Hi! I've never actually posted a story to the list before. This is already up at Archive X (so you don't have to duplicate it, Iain!), but as are all slash writers, I'm hungry for feedback! Note: I have two email addresses. That in itself is another story, and one I won't bore you with here! <g>

TITLE: Independence Day
AUTHOR: Russianrat
EMAIL: russianrat1@usa.net
ARCHIVE: ArchiveX, Gossamer, All Things Rat.
CLASSIFICATION: K/WMM
SUMMARY: a kinder, gentler Krycek. The Well Manicured Man finds an abandoned rat in the hold of a Russian vessel and decides to adopt him. An uneasy truce develops into something special for both of them.
RATING: NC-17
SPOILERS: 5th season mytharc, including Patient X, The Red and The Black, The End, and the X-Files movie. DISCLAIMER: although I wish I owned these characters, Chris Carter, Fox, and 1013 still lay full claim to them all. There is no profit being made from this story and no copyright infringement is intended.
MANY THANKS: to Carol, for extensive editing; Theresa, for catching my spelling errors; and Kal, for encouragement and support. Couldn't have done it without you all!

* * *

Independence Day
(c)1998 by Russianrat

The dull throb of the ship and the hiss of steam finally woke the man huddled in a pool of filthy water. He sat up, too quickly. Precious moments passed while he recovered, one hand rubbing his aching head, the other lying useless by his side. What had happened? He tried desperately to remember, knowing somehow that it was important.

Bits of conversation were the first to return.

"You really think you can pull this off?" A woman's voice. No face to go with it yet. "...we've got them on their knees, Alex."

Oh yeah, that was his name. Alex. The rest of his memories crowded close behind the name, and none of them were pleasant.

"Let's get out of this hole."

Marita. His sometime lover and co-conspirator. Cold blue eyes and a humorless smile. Any feelings of affection for her had long since sputtered and died in Alex's heart, but he thought one more quick tryst might render Marita pliable enough to look the other way while he made his escape. She'd led him away down the ship's corridor. Found them both a secret place. He'd trusted her just long enough to turn and close the hatch.

Big mistake. The bitch had cold-cocked him and left him to his fate. Left, and--

Shit. The boy. Alex jolted awkwardly to his feet, ignoring the pain that movement brought. Sliding his right hand along the metal wall to steady himself, he backtracked to the spot where he'd left Dmitri, his ticket to power. More memories surfaced, and Alex realized what a fool he'd been. He cursed Marita loudly in Russian, saving the most vile epithets for himself.

It had started in Khazakhstan, after the alien raid, when Alex had captured the boy and ordered him taken to Tunguska. When he had left the boy's cell and seen the vaccine against the black oil just sitting there within his reach, Alex had pocketed one of the vials quickly. Later, he'd returned, kidnapped Dmitri, and sewn his eyes and mouth shut to prevent the escape of the alien within via its oily medium. Alex had regretted that, a little, but such methods were sometimes necessary. The boy had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alex believed that the alien lifeform would be less restive if transported overseas in a human body.

Once the ship had docked in New York, Alex had used his cellphone to make the call.

"Yes?" The cultured voice at the other end was unmistakable.

"Well," Alex jibed, "look who's answering the batphone."

"Alex Krycek," the other man responded in his proper British accent. He sounded cool, disinterested, but Alex knew it was a front.

"Those guys too cheap to offer you a pension plan?" He couldn't resist the dig. The Englishman refused to rise to the bait.

"Where are you?"

"I'm in town, actually. New York City."

"Just tell us what you want."

Calm words. Only Alex could sense the nervousness in their timbre.

So he had put forth his offer, a trade of all the Consortium's knowledge for the boy himself. The boy, actually carrying an alien lifeform...as well as priceless information about the approaching invasion. When the old man tried to get Alex to tell what he knew, Alex hung up on him.

A thrill of triumph laced with bitterness clutched Alex in the gut. He swayed, weary to the bone. There was nothing to do now but wait.

Of course, they had already traced the call.

He had half-expected Marita to show. The two of them had discussed ways to free themselves from the Consortium in the past. Now she had betrayed the betrayer, and Alex had only himself to blame.

The boy was gone. Alex glanced around the hold and uttered more Russian curses. Damn the woman, anyhow! Alex allowed himself a small, resentful chuckle, thinking of the surprise Marita would have should the alien within Dmitri manage to escape. He made one more turn around the room in case the boy decided by some miracle to reappear, but there was nothing.

