You bound strong sandals on my feet,
You gave me bread and wine,
And sent me under sun and stars,
For all the world was mine.
Oh, take the sandals off my feet,
You know not what you do;
For all my world is in your arms,
My sun and stars are you.
All My World
They hadn't gotten to the point of exchanging keys--both knew that with their respective temperaments walking in unannounced wasn't a good idea. Mulder unhooked the chain, undid the deadbolt and the thumb lock, and opened the door. The smile that had been forming on his lips faded when Krycek looked up at him. "Fuck!"
He grabbed Krycek's arm and pulled him into the apartment, getting him under a good light. Krycek said nothing as Mulder catalogued the visible trauma--the tiny split in his upper lip, the cut in his left eyebrow that had drizzled blood along the side of his face (blood he hadn't bothered to wipe away), the swelling on one high cheekbone, and the bruise rising along his lean jaw.
Finally Mulder said, "Is this all?"
Krycek shrugged. "Probably a few bruises on the arms and legs, and scrapes on my palms where I caught myself when I fell." He worked his right hand carefully. "The wrist is a little tender, but I don't think it's sprained, and nothing is broken."
"Oh, well, then!" His tone was acid.
Krycek didn't bristle. He knew that Mulder was reacting because he was upset, and worried. "I've had worse--lots worse. Some antiseptic, maybe an ice pack or two, and I'll be fine."
Mulder muttered, "Sit down," and went into the bathroom. Krycek didn't mind the terseness, either. He was glad that Mulder didn't blow up and rage at him--he knew that was Mulder's first instinct, at least when it came to him.
Mulder returned in a moment with a small pan of water (most likely a souvenier of one of his own hospital stays. They'd probably billed him about eight bucks for the fifty cent piece of plastic), a bottle of antiseptic soap, Bactine, and bandages. Krycek had shrugged out of his leather jacket, and now he sat quietly while Mulder tended his wounds. Alex didn't like to think about what Mulder had gone through to become so proficient. *I probably gave him several opportunities to practice.* The thought came with no guilt--they were beyond that.
When his hurts were cleaned and bandaged, Mulder got a cold pack out of the freezer, wrapped it in a towel, and handed it to Alex. "I only have one. You'll have to decide where you want to use it." Since his wrist was wrapped, he decided to use it on his jaw (he hadn't told Mulder that he thought one of his bottom teeth was loose--he kept tasting blood).
He leaned back on the sofa and closed his eyes, intending to rest while Mulder cleaned up the supplies. That was what he intended. He woke up when Mulder shook his shoulder. "Dinner." Alex blinked. There were cartons of Chinese food on the low table in front of him, along with two bottles of beer.
Alex yawned, sitting up to give Mulder room to sit beside him. "Christ, I didn't even hear you take the delivery. It's a good thing the man from Wang Fu isn't an assassin." He checked the boxes till he found a carton of Kung Pao chicken, and they both ate in silence for awhile.
"You don't have to stay with them." Mulder was poking in a carton of noodles. He didn't look up, but he continued, "You don't have to put up this shit anymore."
Alex sighed, putting down his chopsticks. "You aren't going to leave this alone, are you?"
"You say you know me--what do you think?"
"No, of course you aren't." Alex took a sip of beer, but it was a delaying tactic, and they both knew it. Mulder just slumped back beside him, arms folded, heavy lock of hair falling across his forehead in that way that always made Alex ache to brush it back--gently. "Mulder--it isn't easy."
"I know that, but since when has difficulty stopped you from getting something if you really wanted it?" He smiled faintly, tapping his chest. "Case in point."
"Yeah." Alex's voice was soft. He did finally have Mulder. Of course, Mulder had him just as firmly, no matter what Scully and Skinner might think. "I do want to get away from them. I'm trying, but I have to be cautious. If I move too fast, I might bring the whole Consortium crashing down on my head--and that would mean on your head, too." Alex, ignoring the slight sting in his scraped palms, reached out and took Mulder's hand in his own, stroking his thumb over the back. "You've been hurt enough by those bastards. I don't want you to catch any more shit because I'm reckless."
"I understand," I understand," his mouth said, and his eyes concurred. They were almost golden in the lamplight. "But..."
