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Towery City by Jessica Harris

Title: Towery City
By: Jessica Harris
Rating: mild NC-17 for m/m situation
Summary: Mulder at Oxford, M/O, a "first time" story.
Disclaimers: All things X-Files belong to Chris Carter and 1013. Profit? Ha! I'm sending him my cyber-cafe tab. John, however, is mine.
Notes: Thanks to Paula for most excellent beta and for being so nice to John. This stands more-or-less alone but there will be follow-up. Apologies to the Brits if I have grossly misrepresented your culture and/or institutions!
Archive: OK, but please let me know.
Feedback: Please. Pleasepleaseplease. Oh please.

Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmed, lark-charmed, rook-racked;
River rounded

Yet ah, this air I gather and I release
He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits . . .

- Slightly misquoted, used entirely without permission, and taken totally out of context from 'Duns Scotus's Oxford', by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Towery City
By Jessica Harris

It was one of those days when the inanimate world seemed to conspire against him. The small gas heater in his room refused even its usual restrained grumble of heat, the damned academic gown he needed for dinner clutched and caught at every sharp corner in reach, and when he finally emerged from his rooms (late, of course) his books slid from his arms with malign determination, intent on the muddy surface of the quad below.

A day of lateness and humiliation and missed appointments, of acerbic notes from his tutor in his mailbox, and now this. More gray, chilling, soaking rain and his bicycle chain slipping from its moorings with a ratcheting clatter that sounded suspiciously like laughter.

He hadn't thought it would be like this. He had had romantic visions of ivy -covered stone towers, of quietly witty conversation, of strolling by the river and watching the punts float by. Oh, the towers were there, the ivy and the river too, but he hadn't imagined the fishy reek of the water, the never-ending chill and damp, the drafty rooms and hallways. He hadn't imagined the exorbitant prices of everything or the narrow gray streets or the fusty smell of a world where plentiful hot water was not the given it was at home.

He hadn't imagined how lonely he'd be. Nothing as noticeable as language separated him here and somehow that made it worse, his struggles with a system he didn't understand, social signals he didn't know how to read. People were civil enough, but it was clear that he didn't quite belong anywhere - not with the sons of sons of sons whose fathers had walked these same halls, not with the scholarship students who wore their poverty like a banner, not even with the other international students who gathered in cosy polyglot groups, comforting each other with the preparation of familiar foods. He was a psychologist, he was supposed to know how these things worked, but he hadn't known how it would make him *feel*, hadn't anticipated the isolation, the hollow ache of homesickness that sat high in his chest.

And now the goddamn bicycle. He wheeled it beside him the last quarter-mile home, soaked to the skin by the time he reached his college. He had been firmly reprimanded for not storing the bike with the others before, but he couldn't face the thought of struggling with the chain in front of everyone, all thumbs and left hands and grease. So he hoisted it to his drenched shoulder and climbed the staircase as fast as he could towards his rooms.

And of course the bike jammed. The handle-bars caught on something, the wheel turned against the wall, and in his rush he didn't notice until the bike twisted on his shoulder and pinned him where he stood, wedged somehow in the turn of the staircase with the door to his rooms tauntingly in sight. He could hear light and rapid footsteps coming down the stairs towards him now and in near-panic he struggled with the bike, pushing and pulling and only wedging it in further, feeling his eyes start to sting with humiliating tears.

The footsteps stopped. Mulder looked up to find a pair of pale blue eyes peering down at him as though he were a flawed equation, a dubious specimen. "You *are* in a fix, aren't you" drawled the other man. Mulder didn't answer, fearing his voice might crack, and simply pulled harder at the bike. Then narrow, long-fingered hands were suddenly maneuvering the front wheel, long slender arms lifting the weight of the bike from him with surprising ease. He squeezed past and found himself jammed awkwardly onto the small landing, crowded now with the three of them, Mulder, bike, and tall blond man.

Mulder recognized him now and his heart sank. He was one of the people on campus who embodied much of what he found alien here, a walking archetype with a narrow, attractively bony face, a perfect fall of school-boy hair over one eye, carelessly appropriate clothing and an accent so refined it was almost comic. Almost. It might have been comic if it hadn't been backed with such power, a deep and quiet assurance that simply ignored all opposition. Now there the archetype stood, holding Mulder's bike, mud and grease on his elegant hands.

"These your digs?" he finally asked, pale eyebrows climbing high forehead. Mulder blinked and fumbled for his keys, clumsily of course, dropping them twice before he got the door open.

The other man followed him inside, leaned the wet bike carefully against the wall, and turned to him. "Well, um, thanks - " began Mulder, then stopped and backed up in confusion as the man walked towards him, walked forward until Mulder was pressed up against the door, until he was pressed up against Mulder. Then he kissed him.

It was like an echo of his homesickness, the feeling that swept through him now, a moment of lost strangeness at the lightly stubbled cheek against his own, at the foreign/familiar smell of another man's body. He had never done this before, never even imagined it, and some part of his mind was screaming that he should protest, resist, that this was wrong. But it didn't feel wrong. It felt - it felt so -

It felt so good. His nipples were hard against wet cloth and wool now, and those long fingers found them, the other man murmuring a vaguely laudatory sound into Mulder's mouth, as though he had correctly answered a question posed to him. The tall man's leg slipped between his own, pressing rhythmically against the cock now hard behind his fly. Then the long clever hands were stripping his wet shirt from him, leaving smears of mud and grease but he didn't care, and a mouth wrapped hot and wet around one nipple while cool gritty fingers twisted the other.

A rustle of movement, a nuzzle, a slight bite through the cloth of his pants and Mulder thrust into it without thought. The man was on his knees now, looking up at him through that perfect hair, a faint flush on pale cheekbones and lips slightly parted. Mulder reached out and touched his hair, feeling strands silky beneath his fingers.

It seemed to be what the other man was waiting for. With one swift gesture he opened Mulder's pants and yanked them half-way down his hips, then curled his hand around Mulder's erection, giving that vague approving murmur again at the drop that appeared already at its tip. He licked it delicately away, then blew softly across the wetness, watching Mulder shudder. Then his mouth was suddenly all over him and Mulder found his hands full of slippery blond hair, fingers knotted in it, holding his head as he thrust hard into his mouth.

Blue Eyes was squeezing himself through his trousers, eyes shut as his whole upper body rocked with Mulder's movements. Then he reached up and with two deft fingers stroked the strip of skin behind Mulder's balls. Mulder's head snapped back, knocking hollowly against his own door, and he came, jetting down the man's throat, feeling hands on his hip-bones controlling his movements.

Then he sagged back, panting, knees weak. He could hear more people coming down the stairs, only inches away from him as they brushed by his door. Hair tousled, the blond man smiled up at him, a languid curling smile that showed no teeth. There was a smear of semen at the corner of his mouth, and Mulder, hands still shaky, wiped it off with his thumb. The man suffered his touch without comment, then rose to his feet, gently but firmly moved Mulder away from the door, and reached for the knob.

"Wait!" said Mulder. The other man paused, eyebrows lifting again enquiringly. "Yes?" he said blandly, as if he had been stopped on the street.

Mulder was flustered. "Well, don't just - I mean - don't you - Who are you?"

The man sighed and ran a hand through his hair, miraculously returning it to its usual languid perfection. "John. I'm John. You've seen me around campus and *please* don't tell me you want to cuddle. Damned sentimental, you Americans."

Mulder was suddenly aware that he was still three quarters naked. Hastily he pulled up his pants, tucking himself back into them. "But" he tried again "don't you want - " his mind went blank as he struggled to think exactly what it was he was offering. What was the etiquette in entertaining the Englishman who had just sucked your cock? " - a cup of tea or something?"

John stared at him incredulously for a moment and then suddenly, startlingly, burst into laughter. Mulder felt himself go red, felt his eyes start to sting again but then the absurdity of it struck him and in a moment he was laughing too. When they had quieted a little he said "Sorry. That was stupid. It's just that I've never done this before." John looked at him oddly again. "No-one's ever played your flute for you?"