Then, Alex heard a sound at the open door. He looked up, startled. There stood the Englishman, dressed impeccably in a suit and Armani trenchcoat. The GQ look was spoiled only by the gun in the man's right hand.

He glared at Alex, his expression bordering on contempt.

"Where's the boy?" he snapped.

Instinctively, Alex sought an escape route. Finding none, he bowed his head in angry defeat.

"Well?"

Alex said nothing, glaring at the other from beneath long eyelashes. The Englishman gestured at him with the gun. Alex followed reluctantly, passed the other man in the doorway. He sensed the quick movement of expensive cloth as the Englishman raised his arm, but was too late to prevent the blow that sent him once more into darkness.

His first thought upon regaining consciousness was that someone had cut off his right arm to match the missing left. Panicking, he jerked upright and heard the unmistakable rattle of handcuffs. The Englishman had secured his right wrist to a pipe, and lack of circulation had caused the arm to fall asleep. Alex swallowed dryly, closing his eyes until his breathing slowed to normal.

"You're probably thirsty."

Alex's eyes snapped open. The Englishman stood over him, gazing down at his captive with a bland expression. Despite his fear, Alex tried to project his usual air of cockiness.

"Remind me to complain to the captain about the service."

"You may have that opportunity." The Englishman dipped the rag he held into a nearby bucket. "This ship is bound back to Vladivostok tomorrow. I gather there'll be quite an enthusiastic homecoming."

Alex said nothing. The Englishman approached him with the wet rag and began to wring it out directly into Alex's mouth. Alex drank, eagerly at first, but the water was brackish and he spit the last of it out.

He glared up at the impassive Englishman. "Do you have the boy?"

"No. Ms. Covarrubias took him. Your alliance with her was as misguided as ours, but it appears she was unaware of the consequences of her deception. You were clever," he added with grudging respect. "Infect the boy to ensure infection of anyone who tried to learn what he knows, who would cheat you."

"Then where's the boy?"

"Dead." The Englishman's voice was flat. "Victim of another mysterious holocaust, unable now to tell what he knew or saw."

"Then you got no choice but to deal with me." Alex sneered, hoping his anxiety at this turn of events didn't show.

The older man raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid there's no deal to be made."

"I'm the only one who knows what those incidents are! What they mean. I know what that boy saw."

The Englishman shrugged. "You've as much as told me what I need to know."

"You know nothing."

"If the boy was your trump card why infect him unless you could also cure him with a vaccine developed by the Russians? One that works. It would mean that resistance to the alien colonists was now possible."

"You're dreaming," Alex responded, then winced at the desperation in his own voice.

"Do you have the vaccine?"

"You need what I know," tried Alex one more time.

"Do you have the vaccine?!" demanded the Englishman, his patience at an end.

Alex trembled, hating himself for his fear.

"...give you the means to save Covarrubias after what she did?"

His captor glared at Alex, stepping away and kicking the bucket of water over as he did so. He stopped at the door, finality in his expression.

"The means to save yourself."

Then the Englishman was gone. Alex knew he would be back, if only to gloat. He slumped in his chains, suddenly tired to the bone. Tired of running, tired of fighting, tired of getting nowhere fast. There were days he wished his damned survivor instinct would just let him alone.

He dozed. Woke sometime later in total darkness. Memories of the silo shocked him into awareness. Suddenly, he was sure the dark was moving, alive. Waiting to fill him. The taste of oil flooded his mouth and Alex began to scream.

A sudden bright light and a harsh whisper brought him back to his senses.

"Quiet, unless you want someone besides me to find you."

Alex's screams faded to broken sobbing. The Englishman's gaunt features revealed little. He merely stood and waited, arms crossed, for his prisoner to recover. Alex's henley shirt was drenched in sweat, and the indigo of his jeans was darkened further at the crotch. In his shame, he couldn't bring himself to look up at the old man.

"You win," he gasped.

The Englishman nodded, unsurprised.

"I'm going to unlock the cuffs. You'll come with me to an apartment I maintain here in New York, where you'll clean yourself up and be fed." He moved around his prisoner carefully, as if with distaste at the necessity of touching him. "Then I have a mission for you, Alex Krycek."

Alex merely groaned. He sagged passively in the corner while the Englishman freed him. There was no fight left in him, only resignation. The old man stood back as Alex lurched to his feet and leaned gracelessly against the filthy wall, eyes downcast.

"If I'm going to be working for you now," he asked in a resigned monotone, "what should I call you?"