"But, but, but." Alex stood, gathering the nearly empty cartons, and went to the sink. He scraped the scanty left-overs into the disposal, shoving them into the hole with almost viscious jabs of his chopsticks. He turned the water on with a jerk, then snapped the switch. The disposal came on with a grating whirr, and his voice rose a little above it. "But, but, but."
Krycek stiffened a little when Mulder came up behind him. The FBI agent reached past him and turned off the disposal, then the water. He wrapped his arm around Krycek's waist, pulling him back. Krycek remained tensed, till he felt Mulder press his forehead to the back of his neck, then he relaxed a little, settling his hand on Mulder's arm, holding him there. "I'm sorry," Alex sighed. "It... it's been a little tense lately."
"I could tell. That's why I brought this up--again. Look, I know that they have a long reach, but maybe if you weren't so accessible it would be easier."
Alex shrugged. "I changed my address and didn't tell them. I don't have a home phone. I got rid of the cell phone they gave me." He smiled. "Flushed it down the crapper at a bar, actually--bet I plugged up the system. I haven't given them my new number--haven't given it to anyone but you. Fuck, Mulder, I took them off my Christmas card list. What else am I supposed to do?"
Mulder took a breath, then said one word. "Go."
Alex felt ice forming in the pit of his stomach. *He doesn't just mean out of the apartment. No--not possible.* He kept his voice casual, but at a cost. It was like a knife twisting in a wound. "You trying to get rid of me, Mulder?"
There was a light slap to the back of his head. "Dammit, Alex, I'm trying to be serious here. If I just wanted to get rid of you, I'd have my gun against your head right now. Since when have I been too shy to use, shall we say, forceful persuasive tactics?"
"Right." Alex extricated himself--but slowly. He turned, leaning back against the counter and studied Mulder. His lover's expression was serious, and... *Oh, damn. He looks resigned. I don't think I've ever seen him look resigned before.* "You mean leave the city?" Mulder nodded. "The state?"
"It would be better. You know that they pretty much run their operations from here."
"Leave the country?"
"I know you have connections, Alex. You could do it. It wouldn't be all that hard for you. You could be free of them, go anywhere you wanted, do anything. You just have to take the steps."
Mulder closed his eyes. "It would be easier for you," he said slowly. "They'd look all the harder for two of us." He opened his eyes. "And I'd slow you down. I'm an FBI agent--I'm not... what you are. I don't have the training, I don't have the skills." His voice dropped. "I don't have the nature. They'd find me, but you could disappear."
"You could let that happen?"
Mulder shook his head, but it wasn't to deny that. No, it was more to express his pain with the whole situation. "If that's what it takes to see you safe, and happy."
"Alex, be still for a minute. Please, don't argue with me on this. You know--you know that when you're with me, you're a target."
"I've been a target since I was about fourteen. I might as well have been born with concentric circles of red and white on my back. I'm not sure I could live any other way."
"You should have the chance to find out." They were silent, staring at each other in the bright glow of the vent hood light. It was the most prosaic, the most normal setting that Mulder could have ever imagined, and yet it felt surreal. Mulder took a breath and lied. "It doesn't have to be forever. Maybe if you were just gone for a few months--a year... That might be enough. Then you could come back." Alex stared at him silently, bright green eyes darker than he'd seen them for a long time. Fox touched his cheek, tracing the shadow of the bruise along his jaw. "Please, Alex. I don't know all that much about your past, but what I do know... It hurts. I want to be able to think of you living free, away from those bastards."
"Even if it means that we have to be apart?" His voice was faint.
Mulder closed his eyes again steeling himself. He wanted nothing more than to take his lover in his arms and never let go. *But it would be selfish.* "If it makes you safe--yes."
There was another silence, then movement. Mulder opened his eyes to see Krycek's back as he left the kitchen. He went into the living room and got his jacket off the sofa, watching Mulder as he slipped into it. Mulder already felt a bite of regret. "You could stay the night."
Alex shook his head. "No. You know better than that, Mulder. If I go, I have to go. You think I could have a long, sweet farewell with you, then get up out of your bed and walk away? If it happens, it happens like this." He started toward the front door, then turned abruptly and went back into the kitchen. He took Mulder's face in his hands and kissed Mulder. It was gentle--almost thoughtful, but it didn't linger. Then he was gone.
Mulder slumped against the counter, staring at the wall, feeling the emptiness--the emptiness that had recently been filled--begin to eat away at him again.
