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Cover Art by Ilya

The Animal I Wanted
by Ladyluck

Chapter One
The Wolf

The animal I wanted
Couldn't get into the world
I can hear it crying
When I sit like this away from life
—Kenneth Patchen

It sometimes happened that you might be familiar with a man for several years thinking he was a wild animal, and you would regard him with contempt. And then suddenly a moment would arrive when some uncontrollable impulse would lay his soul bare, and you would behold in it such riches, such sensitivity and warmth, such a vivid awareness of its own suffering and the suffering of others, that the scales would fall from your eyes and at first you would hardly be able to believe that you had seen and heard.
—Fyodor Dostoyevsky


It wasn't the kind of place Mulder usually frequented. Candles on the tables, low lighting, salads that cost more than a whole meal at the Golden Dragon.

Scully seemed to like it though. Smiling nervously, she tore off a bit of whole-wheat panini bread and dipped it delicately into the small dish of rosemary-flavored olive oil that was provided in place of butter. Mulder perused the menu. Grilled swordfish sounded safe enough, albeit accompanied by jicama-root puree and "braised lavender lentils," whatever the hell that was.

"Good evening." A statuesque blonde appeared beside their table. "I'm Danielle, your sommelier. Would you like to choose a bottle of wine for your meal?"

Scully ran a finger down the wine list. "We had this Byron Santa Maria chardonnay one time. It's good. It's chardonnay, but it almost tastes like Chablis. What do you think?"

Mulder was thinking that Danielle was pretty hot. He was also thinking that six months ago Scully wouldn't have known chardonnay from a can of Dr. Pepper, let alone from Chablis. "Well, I find that vintage to be a bit obsequious and curmudgeonly."

Scully rolled her eyes and turned a polite smile to Danielle. "Half a bottle."

"So the Harvard Medical Letter has a wine column these days?" He knew her actual answer before she said it.

"Paul's taught me a lot about wine."

Paul taught me about wine. Paul took me to the opera. Paul and I are going to Vermont for the weekend.

Paul was Scully's boyfriend. Also a doctor. They had met at a medical conference and been going out for close to a year now. In one corner of his mind, Mulder knew it was getting serious between them, but he didn't want to face that, didn't want to consider that possibility.

Another attractive young person materialized at their table. Chiseled features, dazzling smile. "I'm Brian, your waiter. Are you ready to order?"

"I'll have the tagliarini in prosciutto and fennel sauce," Scully said. "Mulder?"

Mulder was thinking that Brian was pretty hot. He was also thinking that he really had to get laid more.

As Brian vanished with their orders and menus, Mulder turned back to Scully. "So...what's the big news?"

To his surprise and consternation, Scully's blue eyes filled with tears. "Mulder—I—"

"What? What?" A cold dread sharpened his voice as he leaned across the table. All he could think was that her cancer had returned.

Scully's eyes widened as she realized where his thoughts were going. "Oh, no, no—it's nothing bad. Mulder, I'm getting married!"

Mulder knew his mouth was hanging open in a dumbstruck daze. Reluctantly, his eyes went to her left hand, splayed prominently on the tabletop to catch his attention. A small, perfect, platinum-and-diamond band, courtesy of that tasteful asshole, Paul, now graced her third finger. "Hey, that's great," he mumbled weakly. "Congratulations."

Scully was smiling radiantly as she dabbed her eyes with the napkin, using only her right hand. Mulder realized he was probably supposed to admire the ring.

"Uh...nice ring."

"Nice of you to notice. I've been wearing it all day." Her wry tone couldn't quite hide the undercurrent of injured reproach.

Danielle appeared at that moment with their wine. "Ooh, beautiful ring," she cooed to Scully.

"Skinner noticed," Scully told him as Danielle glided away and they sipped their wine. "Kim noticed." She was teasing him now.

Mulder tried to think of something to say beyond, "Oh." He took another swallow of wine. It really was quite good, prompting a fresh spate of resentment against the paragon that was Paul. "Well, I mean, that's wonderful. I'm sure you'll be very happy. You can buy a house together in Georgetown, discuss the latest autopsy results, and go antiquing on weekends..." He grinned halfheartedly to show her he was teasing too.

"Mulder..." Her grave expression gave him pause. "There's more."

Mulder stared at her. "Bad or good?" he managed finally.

Scully hesitated. The hesitation, and her look, told him all he needed to know. Good for her, bad for Mulder. "It looks like Paul is going to be offered a really good position soon, at McLean's Hospital." She glanced at him and saw it still wasn't sinking in. "In Montreal."

"Montreal, Canada?"

Scully looked stricken.

"You're moving to Canada?"

"Not for six months or so. It takes—"

"You're quitting the X-Files?"

Scully's small hand came up to shush him. She dropped her voice, no doubt hoping he would do the same. "Mulder, it's not like—"

"You're leaving me?" His voice came out in a wounded bellow. At a table across from them a twenty-something college kid remarked smugly to his date, "See, I told you two-thirds of all marriages end in divorce."

"Mulder." Scully was leaning across the table, concern in her eyes.

Mulder sat back in his chair, trying to get himself under control. He wanted to punch somebody; the name "Paul" came to mind. But for Scully's sake he had to stop acting like a jerk and pretend to be happy for her.

"I'm sorry." He couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of his voice. "I just—"

Scully reached out to touch his arm. "I know you'll meet somebody too someday. Someone who'll really knock you out of your orbit."

Mulder couldn't imagine it.

Deep in his heart he knew he didn't love Scully that way. He wasn't jealous in that way. It was just that he had always felt, selfishly he knew, that she was his. The two of them an unshakable team; Scully at his back, following him on his quest for the Truth. Seeing her so happy now, moving on without him, only served to emphasize how alone he felt sometimes. He had never felt that kind of spark. He had thought he might, sometimes, but they always turned out to be terribly wrong for him.

"I've met people. But it always ended badly." He shrugged. "Phoebe. Diana. Alex—"

Alex Krycek?

"Alex?" Scully frowned quizzically. "I don't remember her."

Jesus, why had he thought of Krycek? And how had he almost said Alex's name aloud to Scully as a possible lover? The idea was ludicrous, for so many reasons. His mind was just wandering, back to business.

"Speaking of meeting someone, I have to go meet someone at ten. No, no—" he held up a hand. "It's business—a source. Krycek."

An eyebrow rose. "Krycek?"

"Yeah, the one and only. I got an e-mail saying he wanted to set up a meeting tonight. Something big."


He put Scully in a cab, blathering all the right reassurances and wishes for her happiness, and walked the dark streets back to his apartment. It was just drizzling, a fine cool mist hitting his face in irritating counterpoint to his mood. He felt utterly ground down tonight, sick of the world and all its denizens. He wasn't even that interested in whatever earthshaking bit of information Krycek was bringing him. Something to do with colonization, the Consortium, he supposed, but how was he going to investigate and fight them without Scully by his side? He needed her, needed her cool intellect to bounce his ideas off, needed someone in his corner when the rest of the world was laughing in his face.

And if he could admit it to himself, he wasn't ready to see Krycek tonight. Just seeing the carefully cryptic e-mail had sent an uncomfortable frisson of eagerness and upheaval through him. He was still haunted by the last meeting.

Krycek had brought him information that time too, but that was not all he had done. Mulder could still see Krycek's face vividly in his mind's eye. Krycek had told him about the Air Force base, the rebel alien. He had gazed at Mulder, a ravenous intensity in his eyes. Mulder had stared back, too stunned to do more than that.

Then, with a swift finality, as though he had been steeling himself to do it and could wait no longer, Krycek had leaned down and kissed him.

Krycek had taken a chance, doing that. He had taken even more of a chance a moment later, when he let the gun drop from his hand, tossing it at Mulder's feet and walking away. Mulder could have shot him in that moment. Instead, he had sat for hours in the dark, replaying the meeting over and over in his head.

Sometimes Mulder let his thoughts wander when he was really tired, let himself fantasize that instead of letting Krycek walk away he had reached up and grabbed him, held him there, pulled his mouth down to Mulder's. Krycek's lips against the corner of Mulder's mouth had felt warm, firm, and unexpectedly soft. He had smelled of leather and some other, indefinable Krycek-scent. Idly he wondered how Alex would have tasted.



He walked faster, his mind unwilling to go there. He felt too weary and angry tonight to even conjure up a good smacking-the-shit-out-of-Krycek fantasy, although the thought did give him a little satisfaction. But that kiss, disturbing and unnerving, kept prodding his consciousness, like a body resurfacing in a lake.

Christ, Mulder. You have got to get a grip.

He was supposed to get a call from Krycek giving instructions on where and when to meet tonight. Trudging along in the rain, he was strongly tempted to just turn his cell phone off. But he knew he wouldn't do that. As much as he dreaded the thought of having to meet with Krycek again, his scientific curiosity plucked at the back of his mind and urged him onward. If he didn't find out what Krycek had to offer, he knew, it would worry and eat at him until he slowly went insane. He had to know. He always had to know.

Waiting at the corner for the light to change, his attention was caught by two men who stood on the opposite corner, one of them holding the leash of a large, exuberant dog. They were not kissing, or even touching, but instantly he knew they were lovers. The way they stood, heads together, smiling at some private joke. The one with the dog was tall, blond, bearded, wearing a thick navy sweater. He held the leash with casual authority and gestured expansively. The other man, younger and slimmer, had dark hair falling into his face and big dark eyes. Wearing a dark jacket and jeans, he stood with his shoulders hunched against the rain, laughing. For a moment Mulder's breath caught. Alex.

He shook his head. Alex—Krycek—looked nothing like that. He was older, more solid and muscular, and Mulder had never seen him laugh or smile that way.

The light changed then, and they passed each other, crossing the street. The man with the dog nodded amiably to Mulder, and the dark one flashed him a quick smile before turning his full attention back to his friend. The older man responded, placing a hand on the dark one's back in a protective caress. Mulder felt desolation settling heavy in his stomach like a rough chunk of ice. How long had it been since he had a lover to walk with in the rain, neither of them caring how wet they got. He could imagine the two of them hurrying home to someplace warm and bright, peeling off wet clothes and laughing, the dog bounding around their legs.

He was a no-partner, no-lover, no-Truth son of a bitch. And instead of curling up warmly with someone he loved, he would get to slog back out in the rain tonight and meet with a double-crossing sociopathic rat to receive some questionable information.

Life doesn't get much better than this, he thought with a mordant grin.

Outside the apartment building on Hegal Place, he shook water from his hair. His apartment would be dark and quiet. He would have a beer, feed the fish, and wait for his treacherous informant to call.


As soon as he unlocked the apartment door, he knew Krycek was in there. Maybe he heard or saw some small sound or movement, or maybe smelled him, Mulder wasn't sure. Instinctively, he froze, his hand going to his gun.

"What the hell are you doing in my apartment, Krycek?"

"It's raining," Krycek said in that gravelly purr, and the hair went up all along Mulder's neck. Krycek's voice could always do that to him, stir things in him he could not control. He flipped on the light and sure enough, Krycek was standing there, all in black as usual, a gun in his hand.

Pointedly, Mulder drew his own weapon. "You melt in the rain?"

Krycek put out his left hand in a placating gesture. Moving slowly and carefully, he stepped over to Mulder's desk and laid his gun down, then stepped back, his hands raised.

Cautiously, Mulder moved over to the desk. He stashed the gun away in the bottom right drawer, where Krycek would not be able to retrieve it easily. Krycek was gazing at him intently, lips parted slightly, obviously anxious to impart his ultra-momentous information.

"So what do you want?" Mulder asked, not bothering to keep the edge from his voice. "Let me guess. You're getting married and moving to Canada."

A shadow of puzzlement and something like hurt creased Krycek's face for just a second. "Yeah, I am going away, but—" He waved his hand dismissively. "Here." Almost sparking with excitement and pride, he reached into his jacket and extracted—

—an apple?

"What is this, Krycek? Teacher Appreciation Day at the Rat Academy?"

Krycek now produced a vial of amber liquid and held it out reverently to Mulder, along with the apple.

"Passed your drug test, huh?"

Again the little frown. Clearly, Mulder's flippancy wasn't going over any too well. But tonight of all nights, Mulder didn't feel like playing audience to Krycek's one-man circus. Couldn't the man ever just hand over his information and leave? Krycek's expression took on an almost radiant intensity. "This is it, Mulder. The vaccine."

Mulder felt a shiver of excitement go down his spine. He reached to take the little vial and held it up to the light. Thick, pale-gold, it shimmered dully, a mysterious promise.

"And this," Krycek held up the apple, "this is the method of distribution."

"You're going to put it in apples?"

Krycek's eyes glittered exultantly. "It is in apples. This apple contains the working vaccine. A quick, easy and painless way to get it out to the general population."

Mulder lifted the apple and examined it wonderingly. It looked like a regular garden-variety fruit, betraying no hint of its monumental significance. If this was for real, it was huge, as immense as Krycek had led him to believe. The black-oil cancer was key to the aliens' plans for colonization. But he was damned if he would act impressed in front of Krycek. "How did you get hold of this?"