"No! - I mean - yes, just never - never another man." He thought he saw a softer light in the pale blue eyes at that, but all John said was 'With that arse? You can't have gone to the same schools that I did."

"No" said Mulder, a little sourly now. "I didn't." He didn't need to be reminded.

John hooted. "Finding it a little chilly here, are you? Don't worry. It takes us a while to warm up. By the time you're a full Don people may just start calling you by your first name. And by the way, what is your name?"

"Fox" he said. "Fox Mulder. Call me Mulder"

"Alright, Mulder" John finally moved away from the door. "I will not permit you to attempt tea. But coffee would be lovely, if you have it" he cast a look at the book and paper strewn study "and can unearth it".

He stayed for about half an hour. Coffee made, Mulder settled himself on the floor next to where John sat in the room's single chair. There was a moment of awkward silence, and Mulder's mind, overwhelmed so far by the events of the day, began creakingly to function again. Hesitantly he placed his hand on the other man's thigh. "Do you want me to . . . " he asked.

"No". The grip that stopped his wrist was the same one that had lifted his soaked and muddy bike so effortlessly. "No" said John again. "I'm fine. Just talk to me. Why are you at Oxford?"

He spoke little himself. By the time he left, Mulder had gotten only three things out of him; his last name, which was Brindleigh; his opinion of the college, which was low; and a promise to come back, which left Mulder in a state both hopeful and confused.




Title: Towery City II
By: Jessica Harris
Rating NC/17 for M/M stuff. If you don't like it, begone!
Summary: M/O, Mulder at Oxford. John makes his promised return. This will make much more sense if you've read Towery City I.
Disclaimer: I'm just borrowing Mulder and Oxford from their owners but John is all mine.
Notes: Thanks to Spike and Paula for beta and good stuff like that.
Feedback: I live in constant breathless hope.

Towery City II
Jessica Harris

//Heat thawing chill and the unexpected press of a body against his own... a stubble-brushed kiss, a rustling slide down his torso, rapid breath against his navel and //

"Mr. Mulder!"

Mulder snapped back to the present, abruptly aware this wasn't the first time his tutor had called his name.

"Are you sure you're quite alright?" asked the old man, both exasperation and concern in his voice. "You're dreadfully flushed, and I don't think you've heard a word I've been saying."

Mulder flushed deeper, glad for once of the chilly weather. The sweater he was wearing helped to camouflage the real cause of his distraction.

"Sorry, sir," he said, and, with a mental sigh, decided he might as well give up on higher education for the day. "But actually I'm not feeling very well," and his tutor rapidly shooed him from the room.

The cold outside and the brisk pace it spurred him to calmed Mulder's body, but not the agitation in his mind. Burrowing his chin into his collar, he hurried back to his rooms. It was midafternoon, but the sun was already low in the sky, pale shafts of light fading wanly into the shadows of old stone. His college was in sight now, and he tried to quell the rush of slightly queasy expectation that rose in his stomach. It had been more than a week. Maybe tonight ...

He had felt dazed and unfocussed after John left, had pottered aimlessly around his rooms for hours until sheer exhaustion drove him to bed. He had slept obliviously for a few hours, only to wake with a sudden panicked jolt at the thought of what had happened. The next few days were a blur, details lost beneath a haze of anxiety. He might never have imagined another man's hands on his body before, but now it seemed he could think of nothing else, and he was disturbed by the impact it seemed to have had on him. It had happened so easily, felt so *right*. He had always vaguely assumed that some day he'd marry, have children. Now he wondered anxiously what his future might look like.

As days went by, though, the anxiety began to lift a little and with it, magically, went some of his homesickness. He started to feel a certain fledgling sense of freedom in his rootlessness here, in the way he didn't quite belong. He had no place to lose here, no parents or peers or any of the things that usually told him who he could be, what he should want. His vaguely imagined future was distant still and for now he was free to be someone new and different. And if that someone wanted a certain tall blond man ...

For his libido seemed to have decided that was precisely what he wanted. The least reminder of John transformed his body into some strange new craft over which he had only the most imperfect control. His cock would swell helplessly, his hands shake and his feet wander heedlessly off-course at the merest sight of a head of fair hair across the quad, the sound of a certain accent.

Even the act of unlocking his own door had become impossibly erotic, accompanied now as it was by images of John standing so close on the landing; of what had followed when the door had shut behind them.

Home now, he climbed the last stairs to his door. Heat swept through him as he fished for his keys

//hair slippery in his hands, the touch of a tongue to the tip of his cock//

and they fell to the floor from his suddenly nerveless hand. "Shit" he muttered, and laid his hot forehead against the cool wood of the doorframe, despairing of his own recalcitrant body.

"Surely it can't be *that* difficult," said a sudden voice at his ear, and he opened his eyes to see John's long body stooping to pick the keys up from the floor.

All the things Mulder had rehearsed or imagined saying vanished from his mind. He had played this scene out in his imagination dozens of times in the past week, moving gradually from a polite but definite rejection to heated and elaborate fantasies that eventually foundered on the rocks of his own inexperience. He didn't know *what* to expect. Now, faced with the reality of the man in front of him, all he could do was stare, made shy again by the patrician angles of John's face, his carelessly perfect clothes.

John pressed the keys into his hand and the pressure of his fingers promptly made Mulder drop them again. With a theatrical sigh the blue-eyed man bent after them once more, fitting key into lock himself this time. "These things are a challenge to you, aren't they?" he observed, as he steered Mulder towards the door before him. Mulder turned and backed into the room, watching John watch him. John raised his eyebrows at the bike that leaned, still crippled, against the wall, and tidily hung his jacket on the unused hooks by the door. Then he moved towards Mulder, who stood frozen by his desk.

"Look at you," he said "Such wide frightened eyes."

Long-fingered hands swept the hair back from his face, and Mulder realized that he hadn't blinked since John first spoke.

"You needn't worry, I'm no ogre,"

The hands cupped the back of his head, thumbs swept his cheekbones, and Mulder, dizzy, wondered if he had drawn a breath either.

"I do bite, but very selectively."

Hands stroked the nape of his neck, ran down his back, brought him closer.

"Tell me to stop if that's what you want. You're shaking."

And he was, trembling like a leaf at John's touch, acutely aware of the press of lean ribs against his own, the bulge at the other man's crotch as he pulled him in against his hips. Language seemed a long way away but-

"D-don't stop..."

- he managed to husk out, gasping raggedly as hands caressed his ass. John rubbed his cheek against Mulder's, murmured -

"Steady. . .steady"

- against the corner of his mouth, and Mulder opened his lips to the words eagerly, not distracted this time by amazement or disbelief, taking in the taste and feel of the other man. His skin where John had passed his hands over it was still tingling, and he was being kissed with such intense concentration that it left him breathless and he pulled away.

John let him go. Mulder looked at him for a long moment, then took a deep breath and asked -

"Can we at least try to make it to the bedroom this time?"

- and John laughed, a low delighted sound that made Mulder feel at once pleased and bashful.

There, in his tiny bedroom, with its single bed and narrow window, he undressed John for the first time, marvelling at the feel of him beneath his hands, at their sameness and their difference. John was taller but more finely built, his skin pink and white to Mulder's warmer tones, his whole body elegant somehow, right down to the shameless jut of his cock. Beneath the slenderness, though, he was surprisingly strong, his arms lean and wiry, the muscles in his thighs and buttocks powerful.

"I ride," John said when he commented on it, "my family keeps horses," and for a moment Mulder felt the distance between them again, the reality of their different worlds.

It didn't last for long, though, couldn't last, not with John's mouth on his nipples, not with the weight of his body rolled against him, not as they discovered this new territory they built between them, a place where both were foreign and both there by right.

John took his time, worked his way slowly down Mulder's body with his mouth, pausing now and then to take the younger man's cock in hand and stroke it gently a few times until Mulder sighed and moaned. Then he'd return to his explorations, licking slow circles around his nipples, tracing a trail down his stomach. Cool hands stroked Mulder's thighs and


Mulder gasped out, arching up into warm breath and velvet wetness, John's mouth sliding on his cock in a way that made him bite his own lip to keep from screaming.

