A Leaf For Hand In Hand
M/K Slash NC-17
"A LEAF for hand in hand!
You natural persons old and young!
You on the Mississippi, and on all the branches and bayous of the Mississippi!
You friendly boatmen and mechanics! You roughs! You twain! And all processions moving along the streets! I wish to infuse myself among you till I see it common for you to walk hand in hand!"
A Leaf For Hand In Hand
by Walt Whitman
They had been in a running battle from Jackson to Natchez. Mulder didn't have any time to reflect on Mark Twain or even on Walt Whitman. He emptied his clip, reloaded, and fired again until the gun was hot in his hands.
His only thought about the mist that rose at dawn from the Mississippi was that it made for elusive targets.
Hard pressed, Mulder, Skinner, Scully, and the others ran for miles until they were able to rejoin with Doggett, Reyes, and the rest of their people.
Outside of Natchez, in what had been an industrial park, the fighting had been close. Mulder hadn't intended to get ahead of his friends, but he had. One moment, Mulder had felt Walter close at his heels, heard Scully shout in the darkness and the next, he was alone in a small room that was stuffed to the rafters with boxes.
Mulder started to back out, hoping to regain the relative safety of his friend's company, but something came out of a tumble of boxes. Huge, a blur of motion, the shape shifter had been unarmed, but Mulder knew the creature was capable of tearing him limb from limb. He had stumbled backwards, firing his SAW machine gun at the shape shifter. He knew he could not kill it unless he hit the sweet spot on the alien's neck, but as Walter had demonstrated, if you cut the shape shifters to pieces, you generally managed to sever the spine at the same time.
Of course, Walter's trick had never been meant for close quarters.
Mulder kept firing even after the corrosive fumes reached him, burning his eyes with the most intense pain he had experienced short of his trauma blurred memories of his abduction.
Somehow Mulder had reached the relatively safer air of the corridor. He heard Walter and Scully shouting for him and moved toward the voices, stumbling, crying out for help as loudly as he could with his throat closing from the fumes.
Strong hands caught him before he fell. Walter Skinner carried him on his back out of the warehouse with Scully covering them both with a steady stream of fire.
Prompt application of adrenaline kept him alive. Wheezing, blind, and incredibly nauseous, Mulder wasn't sure if his friends had done him a favor by saving him.
They completed the trip to Natchez by boat. Mulder was too sick to do more than lie on the open deck and suffer. Scully was the only doctor and she was kept more than busy with all of the wounded. Walter had stayed with Doggett and Reyes to travel with the land forces, leaving Mulder to suffer alone. Although he usually preferred to be alone when he didn't feel well, he wasn't sure if he liked not being given the choice.
A day later, they arrived at a big field hospital in Natchez. Scully assured Mulder that they were very skilled in caring for his type of injury. That was right after she told him that she was going to rejoin Walter and the others.
Mulder knew he wasn't essential to the forces despite his hyper-attenuated senses that seemed as effective as a bloodhound in sniffing out the aliens in any disguise. He still felt resentful to be left behind like this. He knew he shouldn't feel this way, not with the news that a group of survivors needed help fighting their way to the relative safety of the Resistance forces in Natchez.
Scully's cool kiss on his cheek was cold comfort.
The ward was understaffed. It was bad enough being ill and left behind. It was worse to barely be able to get to the commode, which he had to use because of his nausea and weakness.
Hank Warren, one of his fellow patients, helped Mulder to his feet to shakily slump on the commode.
"It will be better tomorrow when Ezra comes back," the man said.
"Who is this Ezra?" Mulder asked.
"Our nurse. He had to take a couple days off," Warren said. "He's a great guy, always willing to go the extra mile for us."
"I'm surprised they let anyone take leave," Mulder said. "They hardly have enough staff as it is."
"Oh, well, when Ezra took off, we were doing pretty good and I'm pretty sure he had something important to do. Ezra's not the kind of guy who does any slacking," Warren said. "He's a damn good guy. It's just been the last two days since the fighting suddenly turned our way that's it's been like this. I'm getting out soon, back to the motor pool. And this time, I am going to be damn sure my hand is out of the way before I ask someone to start an engine."
"That's a good idea," Mulder said.
Warren helped Mulder back to his bed and said, "Can't believe an important guy like you is stuck with the rest of us. It's a different world, isn't it?"