Now Krycek understood that his offering was not unappreciated, simply mistrusted. A little smile settled on his face and he relaxed somewhat. "You don't want to know that. But it's real."

Mulder rubbed his chin. "Why me? If this is real, why not go peddle it to the highest bidder?"

"Believe it or not, Mulder, I wasn't trying to get rich off any of this. In fact—" Krycek hesitated for a second, looking down, "—a lot of this research came out of my pocket."

"Blood money," Mulder said flatly. Krycek acknowledged this with a weary shrug. Up close, he looked even less like the carefree young man Mulder had noticed earlier outside. There was a hunted look in the green eyes, ringed now with dark circles, and small worry lines beginning to settle in place. If the man outside had been a pampered pet, Krycek resembled an alley cat who had never known a home, or an affectionate touch, in his life.

Or wanted it.

Mulder squinted at the vial again. "Not much here."

Krycek extracted a padded manila envelope from his jacket. With a significant look at Mulder, he laid it on Mulder's desk and tapped it with a fingertip.

"There are six disks in there. Location and layout of the lab where it's being produced, the formulas, the test runs, and all kinds of other information. You're going to have to go in and get it."

Mulder kept his voice deliberately even. "What do you mean?"

Krycek was staring at him with a strange intensity. Despite himself, Mulder felt a thrill go through him, felt his body responding.

"I—I've pretty much burned all my bridges with this," Krycek said. For a moment the mask slipped and Krycek looked exhausted, lonely and scared. Then his eyes turned cool and hard once more.

He's leaving me too.

"Where are you going?" Mulder asked roughly.

"I'm going to have to—disappear for awhile." Krycek looked down. A long, low rumble of thunder sounded outside. "I'm one man, and there are a lot of people after me."

"News flash, Krycek. They're not after you just because you're pretty. They're after you because you double-crossed them, betrayed them, fucked them over..." Mulder realized he was starting to pace in agitation. Everybody was leaving. Suddenly he wanted to lash out, strike somebody. "You wouldn't be one man alone if you hadn't done that to me."

A blue-white streak of lightning pulsed through the sky. Mulder saw a terrible sadness on Krycek's face, before Krycek turned away, ducking his head. "I know." His voice was almost a whisper.

"How do I know this isn't a setup?"

"It's real." Krycek's voice shook slightly. "I swear." He seemed to realize almost instantaneously what his word was worth to Mulder. "What do you want from me?"

"Last time you kissed me," Mulder said. Krycek stood still, watching him warily. "What are you going to do this time, blow me?"

He meant it as sarcasm, but Krycek appeared to take it seriously. He stared at Mulder, a strange expression playing over his face. "Is that what you really want?"

And Mulder could feel it, through the haze of time, a memory pressing up, a memory he had tried to push away for so many years.

They had been sitting at a stakeout, both of them bored and impatient, skirting the edge of small talk but not really knowing each other well enough yet to go deeper. Mulder was not in a great mood; he disliked this kind of grunt work. Alex hated it even more than Mulder did, grew antsy when caged up in for any length of time in an unmoving car or van. He stretched, arching back like a cat, turned a probing gaze to Mulder.

"Know any good ways to pass the time?"

Mulder could sense it in the car between them, a tension greater than the boredom and skittish restlessness; a kind of hunger. He could feel it as his eyes roamed over Alex's body, impressive even in the cheap suit. Alex's dark hair was tousled from running his hands through it. Alex bit his lip and Mulder looked away. His professional training and senior status called upon him to say something soothing here, calm Alex down and rein him in a bit.

"Why don't you blow me?"

Alex looked startled, but he didn't laugh or say, "Go to hell." He swallowed hard, slanting a look from under his lashes, then turned slightly to face Mulder. His eyes swept Mulder's, then raked down to Mulder's crotch, the hunger surging into them now full force.

Mulder knew he should say something—"Stop, this isn't wise, I was only kidding." He should, he should...but his mouth felt dry and heat roiled up from his belly, making it impossible to speak. He fought back an almost irresistible impulse to grab Alex by the hair and force his head down into Mulder's lap.

Something broke between them, a barrier that should have had the solidity of a brick wall: FBI; partners; both men. Mulder felt it crumble like a child's clay pot, feather away like chalk dust in a breeze. He was left with Alex's eyes, intense and seeking, Alex's lips parting in helpless supplication.

Alex leaned forward fractionally, one hand reaching tentatively for Mulder. Would he have actually done it? They would never know; at that moment their quarry appeared, skulking through the basement door, and they were both instantly jolted back into action. They had never spoken of it again, and Mulder was left to wonder.

Wonder. And fantasize. Alex's mouth on him...

And Mulder heard his own voice ask, "Why not?"

Mulder stepped back to lean against the wall, clutching the gun he still held like a talisman. Krycek shrugged the leather jacket from his shoulders and laid it on the couch. He looked at Mulder almost uncertainly, smoothing down the charcoal shirt he wore underneath. Mulder willed himself to return the gaze, level and challenging, although a dizzying sense of surreality was overtaking him. Krycek walked closer, standing only a couple of feet from Mulder now, staring into his eyes. Krycek's lips were parted, and Mulder had a sudden powerful urge to kiss him.

Fuck, no, I'm not kissing Krycek.

Krycek seemed to sense Mulder's aversion to the kiss, and dipped his head in acceptance with a small, wry smile.

He's enjoying this too much, the slimy bastard.

Krycek laid his hand on Mulder's waist, slipping a finger through Mulder's belt loop. It was a lover's gesture, making Mulder pull back. The tip of Krycek's tongue came out to brush his lower lip. He caressed the hard curve of Mulder's hip, then slid his hand down the outside of Mulder's thigh. The thick lashes fluttered and for a second Krycek's smile turned brilliant.

Mulder's stomach flipped over. This wasn't what he had wanted; it wasn't what he had planned. Krycek shouldn't act like he wanted this, like he was the one in control. He shouldn't touch Mulder like that, shouldn't look at him like that.

And Mulder's own body shouldn't be responding like this, tense and heated, every nerve pounding. A tremendous crack of thunder sounded, making them both jump. Their eyes met instantly, as though seeking solace.

Krycek got down on one knee. His movements had a formal grace, almost ritualistic.

Mulder put out his hand to grab Krycek by the hair. Krycek's hair felt silky, slightly damp from the rain. He pushed back into Mulder's touch with a small husky sound. Mulder felt it like an unexpected electric shock. In his fantasies he took Krycek roughly by the hair, fucked his mouth, and slapped him hard, leaving Krycek with blood and Mulder's come running down his face.

In his fantasies Krycek's hair was not soft, he didn't part his lips like that, or gaze up at Mulder with those eyes so full of feeling. In his fantasies Mulder didn't have to look in Krycek's eyes at all. Why should he have to? Why should he care about the pain and longing and whatever else it was he saw there; why should he feel bad about Krycek going away, being on the run?

He didn't.

Why should he want to stroke the soft hair, to run his hands down Krycek's body, to take his mouth and explore every inch of—

He didn't. He didn't. He didn't.

"Very nice, Krycek," Mulder sneered. "Whose little fucktoy are you these days?"

Krycek flinched sharply at that and froze, staring at Mulder with narrowed eyes. He pulled his head back angrily and scrambled to his feet. A dark flush spread across his cheeks. "Not yours, Mulder, that's for sure."

"You were a minute ago."

Krycek's eyes flashed briefly, and he sucked in a breath through his teeth. "Stupid mistake," he said hoarsely. "It won't happen again." He started for the couch, but Mulder blocked his way. "Let me get my jacket." He gestured at the desk. "And my gun."

"Do you think I'm an idiot, Krycek?" Mulder felt himself close to losing control. Damn Krycek for always doing this to him. "What kind of game are you playing?"

Krycek's eyes were once again brilliant with feeling for a second, before he looked away. "No game, Mulder. This is it for me. I'm—" He made an abrupt movement, reaching under his left arm to adjust something. Mulder cursed himself for his stupidity. He had taken the gun, but he had not bothered to check Krycek for other weapons. And he did not at any cost want to touch the man now.

He waved the gun at Krycek. "Take your shirt off."

Krycek went still for a second. "Why?"

"Just take it off."

"Take it off me."

Mulder cocked the safety on the gun, leveling it at Krycek's head. "I said take it off."

Krycek seemed to be weighing the situation for a moment. Then he shrugged, pulling the charcoal shirt off and tossing it aside. He raised his chin and met Mulder's eyes with a mixture of defensiveness and defiance. "Is this what you wanted to see, Mulder?"

Mulder felt sick as he stared at what Krycek had been adjusting: the artificial arm that did not even remotely resemble a real one. With his jacket and gloves on Krycek could hide it, although an observant person would see a difference in the movement. But this...Krycek's own arm ended about six inches below the shoulder, and the prosthesis fitted over that, held in place by straps across his chest and shoulder. It was dull, flesh-colored, with hinges at the wrist and elbow, and it hung stiffly at Krycek's side, a horrible contrast to the graceful way he rested his right hand on his hip. Mulder looked at those long fingers, remembered the quickness of Krycek's hands, and he ached.

In Tunguska he had wanted to kill Krycek, had hated him for laughing it up with the guards while Mulder was held down and infiltrated with the black oil. Skinner had told him much later that it was rumored Krycek had lost his arm, and Mulder had felt only a dull, hollow sense of vindication. Finally, he told himself, Krycek was getting a fitting retribution. But now, faced with the reality, he felt a long, anguished scream of outrage building inside him.

"Yeah, Mulder, I have one arm. Are you going to gawk at it all night?" Krycek stood rigidly, not looking at Mulder. He was trying to sound bored and impatient, and not quite succeeding.

"I'm sorry." Mulder did not know whether he was apologizing for staring, or something bigger than that: that it had ever happened in the first place, that he was whole while Krycek was not.

"I don't need your fucking pity, Mulder! Anything I want from you, I could still take, and don't you forget it." Krycek's voice was low and harsh.

Mulder was suddenly sick and tired of all this. "Haven't you already taken enough?"

"Oh, the old familiar shit, I killed your father." Krycek reached down for his shirt. He pulled it on with a practiced economy of movement. "Well, whatever turns you on, Mulder."

Mulder's hand tightened on the gun. "Nothing about you turns me on, you lowlife psychopath." He pulled out his handcuffs and flung them at Krycek with enough force that Krycek had to duck and grab for them. "Put these on." He knew he should cuff Krycek himself but there was no way he was touching that prosthetic arm. Or any other part of Krycek.

"Bullshit." Krycek stood holding the cuffs. His eyes glittered and his teeth were clenched; Mulder had the impression Krycek was trying to get himself under control. "It turns you on to hit me."

"You want me to hit you now, Krycek? Put the fucking cuffs on." Again Mulder felt that strange reluctance to touch Krycek. Which only left the gun.

"Why? And what are you going to do?" Krycek spoke derisively, but Mulder could hear the edge under the words. "Kill an unarmed man in the middle of your living room?"

Mulder had had enough of Krycek's crap. He flicked the safety back once more, letting his eyes go cold. "Don't tempt me, Krycek. You broke into my house and you did have a weapon."

Krycek's already pale skin paled further as he suddenly seemed to realize that Mulder was serious. He gave an angry hiss and, awkwardly, using the prosthetic, snapped the cuff around his right wrist. He looked pointedly at the left. Mulder nodded. Rationally, he knew Krycek could remove the left arm, rendering the cuff moot, but it wouldn't be that easy to do, and he was too worked up to really care.

Krycek was breathing hard. He fastened the cuff around the prosthetic arm. He stared at Mulder in fury, his voice rough and taunting. "It turns you on to think I killed your father, doesn't it, Mulder?"

Mulder's hand shook on the gun. "Shut your lying, fucked-up mouth, Krycek!"

Krycek stared at him, his eyes burning with intensity. "Because you hated him."

Mulder felt himself so ready, so ready, to squeeze that trigger. "I said shut up."

"He never did you any good, Mulder." Krycek's voice was venomous with contempt. "He hurt you, and he abused you, and you just kept crawling back, wanting him to love you, even though you could never be good enough...you are one pathetic son of a bitch."

An incoherent yell burst from Mulder's throat, and he slammed his gun hand across Krycek's face. Krycek's head snapped back and he grunted in pain with the force of the blow. He stumbled, trying to regain his footing, and Mulder hit him again, even harder, driving into Krycek with all his rage and frustration. With his hands cuffed and no way to catch himself, Krycek crashed heavily into the sharp edge of Mulder's desk. He sank to the floor and stayed there, crouched down on one knee, his breathing labored.

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about, Krycek!" Mulder spat out the words. "What would you know about love? You're a cold-hearted, less than human, trigger-happy piece of scum."

Krycek's eyes were narrowed and almost black. Blood trickled down his face from a cut on his cheekbone. His voice was a constricted rasp. "That didn't stop you from asking me to blow you."