The Englishman flicked an indecipherable look at Alex. His features softened, or perhaps it was only the light.

"You may call me John," he said finally.

* * *

Alex slept nearly the whole drive. After John parked the car, he had to come around to the passenger side and forcibly shake Alex into semi-consciousness. John put his arm around Alex's shoulder and supported him into the elevator that took them from the garage directly to John's apartment on an upper floor. Alex knew he smelled awful and realized he must be getting muck all over that costly suit, but John made no complaint.

As John lowered him carefully onto edge of the bathtub, Alex realized that the old man was stronger than he looked. John handed him a thick white towel.

"Do you need any help?"

Alex spared him an acrimonious glance with some of his old spirit. "I can manage."

Once alone, Alex pulled off his stinking clothes and tossed them in the wastebasket. He doubted that they were salvageable, anyway. The prosthesis came last. Alex's lips formed a small moue of distaste as he unbuckled the leather strapping that held his plastic arm in place. Nonetheless, he laid the arm down gently before climbing into the tub.

He spent several minutes washing and massaging the stump before the feeling returned to it. His shortened limb was a constant reminder of a life turned sour. From the day he'd been recruited fresh out of the Academy by the chain-smoking shadow man, Alex's fortunes had begun a downward spiral until all that stood between him and the wrong end of a gun was the desperate need to do something right for once. As if one right could amend his past. He closed his eyes for a long moment before returning to his ablutions.

After much soap and hot water, Alex felt reasonably clean again. He pulled the plug, then looked up at the sound of footsteps outside the door.

"If you're quite finished, I've fixed tea."

Alex smiled grimly. Trust that silver-haired bastard to retain his upper-class trappings no matter what.

He dried himself slowly and combed his hair. A robe of green silk had been laid out for Alex atop the hamper. He refastened the prosthesis before slipping into the robe. Small gesture that it was, having two arms gave Alex some measure of control over the situation. He glanced at himself in the mirror and smirked to observe how well the robe matched his eyes.

John sat in an overstuffed, velvet upholstered armchair, calmly sipping his tea. He nodded at the tray of sandwiches and sweet biscuits. Alex put food on a plate (Haviland, he noted dryly) and sat across from his new boss. He took a swallow of tea and quashed the urge to raise his pinkie.

"You have a job for me," he stated without preamble.

John lifted an eyebrow.

"While it is quite obvious that you have little schooling in the finer points of etiquette, Alex, I would have hoped you could spare a few minutes to savor this excellent food." He sighed and put his cup down. "Very well. We shall come straight to the point. The date has been set forward. The alien rebels have elected for whatever reason to precipitate matters. The world must know, Alex."

"So? How do I come into this?"

"Because you can get close to the one man to whom the world will listen. Fox Mulder."

Alex set his cup down so hard that tea slopped over the edge.

"No way. Mulder? He'd shoot first, ask questions later."

John shook his head slightly.

"You underestimate Agent Mulder's...feelings." *For you* went unspoken, but the words hung in the air nevertheless.

Despite himself, Alex felt warmth in his cheeks. If the old man had guessed, then who else--?

"Your secret is safe with me, Alex," said John, as if reading his mind.

Alex nearly bit his tongue keeping silent. "Then what exactly do you want me to do?" he asked flatly.

"Talk to Mulder. Convince him to change his mind, to believe again. He is crucial to our fight, in ways I can't even begin to explain. If his doubt goes unchecked, it will be too late. We *will* lose. And if we lose..."

John let his voice trail into silence. The look in his eyes made Alex shiver. If he never encountered the black oil again in his life, it would be too soon.

"All right. I'll talk to Mulder." He shrugged, and added under his breath, "I just hope he's in a good mood."

* * *

Alex waited inside Mulder's apartment, dressed in his usual jeans and black leather. He couldn't stop a tiny frisson of excitement at the thought of once again seeing the man he'd secretly lusted after for years. It didn't matter that Mulder would never know. *Right,* said a voice inside Alex's head. *You just keep telling yourself that.*

Then Mulder was opening the door, and Alex froze, waiting. Right on cue, Mulder bent to examine the note lying on the floor. Alex threw a brief thanks to the universe that the FBI agent was so predictable as he launched himself forward. His momentum slammed Mulder against the computer table. Alex grabbed Mulder's gun and pointed it at him.

"You must be losing it, Mulder. I can beat you with one hand."

The agent recovered quickly. "Isn't that how you like to beat yourself?"

Alex winced. Cheap sexual innuendo had once been a game between them, in the dear, dead days when they were partners. He cocked the gun.