"Very different," Mulder said. He settled back into bed to ponder the vicissitudes of fame, fortune, and war. He would have felt somewhat more heroic if the ward smelled less like piss...
The next morning, Mulder listened to the renowned Ezra's progress up the ward. There was the noise of curtains being drawn closed, the murmur of voices in the intimacy of patient and nurse. The slosh of water and the slide of cloth against flesh announced itself when the caretaker reached the beds nearest Mulder.
Although he wanted to refuse the services of this modern Walt Whitman, Mulder was aware of how sticky his skin felt. He could smell himself. He smelled of sickness, of fear, and boredom.
As soon as the man reached him, Mulder said, "With a little help, I could take a shower."
A soft laugh, almost familiar...
Then a breathy sounding voice, slightly lisping said, "All right."
Damn, that was wrong! The lisp, the airy syllables contradicted Mulder's expectations. The voice he thought he should have heard from the throat that emitted that laugh was different, a smoky, roughened voice like a male torch singer's. Mulder did not want to think about whose voice he expected. He was lost. He had betrayed Mulder one last, fatal time.
A metal rattle announced the arrival of a wheel chair in need of lubrication.
Hands gripped Mulder's bare arms, helping him to sit. The change in position left him dizzy. He had to grip the nurse's arm hard to keep upright.
"You're sure about this?" the voice asked.
"Yeah, give me a second," Mulder pled.
The hands felt strange. They were equally strong, but the left hand had smoother skin, nearly baby soft. The left arm was slightly smaller than the right. Of course, most people who had a hand preference had small differences between the dominant and less used side. In this unknown man, it was simply more pronounced. That must be the answer...
Or perhaps it was a war injury that had weakened the left arm?
Mulder wondered if the man had been a combatant prior to this healing incarnation.
"Were you with the defense?" Mulder asked.
"Yes, for a while," the man answered. "But I was tired of killing."
"What's your name?"
"Ezra Alcott," the man answered.
"I'm Fox Mulder," Mulder said.
"I know," Alcott said. "I'm honored."
"Bullshit," Mulder replied.
At first, being adulated had felt pretty good after being the FBI's most unwanted for so many years. It hadn't taken long to wear thin. There was no meaning to it. They didn't know him. They didn't understand him. They looked to him like children, hoping for protection and guidance.
And Mulder was just a man. Just a man, fighting for his life like the rest of humanity.
"You don't really understand," Mulder said.
The wispy voice replied, "You don't know what I understand."
His hands were gentle. The right hand was the hand of a soldier. The skin over the trigger finger was roughened. The edges of the hand were hard as if he had fought hand to hand often and over much of his life. There was a deep scar over two of the knuckles.
Defensive wound, Mulder's mind classified. Someone had slashed that hand when this man had been unarmed. It hadn't been attended properly and healed with a crooked drag of skin.
The left hand, as Mulder had noted before, was soft and unmarked.
Mulder concluded after thinking about it that Alcott had injured and aided by an alien healer. So he was most definitely a former soldier.
Moments later, it didn't matter. He helped Mulder out of the hospital gown and onto a shower chair. Losing his balance for a moment, Mulder reached out and grabbed a sturdy shoulder. Alcott braced for him and then steadied him until the dizziness passed.
"I think I better help you," Alcott said.
"All right," Mulder agreed. His body tensed as he heard Alcott turn the water on. The man hummed as he worked, a pleasant throaty sound that made Mulder think his speaking voice was an affectation.
Alcott's touch was firm, but not impersonal. It was nearly tender as a lover's touch.
Mulder wondered what the man looked like, knowing only that he was tall, strong, and that he carried no extra flesh on his lean body.
And he smelled good.
Alcott smelled of a bath and not with hospital soap and he carried with him a scent of outdoors, of grass, and leaves, of a fresh breeze, and of some clean mountain stream. Mulder wanted to pull him close and take a deep draught of him.
"Ezra..." Mulder said. "Ezra..."
But he had no idea what he wanted to say to him.
Ezra patted his shoulder and said, "It's all right, Mulder, it's all right."
And that comforted Mulder although he was not sure why he needed comfort.
The first day, Mulder didn't even think about it. Ezra's voice came out of his personal darkness.