Something snapped inside Mulder, and whatever last vestiges of restraint he might have had where Krycek was concerned finally crumbled away. "Get up."

Krycek got to his feet with difficulty, his mouth open in a snarl of pain. He braced himself against the edge of the desk, doubled over with his arm pressed to his side.

"Enjoy playing your sick games, Krycek? How about when the tables are turned?"

Krycek just looked at him in confusion.

"Take off your pants."

One corner of Krycek's mouth went up, and small frown lines appeared between his eyes. "You're not serious."

Mulder stepped back to the desk, feeling behind him in the drawer until he located his second pair of handcuffs. He felt feverish, almost in a trance. Was he really going to go through with this?

"Off." When Krycek still didn't move, Mulder raised the gun, making sure Krycek noticed. "Now. You have one minute."

Krycek obeyed, stripping off his jeans and boots as quickly as he could with the cuffs on. He was shaking a little, and Mulder felt a fierce satisfaction at the sight.

Mulder yanked a chair into place in front of the metal radiator. "Get over here and bend over this. Keep your hands in front of you."

The green eyes widened in shock, horror and another emotion he couldn't quite read.

"No, Mulder. Not you."

Mulder waved the second pair of handcuffs. "Stop acting like a scared little virgin and get over there."

For a minute Krycek just stood frozen, staring at Mulder with a look of desperation. He was still wearing his black briefs, but that wouldn't be much of a problem, Mulder thought. Mulder's raw fury was ebbing somewhat, a little shaken by the entreaty in Krycek's eyes. Actually, the longer this went on, the more he was losing the stomach for what he was about to do.

"Not this way," Krycek said, his voice going husky.

At that, Mulder's rage surged back. You think you can call the shots, Krycek? You want it like before, when you were the lying little hustler?

"I have the gun. And don't think I won't use it. Now get over here and get on your knees."

Slowly, Krycek did as he was told, getting into position over the chair. Mulder linked the second pair of handcuffs through the ones Krycek was wearing, and locked them around the foot of the radiator. Krycek winced slightly as Mulder pulled his arms into place, though otherwise he didn't move or make a sound. He was keeping very still, his shoulders hunched, every muscle rigid, his right hand clenched into a fist.

Mulder started to unbuckle his belt. Against his will, he was disturbed by the sight of Krycek's unnatural stillness, his tense submission, the automatic way he had gotten into position. Without thinking, he reached out and touched Krycek's back briefly.

Krycek lowered his head slightly, tucking his face against his shoulder like a child. He made a very tiny sound of despair, almost inaudible. Mulder's stomach clenched at that. He couldn't go through with this. He wasn't a rapist. No one, not even Krycek, deserved that.

Buckling his belt, he pressed the muzzle of the gun to the back of Krycek's head and reached to grab him by the hair, to warn him not to try anything while Mulder undid the cuffs. The feel of the dark hair, warm and still slightly damp, brought uncomfortable memories of himself, a short while ago, running his hands through it while Krycek...

Shit! Mulder gripped Krycek's hair harder than he had meant to, yanking his head back a little.

It was as if a bomb exploded. With a savage suddenness, like a snake uncoiling to strike, Krycek ripped his head from Mulder's hold, twisting to the side and slamming his foot up into Mulder's hip with enough force to knock him backwards across the room.

"Get your fucking hands off me!"

Mulder lay gasping for breath, trying to clear his head. A wave of heat was swimming over him, blurring his vision to red. His hipbone was throbbing. The pain in his chest felt like a heart attack.

Krycek was panting, sprawled against the radiator with his mouth open. The force of his sudden violent motion had caused the handcuffs to bite into his wrist, and there was blood running down his hand. The chair, knocked aside, lay some feet away.

Mulder felt like he was drowning, trying to pull the air into his lungs. He pressed both hands against his forehead, where a pounding headache was starting. Breathe. Fuck. Just breathe. He brought his gun up, tried to find his voice. "I should kill you for that, Krycek."

"Do it."

Mulder sucked in air. "I'm not a killer."

"No?" Krycek cocked his head, spitting the words at Mulder. "Well, I'm not a sadist. Or a fucking rapist!"

"I'm not either, Krycek. Not with anyone else. It's you. You're like a virus that infects everything around you, dragging them down to your sick and filthy level."

"I'm sick and filthy? You're a fucking monster, Mulder!" Krycek's voice rose to a ragged yell of fury and pain. "I would have given you what you wanted! Why did you have to take it that way?"

The words seemed to hang in the air, burning into them both. Krycek leaned against the radiator, his eyes closed, gulping in breaths of air. Mulder got to his feet and stumbled into the bathroom, where he vomited his dinner violently.

He did not know how long he sat crouched over the bowl, unable to stop the heaving and retching that racked his body. He could not get the scene in the living room, or Krycek's words, out of his head.

Why did you have to take it that way?

Why? Because I didn't want it your way, you smiling up at me like a little happy cocksucking cunt. I wanted it my way. I wanted you to hurt, to scream, to bleed. I wanted to rip your fucking heart out just like you ripped out mine.

He stripped his clothes off and got into the shower, letting the hot water soothe his headache away, wash away the traces of Krycek's words, Krycek's touch, the sight of Krycek's arm. He wished he hadn't cuffed Krycek to the radiator, wished the murdering prick wouldn't be there when he came out. Briefly, he entertained the thought of just tossing the handcuff key to Krycek and telling him to get the hell out. The warmth of the shower sluiced through his hair and down his back as he soaped up. Jesus, his hip ached. Krycek packed a hell of a kick. Mulder sometimes forgot that he was that strong, since Krycek almost never fought back no matter what Mulder did to him. Even in the cell in Tunguska, Krycek hadn't hit him back, only pushed Mulder away. Don't touch me again.

But he always did touch Alex. Seeing that face, hearing that voice—it got to him every time, reminding him of those first days working together, when he had felt that immediate, undeniable connection. Even in those geeky suits and ridiculously gelled hair, Alex had been striking. Mulder had been prepared to feel a physical attraction. He hadn't been prepared for Alex's quick mind, the way he could take an idea of Mulder's and run with it, coaxing a spark into flame. The way he accepted Mulder's ideas—seriously, thoughtfully, without any of Scully's cool disbelief. He hadn't been prepared for the way Alex looked at him, looked up to him, almost reverently sometimes. Alex could be sweetly deferential, bringing him coffee, asking how he slept—but he didn't let Mulder get away with any crap. Mulder hadn't been prepared for Alex's sense of humor, or the almost magnetic need he felt to be near Alex, to put his hands on him. He hadn't been prepared to like his new partner so much, to take such an interest in Alex, in every sense of the word.

And, although he had accused Krycek of being a plant from the start, the truth was he hadn't been prepared for the betrayal, the knife Krycek had coolly and casually twisted in his back. He was left with the knowledge that while he was struggling with his feelings for Alex, Krycek had been playing him for a patsy. Like a total fool, Mulder had been wrestling with the ethics of the situation—as if Krycek would know an ethic if it bit him on the ass. Alex was younger than Mulder, more innocent—ha!—and as the senior partner, Mulder was technically Alex's superior. He hadn't wanted to take advantage of the young man. Meanwhile Krycek had been taking meetings with Cancerman, plotting to have Scully abducted, killing people with complete aplomb.

Even now, six years later, he still felt that betrayal, that pain, compounded by the knowledge of all the other terrible things Krycek had done to him since, the murder of his father chief among them.

But the hell of it was, he couldn't shake that other memory, the attraction he had felt. Each time they met, it steamrolled him again; when he looked at Krycek he was still suffused with—desire? No, he wouldn't call it that. Wanting, maybe. Wanting the Alex he had thought he knew, the Alex he could never have. Instead, he would be faced with Krycek, cynical and malevolent in dusty black, armed to the teeth and sure to be fresh off some heinous bit of wrongdoing, double-crossing and treachery.

And he would be filled with the uncontrollable urge to strike out, to exact some measure of vengeance and relief from the ache, the agonized denial that still, after all these years, leapt up inside him. He didn't know if Krycek could be hurt emotionally, the way he had hurt Mulder. Did he even have a heart? Sometimes Krycek seemed to show emotions, but who knew how real they were. The man was a master of deceit.

But he could certainly be hurt physically, and Mulder took a savage satisfaction in doing just that, seeing Krycek bleed and gasp for breath, hearing him grunt and cry out, watching the flicker of fear in his eyes when Mulder grabbed him, the pained submission.

He didn't want to think about why Krycek had fought back this time. His mind didn't want to go there.

It's him; he's the sick and twisted one. I would never do that to anyone else, never even imagine doing it.

He shuddered. The whole encounter felt like acid seeping through his body, leaving him raw inside. Suddenly his knees went weak, the adrenaline rage fading, and he slumped to a sitting position in the tub. He sat hugging his knees, the water pouring down on him, wanting to scream, to cry, but feeling too empty and gouged out to do more than rock back and forth, letting his breath come out in a soundless whimper.


Mulder remained under the shower until the water began to turn lukewarm. Finally he forced himself to get out, get dressed, and go back in there. He got as far as the doorway. Instantly, from his position by the radiator, Krycek stiffened. Eyeing Mulder warily, he shifted position and flexed one foot, obviously intending to repeat the kick should Mulder try anything further.

Mulder stared back, wordless, in shock. The brief insanity that had led him to try—that—was past and the idea of touching Krycek in any way was utterly repugnant to him now. Krycek did not move, but the green eyes, shaded heavily with apprehension and accusation, stayed on Mulder.

There was nothing to say. Mulder retreated to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and got a beer, if only to give his shaking hands something to do.

As part of Mulder's training as a psychologist, he had done some volunteer work in a rape counseling center. Specters of traumatized victims appeared uncomfortably in his mind; sobbing, ashamed, devastated. But that wasn't Krycek. Other than the bruises beginning to darken on Krycek's face, he hadn't resembled a victim in any way.

Phrases from the counseling came back to him: "No one 'asks for' rape." "Rape is an act of aggression, not sexual desire."

Strangely, that one gave some comfort to Mulder. Krycek, who apparently regarded sex as just another tool in his mindfucking arsenal, had goaded Mulder beyond tolerance, and Mulder had responded as any normal man would, by wanting to beat the shit out of him. He hadn't raped Krycek, hadn't even really tried. The most he had done was pull Krycek's hair a little.

And Krycek had gotten his licks in too. Mulder's hip and tailbone were still sore as hell.

Mulder paced the kitchen, sipping the beer he didn't really want and surely didn't need, after the three glasses of wine he'd had at dinner. He was not a drinker and would almost certainly wake up with a hangover tomorrow. Irrationally, he resented Krycek for that, too.

The whole situation was so out of control. He wished there were someone he could call, someone he could turn to. But Skinner would only tell him to bring Krycek into custody, where Krycek would unquestionably not last long. And Scully...he could just hear it.

"After I left you, I tried to rape Krycek and he's currently handcuffed to my radiator. What the hell do I do now?"

"Oh, Mulder, how terrible! I'll run right over and shoot him for you and dispose of the body and sit up holding your hand all night."

Ha. More like:

"Mulder, you pathetic asswipe. I can't even get engaged without you screwing up my day? I can't tell you how glad I am to be leaving you!"

Okay, she wouldn't use those terms but those would sure as hell be her sentiments. No, this one was all his.


The husky, hesitant voice calling from the other room broke into his thoughts. Mulder froze, gripping the bottle.

"Mulder!" The voice was more insistent and demanding this time. Mulder downed the last of the beer and walked out of the kitchen. Krycek looked at him, his gaze fiercely knowing. The apartment was not that large; had he heard Mulder vomiting and retching before? It certainly wouldn't have escaped him that Mulder had stayed under the shower for forty-five minutes and then immediately gone to hide out in the kitchen.

"You've had your fun, Mulder. Uncuff me and let me go."

Mulder leaned back against the wall with his hands in his pockets, still at a loss as to what to do. Bringing Krycek in was out of the question, as was letting him go. Mulder didn't trust for a second that this wasn't some kind of a setup. And even if Krycek was telling the truth, if, amazingly, that apple did contain a working vaccine—let him go—where? Krycek would disappear, to hide out somewhere far away or be hunted down by the Consortium. Either way, Mulder would never see him again, and, worse, would never know if he was alive or dead.

Not that I give a shit about that. I just don't trust him.

Another crack of thunder sounded outside. The rain was coming down hard now, great sheets of it.

"It's still raining," Mulder pointed out inanely. Krycek stared at him in furious disbelief.

"You're the great profiler, Mulder." Krycek's voice became taunting. "What's the profile of a rapist? Let me guess—lives alone, obsessed with porn, no social life, no impulse control..."

"Shut the fuck up, Krycek," Mulder snapped. "I didn't rape you. I barely even touched you." His voice was returning now, along with his anger. "You really want to know what rape means, I can take you into custody and dump you in the DC holding pens overnight. With a face and ass like yours, you should get a first-hand definition of the word."