"If those are my last words, I can do better," Mulder added hastily.

"I'm not here to kill you, Mulder. I'm here to help you."

"Hey, thanks."

"If it wasn't in my best interests I'd just as soon squeeze this trigger."

"What's stopping you?"

*Only the fact that I'm in love with you, idiot* thought Alex, and was shocked by his own admission.

"Hear this, Agent Mulder." He launched into his prepared speech about the coming alien invasion. Mulder half-listened, apparently bored.

"Krycek," he responded finally, "you're a murderer, a liar and a coward. Just because you stick a gun in my chest I'm supposed to believe you're my friend?"

Alex smiled sadly. To be put in the position of trying to convince Fox Mulder that extraterrestrials did indeed exist felt strange to him. Alex didn't need any more proof than those days in the silo, or the gulag tests he'd witnessed. He rocked back on his heels, allowing Mulder to sit up and lean against a chair.

"I was sent by a man...a man who knows, as I do, that resistance is in our grasp, and in yours. The mass incinerations were strikes by an alien rebellion to upset plans for occupation. Now one of these rebels is being held captive. And if he dies...so does the resistance."

The stubborn expression remained on Mulder's face. Alex sighed. He had to make Mulder believe, had to. On impulse, Alex leaned forward. His mouth grazed Mulder's briefly before planting a kiss solidly on the other man's cheek. Alex retreated. He'd almost expected to be hit, but instead it was Mulder who looked as if he'd taken a punch to the gut, staring at Alex as if he'd never seen him before.

Alex took advantage of the agent's confusion and rose quickly, heading for the door. There he paused, groping for some parting words, some way to tell Mulder his real feelings. To tell him that behind the deceptions was a man, not just a spy. A man who now wanted nothing more than to forget the past. In his inner struggle, Alex lapsed unconsciously into the language of his parents.

"Mnozhe t'vye, tovarish," he said over his shoulder.

"Tovarish," Alex repeated again quietly, to himself. Less than lover, more than friend.

Then he slipped out and was gone.

* * *

Alex stared out the window of the private jet. He wore jeans and his usual leather jacket over a t-shirt. John was impeccable in his suit and tie, although he had gone so far as to loosen the knot once they were in the air. Alex studied the man next to him surreptitiously, trying to get some kind of handle on him, before returning his gaze to the passing clouds.

"This isn't a loss," said John out of nowhere, cutting into his companion's reverie.

Alex started, then sighed.

"The rebel was recaptured."

Alex could feel rather than see John's shrug. "All the same, you did your job. Agent Mulder is deep into the investigation, as it should be."

"And will we help him again? Will he find the truth?"

In lieu of a response, John placed one hand lightly on the back of Alex's neck. Alex's nerves jumped. This was the last thing he would have expected from his stuffy employer, but--he had to admit it felt damn good.

"Just relax, Alex." The old man's thumb began to describe circles across the tight skin. "You look...tense."

Alex forced himself to accept John's touch without flinching. Touch was something he both craved and feared. Hands on skin, in his memory, usually meant pain. The rare opportunity of contact for pleasure had driven Alex to more than one foolish act in his life. Marita's cold eyes flashed before him, and he turned to the window, though all he could see were clouds.

He thought of Mulder instead. Like an endless loop, the what ifs began. What if Mulder had returned his not-so-subtle attraction? What if he, Alex, had never met the smoking man, and had been able to approach Mulder honestly? What if--

*Just shut the fuck up,* he told his brain. He leaned into John's fingers, as if to banish the past. Some small shift in John's breathing made Alex open his eyes again. He felt John squeeze his neck muscles one last time before taking his hand back. Alex stole a glance in John's direction, and saw that the Englishman's fingers were trembling.

He stared at John in alarm. The old man's face was flushed, and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. Alex wondered if he was having a heart attack.

"You all right?"

"I'm fine," answered John crisply. He turned away to order drinks from their steward.

Alex watched him surreptitiously while the steward left. After all, this man had promised him protection from the remaining members of the Consortium, some of whom were less than happy to have him back on the team. Regardless of Alex's feelings, John had treated him kindly enough to date. If he were to die--

The steward reappeared. He handed whiskey to John, vodka on the rocks to Alex. As John passed the tumbler over to his companion, Alex lowered his eyes, not wanting to be caught staring. Only then did he notice the old man's condition, and the cause of his physical distress became obvious.

