts down to lie heavily in my groin. I pull him against me and feel his own heat sparking to mine. Mouth meets mouth, and for a moment the world becomes a faint memory. This alone is real. When at last I release him, he's all I see; he's smiling still, and he nods, takes my hand, and leads us to the stairs.

I touch his lips with my fingertips, and we look into each others eyes for a long time, and at last he says, Go on. I'll be behind you.

Turning, I set my foot on the bottom stair. I hear a bell clang, and the world darkens. All around me now are maroon shadows, menacing shadows. I gulp, then step up. Again I hear the bell. I don't know if Mulder is behind me or not, but I walk stolidly on. With each footfall I hear the sound of that bell, growing louder and more shrill.

I won't look around. I want him so badly that I have to dig my nails into my palms to stop myself from looking behind me, but I won't. I won't look back.

The stairs seem to multiply as I ascend them. The silly little song is back again, and it reverberates though the still air, sending up crazy echoes.

Hush, Alyosha,don't say a word, don't say a word, don't, don't, don't.

I comply. My body is tense, and a scream catches in my throat as the shadows draw in. The stairway looms before me as I ascend, and I'm afraid. Please let this be over soon.

At last I step through the portal and drop to my knees. I don't hear him behind me, and all I know is fear. I'm about to turn to see when the echoes repeat themselves around me.

don't say a word. don't, don't, don't.

I don't.

It feels as though forever has passed me by. All sound ceases, and the air itself is still. I'm not breathing. A tear leaks from my eye to wander down my cheek and into the collar of my jacket. I hate that. Hate that I've lost it all. Hate that I'm crying. Hate that I care.

When his arms go around my waist, they take me by surprise, and the softness of lips on the nape of my neck almost burns me.

Hello, were you waiting for someone?

His voice is in my ears, and I close my eyes before I turn, just in case, but it's all right. Hes here, and I'm here, and his mouth is on mine again as though it has always been my right.

I sob, and his arms are tight around me, and then the world fades.

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Light burns through my closed eyelids. My head aches, and my skin feels tight. There are sounds that jar, too loud, too close. I'm afraid.

I open my eyes, and look around me. I'm in a hospital bed. Nearby are machines that busily beep and tick away the sum of my life. A movement startles me, and I turn my head.

He is there, smiling at me. As I return his smile, he bends to kiss me.

Welcome home, my Alex. Welcome home.

All I can think of to say through the fullness in my throat is, So where's this stupid mocking bird then?

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End

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