"I could read to you if you like," Ezra said.
"You must be tired," Mulder offered, hoping that Ezra wouldn't agree.
"No, I'm used to long hours," Ezra said. "It will help me wind down."
"What do you have to read?"
"Edgar Allen Poe, collected works," Ezra said, "Did you know that some modern historians believe he was murdered and that he didn't drink himself to death?"
It made Mulder laugh. It was the kind of odd fact Frohike might have printed back in the old days of the Lone Gunmen Newspaper. He said, "I hadn't heard that. Edgar Allen Poe, it is. Murder at Rue Morgue will do nicely."
Losing himself in the book, Ezra's voice became slightly deeper and less breathy although he still sounded as if he had been interrupted mid grapple with a lover. It was not the voice, no doubt, that Poe had envisioned for his tale, but Mulder found it pleasant.
After he finished reading, Ezra said, "They say that Edgar Allen Poe invented the detective story. Certainly, finding the ape's hair and measuring the span of the bruises on the victim's throat, was better detective work than was common for the time. It was always easier to make assumptions than to think."
"I don't think that's your problem," Mulder said gently.
"No, I always think too much," Ezra said. "I've often waited and waited for the right time and, in waiting, I lost my opportunity."
Thinking of someone he might have loved and had lost, Mulder had to agree.
Two days passed. Mulder regained some of his strength, but little of his vision. It scared the hell out of him to lie here, wondering if the dark was permanent.
Ezra was a soothing presence. During the day, Ezra could only spend a few moments here and there with him, but he was off in the evening.
His hand resting on Ezra's arm, Mulder let himself be guided outside. He smelled a sweet, almost overpowering scent. It made him a bit dizzy and he wanted to sit down.
Ezra steadied him and guided him down. "It's magnolia, Mulder. It's late for it to bloom, but the tree is exploding with blossoms."
And the blossoms were falling around them, a slow rainfall of petals.
Mulder thought he would very much like to kiss Ezra. He reached out, found his shoulder, guided his fingers upward to touch a petal on Ezra's cheek. He would have made some excuse if Ezra had pulled back, but the man leaned into his touch.
"Are we alone?" Mulder asked. He couldn't hear anyone else.
"There's a hermit thrust singing in the tree," Ezra said dryly. "You worried about being seen?"
"Not really," Mulder said. "I was thinking that I don't know what you look like."
"You can see me with your hands," Ezra said.
"Can I?" Mulder asked and he took the invitation to explore.
"Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my body as you pass," Ezra said, his voice, jagged with feeling.
"Be not afraid of my body," Mulder finished the quote. "I'm not."
Ezra's face was full of small sharp features. His nose was tiny and there was a dip above. His chin was diminutive and almost recessive. His cheeks were sharp. The line of his jaw was graceful. His eyes were large and framed by long lashes. His brows must have been nearly perfect. They feathered outward and ended where the cheekbones met the hollows of the eye. His ears were finely made and peaked like elf ears.
Mulder thought that Ezra must be a beautiful man. The picture he made from his tactile exploration seemed familiar. It seemed that he knew Ezra, but he could not think how.
A thought came to Mulder's head. He did know Ezra. He shoved it away and kissed.
Ezra's lips opened beneath the pressure of his. His breath quickened in a flattering way. Almost shyly, he let Mulder's tongue inside, let it flicker and tickle its way before Mulder stopped to take a breath. Ezra's hair was soft and thick. It grew in a crooked peak over his forehead. Mulder brushed it back, but it sprang back into place like something wild.
They ended on the thick grass beneath the magnolia tree, kissing and touching until hands slipped into opened pants, coaxing eager flesh to consumption.
Heart and breath racing, Mulder didn't let Ezra pull away. His leg angled over Ezra's hip, pulling him close. He wanted more, but not out here, not that he was afraid of being caught. The world had more serious things to worry about than two men making love. Still, it seemed as if making love to Ezra, claiming him, was a matter for a ceremony, for some private place.
"Tomorrow," Mulder said. "Do you have a place we could go?"
"Yeah," Ezra said. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely sure," Mulder said.
Ezra brought him back to the ward, stopping to wash Mulder and help him change to pajamas. They kissed again, almost chastely, before Mulder returned to his bed.