His first reaction, quickly stifled, was to snicker. The usually smooth line of John's dress slacks was ruined by a respectable erection. Alex felt absurdly flattered. He'd long been aware of his ability to seduce, but to create such a response in this proper gentleman was quite a coup. His next thought, naturally, was to wonder how this could be used.

Then shame washed over him, and Alex turned away. Such machinations belonged to the old Krycek, not to the better man he was trying to become.

He sipped his drink and kept silent for the rest of the trip, wondering what the future held.

* * *

John's home sat in the midst of an expanse of green, not far from the sea. Alex tried not to seem too overwhelmed by it, but his mentor's chuckle as they were chauffeured up to the front door indicated that John was not fooled by his blasÈ attitude. They were greeted by a manservant, who took John's overcoat and disappeared. Alex refused the offer to be divested of his jacket with a curt shake of his head.

When the servant was gone, John turned to him, a frown creasing his brow.

"Lesson number one, Alex. In my home, you will treat all the residents with respect, including the servants. Everyone who works for me has gone through an extensive background check. They can be trusted implicitly, even with such menial tasks as caring for your somewhat disreputable jacket."

Alex flushed darkly. He literally bit his tongue to keep from blurting out some nasty remark that would only get him in deep trouble. When he was able to raise his eyes again without giving too much away in his expression, he was surprised to catch John in the ghost of a smile.

"Actually, that was lesson number two," the old man tendered softly. "You just passed the first lesson: never question your employer's good sense. Now then, shall we go inside? I'd like to show you around the house."

Alex followed, his anger shifting to amusement. At least his new boss had a sense of humor.

The mansion's interior was typically English. The colors tended to dark greens and browns, from the draperies to the hunting print above the fireplace. A few spots of brightness showed in the fresh flowers set in a crystal vase in each room. Alex caught glimpses of other servants, all male, going discreetly about their business. There was no other evidence of family in the home. He began to wonder if John actually was gay, or simply preferred the company of men in his home. Or both. He caught himself smiling again. His stay here should prove interesting, at the very least.

John waited patiently at the foot of the stairs until Alex stopped gaping and caught up to him. The room John showed him to was clean and airy, with a balcony overlooking the well-tended garden. Alex could almost smell the salt of the ocean if he breathed deeply. It was nice, he thought, to have all this space...and to be working for someone who didn't constantly blow cigarette smoke at him.

"I like it," he said guilelessly, turning to catch John in another smile. The expression seemed to have become more common the further they got from the dark reaches of the Consortium.

John nodded, as if such praise were his due. "You have an hour to clean up before dinner is served. There are clothes that should fit in the wardrobe. Please do me the courtesy of changing into them, won't you?"

He left rather abruptly, making Alex wonder if the idea of seeing his naked body, even by accident, was just too much to bear. Alex peeled out of his sweaty shirt and jeans. He was getting used to John's high-handed manner despite himself, and his orders seemed less personally directed and easier to take.

After his shower, Alex opened the tall, cherrywood wardrobe. A suit of black silk bearing an Italian designer label hung at one end. A starched white shirt, black shoes, and subtly patterned maroon tie completed the ensemble. As Alex donned the outfit, he noted wryly that the left sleeve of both shirt and jacket had been tailored a bit wider to accommodate his prosthesis. Finished dressing, Alex studied himself in the full-length mirror, astonished at his own appearance. How in the world had John known his measurements so well? *Good spies* he thought. A shiver tempered his amusement. Alex reminded himself never to underestimate the reach of his new mentor's power.

He descended the stairs and found his way to the dining room by following the mouth-watering smell of food. John nodded at him, then picked up a silver bell by its teak handle and shook it, once. Immediately a manservant appeared with wine and soup, then vanished again in perfect silence.

"The clothes fit you well, Alex," said John in his smooth, cultured voice.

"Mmmm," Alex replied noncommittally.

"A simple thank you will suffice."

"Lesson Number Three?" As John arched an eyebrow severely, Alex added, "All right. Thank you."

John sighed. "It was not my original intention to play Henry Higgins to your Eliza. The years on the run have roughened your comportment to quite a degree. However, with enough time and a few gentle nudges in the right direction, Alex, I believe we can have you behaving like a gentleman."

Alex banked his temper, sipping his wine until it was under control. "To what end, John? I'm sure you didn't hire me for my 'gentlemanly' qualities."

"Ah, Alex, Alex. You have yet to learn the true meaning of power. Fists and a gun are fine, in their place. True power comes with the ability to delegate, to command others--"

"--to do your dirty work for you?"