"Not necessary," Krycek said, and there was something so dark and disquieting in his voice and eyes that Mulder felt his stomach go cold. Unbidden, the memory flashed of Krycek on his knees, his body rigid and motionless.

Fuck, I never asked to know anything, I don't want to feel anything for him.

"Unless you want another murder on your hands," Krycek said softly.

Lightning clawed the sky, a huge bolt, stopping time for an instant of ghostly blue. Mulder stared at it, noticing one of his windows was open a couple of inches. Numbly, relieved to have this small thing to focus on, he walked over to shut it. Krycek twisted his head, watching Mulder uneasily. The windowsill was wet. Mulder ran a finger along it. He gazed down out the window, to where the water ran in rivers through the streets below.

"I suppose this is by-the-book FBI procedure for dealing with a source," Krycek said. "Agent Mulder."

Mulder snorted disgustedly. "You're lecturing me on FBI procedure, Krycek? That's a good one." He moved away from the window. Krycek shifted, seeming to relax a bit now that Mulder was back in his direct line of sight.

"Hey," Krycek said, sounding slightly defensive, "I went through the training. I went to Quantico."

Mulder sat down on the couch, nudging aside Krycek's leather jacket. "What happened?"

"What do you care?"

Mulder decided he didn't care; anything Krycek told him was liable to be a pack of lies anyway. "Whatever." He reached for the leather jacket and began going through the pockets, ignoring Krycek's growl of outrage.

One outer pocket held the black leather gloves and a pair of designer sunglasses. Two cough drops and a Snickers bar were in the other. The inside pockets held a small cell phone, a notebook—nothing written in it—and a wallet, all encased in black leather.

"What, do you have a black leather fetish, Krycek?"

Mulder scrutinized the cell phone, realizing with annoyance that Krycek's gun was bigger, and his cell phone smaller and cooler, than Mulder's. "I'm hurt, Krycek, you never gave me your phone number." He tucked the cell phone away in his pocket. He would have to find out who Krycek had been calling with this phone. "Wonder who does have it." Krycek opened his mouth but then didn't say anything, merely stared at Mulder's pocket. Mulder unwrapped the Snickers bar and took a bite, flipping open Krycek's wallet.

"Are you eating my fucking candy bar?" Krycek growled.

The wallet held almost two hundred dollars in twenties and tens, and two credit cards and a driver's license under the name Daniel Stone. No pictures, papers or anything else remotely personal or interesting. Mulder tossed the jacket aside and picked up Krycek's black jeans. In the pockets he found a twenty-dollar bill, a ring of keys and a nasty-looking switchblade.

"Satisfied?" Krycek snapped. "Can I have my stuff back now? And leave?"

Mulder dropped the jeans back to the floor. He ate the last bite of candy and tossed the wadded wrapper at Krycek. "You look comfy where you are."

Krycek stared balefully up at him. "Unlock these fucking things and let me go, you psycho sonofabitch!" Krycek was sweating; unable to wipe his face with his hands, he gave an angry toss of his head. Mulder turned and went into the bedroom. Wanting to punch holes in the walls, he sat on the edge of the bed, holding his head.

He didn't want to hit Krycek again. He didn't even want to see Krycek again. But Krycek was yelling his name and would not shut up. Exasperated, ready to explode, Mulder strode back out to the living room. Instantly, Krycek's eyes locked on his.

"You have to let me go." Krycek's voice took on a desperate edge. "They're going to kill me, Mulder."

"And I should care about this—why?"

Krycek shifted, wincing and gritting his teeth in pain. "Mulder, I swear to you, if you let me go, I'll forget all of this ever happened. I'll—I'll disappear and you'll never have to see me again. I swear. I'll never come near you again."

"Let you go, Krycek? You want me to let you go? All right, maybe I'll do that." Mulder paced the room, stopping just behind Krycek, so that Krycek had to tip his head back to look directly up at him. Krycek tensed all over when he did that. "Maybe I'll put you out there, in the rain, just as you are, how about that." Mulder paused to let Krycek imagine being out in the downpour, half-dressed and handcuffed, with no weapon, cash or keys. Krycek swallowed, watching him warily. Mulder paced to the door and back again. "Or maybe I'll just shoot you with your own gun, and tell the cops it was suicide. I could probably fake a crime scene well enough—"

Krycek was frowning slightly, following Mulder with his eyes. "You're drunk, Mulder," he said quietly.

The words hit Mulder like a brick to the side of the head. His hands were shaking again, and he made his way to the couch and dropped onto it like a stone.

His father's rages, spiraling out of control. His mother's voice, brittle with reproach and unshed tears.

"You're drunk, Bill."

Another deafening crack of thunder sounded, with a simultaneous blast of light across the sky. Mulder's hatred focused with laser like intensity on the crouched figure of Krycek. He retrieved his gun and walked back to kneel down by the radiator, staring into Krycek's eyes. Lifting the gun, he placed the barrel under Krycek's chin.

"You are like my personal demon from hell, Krycek." Mulder spoke slowly. Krycek blinked, recoiling slightly. "If it were up to me, I'd like nothing better than to watch you die in as painful a manner as possible." Krycek was staring at him wide-eyed, a look of stunned despair on his face. Mulder pressed the gun harder against his throat, pushing Krycek's head back. "Understand me, Krycek?"

Krycek could not move his head much, with the gun jammed under his chin, but he gave a tiny nod. Mulder stepped back.

"Why are you doing this to me?" Krycek asked, his voice cracking. "Don't you know what I gave you tonight?"

Mulder turned. "What, is that supposed to change everything?"

Krycek shook his head. "Are you so self-centered that it doesn't?" he asked, his voice hardly more than a whisper.

Mulder went into the bedroom. He stripped out of his clothes and lay down, naked, staring at the ceiling, the same as he did every night. But despite what he had told Krycek, nothing was the same. Everything had changed, terribly.


The alarm clock went off next to Mulder's head. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to wake up, when a soft sound from his living room brought back the realization of all that had happened. Naked and still muzzy with sleep, he plodded out to take a look. Krycek was half-leaning, half-lying against the radiator, his left knee drawn up and his left arm pressed to his side. At first glance he appeared to be asleep, but he was not. As Mulder approached, Krycek's head came up and he stared at Mulder with the expression of a starving man about to be killed by a plate of prime rib.

Absently scratching the hair on his chest, Mulder gazed back. He had not been embarrassed to be naked in front of Krycek at first, but Krycek's look was disconcerting. Krycek cleared his throat and started to speak. Mulder didn't want to hear it. He turned and headed for the bathroom. As he washed up and dressed for work, he heard Krycek yell his name a couple of times, then subside into silence.

Steeling himself, Mulder walked out to face his nemesis. At least he was dressed this time. "Yeah, Krycek?"

Krycek spoke through gritted teeth. "What are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to work. Some of us do work for a living."

"So you're going to just leave me here?" Krycek looked like he was fighting to keep his temper under control. He sucked in a couple of angry breaths. "Still think you're so much better than me, Mulder?"

Despite a pounding headache from all the wine, Mulder felt stronger in the morning light. The guilt and the ghosts were receding, allowing the situation to take on manageable proportions. "Yeah, Krycek, I do." He kept his voice calm and hard. "I didn't murder anyone in your family, or your friends, or hurt them. Oh, right, you probably don't have a family, or friends." Krycek flinched slightly at the words.

"I don't kill people just because it's expedient. I don't claim to love this country and then turn around and peddle secrets to the Russians, the French, the Tunisians, and God knows who else." Again the little flinch, the long lashes fluttering.

"All I've done is knock you around a little, and can you honestly say that you don't deserve it?"

Krycek laughed bitterly, shaking his head. "Deserve? You think there's any justice in the world, that people get what they deserve? It's all random, Mulder. It's fate and cunning and power. There's no justice...not divine, not yours and not mine."

"If you really believe that," Mulder said, "then what's the point of laws, government—hell, the Bureau? Why not just have anarchy?"

"Most people are stupid. They need to be led."

"Nice view of human nature, Krycek."

"One that you don't share?" Krycek's eyes glittered. "Give me a break. You don't think you're better and brighter than just about everyone around you?"

Mulder fought back an involuntary smile as the truth of that pierced home. Still, he would not give Krycek the satisfaction of knowing he'd scored a point. He made his face a bored mask. "I've got to go."

Krycek stared back, his eyes murderous. "You better at least let me use the bathroom. Unless you want me to piss on your rug."

Mulder had no doubt that he would do just that. Krycek was no better than an animal. Irritation mingling with an uncomfortable nudge of guilt, he fetched his gun and unlocked Krycek's left wrist, leaving the cuff dangling from his right. Krycek stretched and flexed his arms, wincing, before getting slowly to his feet. Holding his left side, he limped off toward the bathroom, shutting the door pointedly in Mulder's face and locking it. Mulder stifled a reflexive objection. There was no way Krycek could escape; they were too high up, and the window was sealed shut under an archeological number of paint layers.

"I'm right outside, Krycek," he called warningly through the door. "Don't take too long."

He heard an indistinct mutter that sounded like "Fuck you." Mulder leaned against the wall outside, keeping the gun trained on the door. A few minutes passed. He heard the toilet flush and the water running and waited for the door to open, but it did not.

Mulder rapped on the door impatiently. "Let's go, Krycek!" He heard only silence in return. What the hell was Krycek doing in there? Mulder banged on the door, harder this time. "Krycek! Get out here now, before I shoot you right through this fucking door!"

No response, then another mutter that might have been "No," or "Let me go," or maybe "Fuck you" again.

"Goddammit, Krycek! If I have to take this lock off, you're going downtown with me and Skinner can have you! Now unlock the door."

More silence. Then: "You're not cuffing me to that radiator again," Krycek said hoarsely.

Mulder closed his eyes for a moment, thinking. With irritation, he realized his threat to shoot was pretty much an empty one. It would only wreck his bathroom, and Krycek could easily hide in the shower, where Mulder couldn't get a straight shot. He recalled that he had an old bicycle chain and lock, which gave him an idea. Still holding the gun, in case Krycek did decide to emerge, he went to get the chain and locks, plus a screwdriver.

There was no sound from Krycek as Mulder unscrewed the bathroom doorknob and removed it. Slowly and cautiously, he stepped back, keeping the gun cocked, and kicked the door open, fully expecting to have to grapple with Krycek. To his surprise, Krycek was just sitting against the wall, gazing at Mulder with a numb, fatalistic look in his eyes. Hands at his sides, wearing only his shirt, briefs and socks, the rat looked as though he had reached the end of his rope and no longer cared what Mulder might do to him. A warning clicked in Mulder's mind. With nothing to lose, Krycek would be doubly dangerous.

Picking up the chain and locks, Mulder advanced into the bathroom and crouched down in front of Krycek. Krycek gazed at him in exhausted suspicion but made no move.

"Okay, Krycek. You can stay in here." Mulder was still holding the gun. With his other hand, he reached out carefully to open the door of the under-sink cabinet. "I'll make this long enough so you can get water and use the toilet." He looped the chain around the pipe under the sink and locked it in place, then used the smaller padlock to attach the chain to the handcuffs.

Krycek sat up a bit as Mulder attached the cuff. His eyes roamed to the pipe under the sink and Mulder could see it, the life coming back into Krycek, the green gaze sharpening to a wolf stare as Krycek checked out the pipe, taking note of the fact that it had a removable trap.

Mulder's eyes met Krycek's. He could feel the awareness spark between them, the challenge that gleamed from beneath Krycek's half-lowered lashes. They were sitting very close, close enough to touch, although they were both assiduously avoiding that. Mulder reached over to the pipe and tried to loosen the trap with his hand. He could not. Still, Krycek was strong, and determined, and he would have a good eight hours to work on it while Mulder was at the Bureau. Mulder went out to his toolbox and fetched a wrench, tightening the connection until he was fairly certain Krycek would not be able to undo it by hand. Before he left, he made sure to remove all the tools from the bathroom.

Outside, he bought a newspaper and then stopped off at the coffee shop where he usually got coffee and a bagel for breakfast. It hit him with a little jolt that he would have to take something to Krycek as well. As little as he cared for the rat bastard, Mulder couldn't just let him starve.

Krycek looked up sharply when Mulder returned, smirking as he spotted the bag Mulder carried. "Rosie's?" A small gleam appeared in his eyes. "Good glazed donuts there."

Mulder felt a jolt of irritation at the realization that either he and Krycek were neighbors, which he seriously doubted, or Krycek had spent more time than Mulder cared to think about skulking around outside Mulder's apartment, stuffing himself with donuts.

"I got bagels." He handed the bag to Krycek.

Krycek took a sip of the coffee and grimaced. "Got any cream and sugar?"

Mulder looked at him in annoyance. "No." He turned to go.

"So you're just going to leave me here?" Krycek said. His eyes narrowed at Mulder's bland nod. "What the hell am I supposed to do all day, look at your fucking walls?"

Mulder raised his eyebrows. "Hey, play with yourself all day for all I care."