His work suffered almost immediately. He was distracted--didn't seem able to bring his usual intensity to bear. Scully noticed. One day, after watching him stare silently at an evidence photograph for more than fifteen minutes, without even an under-the-breath mutter, she finally confronted him, asking what was wrong. Scully knew he was in bad shape when he didn't try to evade, saying simply, "I sent him away."
She knew who he meant, and had said firmly, "Good! I've been hoping you'd come to your senses."
Mulder had sighed. "Don't feel smug. That isn't why I sent him away. He did something that compromised us both."
Mulder's expression was bleak. "He became important to me." Scully heard the pain in his voice, and felt a twinge. Mulder noted the flicker of emotion in his partner's expression, and said quietly, "I know you're worried about me, but I'll be okay. I have to be. He left, to be safe--for me. I have to stay sane--for him."
That was all he was willing to say about the situation, and Scully didn't try to talk to him about it again. She was left to contemplate the bizarre thought that Alex Krycek--Ratboy--was holding Mulder together.
The days plodded by, then the weeks. Mulder moved through his life like an automaton. One day he stopped at a cafe and ate a sandwich that he didn't want, and couldn't taste. All the sensation that made life interesting seemed to have gone out of the world in the last few weeks. Nothing tasted good, nothing was appealing. He slept, but didn't rest. Color seemed to be slowly leeching out of the world, leaving nothing but sepia tones--like a daguerrotype.
It took a long time to get out his keys at the apartment--longer still to fit the key into the lock. There was a scuffling from down the hall, and Mulder looked up quickly--his survival instincts were too strong to be completely deadened. A figure stepped out of the shadows that had pooled where the last light had gone dead last month. Mulder tensed, then saw his eyes--green. Suddenly the color that had been fading away flowed back into the world.
He felt a warm burst of joy and relief, so strong that it weakened his knees. Then he stiffened his spine and said flatly. "Why did you come back to the cage?"
Alex came close, putting his hand on Mulder's arm, and Mulder fought the urge to grab him, drag him into a strangling embrace. "Let's go inside, Mulder. This isn't anything for hallways."
Mulder silently opened the door, and they went inside. Still silent, he locked the door and took off his jacket, moving mechanically. Alex laid his jacket over Mulder's on the sofa. There was something unspeakably intimate in that gesture.
"Why, Alex? Did they find you?" It was the only explanation Mulder could think of.
Alex shook his head. "No--I was out clean. I had an apartment. I'd begun to set up another identity. I'd even made a couple of tentative friends."
"You were living--living free. Why did you come back?"
Mulder blinked. "Correct me, but I think you can find her works in any local library."
"'Song'. Do you know that one?"
"'Song'." Mulder thought. "'You bound strong sandals on my feet.'"
Krycek nodded. "'You bound strong sandals on my feet. You gave me bread and wine. And sent me under sun and stars, for all the world was mine.' You gave me everything I'd need to make it, Mulder. You gave me back a sense of myself as a human being. You gave me confidence--the sort that I could live--not just survive. For most of my life I've known that all I had was the corners and the shadows of the world--the gutter. You made me look up at the sky again, Mulder. You made me see the sun and stars."
He went to Mulder and took his hands. Mulder gripped them, unable to resist. A corner of his mind noted the fact that once again Alex's palms were smooth--healed. "'Oh, take the sandals off my feet.'" He leaned forward, pressing their foreheads together. "You tried to give me what you thought I needed, babe, but you still don't undertand--not completely. 'You know not what you do.'"
He pulled Mulder into his arms. "'All my world is in your arms. My sun and stars are you.' Mulder, even with those evil bastards looking over my shoulder, I have never been so free as I am here and now--with you. Don't ask me to give it up. I'll be free to roam the world, and I'll still be the most captured, the most caged creature in existence."
Mulder's hands lifted, and settled in Alex's dark hair. "All right." He felt Alex relax against him, and relished the feel, the physical weight that bred peace in the deepest, most personal part of his being.
"It will happen," Alex whispered in his ear. "But it will happen for both of us. That's the only way it will be possible, Mulder, because..." he turned his head, kissing his lover's hand, "we make each other strong enough to do it. Not alone--together."
They embraced, and Mulder whispered, "Yes--together. 'All the world is in your arms. My sun and stars are you.'"