John's fork hit the plate with a clatter. His response, though soft in tone, bit sharply.

"You will not interrupt me again, young man. Is that understood? You are under my roof and my protection, and will therefore obey me, Alex Krycek."

Alex lowered his eyes, chastened and a little scared. "I'm sorry," he managed around the sudden tightness in his throat. "You were saying?"

"Another time. Eat your dinner."

They ate awhile in silence. Gradually, the tension lessened, and John began to speak in generalities. The weather. The latest changes in Parliament. The Queen's expected appearance to dedicate a new hospital. Alex listened carefully, filing away any bits of information that could prove useful in the future, and not wanting to provoke the old man again that night. When the last plate had been cleaned and whisked away by the attentive servant, John pushed back from the table with a sigh.

"It's been a long, tiring day and I need my rest. We'll talk again in the morning, Alex. Meanwhile, you have the run of the house and the grounds. All I ask is some discretion on your part."

Alex didn't request an elaboration on John's meaning, but followed his lead by rising from the table and heading for the stairs.

Alex spent the next few days exploring the house and grounds. He knew John was keeping a watchful eye on him, but that fact seemed to bother him less as time went by. John went into London two or three times a week on business. When Alex asked to come along, he was firmly rebuffed. It irked him at first, but no doubt John had his reasons. So Alex read, walked the grounds, and worked out at the mansion's fully-equipped gym.

Before he knew it, a month had passed. His edginess at sharing the life of the idle rich never quite abated, but he was, for the time, content. He had seldom come so close to that elusive condition known as peace.

Alex was sitting in a chair in his room one morning, dressed only in bluejeans, when he heard John's knock. He grabbed for a shirt and his prosthetic.

"Just a minute."

"Are you wearing pants?" asked John through the door.

"Uh, yeah." Alex couldn't mask his surprise at the odd question.

The door cracked open. Alex tried to cover his mangled stump with the t-shirt, but John walked right on in, tactfully ignoring Alex's discomfort at the invasion of his privacy. The older man was carrying a large package, which he laid on a bedside table. Alex began to fumble awkwardly with the prosthetic, when John surprised him further.

"Leave that," he said, not unkindly.

John began to open the package while Alex just stared, at a loss for words. Inside the clean tissue wrappings lay an arm. But when John lifted it from its box, Alex could see that it was quite different from the ugly, barely functional limb he had been given in Russia. It appeared to be finely jointed, not only at the elbow but also along the wrist and fingers. Instead of a harness, the shoulder was comprised of a sort of plastic cap, obviously meant to fit over the wearer's remaining flesh. The arm itself was covered with the most natural latex "skin" Alex had ever seen, short of the real thing.

"Let me help you this time," said John softly.

Alex stood as he approached the chair, and the t-shirt fell to the floor. John exhibited neither disgust nor pity at the sight of Alex's stump. He adjusted the cap onto the young man's bare skin carefully, and Alex felt a kind of suction form to hold the limb in place. The severed nerves tingled to life. Real life, thought Alex, not phantom pain. Was it his imagination, or had John caressed him lightly as he'd attached the new prosthetic?

John stepped back, and Alex flexed his shoulder muscles experimentally. The arm lifted away from his side, then dropped. He concentrated and tried again. Once more the arm rose, and now he managed to keep it balanced in front of him, palm up. Another twist of the shoulder, and the elbow bent inward with a minute whir of invisible machinery.

Alex lowered the arm to his side once more. John's thoughtfulness (regardless of his motives) touched Alex in places he'd believed were long since dead. He could hardly bring himself to look his benefactor in the eye for fear that the emotions roiling in his gut would spill over. Instead, he took a swift step forward, curled his right hand gently around John's neck, and drew them together for a kiss.

"Thank you," he murmured, backing off.

John's weathered face remained inscrutable as ever, but Alex thought he saw another of those fleeting smiles before the old man turned away.

"Dinner at seven, sharp. Formal as usual."

Then he was gone, leaving Alex to his thoughts.

All afternoon, Alex practiced various simple motions with the new limb. At dinner, he was able to please John by using his left hand both to hold a utensil and to raise a glass in an impromptu toast.

"Za zdarovye," said Alex. "Your health."

"Za udachu...to luck."

Alex smiled in appreciation at John's Russian, flawed though it was.

"And to a long and prosperous partnership," added John, smiling back.

Alex felt his cheeks turn red as the wine. He lowered his eyes and drank deeply, heart pounding at the implication of John's words. He barely noticed the manservant who took their plates away.