Krycek gave him a level stare that let him know his flippancy was not appreciated. Mulder relented, grabbing a couple of books off his coffee table. Hurrying back, he tossed them into the bathroom near Krycek. "Here."

Krycek started to reach for the books, then suddenly drew back, his expression changing into anger and revulsion. As if they were a pair of scorpions, he actually kicked the books away from him. Mulder looked at him with incredulity. Krycek really was more of a lunatic than even Mulder had imagined.

"I'm not reading that crap!" Krycek said, sounding outraged.

Glancing down, Mulder saw that the books were a couple that Langley had lent him on possible methods of communicating with extraterrestrial life. They weren't bad; less scientific and more new-agey than Mulder would have preferred, perhaps, but they did contain several interesting theories.

"I spent my whole fucking life fighting against this shit, Mulder! Why the hell would I want to communicate—" Krycek sneered out the word as though it were something filthy "—with them?"

Mulder rolled his eyes. "How can you be so—"

"They're terrorists, Mulder, plain and simple! You don't reason with them, you don't—"

"Look, I know you had a bad experience with—"

"A bad experience?" Krycek's expression became an open-mouthed snarl. "You don't know anything, Mulder, nothing!"

Mulder walked out, slamming the door. Keeping an assassin in his bathroom was not proving to be one of the smarter things he had ever done.


Despite the large mound of case files and paperwork awaiting his attention, Mulder spent the morning checking out the six disks Krycek had given him. The first one contained several files with names like "Phytogenesis Experiments," and "Bacillium Trials I." He was starting to feel baffled and irritated when he spotted a file entitled, "ReadMulder." Opening it, he read:

["Mulder: This disk contains the plant genetics experiments and trial runs that led to the production of the apples containing the vaccine gene. There's a list of sources if you want to do further reading on it. I don't fully understand all the underlying science myself, but the scientists doing the work will be able to answer your questions. In the file marked 'Oliver Technologies' you will find their names and bios, and information on the place in northern Maryland where the work is being done. It's three scientists, one office in a bioengineering facility. As far as they know they are working on a top-secret project for the government. That should make it fairly easy when you take over for me. A. K."]

Mulder perused some of the files, but they were fairly incomprehensible to him. He ran Oliver Technologies and the names of the three scientists through the FBI database. They all checked out. It was beginning to look like Krycek just might be telling the truth.

Mulder put in the second disk. This time he went directly to the " ReadMulder" file.

["Mulder: This contains the layout of the lab in Trenton where the Consortium is manufacturing the vaccine. I was only able to smuggle out a limited amount to use in developing the vaccine apples. You will have to go in and get the rest. I've laid out my plans for how to stage a raid on the place after hours, which are also included here..."]

And so on, each disk meticulously organized and methodically explained.

["Mulder: This contains the original formula for making the vaccine, plus as much as I could find on the experiments that led up to it..."]

["Mulder: These are Consortium files on the colonization plans, and their plans for selling the vaccine. Also my own files containing my ideas for distribution and possible avenues to go about it..."]

["Mulder: This is information on the Consortium, whatever dirt I could dig up. I hope you can someday use it to bring them down..."]

Mulder went through that one for a couple of hours. It did indeed contain a good deal of hair-raising and potentially explosive information on Consortium activities, going back several years. There were, however, some glaring omissions. There was no mention of Mulder, or Scully, or Samantha. And there was no mention at all of Krycek, or his involvement with any of it.

Mulder inserted the sixth and last disk. To his surprise, instead of a list of files, the screen filled with gibberish. He wondered if the disk was damaged in some way, or if it contained more Consortium files that had somehow been encoded. Not having the knowledge or patience for these things himself, he made plans to bring it to the Lone Gunmen after work.

The Gunmen labored over it for hours, fortified with Mulder's bribe of three large mushroom and pepperoni pizzas, but even they were unable to unlock the code.

"This is some encryption program," Byers said, sounding both frustrated and admiring, when they were finally forced to admit defeat. Lying on the Gunmen's couch, chowing down on a slice of pizza, Mulder's thoughts went to the rat in his bathroom. Did Krycek have the code?

It was after nine o'clock when Mulder finally made his way back home. He wondered if Krycek would still be there when he returned, and wondered which scenario he was hoping for: Krycek gone, probably forever, or Krycek in his apartment, making his life hell. Just in case, he stopped at the Chinese place on the corner and picked up some lo mein and spareribs.

There was no sound when he entered and switched on the light, and he felt a curious desolation. So the bastard had managed to escape somehow. Then he spotted the black leather jacket still draped over the back of the couch. A wave of mingled relief and dread hit him. He set the food down and drew his gun as he headed down the hall.

Except that the bruises on his face had darkened to purple, Krycek looked just as Mulder had left him that morning, chained to the sink. He stared up at Mulder through narrowed, furious eyes as Mulder approached the bathroom. "Where the hell have you been all night?" he snarled.

"Gee, honey, did'ja miss me? I just stopped to have a beer with the guys after work."

Krycek's expression flared into full-blown rage. He cursed volubly at Mulder for several minutes in English and Russian and maybe a few other languages as well.

Feeling a strange, almost giddy lightness, Mulder waited patiently until Krycek paused for breath. "You hungry?"

"What do you think?" Krycek snapped. "All you gave me all day was a fucking bagel."

Mulder smiled blandly. "And you didn't even say thank you."

He watched Krycek's pride struggle with his ratlike survival instincts. Survival won out, as Mulder had known it would. "Thanks, Mulder, you're all heart. Now are you going to give me something to eat, or do I have to gnaw my other arm off?"

Mulder got a can of Coke from his refrigerator and brought it and the bag of takeout to Krycek. As Krycek sucked the meat from the spareribs with piranha-like speed and efficiency, Mulder lowered himself to the floor in the hall. "I took a look at the disks you gave me," he said. "One of them is encoded."

Strong emotion surged up into Krycek's eyes for a moment, before he bent his head once more over the food, effectively hiding his face from Mulder.

"Do you know what's on it?"

There was no response beyond chewing. Mulder decided to try a different angle. "Can you trust those scientists you're working with on the apples?"

He was a little surprised when Krycek answered readily, looking up at him. "So far they've been okay. I didn't want to use outside people, but..."

"Why did you? I thought you were funding this yourself. Why not just hire your own people and do it autonomously?"

With an incredulous snort, Krycek rolled his eyes sideways to the wall, as though hoping to find a more intelligent response there. "Yeah, in my secret underground laboratory, Mulder. And then I will rule the world!"


"Christ, Mulder, you don't get it, do you?" Krycek was shaking his head. "You just never get it! I'm one fucking man, Mulder. One man, expendable, and I'm being watched like a hawk. I can't just produce something like this on my own. I don't have that kind of power, or that kind of money. I had to work within the system—I've always had to work within the system. I had to work with the Consortium people and smuggle their vaccine out when I could." A dark undercurrent ran through Krycek's voice for a moment. "I hate those men, Mulder."

"But you have no trouble getting in bed with them to further your interests."

Krycek pushed the sparerib container, now reduced to a pile of clean bones, aside. He popped the top of the Coke and took a long drink. "You do whatever it takes, Mulder." Krycek emphasized the words with a little flick of his eyebrows. "You fund what you can under the table, you push it where it needs to go, you never know who you can trust so you keep them guessing, you play all sides against the middle—"

"You're good at that," Mulder said coolly.

"Yeah, well, be very fucking glad I am, Mulder! If I was as fine a human being as you, you wouldn't have that vaccine in your hands right now, because it wouldn't exist, or if it did exist, they would have hoarded it all for themselves." Krycek stared at him, the intensity of his gaze leaving Mulder feeling scalded and off-balance.

Are you so self-centered that this doesn't make a difference?

"I just have a hard time picturing you as altruistic, Krycek," he said dryly.

Krycek opened the lo mein and started slurping down noodles. "Call it what you want. But we're on the same side here, fighting for the same things."

Mulder was distracted by the way the oily lo mein was making Krycek's lips shine. There was a little smudge of sparerib sauce above Krycek's lip, just at the corner. Mulder found himself becoming weirdly hypnotized by it.

"You've been inside the Consortium lab?" he asked abruptly. "You know your way around?"

Krycek nodded. "Sure."

"And your suggestion was that I should somehow convince the Bureau to get behind this raid?" Mulder frowned. "They'll never go for that."

"Not if they know what it is. But let's say they think it's some kind of drug lab, something along those lines—"

"They'd destroy everything—"

"It's evidence—"

"No." Mulder shook his head. "How about a virus—bacteriological warfare?"

"Then you get CDC and all that. Keep it simple." Krycek leaned forward. "Who can you trust? Can you trust Skinner?"

A lot more than I can trust you, probably, Mulder thought. He shrugged his suit jacket off, loosened his tie. "He's okay."

"Would he authorize something? We need Bureau manpower. It can't be just you and me."

You and me? You were planning to run off.

Krycek gave Mulder a wry, knowing look, as if reading his thoughts. He sat back, sipping his soda. Mulder felt energized. He felt the connection humming, something deeper and more substantial than the crazy physical thing that always seemed to spark between them. Something that went back to when they were partners. That intellectual connection, the way they worked a case so well together—that at least had been real, hadn't it?

Hadn't it?

Krycek finished the soda and tipped the can up, shaking it to get the last few drops before crumpling it and tossing it in the trash. Mulder knew the salty Chinese food must be making him thirsty. He also knew with certainty that Krycek would not ask him for another soda, or try to awkwardly drink from the sink in front of Mulder.

"So," Mulder said, "are you going to give me the code for that disk?"

Krycek's eyes glinted. He raised his wrist. "Are you going to let me go, Mulder?" The bones of Krycek's hand and wrist were long and graceful. That sucked the air from Mulder's lungs for a second. He could see that Krycek's wrist was red and raw under the cuff. He knew he should probably take a look at it, but he was reluctant to uncuff Krycek, for many reasons. He hooked a finger through his tie and pulled it over his head, stalling for time.

"Where would you go?" he asked finally. They stared at each other. Despite Mulder's sinking suspicion that his was the weaker position, it was Krycek who broke first, his eyes sliding away from Mulder's and going flat with unhappiness.

"You can't keep me chained up in your bathroom all night," he said hoarsely.

And what would be the alternative? Have a beer together on the couch and watch the game? Cuddle up in the waterbed?

Turn him loose to disappear?

"It's not so bad, Krycek." Mulder said, keeping his voice a deliberate monotone. "I'm sure you've been in worse situations than this."

Krycek's head dropped in angry defeat. "Can I get a fucking blanket at least?"

Mulder got up, went out to the closet and found an extra blanket and a pillow. He brought them back to Krycek. "Here." Krycek took them without a word. Mulder went to the kitchen and got another Coke and a water glass. Krycek's eyes widened slightly when Mulder handed him the soda and set the glass on the sink. There was still a smudge of sparerib sauce on Krycek's lip, and his tongue absently came out to lick it away. He didn't fully succeed. Mulder own lips tingled. He started to turn away quickly, then remembered he still had the day's newspaper. He pulled it from his briefcase and handed it to Krycek. Krycek took it, continuing to gaze at Mulder without speaking.

In the bedroom, Mulder stripped off his clothes, leaving his boxers on this time. He fed the fish, checked his phone messages, picked up Krycek's jeans and boots from the floor and put them away in the closet. Feeling restless and unable to concentrate, he sprawled on the couch to watch TV. His mind kept going back to the lab, the vaccine, and how to work it. And from there, disturbingly, to Krycek, fixating on that small spot of sparerib sauce above Krycek's mouth. With an almost bodily rush of relief, he gave in and allowed himself to fantasize.

He would crouch down next to Krycek, as close as they had been in the bathroom that morning. Krycek would stare at him like he had that day he kissed Mulder, lips parted, eyes intense. Mulder would lick the tip of one finger and touch it to that spot on Krycek's lip...

Mulder felt a tightening in his groin. He slid down so he was lying along the couch and let his hand wander to the waistband of his sweatpants.

When he rubbed the sauce from Krycek's lip, Krycek would open his mouth a little wider, and catch Mulder's fingertip in his teeth, very lightly. Mulder would feel Krycek's tongue press against his finger and he would...

He would...


That brought his fantasies grinding to a halt. Any thoughts of kissing Krycek, undressing Krycek—having sex with Krycek—slammed his mind up against last night like a wave splintering on a jagged shoal.

Krycek's arm, the way he had stared at the wall, like he wanted to escape from his own body. Krycek's little mocking smile, taunting Mulder. Krycek bent over the chair, his head down, trembling. The look in his eyes afterward.

Mulder sat up, feeling suddenly ill. No, he didn't want to do any of that with Krycek.

And Krycek didn't truly want to do any of that with him. Despite Krycek's display of apparent willingness last night, Mulder didn't believe for a minute that any of it had been real. No more than the adoring looks young Alex had sent his way had been real.