John's lips withdrew for a moment and Mulder looked down to see him suck two fingers into his mouth. Then as wet heat returned to his cock, Mulder felt a finger push its way into him. It hurt, but beneath the pain was electricity, and he moved away from it and back into it and away and back again, until he was simply moving, fucking himself on John's fingers, body singing with new sensation.

He couldn't seem to catch his breath and the walls were beginning to spin around him, his vision paling at the edges as sweat dripped wet down his ribs. He grabbed at the sheets beneath him but it didn't stop the yaw and pitch of the room and in sudden panic he summoned what little voice he could and gasped

"No - I can't!", not even knowing what it was he couldn't.

John seemed to understand, though, released his cock, stilled the fingers inside him, and slid up his body, one arm wrapping tight around him, feeding Mulder small kisses as he murmured reassurances, whispering

"Breathe, breathe, you're fine,"

in his ear as he began to stroke his fingers against the younger man's prostate again, gradually speeding his movements until Mulder's whole body was sliding against him, cock against belly, and Mulder heard himself giving the kind of loud and unashamed cries he had only ever heard through other people's walls.

Then John's words faded to incomprehensibility in his ears and he was falling, plummeting, until with a final cry he came and John caught him as he tumbled back into his body, caught him and held him tight until Mulder's breathing slowed and he opened his eyes and said "Oh!"

John laughed again, that quietly pleased sound. Already Mulder was finding that laugh dangerously addictive.

He stretched languourously against John's body and noticed that the other man was still hard. Half-hesitantly he ran his hand over John's chest, down his side, absorbing the faint declivity of waist, angle of hip, the muscled groove on the outside of his thigh. Growing bolder, he touched John's slick belly, slid fingers through his own semen and then, for the first time in his life, took hold of another man's cock.

John let him feel its hardness and slight curve, its heat and pulse and weight in his hand, let him lightly trace the thick vein to its wet tip. Then suddenly he rolled on top of Mulder, grabbing his wrists and pinning them above his head. He freed one hand and to Mulder's surprise started to tickle him, until Mulder was convulsed with laughter. "I give up!" he finally cried, and John released him and rolled away.

"So much for your hearty frontiersman stock," he sniffed, but there was laughter in his voice as well. "Now I'm afraid I really must go. I had no idea I'd be here this long, and I have a lecture to go to." He started to rise but Mulder pulled him back. He felt awkward but there was something he had to know.

"That first time - why did you kiss me?" he asked.

"I wanted to," John yawned.

"No," Mulder felt young and naive but he wasn't going to let this go. "I mean, how did you know that it would be - OK, you know, that I would respond?"

John looked at Mulder silently for so long that Mulder began to think that he wouldn't get an answer. Finally the older man ran his fingers through his own hair and said, a hint of frost in his clear tones, "Worried that you look like a poof? Well, don't be. You don't seem particularly nellie. But I've found that, given the chance, few men actually *object* to orgasm, regardless of who administers it."

Mulder flinched, and John looked at him more closely, then touched his cheek. "But no, I'm sorry, that wasn't really your question, was it? You want to know if it was you or me - if the sight of *you* dripping wet and covered in bicycle grease moved me to a state of uncontrollable passion, or if *I* regularly kiss strange boys." He paused.

"Well, I wish I could say it was your charms that filled me with ungovernable lust. I'm afraid, though, that kissing strange boys is something I'm rather in the habit of doing."

His tone was kind but distant and Mulder gaped at him, not knowing how to react. John watched him again for a moment, then stroked his shoulder and said in a softer voice "Not that I'm denying your considerable charms. If it makes you feel any better, I usually limit myself to *strange* boys. I don't often come back for further acquaintance." He looked away for a second, then rose from the bed.

Mulder sat up against the headboard, blankets bunched around him, and watched the older man move about his room. Hurt prowled the edges of his feelings, and he was afraid now to ask what came next, so he watched John's preparations in silence. Once fully dressed, John came and sat on the edge of the bed, not touching him.

"Shall I come back again then?" he asked. Still slightly stung, Mulder felt a refusal form on the tip of his tongue, but at the last moment he stopped himself. *Did* he want John to come back, with all the complications that entailed? The Fox Mulder he was at home would have refused, but... he felt that small new sense of freedom stir in him again. If his body was a strange new craft, well, why not trust in the currents that carried it? Why not let it take him where it may, on whatever unimagined adventure this might turn out to be.

John, still watching him, ran his hand once more through his hair. It was a gesture Mulder was beginning to recognize, a way of ordering his thoughts. Before Mulder could speak he added "Because, if you'll let me, I'd like to."

Mulder couldn't help the small grin that spread across his face. "Fine then," he said, "If you want to, this strange boy would be happy to see you."

* * *

Exam time. Ramparts of books flanked Mulder's small desk, great teetering stacks of texts and notebooks. Drifting heaps of paper and still more books spilled out into the rest of the room, leaving only precarious pathways from door to desk, desk to hot-plate and tiny bedroom.

Even the chair held books, texts open to key passages and scribbled with notes. Mulder perched awkwardly on the edge of one of the wooden crates that served him as impromptu book-shelves. His brain felt like sawdust, his eyes were dry and gritty, and he was beginning to think his head might actually explode if he had to read one more word. When familiar foot-steps sounded on the stairs outside he shut his book with relief. Before John could knock he called out "It's open!" and a pair of blue eyes peered cautiously around the door.

"The state of this place boggles the mind," said John as he edged his way into the room. "I'm afraid some day I'll have to send the hounds in after you."

He scooped the pile of books from the chair, sat down, and cautiously added the displaced books to the nearest heap. The top text slipped and he caught it in one hand, looked at the cover, then flipped it open.

Mulder watched him read. He knew no-one else who made reading into a spectator sport, but John was so instantly absorbed in whatever he picked up, his reactions written on his face so clearly, that Mulder sometimes thought he learned more about the books by watching John read than from any of the lectures he attended.

This book was clearly a disappointment. John's narrow upper lip curled and his pale eyebrows rose higher and higher on his forehead until they were half-obscured beneath his hair. Finally he snapped the book disdainfully shut and demanded

"How can you read this nonsense? It's nothing but impenetrable humbug. I think you'd learn more about the human mind by studying history for a year, or even spending the summer reading novels. Not modern ones -they're infected by this same pernicious claptrap - but a couple of good thick three-volume nineteenth century novels."

"Snob!" said Mulder without rancour, and rescued his book from John's hand. Had he reviewed that one yet? He couldn't even remember.

"Besides, you know that's not true. I mean, yeah, good novelists are good psychologists, but novels are too specific to their time, and their insights are only approximate, intuitive. And history can only tell you the finished story. Psychology is more of a science - with the right tools we can trace patterns and formulate rules, we can *predict* how someone will act, or what different kinds of environments will lead to."

John waved his hand dismissively. "People aren't a science, Mulder. They're an art. All your tools and systems are just reductive, and you can't hide that by coining some ridiculous hermetic code, incomprehensible to anyone but the bespectacled goddess of psychology's earnest and badly dressed acolytes." He tugged pointedly at Mulder's frayed sweatpants, drawing them dangerously low on his hips.

"They're *not* reductive. They're part of a method. And I'm *not* earnest. And as for badly dressed, this is what you get when you come calling during exam time. Anyway, how would you know? Around you I seem to spend most of my time *un*dressed."

John leaned forward and licked Mulder's exposed hip-bone, caught at the waistband of his pants with his teeth. "Granted. But at least with me you're *well* undressed, undressed with some style and flair," he argued, trying to pull Mulder into his lap.

Mulder twisted out of his grasp, nearly losing his pants in the process. "Speaking of exams," he said "don't you have *work* to do, John?"

John slumped back in the chair, looking haughty. "Oh, *work*. I'd rather have sex with you. Did I ever tell you about my Great-uncle Simon's will?"

"I can only hope there's no connection between those last two sentences" said Mulder dryly.