That night, Alex could not sleep. He lay staring out the window, pondering the events of the past few weeks. With a start, he realized that, for once, his thoughts were not of Fox Mulder. He sat up abruptly, grabbing the silk robe from the bedside table. Briefly, he considered attaching the new prosthetic, dismissed the idea, and rose from the bed without it. He put the robe on and padded barefoot down the hall.

John's light was on. Alex paused. *What the hell am I doing?* Before a response to that thought could gel, he knocked lightly and cracked the door open. John sat with his back against several pillows in the large four-poster bed. A leather-bound volume of Shakespeare lay on a table nearby, but John did not appear to have been reading. He returned Alex's gaze silently, his blue eyes sharp as ever. A nod from the old man and Alex slipped inside, closing and locking the door behind him.

The latter seemed to amuse John. "No one will disturb us here."

"Old habits die hard," replied Alex in return, his voice low and husky.

He walked over to the bed, waited.

"Sit. Please."

Alex sat, mindful of John's outstretched legs beneath the covers. A dozen thoughts tumbled across his mind, but none seemed appropriate to voice. The Englishman's quiet power, even in this setting, made Alex unsure and awkward. At last John reached for Alex's hand, stroking it reassuringly with his thumb.

"Did you have something to say to me, Alex?"

Alex got up the courage to look him directly in the eye.

"No. Not exactly."

He leaned in, let the robe fall open. A dual curtain of lashes swept his cheeks as Alex closed his eyes and parted his lips. He found John's mouth by instinct, let his tongue out to explore. John shifted in the bed and returned the kiss. One hand caressed Alex's chest, the other finished loosening the tie of his robe. Their kisses grew deeper, more passionate. Alex became aware of John's erection prodding his bare thigh. His thoughts flashed back to that moment aboard the plane, but mockery was no longer a part of his reaction. Not if his own rapidly hardening cock was any gauge.

Alex broke the kiss to shrug out of his robe. He posed briefly for John's benefit, enjoying the feel of strong, dry hands across his torso. John grasped the base of his prick and stroked it from balls to crown, smiling when Alex groaned his pleasure. With an effort, Alex put his hand across John's to stop him.

"Have you got anything?" he rasped the question.

"Bedside table," replied John simply.

Alex reached over and pulled open the top drawer of the table. Inside were condoms and lube. He grinned suddenly.

"You were expecting me?"

John shook his head. "Only hoping, Alex."

This admission brought an unaccustomed tightness to Alex's chest. He busied himself with one of the foil packets, holding it between the fingers of his right hand while tearing a corner with his teeth. John took the circle of latex from Alex and reached for the young man's erection, but Alex pressed his hand away.

"No. I want to feel you inside me."

John's throat moved visibly as he swallowed. Alex pushed the bed covers aside, exposing John's engorged cock to view, and was pleased to discover that he was nicely hung. His own cock began to weep with excitement as Alex watched John sheath himself and spread lube generously over the condom.

Alex balanced himself on his arm and straddled John's chest, raising up to give him better access. John smeared more lube on his fingers and reached between Alex's thighs, probing and readying the younger man's anus for penetration.

With excruciating care, Alex began to lower himself onto John's cock. He watched, smiling, as John closed his eyes in fierce concentration. Hands of fine, old leather grasped his thighs as he sought complete impalement. When his balls came to rest on John's stomach, Alex paused to steady himself.

John was staring at him again, barely holding onto his iron control. Caution and lust warred against each other in his sharp blue eyes.

"Yesss." The plea drew itself out, sibilant. "God, yes."

Alex obliged happily. Using his only hand as a balance, he pushed up, then thrust down sharply, fucking in reverse. John's gasp told Alex all he needed to know. He kept up a steadily escalating rhythm, milking the cock inside him with well-trained muscles.

Too soon, a ragged cry escaped Alex's throat. Hot liquid burst from his cock, drenching his lover's stomach. The trembling power of Alex's orgasm took John over the edge with him.

But when Alex began to lift himself off John's body, the proper Englishman surprised him once more. With astonishing strength for one so thin, John flipped Alex onto his back, managing to remain inside him during the process. Alex gasped and writhed as John, still hard, began to pound into him from above. He shrieked, caught between pleasure and pain. One more rake of John's cock across his prostate sent Alex into another incredible climax.

John managed to peel the condom off and discard it before collapsing limply beside his young lover. Alex lay, gasping, on his left side, the stump of his arm beneath him, his right hand clenching mindlessly at John's bare chest.