Mulder rubbed a hand across his face. He had never felt less sexy in his life. What he really wanted was a long, hot shower. But Krycek was there, ensconced in his bathroom like some kind of malevolent, captive beast. Mulder subsided irritably back onto the couch to watch the Crocodile Hunter jubilantly pursuing poisonous pit vipers halfway around the globe, until his eyes finally closed.


Pressure in his bladder brought Mulder awake, to an uneasy feeling he couldn't quite identify. He stumbled into the bathroom—

—and was brought up short by a pair of cold green eyes: Alex Krycek, chained to his sink.

Mulder stood in the doorway for a moment, nonplussed. Didn't that motherfucker ever sleep?

"Go ahead and pee, Mulder," Krycek rasped mockingly. "It's nothing I haven't seen before."

"What, you hang around in public bathrooms for kicks, Krycek?" Mulder stepped up to the plate, but apparently his bat was feeling a little performance anxiety, for nothing was happening. Shit, he was too tired for this.

"Run some water," Krycek suggested.

"Shut the hell up, Krycek." Mulder was damned if he was going to run the water, or slink out of his own bathroom to pee in the kitchen sink.

Nothing. Mulder stretched, cracking his back and neck.

Krycek started to whistle tunelessly. Mulder really wanted to turn around and kick him in the nuts. But that would erode what little dignity he had left. He closed his eyes and waited, tried to think meditative thoughts and relax.

Finally, he felt it start to happen. Trying to act nonchalant, he peed and tucked himself away. Krycek was still whistling. Not wanting to chance walking in on Krycek again while half-asleep, Mulder started to pull the door shut.

"Hey, leave it open! I'm not going to escape." Krycek seemed suddenly agitated. Mulder ignored him and snapped off the light.

"At least leave the damn light on, Mulder!"

"Why, Krycek, I always thought cockroaches liked the dark." Mulder stepped out, closing the door.

"Mulder! Open this fucking door!" Krycek's voice was angry and desperate. Mulder could hear him cursing and screaming, sounding increasingly frantic, as Mulder walked back to the couch. Fuck Krycek anyway. A few hours in the dark weren't going to kill him. Why couldn't he just go to sleep and let Mulder do the same?

The sudden hard crash of something hitting the bathroom door made Mulder jump and duck. More crashes followed, then the sound of glass breaking.


The rat bastard was destroying his bathroom. Mulder stormed back to stand outside the door.

"Krycek!" He had to raise his voice to be heard over Krycek's screaming and the loud slams of things smashing against the door. "Krycek! Shut the fuck up and listen! I can't open the door unless you stop throwing things."

Silence for a moment. Mulder waited. "Okay...open it!" Krycek rasped.

"Okay, I'm opening the door, Krycek. You try anything and you're—" Too late, he realized he didn't have his gun. "Try anything and it gets shut again, for good."

"Just—open—it." Krycek sounded like he was about to lose it completely.

Slowly and cautiously, Mulder opened the door and flipped on the light. Krycek was half-crouched by the sink; Mulder could hear his harsh, rapid breathing from the doorway. His eyes looked dark and wild, the pupils dilated. The exertion had torn open the wound on his wrist, and fresh blood was running down his arm.

"What the fuck is wrong with you, Krycek?"

As Mulder had feared, his bathroom was completely trashed. Krycek had apparently seized everything he could get hold of and flung it at the door. Shampoo, shaving cream and scouring powder were splattered all over the walls and the door. There was broken glass on the floor—the water glass.

"All right, I'm just going to get a broom and clean up some of this mess. Don't try anything and don't touch anything."

He made Krycek get up and shake out the blanket and pillow, then started sweeping up the broken glass. Krycek resumed his position on the floor. Mulder noticed he was holding the prosthetic hand strangely, curled into a fist between his knees. Concealing a piece of broken glass?

"Open your hands," Mulder ordered. With a weary grimace, Krycek obeyed, tossing the shard of glass to the floor. He was breathing heavily, gulping in air as though he had just run a marathon.

"Panic attack, Krycek?" Mulder asked. "You afraid of the dark?"

Krycek looked away. "Fuck you, Mulder," he panted raggedly.

Mulder dumped the broken glass into the trash. "Beasties that crawl in the—"


The silo.

The silo where Krycek had been locked up after the black oilien left his body, left there in the dark with—it—for God knew how long. How he had gotten out, Mulder had no idea.

Jesus. Mulder's skin crawled just thinking about it.


At the sound of his first name Krycek jerked slightly, as if prodded with an electric shock.

"I forgot." Grudgingly, he looked at the way Alex was sitting, awkwardly favoring his left side. "I—are you in a lot of pain there?"

"You broke my fucking ribs, asshole."

"I think I have some Vicodin..." Mulder crossed the hall to the closet where he kept medical supplies, hunting through the bottles on the shelf until he found the one he wanted. "It's expired, but it might still work." He tossed the bottle to Krycek, remembering a moment too late that it had a childproof cap. That didn't seem to faze Krycek; he had it open in a matter of seconds and was gulping down two of the pills, not even waiting for water.

"Hey, take it easy, those things aren't candy." Mulder stepped back, studying Krycek. "Your arm's bleeding."

Krycek snorted. "What is this—good cop, bad cop, in one convenient schizophrenic package?"

Mulder bent a little closer, watching Krycek tense up. "If I unlock the cuff, will you let me take a look at it without trying to jump me or kick me?"

Krycek gazed at him for a long minute, locking eyes. The face of an angel, and such old, world-weary eyes he had. Mulder had an impulse to end all this now, uncuff Krycek, patch him up and let him go. Or maybe even...let him stay.

Very slowly, Mulder reached toward Krycek's arm.

Krycek drew back, his eyes hardening.


"No," Krycek whispered.

Mulder moved back. "What the hell is your problem, Krycek? I just want to clean it up, put a bandage on it."

Krycek closed his eyes for a second, as if in pain, then opened them. "No," he said, his voice flat. "No. Don't touch me."

"Whatever," Mulder snapped. Absurdly, he felt hurt and angry. Rejected. Savagely, he yanked a couple of towels from the rod, noting with satisfaction how Krycek winced and blinked as he did so. He mopped up the mess as best he could, then threw the towels into the tub. Krycek flinched again as Mulder slammed the shaving cream canister onto the sink, but as Mulder continued to bang things around, he settled back and simply sat there looking amused, to Mulder's extreme annoyance.

Having done at least a perfunctory cleanup, Mulder wiped his hands on his boxers and stood in the doorway for a second. He rested his hand on the doorknob, casually pulling the door halfway shut. That wiped the smirk from Krycek's face; Mulder could see the tiny flash of fear in his expression, Krycek's eyes darting from the door to the light switch. Mulder had the briefest of impulses to leave him there in the dark again, but no matter how repellent he might find Krycek, he couldn't do that to him. And he didn't want a repeat of the earlier scene, especially since Krycek seemed to have calmed down somewhat.

"Don't worry, I won't close it again. I don't need my neighbors giving me a hard time because you're having a hissy fit in here at two a.m. But I better not hear another sound for the rest of the night, or I'll come in here and knock you senseless."


Mulder awoke to the realization that his alarm clock had been going off for more than twenty minutes. He stretched wearily. Athough he had overslept, he felt exhausted, as though he had been running all night. He also had to pee again, but there was no way in hell he was peeing in front of Krycek this time. He would just have to do it in the shower.

Of course, his tub was filled with sodden, goo-encrusted towels from last night's little episode. Cursing under his breath, Mulder dumped them into a laundry bag and used a clean towel to wipe down the tub a little. And it went without saying that Krycek would not be sleeping. He did look a little less tense and on edge this morning; no doubt Mulder's Vicodin had eased some of the pain from his broken ribs. He sat leaning against the sink with his knees drawn up, watching Mulder through half-closed eyes.

Mulder turned on the water in the shower. He felt a bit awkward stripping in front of Krycek, but Krycek had already seen it all that first morning. To his annoyance, his cock was half-hard.

Krycek's wolf eyes fixed on it. "So," he drawled mockingly, "do I get to watch you jack off in the shower this morning?"

Mulder really wanted to smack him, but the bruising along the right side of Krycek's face was an uncomfortable reminder of how much of that he had already done. "In your dreams, Krycek." He slapped the shower curtain shut.

He dressed carefully, taking some time to decide whether a red and gold striped tie or the blue one with chess pieces would go better with his navy Armani suit. He didn't know if it would make a difference to Skinner, but it never hurt to look professional and sharp. He was going to have to really lay on the powers of persuasion to get his boss to both authorize a move on the lab in Trenton and offer some protection to Krycek. In the back of his mind he questioned whether that was necessary, why he didn't just cut Krycek loose.

Too late now. You're stuck with him.

Glancing at his watch, he saw that he was already going to be a few minutes late, but there was something he was still wondering about. As always, curiosity won out over duty, and he headed down the hall to the bathroom. Krycek was sitting back against the wall, seemingly dozing. He lifted his head as Mulder approached, letting his eyes sweep up and down Mulder's body. Mulder felt a strange rush. It had been a long time since another man so openly checked him out. Krycek shifted back, his eyes widening and his chin lifting fractionally, looking—impressed? Appreciative? Definitely, Mulder decided, and despite himself felt a swift sharp jab of gratification. He leaned against the doorjamb, giving Krycek a little smirk.

"So, Krycek. How did you get out of that silo?"

As Mulder had hoped, the question seemed to startle Krycek. "I—I don't know."

"Slipped your mind, an insignificant thing like that?" Mulder said dryly.

"Fuck you, Mulder! Why should I tell you anything?"

"Maybe I'll be nice to you, give you a donut this time."

Krycek swallowed and abruptly looked away. "It's the truth, Mulder. I don't know." His voice was low; it sounded like he was keeping it under careful control. "I—I was in there for—I don't know how long, I must've passed out eventually—" A minute but visible shudder ran through him. Mulder felt a grim sympathy, combined with a rabid curiosity. Krycek had had actual physical contact with the alien, had spent hours, possibly days, in its presence, had seen and touched the alien ship. But he could see, in the tense twitch of Krycek's muscles and the fine sweat that had broken out on the other man's face, how stressful this was for Krycek. He would not answer those questions easily, and certainly not to satisfy Mulder's alien lust.

"I woke up in a VA hospital. They—I was told that militia found me."

"They denied it."

Krycek hissed out a breath. "Like I said, I don't know."

"Spender, probably," Mulder mused. "When we were there looking for you, he—"

"You—you were looking for me?" Krycek stared at him, his eyes round with astonishment and a kind of hope.

"I knew you were there. But there are about two hundred of those silos, and Cancerman got in the way before we could find the right one. Surrounded us, drove us away."

"You knew I was there..." Krycek sounded almost like he was talking to himself. "I called your name, in the dark...I started to go a little crazy after a while. I thought you might hear me somehow...even, maybe, in your mind...they do call you Spooky..." He squeezed his eyes shut for an instant, pulling in a deep breath, then opened them, staring fervently at Mulder. "You were really trying to find me? Why?"

Suddenly, absurdly, Mulder wanted to lie, to tell Krycek what he so desperately wanted to hear: that someone had cared, that he hadn't been simply abandoned there to die in the silo.

I called your name...

But it wasn't the truth.

"I knew you had the black oil in you. I knew you were heading for the alien craft, and you would lead us to it."

Something flickered briefly in Krycek's eyes, before he looked down and away from Mulder. A small, cynical smile appeared. "Yeah...you wanted the spaceship. And leaving me to rot down there, that would work out pretty well. That's what you always wanted, isn't it? All those times...you would beat the hell out of me, and I always thought—" Krycek broke off.

Mulder felt stung; hurting Krycek bothered him more than he would have expected. "You thought what?"

"But you really wanted a reason to kill me, didn't you? You couldn't just shoot me in cold blood; you're not a killer like me. You wanted me to fight you. You wanted me to make you do it."

Mulder wasn't sure what he was talking about. He was still feeling bad, thinking about the silo, Krycek's earlier painful admission. He moved closer, crouching down a little.

"Krycek." He spoke gently. "I just assumed...they'd take you out."

Krycek stared at him with narrowed eyes. "Take me out and kill me, you mean."

"I..." Mulder had nothing to say. It was true. And it hadn't bothered him much then, but it did now.

Krycek spit at him, actually spit at him. Mulder stared at him in disbelief.

"This was a good suit, you know, asshole!" He got to his feet; otherwise he would have surely punched Krycek in the face again.

"Fuck off, Mulder!"

"You know, if you want anyone to care whether you live or die, you ought to stop acting like such a damn animal all the time."

"Well, thanks for finally opening my eyes, Mulder," Krycek said venomously. "To everything."

"What the hell are you babbling about now, Krycek?"

"I mean it. In my line of work, I really can't afford to have a weak spot."

"Your line of work? Part-time assassin and full-time traitorous scum?" Mulder leaned against the bathroom doorway. "And what would your weak spot be? Your propensity for sucking dick? Your phobia about small, closed spaces? Or just—" he let his eyes linger on Krycek's prosthetic arm, "—the obvious."