"Psychology," John explained. "Everyone hated him, but he controlled the family purse-strings, so they couldn't let on. He knew, though, and knew exactly how everyone would react to his death. He left them all the most devastatingly appropriate bequests - his accountant's visor to his most money-hungry sister, his whole library but nothing else to my grandfather, who kept saying he needed money for books when everyone knew full well that he spent most of his school-years in the gambling parlours. And for that he didn't need to know -" he flipped open another text and read from it at random, "a 'pathological anal fixation' from a hole in the ground."

"Maybe not the happiest of comparisons," mused Mulder aloud as he let John draw him close again. "And that was family, he'd know them. With a good enough understanding of psychology you should be able to construct a picture of someone you've never met, just from looking at their patterns of behaviour."

"You're sexy when you're earnest," said John indistinctly into his navel.

"And *you* shouldn't talk about fixation!" Mulder replied, and gave up the battle for his sweatpants.

* * *

They talked like this a lot, discussing what they were studying, their opinions of the world. John was unpredictable: arrogant and elitist about some things, startlingly radical about others, with a certain weakness for underdog causes that Mulder hadn't expected of someone with his background. Whatever his opinions, though, they were never trite and he argued them with passion.

With passion, and with the annoying habit of calling on an inexhaustible supply of stories about his distant ancestors to back them up. One crabby afternoon Mulder had accused him of making the stories up. John, still sprawled naked on the bed, had assumed an expression of wounded shock.

"Never!" he had exclaimed. "They're gospel truth, every one of them. Cross my heart!" His finger had traced a languid cross over his left nipple.

"That's not where your heart is," Mulder had snapped, but John's finger was continuing its movement, circling the nipple now, sliding down his chest, and Mulder had forgotten to be irritated as he watched its progress, his mouth suddenly dry. This was how their arguments usually ended, debate lost to desire.

They talked about ideas a lot, but in other ways their affair was strangely insular. Mulder had never even seen John's rooms. He had asked once, but the other man had said soberly "It wouldn't be wise. I share with my cousin."

It seemed a poor excuse. They hadn't put a name to their relationship, and Mulder, at least, had told no one, but it seemed that everyone at the college knew. And while they didn't go out much, John was unconcernedly affectionate when they did, throwing an arm across Mulder's shoulders, or letting a hand rest on the back of his neck. It rendered Mulder both proud and intensely nervous, this behaviour in public, and he couldn't help but find John's skittishness over his cousin odd.

But then he hadn't met the cousin. In fact, while he knew any number of random facts about great-great grandfathers and distant aunts, he knew almost nothing about John's immediate family. John ducked or diverted direct questions, and the few things he did let fall were couched in such dramatic terms that Mulder didn't know what to believe.

"I'm the wastrel youngest son," John had once remarked. "It's my brother Freddie who fills the family coffers."

"And your other brothers?" Mulder had asked.

John had gone very still. "What makes you think I have other brothers?"

"You said young*est*, not young*er*," explained Mulder. "And you specified - "my brother *Freddie*, as opposed to your brother *Archibald* or Benedict or whoever. I just assumed."

"You psychologists are worse than lawyers," John had grumbled, then changed the subject.

Mulder didn't feel he could press too hard. After all, he hadn't mentioned Samantha, or his remote father, or his mother's distant sedated drift through his life. It never seemed like the right time, and it all sounded too bizarre. He had to admit as well that it was nice to pretend, however briefly, that everything had been different, that he had a loving apple-cheeked all-American family at home.

But John's silence on the subject did pique his curiousity. He had ventured a few cautious questions to class-mates, only to be answered with polite murmurings that graciously imparted as little information as possible. He didn't know how to read this, if it was class loyalty or something to do with John specifically. He was still unsure of what here was cultural difference and what personal idiosyncracy.

Nor was it the only thing he was unsure of, or the only signals he didn't know how to read.

They spent a lot of time in bed, he and John. John was sweet and ardent and joyously affectionate, seemed happy to roll about for hours, hands and mouth on Mulder's body, growing more and more flushed and sweaty and glassy-eyed, but the moment that Mulder touched him too long, the minute that his breathing grew too ragged or his hips arched with too much need, he would stop Mulder and pull away. He didn't leave, at least not right away, but he would distract the younger man with something like that first strange bout of tickling, or redirect his own attentions to Mulder's body, reducing him to such exhausted satiety that he could do nothing but fall asleep, John's cock still hard against his ass or belly.

"That can't be good for you!" Mulder had said to him. John had answered with something flip about keeping a stiff upper lip, but the hand that stopped Mulder's again and again was deadly serious.

Mulder didn't know how else to raise the question without venturing into territory he didn't want to explore too deeply. So his questions remained unspoken and he held tight to his original image of what this meant to him: his body a new vessel; a trip into adventure; a chance to be someone he could never be at home.

For if this was only an adventure none of the little things mattered. It didn't matter that John wouldn't bring him home, or talk about his family, or introduce him to his friends. If it was all a simple experiment then it couldn't hurt to have his touch rejected time and time again, to have John inevitably roll away and climb from the bed and never once stay the night.

* * *

And now John removed the study notes from Mulder's hand and, with a nudge of his head against Mulder's belly, imperiously commanded "Bed!"

Forgetting the state of the room, Mulder stepped backwards, dislodging an avalanche of papers and books that tumbled painfully onto his bare feet.

"Ow!" he yelped, and hopped away, setting another stack wobbling ominously. John's mouth twitched with restrained laughter, but he deftly caught Mulder's arm, steadying him, then grabbed the teetering heap of papers so only the top layer joined the general chaos on the floor.

Mulder let himself lean into John's steadying presence shamelessly, enjoying the feel of him, even the laughter that now openly vibrated his frame. Then he felt John's focus shift, and followed his gaze to the papers on the floor.

The avalanche had included some of his personal papers. There on the floor lay his picture of himself and Samantha, her arm trustingly around his waist, as well as a few yellowed newspaper clippings from the time. "Bizarre Disappearance" read one, and "Local girl still missing" the other. Mulder felt his stomach clench nervously.

"That's you?" asked John. Mulder nodded.

"And - your sister? She looks like you."

Another nod. John watched Mulder, an odd look on his face.

"And she - "

"Disappeared," said Mulder flatly. "When I was twelve. She was eight. I was there that night, I was supposed to be watching her. I can't remember what happened and she was never found."

Without moving an inch, John seemed to retreat to a great distance. Then he nodded, a strange slow considering nod that bent his head heavily and kept it bowed for long seconds. Then he pulled Mulder's face to him and kissed his forehead, an oddly chaste and ceremonial kiss, given what his hands then began to do to his body.

That night John stayed. Mulder felt him settle closer next to him, instead of beginning his usual retreat, and wondered bemusedly what was going on. John hadn't asked anything further about Samantha, but their love-making that evening had been different; more intent, more serious, and conducted in uncharacteristic silence.

John shifted, and Mulder felt the now-familiar pressure against his stomach. If John was really staying, he thought, maybe some other rules were ripe for breaking too...

His head was nestled against John's shoulder and he licked his neck, tasting salt sweat and feeling a still-rapid pulse against his lips. He slid a hand between them and stroked John's smooth chest, strumming a thumb against his nipple. John sighed, and let Mulder nudge a knee between his thighs.

He followed his hand with his mouth, nub of flesh hard between his teeth, gradually allowing his straying hand to wander its way down John's stomach, a little hesitantly now, awaiting refusal.

The blond man's breathing was growing harsher now, deeper, and Mulder trailed finger-tips along his hip-bone, breathing heavily himself and finding it suddenly difficult to swallow. Then there was curling hair beneath his fingers and John was trembling, calling an answering tremor from Mulder's reaching hand, and then oh christ that warm blunt satin weight in his palm and still no protest, still no hand stopping his own.

Mulder ran a thumb across the crown of John's cock and John rolled flat on his back. Mulder followed, cupped the socket of his palm over the wet tip of the other man's shaft, John's gasp running through his nerves like fire.