The taste of his new lover lingered on Mulder's lips. His mind, quicksilver, raced and formed a conclusion, but he did not want to listen to it.
Yet even if what he suspected was true, it was another world. His old life, the old anger and bitterness were dead. Mulder went to sleep, wishing that it was tomorrow.
Dawn was a pinkish gray light seen through a thin slit of eyes. Mulder stealthily reached up to pry his matted eyelashes apart. He could see.
Ezra was already on the job. He worked his way through the ward, helping semi mobile patients to a commode, bringing bedpans to those who were less capable. He worked tirelessly, patient and kind.
"How are you doing today, Mulder?" Ezra asked.
"Same, looking forward to tonight," Mulder said. He tried to only look at Ezra when the man's attention was elsewhere.
"That's good," Ezra said, his cheeks growing rosy with his words. His thick lashes shaded his green eyes. He glanced back at Mulder, a swift, searching gaze. "I have to get back to work. I'll see you later."
Mulder spent the day watching Ezra. He could see traces of the man he once knew, a certain impatient furling of brows when a pompous doctor questioned his work, the swift strong response when a hallucinating patient had to be restrained.
The tenderness he had seen in odd flashes when they had so briefly been partners. The touch of a hand, supportive, almost supplicant, as they worked on a case file. Coffee and food offered to him by his junior partner with such outright sweetness that he could not refuse for once the needs of his body. Yet, now, the man that Mulder had known had lost the uncertainty, the anxious look, and the edge of the hunted that he had seen even when Alex had been pretending to be someone he was not.
And all in all, Alex was now Ezra. Mulder wanted them both. His blindness had allowed him to come close to the man. He had known, but his swollen eyes had allowed him to deny that he knew.
To be true to himself, Mulder should stand and accuse Ezra.
But what would he say?
In the end, the records showed that Alex had been an agent with so many sides that he might as well have been a prism.
Walter had thrown the records down, laughed, and said, "I suppose that the only one that knew where Krycek's loyalty lie was himself."
"He gave us a lot of information," Mulder had replied and his cheek had burned with a remembered kiss.
That was the sum of Alex Krycek, but Ezra was someone both more or less.
There were violet circles around Alex's eyes by the end of the day. He sank wearily down by Mulder's bedside and asked, "You still want to go for a walk?"
"If you're not too tired," Mulder replied.
"I'm tired, but I could use the company," Ezra...Alex said.
And they walked, ending back under the same magnolia tree. A bird, perhaps the same thrush was warbling the cascade of sweet notes into the night.
Ezra turned to face him, stretched in that familiar way, extending his long neck and shrugging his broad shoulders.
Mulder intended to tell him. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The fading light caught the pale stolid face of the alien a moment before he rushed. Mulder shouted and pointed, yelling, "Alex, a shape shifter."
Picador like, Alex pivoted as the creature charged toward them, tripping him. Steel flashed and the alien stiletto sank deep into the aliens neck, killing him.
Alex darted away, dragging Mulder with him.
Panting, the two of them watched from a safe distance as the body disintegrated into green florescent goo.
The show over, Alex asked, "When did you get your sight back?"
"This morning," Mulder admitted.
"And you weren't going to say anything? You were going to make love...have sex with me, pretending you didn't know me?"
"And you were going to let me, thinking I didn't know who you were," Mulder pointed out.
Alex saw the humor in that. He laughed and said, "We're a pretty pair, Mulder."
"Yes, we are," Mulder agreed, extending his hand.
There was a long moment with all the history creating a vast void between them before Alex reached out and took Mulder's hand.
They walked that way, back to Alex's room. They woke that way the next morning, having reached for each other before they woke.
Swelled by an infusion of fresh recruits, they fought their way back from Natchez to Jackson. Everywhere, they stood to fight, Alex was at his right hand and Scully was at his left.
After the fighting, Alex became Ezra again and ministered to the wounded with a gentle, faithful devotion that finally softened even Walter Skinner to him.
Eventually there would be peace. Eventually, there would come a time when they would be the victors. Mulder promised himself now, but for the moment, here was peace within his heart. Here was Alex's hand in his, the scent of magnolia eventually pervading as the scent of creosote and blood settled and the thrush found voice against the murmur of the Mississippi. Here was perfection and life in each momentary respite of war. Here was love.
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