Krycek stared up at him, his face a mask of utter hatred. It hit Mulder with a little shock that he had never seen that expression on Krycek's face before. Anger, yes, derision or controlled coldness—but Krycek had never looked like he hated Mulder.

"Go ahead and do it now, if that's what you really want, Mulder." Krycek's voice was low and deadly. "Because I guarantee you, the second your back is turned, the second I get a chance, you better believe I'll do it to you. In a heartbeat."

Mulder went into the bedroom to change his suit. He ripped the tie from his neck and flung it into a corner, more shaken than he cared to admit by the scene in his bathroom. Krycek was unbelievable, a subhuman asshole. Briefly he fantasized about putting a bullet through Krycek's head and ending this hellish duet right now. But it would be too complicated to explain to the police why Krycek was here, and dressed as he was. No, he should just turn Krycek in, let Skinner throw him into the most maximum-security facility around, one where they had lockdowns every night and big tattooed guys named Bubba.

He collected his keys and briefcase and headed for the door. Of course Krycek couldn't let him leave in peace. The raspy voice followed him down the hall. "Mulder! Where's my fucking donut?"

Mulder paused. "I said if you were good you'd get a donut. You acted like an animal, Krycek, messed up my suit." He started out the door.

"If I'm an animal you made me one!" Krycek yelled angrily after him. "You chained me up here like a dog."

Mulder slammed the door shut quickly, meeting the startled eyes of Mrs. Fonseca from apartment 46. He gave her an attempt at a friendly and casual smile, hoping she hadn't heard any of Krycek's little tirade. His neighbors thought he was strange enough as it was.

He stopped in at Rosie's for his morning bagel and coffee. Against his will, he found himself thinking of the man in his bathroom. Krycek was obviously hungry, or he wouldn't have reminded Mulder of the donut a few scant minutes after he had been threatening Mulder's life.

Oh, CRAP. Why can't I just shoot him and get it over with?

"Make that two coffees."

Rosie didn't miss a beat in pouring. "Black?"

"Yeah—no, wait, cream and sugar in one. And give me another bagel and a glazed donut."

He unlocked the apartment door stealthily, in case Krycek was inclined to start hollering again. But the apartment was absolutely silent. Uneasy at this, he set the coffees down and drew his gun, moving down the hall toward the bathroom. "Krycek?"

"Mulder." The relief in Krycek's voice was audible. Mulder stepped into the bathroom. Krycek was crouched against the sink, sweaty and wide-eyed, another shard of glass clutched in his hand. When he saw it was Mulder he closed his eyes, swallowing hard.

"Yeah it's me. Who were you expecting?"

Krycek fixed him with a hard stare. "Could be anybody. Your apartment's like Grand Central Station. If anyone knows I'm here I'm a sitting duck."

Mulder absorbed this disquieting thought—goons invading his apartment to murder Krycek in his bathroom. Krycek had looked really scared there for a moment. Still, this was the same Krycek who had pulled a man over Skinner's balcony to his death while dangling off the rail. Mulder had no doubt he'd be more than a match for whatever they sent. "Who's likely to know you're here?" he demanded.

"Nobody, I hope. I was careful—but you never know." Krycek set the shard of glass down and flexed his hand. "So why'd you come back? Did you bring me a donut?"

Mulder regarded him steadily for a moment. Where the hell had Krycek hidden that second piece of glass last night? "Yeah, I brought you a goddamn donut." He went into the front hall to fetch it. Returning, he handed Krycek his coffee and tossed the bag with the bagel and donut at his feet. Krycek took a long sip of the coffee, then set it down and reached for the bag, too quickly. He grunted sharply, gritting his teeth, as the cuff jerked into his mangled wrist. Mulder felt it like an electric shock in his own body, his stomach constricting in sympathy. Before he could think better of it, he dug the handcuff key from his pocket and unlocked the cuff. Krycek pulled the wrist tightly against his chest, not having a hand to rub it with. The wound looked bad, swollen and dark with dried blood. Mulder went to check in his closet, where he kept the medical supplies. He found peroxide and gauze pads but no surgical tape to make a bandage. Briefly he considered using duct tape, although he didn't think Krycek would like that idea. Then he spotted an old Ace bandage; it would do.

In the bathroom, Krycek had begun eating the donut. He looked at Mulder with suspicion.

"Stand up a minute. Put that down." Krycek obeyed slowly. Mulder turned on the water in the sink. "Wash your hand off."

Krycek stuck his hand under the stream and hissed with pain as the running water hit the open wound. He didn't use the prosthetic to wash, only for balance on the edge of the sink. The water turned faintly pink. Mulder uncapped the peroxide and shut off the faucet. Krycek stiffened at the sight of the peroxide bottle and pulled back. For a moment Mulder feared he might have to grab Krycek by the hand and make him hold still. He did not want to do that, did not want to touch Krycek other than what was absolutely necessary. He waited. Krycek flexed his wrist, clenched his fist and extended his hand.

The bathroom was not large, and they had to stand close in order to both reach the sink. Krycek pressed back against the wall as far as he could. Mulder poured peroxide on the wound, and Krycek jerked away with a strangled curse, his fist cocking for a minute like he wanted to fight, before visibly willing himself to extend it once more. Mulder used a gauze pad to dry it off, then laid a couple more over the wound before wrapping the Ace bandage around it. He looked only at the arm as he worked, not meeting Krycek's eyes. As soon as he was finished, he stepped back quickly, retreating from the bathroom in relief.

"Go ahead. Eat. I'll cuff you again when you're finished."

Krycek was looking a little pale and shaken, but he managed to mutter, "That's something to look forward to." He ate the donut quickly; as Mulder had suspected, he did seem hungry. He looked pleased to find that Mulder had brought him a bagel as well, and Mulder felt irrationally gratified.

Krycek disposed of the bagel in a few swift bites, then sat drinking his coffee in long swallows. He looked up at Mulder. "You don't have to cuff me. I won't go anywhere."

"Nice try, Krycek."

"I'm safer here than anywhere else. Why would I leave?"

"So you brought me this information hoping I would adopt you?" Mulder gave him a condescending smirk. "Save it for someone who hasn't heard your bullshit time and again."

"I haven't lied to you that much. Wiekamp, the rebels—that was real."

Mulder stared at him. He remembered, all too well.

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

He recalled how Krycek had winced at those words, his frustration evident. For a moment he had seemed close to tears.

Krycek had said something to him in Russian, had called him 'tovarisch.' He was pretty sure that meant 'friend.'

"What did you say to me that day, the Russian words?"

Krycek shrugged, not meeting his eyes. Mulder kept a hard gaze on him. Finally Krycek said, "I just wished you good luck."

"'Good luck, friend,'" Mulder said. Krycek didn't answer, but Mulder could tell from the way he stiffened, ever so slightly, that he hadn't expected Mulder to know that. Krycek had finished his coffee and Mulder stepped closer, intending to put the cuff back on. Krycek was looking at him with a strange, troubled expression. For a second Mulder's world tilted on its axis and time blurred. He had a wild, nearly uncontrollable urge to lean down and return that kiss. He could almost feel the roughness of Krycek's unshaven jaw against his fingertips as, in his mind, he lifted Krycek's chin and brought that lovely mouth to his. Krycek's lips were parted slightly, his eyes a brilliant green. There was so much silence in the bathroom that the faint ticking of Mulder's watch sounded like a bomb.

Mulder wet his dry lips. Krycek stared at Mulder's mouth with a look of concentration. He was holding his injured arm curled against his chest again. Mulder cleared his throat and asked the question.

"Why did you kiss me that day?"

Krycek flushed a deep red, the color spreading down along his neck and the portion of chest exposed at the open collar of his shirt. He looked away, closing his eyes a moment, then opened them to gaze at Mulder, the slightly wild look returning. His voice when he spoke was a low, no-nonsense growl. "There's only so much I can take, Mulder. Either let me go now, or back off."

Mulder felt his own heart pounding like an immobilized rabbit. Krycek's eyes, his words, hammered in Mulder's mind as he tried to consider his choices calmly.

Let him go...to possibly fuck me over in every sense of the word.

Or back off.

Mulder backed off. He snapped the cuff back onto Krycek's wrist, hooking him to the chain, then retreated out of the bathroom and into the living room, where he stood staring blindly at the windows. How the hell did Krycek have the balls to give him, Mulder, an ultimatum? Krycek was the one chained up, injured, half-naked. Yet Mulder had lost his nerve in that moment, for reasons he did not want to examine too closely.

Whatever. Whatever. He had to get to work. Glancing at his watch he saw that he would already be almost half an hour late. He started for the door, wondered if he should tell Krycek he was leaving, wondered if Krycek wanted anything more, some non-alien reading material perhaps. He hunted through the bookshelves and found an old copy of Herman Hesse's "Steppenwolf."

Krycek was sitting with the blanket haphazardly covering his lower body when Mulder stepped into the bathroom again. Mulder held out the book. "Here—I read this in college. You might like it. It's about this loner—sort of half-man, half-wolf. Very philosophical."

Krycek reached for the book, wincing a little as the cuff chafed against his wrist. "I read this in college, too," he said. "I remember I liked it."

Mulder looked at him curiously.

"Yeah, I went to college," Krycek said, smirking. "Not Oxford, but—I didn't jump right into the Bureau off a third-grade education."


Krycek stared at him warily. "NYU."

"NYU?" Mulder's surprise was more at Krycek's actually telling him that than at the name. "Is that where you grew up, New York?"

"No." Krycek's posture and voice were definitely wary now, a stillness and finality in his tone telling Mulder he'd get no further with his questions. Mulder felt annoyed. No doubt Krycek knew every last detail about Mulder, from his childhood nicknames to his shoe size. Yet Krycek insisted on remaining an enigma to Mulder.

"Alex Krycek, International Man of Mystery?" Mulder asked derisively.

Krycek looked away, biting his lip. "It's necessary," he said quietly, a definite note of regret in his voice.

"Sure Alex. If they do come to kill you today, you can take pride in the fact that you never divulged your hometown to me."

He saw the expressive eyes widen a bit, shock mixing with rueful laughter, and Alex registering the fact that Mulder was using his first name again.

"Crappy Haven."

"Nice name for a town."

"It's near Leakwood."

Mulder raised his eyebrows.

Alex's little smirk returned. "You're the G-man, you figure it out."

Mulder shook his head at the bizarreness of the situation. Less than half an hour ago they'd been literally ready to kill each other and now here they were having this almost—friendly—conversation.

"Gotta get to work," he said, turning to go. He was almost at the door when he heard Krycek's voice, very soft.

"See you later."


Skinner's initial reaction to Krycek's name was disgusted suspicion, as Mulder had known it would be. After a few hours of viewing the information on the disks Krycek had given Mulder, however, the A. D. had much less to say. Mulder got a call at his desk a half hour later. Skinner wasn't giving him a definite go-ahead, but he would consider making the raid on the lab. He would also supply a safe house in Pennsylvania to take Alex to. Mulder felt jubilant. He wished Scully were in the office so he could share the story of his amazing powers of coercion, but she was out all morning on an assignment. He also had a feeling she might not be as enthusiastic about this as he was.

He almost wished he had given Krycek back his cell phone. He had a crazy wish to tell Alex the story. Alex would appreciate it.

That thought reminded him of their conversation earlier. Although he really should be finishing his paperwork before he took off for Pennsylvania, he decided to sneak a few minutes to investigate Alex's origins instead. Most of Alex's personnel files had been sealed.

Okay, obviously Alex's hometown was not named Crappy Haven. Most likely it was Happy Haven or something similar. And Leakwood—Teakwood? Lakewood?

After an hour's search through various Lakewoods, he hit on a promising candidate: a medium-sized city near Seattle, most notable as home to the Lakewood-Fort Lewis military base. Happy Haven was a housing project in a crime-ridden section on the outskirts of the town.

It fit, Mulder thought. Krycek was certainly bright, and well-spoken, but every now and then you could hear the street-rat intonations in his voice.

Mulder paused to put it all together. So, Alex had been born in the Seattle area, obviously without much money, since he had grown up in a rough housing project. He had traveled clear across the country to go to college. Then Quantico—and somewhere in there he had become involved with the Consortium and the KGB. But when? How?


And why the fuck couldn't Alex have just said Seattle? Was he trying to waste Mulder's time, divert him from something else? Or was there something he wanted Mulder to find?

Whatever it was, Mulder hadn't found it. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was almost two o'clock. He headed out to get a sandwich and drop off his suit at the dry cleaners. He found Scully eating a tuna salad at his desk when he returned.

"I suppose you've heard, Mulder? We're being sent to Pennsylvania for a couple of weeks to guard Krycek?"

Mulder nodded, a bit guiltily. He wondered if he should tell Scully that he was the driving force behind this assignment. Scully looked at him and rolled her eyes. She was not happy about any of this. In her place, Mulder knew, he would have been ranting about it and questioning why Krycek's life was worth protecting at all. But Scully, unhappy as she was about having to leave home and Paul for a couple of weeks, would nevertheless accept it as part of her job.