Palm slick, he began to stroke in earnest now, light and testing strokes at first then harder, faster. John's body rose and fell beneath his hands in a complex shift and pull, arms reaching out towards the edges of the bed, head arched back, toes curling as his whole torso arched with terrible focussed urgency up towards Mulder's fist, as if he were being pulled apart and drawn together all at once. His laboured breathing gained voice now, edged with near-moan on the exhale, and sweat beaded on his body as he moved faster and more raggedly. Mulder heard his own voice fragment in his throat. He hadn't realized how intense he would find this, drawing this response from John the way John so expertly did from Mulder's own body.

He tightened his grip a little, changed his speed, and John cried out, bucking sharply. He was gorgeous like this, all pink and gold and thin blue traceries of vein, pink and gold and blue like some debauched baroque angel, a cherub grown up lean and smooth and impossibly sexy. He let out another wordless cry and Mulder felt his own balls tighten just at the sound of it.

But now, even as his cock pulsed and thickened in Mulder' s grip, John reached up and grabbed his wrist, stilling his hand.

"No!" shouted Mulder, hurt and disappointed and incredulous. "Jesus Christ, John, why won't you let me *do* this?"

A moment of silence and then John panted "I'm sorry - it's not you - I just - I can't - oh *fuck*!" and with one hand he pulled Mulder's head towards him for a kiss while the other guided Mulder's hand back to motion on his still hard cock.

Some last thing seemed to have given way in him and a rising cry of "ah, ah, ah," spilled from his mouth as his body arched, tensed and tensed further, writhed and writhed higher beneath Mulders' touch until he went rigid. Then with a strange torn shout he came, pulse after pulse of milky fluid shooting over Mulder's fist, over both their chests and bellies, until his body sagged bonelessly and he lay still.

Lay so still for so long that Mulder began to grow anxious and shook him. "John?" he said "John? Are you all right?"

Slowly John opened his eyes. They had gone the most intense blue Mulder had ever seen them and the expression in them made him flinch back involuntarily. All their patrician assurance was gone and they held fear and longing and desperation and a kind of blitzed dreaming distance that Mulder shied away from as if it were open flame. "It's like dying," said John in a roughened voice "it's gorgeous and final and every time I'm more afraid I won't come back."

Mulder could think of absolutely no response. This was the kind of thing he was supposed to be learning to deal with, to analyse and understand. Suddenly, though, his months of careful study seemed a thin and shaky surface over the depths of misery and damage he saw in John's eyes, all tidy systems of diagnosis and treatment leaving no room for what he felt at the sight of this, such unguessed-at twisted pain in the eyes of this man who he loved.

And the thought wound so easily through his mind that it was a moment before he realized what he had just admitted to himself. This was more than an adventure or simple diversion. Somehow this infuriating, sweet, arrogant and mysterious man had found a place in his heart.

Trying to still a flutter of panic in his gut, he stroked John's chest. His skin was chill to the touch and Mulder, not wanting to leave him, fished for a T-shirt beside the bed and carefully wiped them both clean of sweat and semen. Then he pulled John's body against him.

The blond head settled on his chest. "I want to hear your heart beat," said John and Mulder held him even tighter. He was in way over his head here, swept along a course he had no idea how to navigate, but at least he could provide this, a heart-beat and pair of arms. "Can you tell me about it?" he asked gently and John shook his head.

Just before they both dropped off to sleep, though, he murmured quietly against Mulder's face "You were right. I did have another brother."

end part II



Sent: Tuesday, August 17, 1999 6:21 PM
Title: Towery City III
By: Jessica Harris
Summary: M/O, Mulder at Oxford. Mulder learns something about John's past. This will make no sense if you haven't read parts I & II, so I'm reposting them. NC-17ish.
Disclaimer: John and his family are mine. I also own an ancient VCR, a 1993 edition of the OED, and roughly 20 pairs of shoes. But that's about it, really.
Notes: Thanks to Quercus and Nonie for guidance and help and general all-round beta-type activities. And to Spike for being encouraging even though she was busy <g>. Everyone should go read their work too!
Feedback: Please!

Towery City III
Jessica Harris

A thin ray of watery sunshine woke Mulder from uneasy dreams. He rolled over into the surprise of a warm body beside him, and opened his eyes to find John propped above him on one elbow, watching him sleep.

"Hi," said Mulder, blinking up at him.

"Good morning," said John with a crooked smile, and kept watching him. His eyes this morning were hooded and unreadable, still echoing with last night's distance, and Mulder felt suddenly shy. They looked at each other quietly for a few heartbeats until Mulder caught sight of the clock over John's shoulder and bolted upright in a panic.

"Shit - I have a lecture in ten minutes! And you should already be at yours! Why didn't you wake me up?

John shrugged one shoulder. "I didn't notice the time." He made no move to leave the bed as Mulder leapt to his feet and started grabbing clothes from the floor.

"John, I *have* to go to this lecture, it's the last one before my exam. And you shouldn't be missing yours either, you know."

John shrugged again but let Mulder pull him upright. His movements were slow and uncoordinated and his face looked strangely rumpled, but Mulder pushed worry to the back of his mind and chivvied John into his clothes and out the door with him. They were going in opposite directions from the quad, and Mulder, glancing swiftly around, risked a quick kiss to the corner of John's mouth. "I'm sorry -" he started, "but I really can't -"

John caught his face and kissed him soundly, then smiled as Mulder blushed. "Run along," he said. "You'll be late."

Face burning, Mulder took off at a run for the lecture hall. When he cast a look back over his shoulder, he saw that John was still standing in the middle of the quad, looking up into the sky.

* * *

He fell into the routine of note-taking with a certain relief, finding comfort in its familiarity after last night's strangeness. As he left the lecture hall, though, a girl tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Someone was looking for you earlier. Tall man, fair-haired," and his uneasiness flooded back.

It had to be John, he thought. Maybe he should have skipped his class after all, tried to get him to talk about what had happened. He felt a sudden pang of guilt at how relieved he had felt to get away. He set off quickly through the cloistered walks, anxiously scanning the crowds of students for the sight of John's tall form. When a hand suddenly grabbed his shoulder from behind, he nearly jumped out of his skin, and whirled around to find himself looking into a pair of angry dark brown eyes above vaguely familiar cheek-bones.

"Fox Mulder?" the stranger drawled, managing to sound at once accusatory and incredulous.

"Yes," said Mulder, suddenly conscious of his unshaven face and the random assortment of clothing he had snatched from the floor this morning. "Who are you?"

"John wasn't at his lecture this morning," the man continued brusquely, and a thin thread of anger began to work its way through Mulder's discomfiture.

"What business is it of yours?"

Once again the man ignored his question. "Where is he?" he asked, and ran a hand through his hair. At this gesture Mulder suddenly realised who this must be - John's cousin. Who wasn't supposed to know about him. Who obviously knew *something*.

"He - um - he was in the quad at about 9:30," said Mulder awkwardly. The man shot him a last unpleasant glance and hurried off, leaving Mulder shaken, angry and confused. He rubbed at his suddenly tense neck, wincing as his fingers hit a tender bitten spot, and sudden embarrassment was added to his welter of emotions as he realised just how altogether debauched he must look. He felt himself blushing furiously even as the cousin walked away. What he was feeling was too new and raw to examine too closely himself, let alone expose to the contemptuous eyes of this angry man with John's cheekbones. He felt suddenly, terribly, adrift and exposed here in the swirling crowds of students, and he hunched his shoulders and hurried rapidly away.

* * *

Afternoon had begun to fade into evening when the knock finally sounded at his door, and Mulder opened it so fast that John jumped back, his hand still poised awkwardly in the air. Mulder had been waiting here since his last class, expecting John to appear, growing first worried and then irritated when he didn't.

He stared at John sulkily. John looked freshly-shaven, his hair shone, and his clothes were even more perfect than usual. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, though, and he shifted nervously from foot to foot as he hovered in the doorway.

"You can come in, you know," said Mulder impatiently.

"Come for a walk with me?" said John.

"A walk?" Mulder looked him up and down. "What is this, the first date we never had or something?"

A group of people from the floor above came clattering down the stairs, eyeing them curiously in the doorway, John in camel-hair and cashmere, Mulder in his sweatpants.

"Please?" said John, ignoring them, and there was a tightness in his voice that made Mulder take pity.

"Alright," he said, "But I have to get dressed first. So you might as well come in."

