A/N: First story in a three-part series entitled "Let Me Sleep". The rest will be written hopefully still this year.
Let Me Sleep
(Next to the Fire)
They let him sleep next to the fire.
They also fed him and gave him a blanket and Alex was grateful. Even if the food was a beef stew (which he never liked anyway) with too much onion, and the blanket was thin and threadbare.
He was tired, though. Enough not to care. A shot of vodka - which they also gave him - warmed Alex gently from the inside, so when he settled down to sleep, on a hard ground but with the fire at his back, it was with the thought that things might possibly be starting to look up.
He should've known nothing ever went the way he wished.
Alex woke up abruptly as hands grabbed him and held to the ground. He struggled but alone he was no match for several strong, even though one-armed, men. And when he saw a knife - red-hot from the fire and held right over his left arm - he screamed. Blind panic gave him strength and his struggles increased. Not that it made any difference.
When the knife touched his flesh, however, burning and slicing the skin and then the muscles beneath, something happened.
Alex felt as if his body was being lifted. His spine arched as though the earth beneath him moved upwards and some large creature wanted to dig its way to the surface.
He felt his shoulderblades aching, burning - as if the knife at his arm wasn't enough - and he screamed louder, if that was possible, his body straining in the hold of his one-armed captors. When the force pressing on his back became nearly unbearable and he thought his spine might just snap, it suddenly eased. Eased with a "whoosh" and some kind of weight settling comfortably on his back.
That had the men holding him, scramble franticallybackwards. The look of fear on their faces didn't register with Alex for the first few seconds as he panted, the adrenaline pumping in his veins. As he settled into a defensive crouch, though, it finally dawned on him that after letting him go, the men didn't only back away. They were running away, some of them crossing themselves and cowering and muttering prayers in Russian for God's forgiveness.
Alex stared at the deserted campsite, the fire still crackling merrily to his side.
What the Hell had just happened?
Alex looked quickly around, scanning his surroundings for the something that had all these men scared off their minds.
There was nothing except the trees and cold night air.
He finally moved to stand up and hissed as his left arm throbbed with pain. Fortunately the cut wasn't too deep and there wasn't that much blood - the hot knife cauterised the wound, but it still hurt like Hell.
As he stood up, there was that odd pull at his back again. Alex looked behind and as he craned his neck further, he was startled to see what looked like a giant wing. Right behind him. He followed the line of feathers with his eyes, twisting uncomfortably, and then completely shocked, lost his balance and fell on his ass because the wing - and not one but two - was attached to his back.
He instinctively lifted them up as he flopped gracelessly on the ground. For a second he sat there gaping like a landed fish and nearly hyperventilating right after. Then he scrambled to his knees, twisting and trying to reach his back, felt the ripped holes in his sweater and then... feathers. Mass of warm soft down growing from his back, then giving way to firmer longer flight feathers. In his haste to see, Alex unconsciously rotated one wing to take a closer look and nearly overbalanced again as never-before felt sinews and muscles moved new bones.
Alex shivered; whether it was fear or cold, it was hard to say.
He stroked the surface of the wing, feeling his own touch and hardly believing his own senses. No wonder the Russians fled like Alex was the spawn of Satan himself. Considering the fact that his feathers were dark - almost black, like his hair - Alex more than looked the part.
This time he shuddered. What on Earth had happened to him? He somehow doubted the wings were an after-effect of being possessed by the Black Oil, though who knew, really? Maybe he had some weird-ass dormantgenes that the alien activated?
Somehow he didn't remember the other... "vessels" for the Oil develop this particular affliction. Although, truth be told, the Consortium had stopped keeping tabs on the others some time ago and nowadays Alex was a bit out of the Smoker's graces anyway to know much more.
Maybe he was just Dodo's distant cousin.
Alex groaned, resting his forehead on his arm and then groaned again as the wound throbbed with fresh pain.
He sighed. He had to get out of those woods, find some place a bit more civilised. Maybe a hospital where he could steal at least some gauze and antiseptic, and then get back to the States.
Yes, this sounded like a plan.
Alex looked around. Unfortunately he had no idea which way to go if he wanted to get out of here. He could just trudge onstraight ahead in the hopes of finding a road, but with these damn wings, huge as they were, that was going to be a nightmare.
Alex straightened and moved his wings experimentally. They seemed fully functional.
He flapped them once, twice and then harder and suddenly he was a good ten feet off the ground and, fuck, it was a good thing he didn't fear heights.
He let himself drop to the ground again, laughing wildly, only a trace of hysteria in his voice. It could work! It definitely could.
Alex gathered himself and then jumped, his wings moving almost instinctively, ready to take his weight higher and higher, over the tallest trees till he could see them only as a brown-green mass below.
And which way now? Alex briefly wondered, staring into the night. He wasn't even aware that he was paying less and less attention to his wings. Somehow having - and using - them was rapidly becoming as familiar and natural as having arms or legs, and his movements were becoming smoothly unconscious the longer Alex was in the air.
He finally noticed there was a faint illumination somewhere to the south, which may or may not have been the twinkling of the city lights.
Well, not like the choices were that abundant, Alex thought grimly and headed that way.
When he finally reached what was indeed a town of moderate size, he was so tired he could barely stay in the air. Obviously it would take some time for the new muscles to become used to the actual use, to become stronger. Right now, though, Alex had to find a building sufficiently high so no one would see him land and with a roof flat enough to take a rest. It would be mighty awkward- not to mention too dangerous - to land on the street. Even though there were hardly any people, Alex preferred to avoid dubious shows of religious zeal or a lynching.
At last he found a tall building painted a particularly ugly shade of pale blue with a flashing neon sign that read BOLNICA. He forgot how depressing Russian hospitals could be, even on the outside. Good thing he didn't have to stay here longer than stealing a few things would take.
When he landed on the roof, he shuddered with fear and revulsion, thinking about his nearly lost arm. His fucking arm! Alex gave a brief hateful thought to Mulder who nabbed him from the camp just as Alex was about to finalise arranging the transport out. For both of them, for fuck's sake. Impatient distrustful prick, who-
Oh to Hell with it. He was too tired for this now.
Alex sat in the corner, folding his wings and tucking them close to his body in the hopes it would afford a measure of protection from the wind. Tomorrow he would have to steal an overcoat for himself - try to hide his extra... limbs. He was gonna be a bloody freak for the rest of his life. A real x-file, no two ways about it.
Alex fell asleep with a faint grimace that only tentatively could be called a smile on his face.
When he woke up the next morning, he was cold, stiff and thirsty. The pale sun shining half-heartedly from behind a layer of clouds gave absolutely no warmth whatsoever. Alex shifted trying to fold his wings around him in an effort to warm up, but he couldn't... there wasn't...
He looked down his back, abruptly realising the wings were gone. He blinked. He didn't think it was all some bizarre dream. After all, he was still on the roof.
He reached back, trying to touch his shoulderblades. The holes the wings made in his sweater were still there, but that was it.
There was nothing there.
Alex didn't know how to feel. He bit his lip. He sort of liked being able to fly, but maybe it was better he didn't look like a circus freak anymore.
He propped an arm on the low wall bordering the roof and gave a low cry as yesterday's wound reminded him of itself with fresh pain.
He slowly exhaled and got up. Well, loosing his wings meant he could walk into this hospital through the front door, like a normal human being. Maybe he wouldn't even have to waste time and energy on theft, if he could find some young pretty nurse - or even a matronly nurse - susceptible to a charming smile, fluttering eyelashes and a nasty arm injury.
Yeah, that sounded like a plan.