"Shhhh." John's soft voice flowed over Alex, accompanied by the touch of fingertips worn nearly smooth with age. "I'll take good care of you."

The echo of Alex's own promise to Dmitri chafed slightly at his conscience. He pushed it aside. What was done was done, and there was no way out but through. He let John's hands do their magic on his aching muscles and at last relaxed into a dreamless sleep.

* * *

"I have to return to America."

John's abrupt statement caught Alex with a forkful of shepherd's pie between his lips. He swallowed quickly, trying not to show the fear that cut into him as surely as had that Russian peasant's knife, so long ago.

"Business?"

John nodded once, his expression grim.

"But--I thought--" Alex paused, not wanting to interfere, yet knowing he had to say something. "The Consortium?"

"It's not by choice, Alex. There are things they want to do, to precipitate, that should be left alone." He dabbed a trace of wine from his lips. "I doubt I can stop them altogether. Slow them down, perhaps."

Alex sighed. "What can I do?"

"Stay here. Look after the house and the grounds--"

"Damn it, John!" Alex flung his napkin down. "It's bad enough I've been reduced to acting as your errand boy. Now you want me to stay behind while you go off to save the world?"

John's lips thinned almost to the point of disappearing.

"There will be no argument about this, Alex. Your presence at this meeting would only endanger both of us."

As suddenly as his ire had risen, it deflated, and John's age seemed to weigh on him like a blanket.

"I've floated rumors back to the others concerning your death in an automobile accident," he added softly.

Alex could only stare. "Why?"

"For your protection. If anything happens to me."

Suddenly contrite, Alex got up from his chair and walked around to the other side of the table. He knelt awkwardly and put his right hand on John's arm. The stump of his left arm was covered only by his sleeve. Alex had long since abandoned the shame of his loss when with this man, and wore the prosthetic only when necessary.

"Don't let anything happen to you," he beseeched.

"Alex--" John smiled gently. He had not yet told his young protege about the will. But then Alex was fumbling with the zipper of his slacks, and John groaned, cock leaping like one of Pavlov's dogs.

Alex smiled. He balanced himself against his lover's right thigh and wrapped his hand around the base of John's cock. He then lowered his mouth until he could take the head between his lips. He worked his tongue over the crown in slow circles, every now and then tapping at the juncture of the corona to the shaft. John closed his eyes and slumped down in the chair, moaning his pleasure. When Alex felt John's cock swell between his lips, he took it all the way into his throat and used the muscles there to bring his lover to a wailing, grinding climax.

Alex settled back on his heels, waiting for John to recover. His own prick throbbed insistently beneath his jeans. He ignored it, and pushed himself up into John's lap to plant kisses on the old man's mouth.

John rubbed the swollen lump of Alex's crotch, but Alex gently pulled the hand away.

"Just bring it back to me, okay?" Alex whispered.

John answering smile was tinged with melancholy. He helped Alex to his feet, then went to collect his luggage without a backward glance.

* * *

In a darkened alley off a nameless street in New York City, John stood beside his car speaking to Fox Mulder. The FBI agent was arguing some point with John. Strain as he might, Alex could not catch more than a few words of their conversation.

Alex was there in direct disobedience of John's orders, of course. He had followed his lover across the ocean to this place, using all his skills to stay hidden while keeping an eye on John's activities.

Mulder raised his voice in anger. Alex nearly gave himself away by stepping into the alley. But then John was turning back to the car and Mulder swiveled on one foot as if to walk away.

A deafening explosion caught both men by surprise. Mulder turned back in shock. The car was blazing. Pieces of metal filled the air like shrapnel. One of the door handles whizzed by Alex's ear, making him flinch. He remained crouched in the shadows, mouth half open, staring at the burning car.

Mulder made an abortive step towards the fire before realizing there was nothing he could do. He backed away slowly, then turned and ran. Alex was still rooted to the spot. His chest felt hollow, as if the explosion had ripped away a part of his flesh. Only this was a part no one else could see.

He swallowed hard. It would not do to stay and be found here. His survivor instincts kicked in at last, and he also turned from the scene. There would be time to mourn later.

Mulder was his last hope now. Alex would have to talk to him again, find out what John had told him, persuade him that the two of them could work together against the Consortium. After all, reasoned Alex, Mulder hadn't shot him when he'd had the chance. Maybe, just maybe, they could come to some kind of peace agreement long enough to bring down their mutual enemies.

Alex made his decision. He got to his feet and took off after Mulder before the agent could disappear forever.

The End