John came in, but kept his coat on and stood just inside the door as Mulder pulled on jeans and a sweater. Mulder felt cold tension creep through him at John's nervousness and silence.

Mouth dry, he grabbed his jacket and shrugged into it as they walked silently down the stairs and across the quad, John's long legs leading them towards the river-bank.

The dank river smell was heavy this time of day, eddying around them with the mist that rose from its surface. Mulder kept silent, waiting for whatever John had to say. "Did you get to your lecture on time?" John finally asked, tone polite.

Mulder gritted his teeth. "No. No, I didn't. And after the lecture some asshole wearing your cheekbones grabbed me and practically accused me of abducting you."

John shoved his hands in his pocket and hunched his shoulders, walked faster. "I'm sorry, Mulder. He had no right to do that. I'll speak to him. My family tends to be rather - "

The statement petered out and he fell silent again. Mulder waited for a moment, then snapped at him. "Yes, please *tell* me what is it about your family, John? You obviously have some kind of a problem with them. You say it's because of your cousin that I can't come home with you, but he obviously knows about me. And you're full of impossible anecdotes about distant aunts-by-marriage right back to the time of Charlemagne, but I don't even know your parent's names or how many siblings you have, and you change the subject any time anything even remotely close is mentioned. And your brother - your *brothers* - what do they have to do with, well, with us? Why did you finally," and his voice in his own ears sounded suddenly young and unsure, his ill-temper falling away, "finally let me make, you know, really make love to you? And what - what *happened* last night, John? I didn't know what to do for you. You scared me."

John had walked faster and faster as Mulder spoke until he strode a good two yards ahead of him. Now he threw words back over his shoulder, his voice haughty. "Oh, my *family*," he said, "Is that what you want to know? Well, back in the time of William the Conqueror, an officer of the name Brantleigh performed invaluable services for his king, and was rewarded with the title to - "

"John!" said Mulder, protesting. "you know that's not what I mean - "

"The family seat that he built on those lands still stands, although it's been added onto extensively - "

"JOHN! Stop it! All I want to know is what's going on - "

But John continued, a flood of names and dates and genealogical details, maiden names and marriages and the ebb and flow of finance and property, his gaze fixed blindly in front of him. Mulder finally ran up on the side of the path, leapt down in front of him, grabbed him by the lapels and shouted "Stop it!"

His shout was loud enough to echo off the opposite bank and John stopped abruptly, as though he had been switched off. He turned his head away and stared over Mulder's shoulder towards the river, his breathing as laboured as if he'd been running. One of the rowing team's sculls flashed by, hurrying back to the boathouse before the last light of day vanished.

"My brother rowed," said John conversationally. Mulder stared at him warily, not trusting this abrupt switch in mood.

"My brother Simon, that is. And he sailed. Was a superb rider, too. First batman on the cricket team. Prefect of his form at school. We worshipped him, Freddie and I. Like a god."

Mulder nodded cautiously, not wanting to interrupt this sudden stream of reminiscence. He made to loosen his grip on John's lapels, but John wrapped his hands around Mulder's fists and held them there, knotted in his coat.

"You know how certain people just effortlessly inspire love? Simon was like that. Our parents doted on him, and Freddie and I used to compete absolutely *bitterly* for his attention. Freddie once locked me in the cellar for a whole day just so that he could go with the driver to meet Simon's train alone.

"We didn't get to see that much of him, usually. He was a fair bit older, and he was often away at school or visiting one friend whose parents had a summer house the next county over. But when he did pay attention to us - he had a kind of gift, you know, he was remarkably perceptive about people. He bought me books before anyone else even noticed that I'd taught myself to read, bought Freddie this elaborate shaving kit just before he sprouted his first mouldy little moustache, when everyone else was still giving him kites and toy soldiers.

"Sometimes he'd swoop down and carry us off for a day, just for a walk in the country-side or a trip into the village, but because *he* took us, it was special. Everyone would stop and talk to him, and he would introduce us like adults... "Allow me to introduce my brothers," he'd say "Frederick and John," and people who had known us all our lives would solemnly shake our hands. And we would nod and say "Pleased to make your acquaintance..." I'm sure it was all a great joke to them, but still..."

John smiled a distant smile, eyes still blindly fixed on the river.

"Then one summer, after his first year at university, he came right home and stayed. Didn't go into the city, didn't go to visit Philip, just spent most of his time out with the horses. At first Freddie and I were thrilled to have him to ourselves, but he seemed distant and preoccupied, didn't even notice we were there half the time.

"And then one morning he woke us both up just as the sun was rising. He wanted, he said, to take us out on the little river that ran for a stretch though our property. "We'll sneak out now, before anyone else is awake," he said, "It'll be an adventure!" And we, of course, were pleased as punch to go along with it.

"I don't think I had ever been out that early. There was still dew on the grass, but you could already tell that it was going to be a gorgeous day, warm and bright, and the river was running clear and quick and lovely. Simon carried me piggyback part of the way, up high where I could see everything, and Freddie ran ahead towards the river, whistling and shouting. Simon even let him row the boat, something he never got to do since he splashed so badly.

"We'd stolen apples and cake and chocolate from the kitchen, and once we got out to the middle of the river we let the boat drift and ate our spoils as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky. It was so perfect...

"Freddie was hanging over the bow of the boat, watching the fish, and I was lying across the bench in the middle, with my book. Simon sat in the stern, watching us both. After a while I looked up at him, and he was watching me with this strange sad look on his face.

"I think I said something to him, asked him what was wrong, what he was thinking, and then he - he smiled at me, and threw his apple-core over the side of the boat, and stood up. And then, quite deliberately, he put one foot up on the side of the boat and flipped us over.

"It happened so fast ... I was in the water in seconds, trapped under the boat, and it was colder than I had thought it would be, and dark, though I could see shafts of light shining down through the water just feet away.

"Then I felt Simon grab hold of me. I couldn't quite believe what had happened, and I remember thinking that it would be all right now, that he wouldn't let me go.

"And - he didn't. He pulled me deeper into the water with him, let the weight of our clothes drag us down to where the current ran cold and fast. We drifted down through those shafts of light until I thought my lungs would burst and the whole time he was smiling at me, I could see him blurred through the water, a great open smile full of silver bubbles. Then the bubbles stopped, and we sank too deep for the light to reach us, and still he held onto me, and the pressure in my lungs was too great and I had to breathe and the water rushed in and then everything went black."

John was gripping Mulder's hands so tight now that it hurt, and he shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again they were bright with unshed tears.

"The next thing I knew I was on the river bank. Freddie had fallen clear when the boat flipped, and some men working in the fields nearby had heard him shouting. One of them dove in and found me, but there was no sign of Simon. I had stopped breathing, but they had lived beside the river all their lives, they knew what to do. Then they called the police, and the police called our parents.

"They never did find Simon's body. And we never told anyone about him tipping the boat - somehow we didn't think that anyone would believe us, and we were afraid of being blamed, though I think our parents blamed us in any case. They could tell there was something we weren't telling them. The house was very, very quiet for the rest of that summer.

"God, when I remember..." John's voice was low and rough, "Poor Freddie."

"Poor Freddie?!" said Mulder. 'What about you? After all, it wasn't Freddie your brother tried to - "

John's face crumpled in remembered pain and he shut his eyes for a moment.

"But don't you see - that's it. What you have to understand is - I didn't struggle when he pulled me down with him, I never tried to fight it at all. I would have gone with him. He chose *me*, not Freddie - he left Freddie behind."

"Oh, John," said Mulder helplessly, but John wasn't finished yet, he shook his head wildly and kept talking.

"I was eleven when that happened. I had nightmares for years afterwards -only they didn't feel like nightmares while they were happening. They would just be the river, and Simon hanging onto me, smiling, silver bubbles and then the darkness as we were swept away. And then I'd wake up screaming. And then - well, sometimes - I was at that age - "

He flushed, and glanced briefly at Mulder's face.

"Oh" said Mulder, "Eleven, twelve - puberty, right?"

John nodded. "And it wasn't that I - well, I always knew I was queer, ever since I could remember. My first great love was Christopher Robin - I was five. Then it was one of the gardeners who I'd follow around, and then the new deacon at the church. I never really questioned it. It was just the way things were. But now my body was doing things I didn't understand, and at night there was still the dream, only now I'd wake up not only screaming but hard, and the first time I - it was in the dream, I was being swept away with Simon into the darkness, swept away, this pressure inside me building and building and it felt so terrible, and it felt so good, and I woke up wet and sticky and screaming and I knew it was wrong, and I couldn't say anything to anyone, and sometimes, sometimes - I just - and I never thought - and Freddie - and then, then - "

He twisted in Mulder's grasp, shook his whole body violently, physically throwing off the memory, then met Mulder's eyes with a defiant stare, as if daring him to judge.

"Oh John," said Mulder again. 'Why didn't you tell me?"

John released Mulder's hands and pulled away, then swept his hair back with both hands and snorted. "You should see the look on your face right now. You can't decide if you want to run like the wind or write me up as a case study. Your eyes have gone all clinical. Where would you like to start, Herr Doktor - with my delusional incest fantasies?"

Mulder was suddenly angry again. "Is that what you expect of me, John? Give me a little fucking credit. I grew up knowing that everyone wondered if I'd had something to do with my sister's disappearance. I think you can trust me not to leap to judgement. I know what it's like to have people stare at you as if you were something in a specimen jar."

John's face went momentarily blank and then his eyes darkened and he seemed to really look at Mulder for the first time that evening. "I'm sorry," he said strickenly. Then he pulled Mulder into his arms and squeezed him so tight that Mulder's ribs creaked painfully. He gasped in protest, and John released him immediately and spun away towards the river bank and the slow dark ribbon of water below.

Mulder lunged after him and grabbed the back of his coat, pulled him back onto the path and wrapped his arms tight around him in a hold that was both restraint and embrace.

John struggled for a moment, then stopped and looked at Mulder again.

"That's it, isn't it? There's a part of me that died when my brother did, and you're missing a piece as well. She took a piece of you with her when she went. And I never even... "

He encircled Mulder with his arms again, gently this time, and Mulder found himself suddenly trembling.

Sudden murmurs and a snickering laugh rose suddenly from the mist behind them as a couple of other students came into view. John raised his head at the sound and glared at them, called out "Cretins!" in a voice so loud and clear and dripping with autocratic contempt that they were shocked silent and drifted on.

The he stared down into Mulder's face, features tight with tension, one corner of his mouth twitching.

"I love you," said Mulder miserably, and John gave a strange half-desolate laugh and kissed his forehead as gently and sweetly as he had the night before.

"I love you too," he said.

Then he swayed and the colour drained from his face, and Mulder tugged him over to one of the great old trees that grew on the river-bank. John sank limply onto the damp grass and pulled Mulder down beside him, drawing him close and resting his chin on Mulder's hair.

Twilight was deepening and Mulder could see nothing but the tree and the river and the mist around them. They could have been entirely alone on the river-bank, huddled like lost children into the roots of the tree. He shivered and moved closer to the warmth of John's body.

"Well, my Foxkin," said John, and for once Mulder didn't protest the name. "What on earth are we to do now?"

"Now, John?" said Mulder, thrilled and miserable and terrified all at once. "Now we go back to my rooms."

* * *

It was awkward that night. They were suddenly shy and hesitant with each other, uncoordinated, fingers colliding and tangling. John's skin shivered into goosebumps at the slightest touch; Mulder was reduced to helpless giggles as they kissed and their noses collided hard enough to make his eyes water.

And yet it was sweet and intense and somehow profound. Mulder touched John with careful gentle fingers, stroked the soles of his long narrow feet, touched the down in his arm-pits as it dampened and curled with sweat, cupped his balls up against his body, feeling their subtle stir and shift at the touch, finally sliding down to his cock, smooth and rosy and neatly hooded.

He rolled back the foreskin and licked its glistening head, and this time John let him take it in as far as he could, and it hardly seemed to matter that he had little skill, that it took a few tries before his throat loosened enough to accept it at all. John, gasping, eventually pulled him off, but this time he didn't roll away. He pulled Mulder close and twined their fingers together, then lowered their joined hands to his cock and finished with a few short strokes, holding tight to Mulder all the while. Mulder watched their hands move together and felt his eyes widen in wonder as John came, as though he were witnessing some miraculous act, and realised to his own astonishment that he was about to come too, shooting hot against John's thigh with hardly a touch.

John wouldn't let him go, not even to get a towel, just rubbed the mess into his skin like a balm. Then he buried his face against Mulder's chest, and sleep rose over them like a deep dark tide.

* * *

Mulder swam back up from the darkness a few hours later to the sound of a loud knocking at the door. He squinted at the clock. It was the middle of the night and John, he realised, was already out of the bed, struggling with his pants, a look of near panic on his face.

"I'm sorry," he said strickenly over his shoulder to Mulder. "I didn't think he'd actually come after me here!"

"John!" called a voice from outside the door, low but carrying. "I know you're in there! You have an exam first thing tomorrow morning - it's on your schedule - you'd best come home at once. Do you know what time it is?"

"Don't answer the door!' hissed Mulder. 'What's he going to do? Break it down? You're an adult - it's none of his business!"

But John had gotten his pants on and was already stumbling towards the door. Mulder heard it open, heard a brief half-whispered angry conversation. "-shall have to tell your brother!" he heard the voice snap, and "...make you go back if you're not careful." Then John came back into the room, his face tense and unhappy.

"Please believe me, I wouldn't go if I didn't have to, Fox. But I - have to. I do have that exam first thing." For a moment it looked like he was about to say something more, but then he simply came over and sat on the edge of the bed.

"I meant what I said tonight, Fox. Meet me by the main gates tomorrow night?"

Mulder nodded, then wrestled John back down onto the bed for a long sweet kiss before he left.

The bed seemed very empty when he was gone, but Mulder rearranged the blankets around him and curled himself tight around the words that John had spoken. He had said that he loved him. And he meant what he said.

* * *

Mulder had only just arrived at the main gates to the university when John came striding quickly towards him, a leather satchel slung over one shoulder.

"How was the exam?" asked Mulder, and John swept him behind the gatehouse and into a tight embrace, nearly lifting him right off his feet.

"Let's go somewhere and celebrate," he said into Mulder's ear. "Somewhere ridiculously expensive. No, no, somewhere obscenely drunken and raucous. Somewhere scandalous and strange."

In the end they simply went for Chinese food. John drank sweet plum wine until two red patches bloomed high on his cheeks and he was half lying on his bench. "You'll make yourself sick," warned Mulder, but John merely beamed at him and said

"and you shall hold my head and press a cold cloth to my brow as a sign of true devotion."

"How romantic," said Mulder dryly, but he couldn't keep from smiling. John was in a strange exultant mood tonight, his gestures broad and sweeping, his conversation arcing manically from one subject to another in a welter of puns and jokes and sudden tangents, and Mulder couldn't help but be swept along by his exuberance.

>From the restaurant they went to a pub, and from that pub to another, until it was finally time to stagger their way back to the university, walking close together in the narrow city streets. John's satchel kept swinging irritatingly against Mulder's side until he demanded "What the hell have you got in there, John?"

John looked at him sideways, a little shyly, and said:

"Some books. And a change of clothes."

And Mulder didn't know what to say, so said nothing at all, just linked his arm through John's and led him back to his college and up the stairs to his rooms.

The rest of exam time passed in a confused montage of impressions, writing and studying and the presence of John in his bed nearly every night. Mulder had vaguely worried about what this might do to his marks, but in some peculiar way it actually seemed to help. In his state of blurred euphoria he found himself caught up in moments of strange bright inspiration as he wrote, information and analysis flowing effortlessly from his pen. In the middle of one exam he found himself staring down at his own hands in a kind of superstitious wonder as they wrote, remembering the way John had moved at their touch the night before, marvelling that these could be *his* hands, so deft and clever and suddenly sure.

It wasn't all easy. John was still sometimes skittish and jumpy at his touch, prone to sudden withdrawals and moments of panic, but when he did let go it was so very very sweet. And if Mulder sometimes woke in the night to find John staring at the darkness with a fierce defiant expression, if John's high spirits sometimes bordered on manic or collapsed into sudden distant silence, he didn't question it. His sails were filled with a bright and unfamiliar optimism, and he was sure that it was all just a matter of time.

* * *

And then one afternoon his exam finished early, and as he left the hall he came face-to-face with John, accompanied by three other men and a dark-haired woman. He smiled up at John, and realised that John was staring at him with an expression that looked very much like alarm. Mulder's smile faltered and he stopped in his tracks.

"Hello, Mulder," John finally said, recovering his poise. "You're through early." Then he nodded at his friends. "Mulder, this is Terrence, Charles, Stephen and Bea."

They smiled at him politely, and Bea reached out and touched his arm. "So you're John's mysterious American friend. We're about to go for dinner - why don't you join us?" Somehow, without being aware of having actually agreed, he was swept along with them, Bea and Charles asking him about his studies while John walked a little ahead with the other men. Mulder answered their questions abstractedly, eyes fixed on John's tall form in front of him, wondering what was going on.

They ended up in a restaurant that he would never have braved on his own, full of ancient supercilious waiters and dark wood panelling. Halfway through dinner John stood up, casually excused himself, and didn't come back. His friends politely didn't comment, and once Mulder realised that John was really gone he was so suddenly and completely bereft that he fell silent mid-sentence, an ominous lump in his throat. The others let him be, gracefully filling in his silence, and as he struggled for composure Mulder gradually became aware that Bea was watching him.

When he looked up she caught his eye and leaned in close. "He hasn't told you, has he?" She asked.

"Told me what?" said Mulder suspiciously

"He's been sent down." She said flatly. "He's leaving at the end of the week."

Mulder heard the breath hitch in his throat in a small unstoppable sound of pain and he stared at her, slack-jawed. "What?!" he said.

"He's been sent down. He's barely been to class this last half-term, and he missed most of his exams. He's brilliant, they all know that, but they can't keep him here, not behaving like that."

The sounds around Mulder seemed to fade into the distance. "No," he said. "No, he didn't tell me".

"Christ, I hate playing nursemaid!" he heard Bea mutter to herself, but she must have taken pity on his evident misery, for after that she was more or less kind, let him drink too much and blame her cigarette smoke for his watering eyes, saw to it that someone called him a cab when his head began to sink lower and lower towards the table-top.

"How much has he told you about his family?" she asked and Mulder incoherently stuttered something about Simon's death, then shook his head, not knowing how much she knew.

Bea looked at him closely and seemed to come to a decision. "Call me tomorrow," she commanded briskly, slipping a card into his pocket. "I'll probably regret this, but there are some things I think you should know."

* * *

By the time he got home the tears that had threatened in the restaurant had hardened to a lump of furious desolation in his throat, and he lay dry-eyed and wakeful for hours before finally giving up on sleep. In a desperate search for something to occupy him, he grimly cleared a patch of floor, dragged his bicycle out, and started to take the chain off to fix it.

Half an hour later the whole bike was in pieces, and only then, as he looked at its greasy scattered parts, did he finally break down and cry, ugly choking sobs of pain and anger and humiliation, of disgust at what he could only think of as his own foolish blindness. It all seemed a cruel joke now, his optimism of the past weeks, his blossoming pride at John's fearless public arm across his shoulder, his joy and pleasure at what he'd thought they'd had between them. He wondered now how he could have ever have believed in any of it. Tears exhausted at last, he dragged himself back to bed and lay there, watching the first light of morning come creeping through the window.

End Part III



Echoes and Passages
By Jessica Harris
So, a couple of my original characters have demanded a brief moment of stage time for themselves. This is just a doodle, really, and takes place in my "Towery City" universe, so probably won't mean much to you if you haven't read it. It's a scene between Simon, older brother to John (Mulder's boyfriend at Oxford), and his briefly mentioned 'best friend' Phillip. It takes place in their rooms at Oxford, a number of years before Mulder and John end up there.

It was late, and Simon's eyelids were drooping, but he stubbornly remained at his small desk, too tired now to deny any longer what he was really doing: waiting for Phil to come home.

He yawned, wincing at the pull in his tense jaw and neck, and forced himself to stare at the page in front of him for a full minute before allowing himself to turn and check the clock again. Half past one. He should get to bed, he knew; he had an early lecture the next day. But he couldn't bring himself to give up yet. Instead, he dropped his head onto his crossed arms, letting his eyes shut just for a moment...

...and woke to the sound of the door opening and Phil swaying into the room with the exaggerated caution of the extremely drunk. With great concentration he attempted to hang up his coat, giggling when it fell to the floor instead. Staggering a little, he bent for it, and when Simon said "Leave it, Phil. We can clean up tomorrow," he gave a startled yelp and leapt upright.

"Si! I didn't see you there. What are you doing still up?"

"Fell asleep over my books," said Simon ruefully, telling himself that it wasn't, technically speaking, a lie. "Working myself to exhaustion while you, it seems, were out carousing." He had meant it to be joking, but it came out more sharply than he had intended, and Phil blinked at him.

"We were studying too. Tomkins and myself. Well, at first we were studying. And then his sister dropped by, and we decided to go for a drink, and - I suppose we did end up carousing, rather."

He gave a lopsided grin and came over to prop himself on the corner of the desk. His hair was all awry, its rough brown curls springing up comically on the crown of his head, and with his cheeks flushed and his brown eyes gleaming lazily beneath heavy lids he looked so funny and dear and familiar that Simon felt his worry and annoyance begin to fade. He rose a little stiffly from his chair and moved to stand between Phil's sprawled legs. "Did you have a good time?" he asked, a little apologetically.

"Yes, a marvellous time, actually," said Phil, smiling at him, and then Simon wound his fingers through the wild brown curls and pulled him in for a kiss. Phil fell easily into the familiar embrace, looping his arms loosely around Simon's waist before rising so that he could slide his half-hard cock against Simon's hip. The kiss lengthened and deepened, but his cock didn't get any harder, and after a while he pulled away and said, "In fact, I may have had entirely *too* good a time. Put enough drinks in me and I'm no good to anyone."

"I'm sure I can find some good in you," said Simon, pulling him close again and nuzzling Phil's neck.

Phil laughed, and said "Nothing can stop you, can it? You know, I should introduce you to Tomkin's sister."

Simon froze for a moment, startled. "What?" he said, softly.

Phil shrugged. "Well, she's clever, and quite pretty, and rather nice all round, rally. And it's time you started going about with some girls, you know."

Simon felt a oddly distinct physical sensation at these words, as though something had cracked open in the middle of his chest, a fault-line running from sternum to pubes. He was still looking at Phil, and Phil was still flushed and lovely and familiar, but Simon could feel that everything had just changed. He stood, rooted to the spot, his hands on Phil's chest, feeling his heartbeat against the palm of his hand.

Phil put on hand over his, and said, "I mean, I'm not complaining about...all this, what we do together. You're my best friend, and I - I'm very fond of you. But really - "

The first tendrils of pain were beginning to issue from the chasm in Simon's chest, and he shakily found his voice. "Really *what*, Phillip? Please say exactly what you mean."

Phil pushed him suddenly away, and crossed his arms defensively across his chest. "Come on, Simon. You know as well as I do what I'm talking about. This was alright when we were at school, and I hope we can still, sometimes. . ." he faltered, and with a wave of his hand changed tacks. "but we're men now. You don't want to end up like Donnelly and Manning, do you - a couple of old queens with silk scarves and matching handbags and a twice-monthly tea to which we invite the prettiest undergrads? We have to start thinking about the future, about marriage, our families, about - oh christ, Simon, please don't *cry*!"

Simon knuckled the shameful tears from his eyes, turned blindly away, and staggered to his small and mostly unused bedroom, his legs as unsteady as if he had been dealt a physical blow. Ignoring Phillip's voice behind him he shut the door with a bang, and, for the first time since they had taken these rooms together, locked it.


Archived: 21:10 03/15/01