Scully tossed the salad container in the trash. "Does anybody even know where Krycek is?"

"I know where Krycek is. But that reminds me...he's going to need some medical attention."

Scully frowned. "What kind of medical attention? What's happened?"

"He's a little beat up. Nothing life-threatening. Can you come to my apartment, around seven or so?" He could have just asked her to come back with him after work, he knew, but he didn't really want her to see Krycek there in his underwear, chained to Mulder's bathroom sink.

"Mulder, you know...I had plans tonight." Her tone was resigned, slightly resentful. Mulder didn't miss the past tense. "If we've got to leave for Pennsylvania tomorrow, I wanted to—"

Spend the night with Paul, Mulder finished mentally. He gritted his teeth, trying not to let his annoyance show. "Half an hour, forty-five minutes tops, Scully. But hey, if you've got a date, that's certainly more important than someone needing medical care."

Scully's mouth tightened and there was unhappiness in her blue eyes. Mulder was being a bastard, he knew, but he couldn't seem to help himself. Once, she would have come over anytime for him, no questions asked. Now she had Paul.

And what do I have? An invertebrate scum-sucker chained to my sink.


Some impulse made Mulder call out, "It's me, Krycek," as he opened the door. He smirked to himself. Honey, I'm home.

There was no answer, and Mulder frowned as he walked toward the bathroom. He was shocked at Krycek's appearance. The rat didn't look well at all. He was sitting with his head on his knees, wrapped in the blanket, looking sweaty and pale. Mulder suppressed the sharp spike of guilt that flared up. Krycek had seemed feisty enough that morning, after all. But, Mulder supposed, spending two days on the cold and hard bathroom floor with broken bones and without much food or sleep, plus the stress of fearing for his life, had to have taken a toll. And the Vicodins that Krycek had taken earlier had undoubtedly worn off by now.

Krycek lifted his head as Mulder approached, regarding Mulder with a wary, cold expression.

"Your information checks out," Mulder informed him.

"No shit," Krycek whispered hoarsely. The world-weary look had returned to his eyes. He leaned his head back against the wall.

"Skinner's actually considering making the raid."

Krycek nodded slowly. Mulder was becoming concerned. Krycek was moving as though everything hurt him, speaking in that flat whisper. Mulder stepped into the bathroom and reached down to unlock the cuff. Krycek's eyes widened as Mulder produced the key, and he turned his head to gaze at the cuffs, as if he couldn't really believe Mulder was unlocking them. The cuff removed, he flexed his wrist and tucked it up against his body.

"Does this mean I'm free to go?"

"Actually, you're a protected witness now. We're supposed to take you to a safe house in Pennsylvania tomorrow night."

Krycek didn't look at all pleased at this development. "Who's this we?"

"Me and Scully. She'll be here to look at your injuries in a little while."

"Did you tell her how I got them?" Krycek raised his eyebrows, his voice taunting. "Did you tell her how you get your kicks, Mulder? What does she think of you now?"

The questions struck a nerve in Mulder, but he wouldn't show that to Krycek. "It's no worse than anything you've done, Krycek."

Krycek's lashes fluttered, and he closed his eyes for a moment.

"Come on out of here and get on the bed."

Krycek's face went hard. "Why?"

Mulder made his voice as mild as he could. "I think you'll be more comfortable there." He backed up a few steps and held out his hand to Krycek, who ignored him and pulled himself up by the edge of the sink instead. Krycek stumbled and swayed on his feet, and Mulder stepped forward quickly. Krycek stared a warning at him, then ran through a few brief stretches. Even moving stiffly as he was, in obvious pain, his movements had a sensual grace. Mulder turned away, walking toward the bedroom.

In Mulder's bedroom, Krycek looked around curiously. He piled up the pillows and sat heavily on the bed. His look of shock as it rippled was almost comical. "A waterbed, Mulder? You surprise me."

Mulder shrugged. "It wasn't my idea. Someone else bought it." In fact, it had just appeared in his apartment one day, following a bizarre interlude during which he suspected someone else had taken possession of his body for a while. Just one of those things that always seemed to happen to him. But he didn't feel like going into it, although he had a feeling that if anyone would understand, Krycek would.

Krycek settled back with difficulty against the pillows, gritting his teeth. He looked at Mulder, frowning. "Someone else—? Hope you two had fun on it."

"It wasn't like that, Ale—uh, Krycek. I've never had anyone on this bed but you."

Instantly, Krycek seemed to perk up a little. He tilted his head, looking up at Mulder through the thick lashes and smirking coldly. "That's pretty fucking optimistic, Mulder, considering what you did to me."

"I meant to sleep in it. Christ, Krycek. Would you cut the crap for five minutes?"

Krycek twisted to the side, rubbing his chest. "You going to give me my pants back now? Or is Scully going to have to share in your kinky fantasies?"

Mulder took a step toward the bed. "Shut it, Krycek."

For a second Mulder saw anger flash in Krycek's eyes. "What are you going to do, Mulder? Beat me up some more?"

Mulder studied him. Krycek didn't look good; he was flushed and sweating, with dark circles under his eyes, and the way he continually shifted about on the bed, like he couldn't get comfortable, suggested that he was in considerable pain.

"Did you take all those Vicodin already?" How many had there been—five, six? Leave it to Krycek to gulp them all down in one sitting.

Krycek narrowed his eyes and didn't answer.


"Not really." That raspy whisper again.

"I got some Chinese—mu shu pork and fried rice."

Krycek closed his eyes and shook his head. Mulder felt a little uneasy at that. Krycek really must be in bad shape if he was refusing food.

"Want soup? Tea?"

"Tea, yeah, okay."

Mulder used the little bags of tea that had come with the Chinese food. When he returned to the bedroom Krycek was sitting against the headboard, leaning his head on one knee. His hand shook slightly as he reached for the cup. Mulder noticed he wasn't using the prosthetic at all, just letting it hang at his side.

Krycek took a sip and grimaced. "Don't you believe in sugar, Mulder?"

"I'll get you some." Mulder rose automatically. Krycek gaped at him as if he had suddenly shapeshifted. Ignoring Krycek's reaction to this surely unexpected solicitude, Mulder hunted in his kitchen for sugar. He found a bag that was mostly lumps and had two dead moths in it, which he tossed.

He returned to the bedroom. "Sorry, no sugar."

"No sugar?" Krycek sounded disbelieving. "Honey?"

"Don't call me honey."

Krycek stared at him uncomprehendingly, then frowned, looking more confused than annoyed.

"There's duck sauce," Mulder offered.

Krycek continued to regard him with that puzzled frown for a moment. Then he shook his head with a weary grimace and closed his eyes, sipping the tea. Alarm bells were starting to sound in Mulder's head now. Krycek not eating was bad enough; Krycek not responding to Mulder's needling was really off.

Krycek lifted his head. "My pants, Mulder?"

"Sure." Mulder left the room, relieved to make an escape. He started for the living room to retrieve Krycek's jeans, but was interrupted by the doorbell.

Scully gave him a distracted little smile as she came in, toting a hefty black doctor's bag. "I brought all kinds of supplies...I didn't know what was needed..." She stood looking around somewhat nervously, as though expecting Krycek to leap out and ambush her at any moment. Well, Mulder reflected, she had good reason to feel uneasy. If Cardinale could be believed, Krycek had been present at the murder of Scully's sister Melissa, and they had probably been there gunning for Scully. A hard wave of protectiveness roared up within Mulder.

"Where is he?"

"On the bed." Mulder put a hand on her back, shepherding her toward the bedroom.

Scully shot him a questioning look. "How badly is he hurt?"

"Just banged up."

Krycek was sitting with his head back, arms at his sides. He shot Mulder a murderous look as Scully walked in, no doubt because Mulder had not brought his jeans as promised.

Scully stared at the man on the bed, frowning. "When did you find him?"


"And you've had him...staying here...since Monday?"

"Chained under the sink, actually," Krycek rasped. Mulder wondered if he was taking some sick pleasure from all this.

Scully turned a look of disbelief on him. "Mulder, are you out of your mind? He's a wanted criminal."

"Hey, thanks a fucking lot for your concern, Scully," Krycek said, a note of bitterness in his voice.

"Why is he—where are his clothes?"

"I told him to take them off. I thought it would be, uh, easier." Mulder was too conscious of the intensity of Krycek's stare, the waves of fury that seemed to be coming off him, even though he hadn't moved a muscle. Or said anything, thankfully. But then, to admit why Mulder had made him strip would probably be just as humiliating to Krycek as to him.

"He has a leg injury?"

"No," Krycek snapped. "My ribs are broken."

Scully gave him a dubious look. "You should take your shirt off, then."

For a second, Krycek seemed about to refuse, before he angrily lowered his eyes and pulled the shirt off. Mulder felt an involuntary guilty start at the sight of the darkly mottled bruising along Krycek's left side, uglier than he had expected.

"Those are some bruises, Krycek," Scully said. "What happened to you?"

Krycek raised his eyebrows mockingly. "He didn't tell you?"

Mulder saw her shocked realization, as she looked from Krycek to Mulder and back again. But she let it drop, picking up her bag and walking over to the bed. "Okay. Let's take a look at those ribs." She probed gently along his ribs, and Krycek grunted in pain, jerking back from her touch.

Scully glanced up at him. "Sorry." He looked away. She returned to her examination. "Mmm, yeah, these are probably crack—Mulder!" Scully had her hands on the spot where the bruising was worst, almost black. "This is a pretty bad break. You could have punctured a lung." She touched the prosthetic arm. "Can you take this off?"

Krycek's face darkened and he tensed visibly, but he said nothing as he undid the straps. Mulder did not know if he was ready to see this, and then, as what remained of Krycek's arm was exposed, he knew he was not. The scars were hideous, the stump seamed with burn marks and the ragged, ripped tracks where the knife had cut. Krycek must have put up a hell of a fight. Scully gave a little involuntary gasp at the sight; Krycek did not respond, but Mulder saw him clench his fist. He was relieved that Krycek was not looking at him, could not see whatever was on his face.

Alex, Christ, I didn't know. I wanted you to suffer, but not like this. Not like this.

The skin of Krycek's arm and chest where the prosthetic's straps had been was reddened and rubbed raw in several places. Mulder recalled his difficulty using the arm before.

"Have you had this on the whole time?" Scully delicately probed at a couple of sores that were actually bleeding a little. Krycek was rigid, taking careful, controlled breaths. "Why didn't you—?"

But Mulder knew why. It was the same reason why Krycek had refused to sleep for the last two nights. He would have felt too vulnerable, too helpless with only one hand, which was cuffed. Even though it must have been too painful by now to use it much, Mulder knew he would have felt safer with it on.

Scully turned to shoot Mulder another perplexed and somewhat angry look, which might have gratified Krycek had he seen it. But he had turned his head and was staring out the window, his body immobile in that almost unnatural stillness Mulder had seen before.

He really, really hates this, Mulder thought. He wanted to leave the room; the combination of Scully's condemnation, his own unbidden feelings of guilt, and Krycek's extreme tension was making it hard to stay and watch. But Krycek was not someone you could take your eyes off for even a second.

Scully reached for her bag. "I can tape those ribs up for you. And I'll put a dressing on those sores."

Krycek shook his head, still gazing fixedly out the window. "Just leave it alone. They'll heal."

"It'll help. You must be in a lot of pain."

"Leave it alone," Krycek growled at her.

Scully hesitated a moment more, then went on to inspect the bruises and cuts on his face, taking his chin in her hand and turning his head gently. Krycek stared fiercely up at her.

"You'll probably have a little scar here," Scully said, one finger tracing the cut on his cheekbone. "Probably could have used stitches."

Mulder felt a pang at that, though Krycek didn't react.

Scully straightened up. "I'll give you something for pain, and—" She noticed the Ace bandage on Krycek's arm at the same time as Mulder said, "His wrist is cut, too." Krycek watched as if mesmerized, opening and closing his hand, as the bandage came off. At the sight of the ugly-looking gash, the swollen flesh around it, Scully shot Mulder a look, definitely angry now, and horrified. "This is getting infected. Mulder, why—?"

"He wouldn't let me get near him," Mulder mumbled, conscious of the lameness of his reply when he saw Krycek's look of cold triumph. Fuck him, anyway. Mulder had tried. "Yeah, go ahead and smirk, you lowlife moron, you trying to lose this arm as well?"

"Mulder." There was a warning in Scully's voice. She began to disinfect the wound. Krycek hissed in pain, then stiffened and held still as she worked. Mulder could see the strain on his face; Krycek looked away, then looked back, repeatedly.

"This is an anesthetic I'm putting on, so that should help," Scully said. She wrapped gauze steadily around Krycek's wrist and hand, forming a thick bandage, then taped it in place. "Don't get it wet." She reached in her bag and took out the ear thermometer. "I'm just going to check your temperature, Krycek, make sure there's no infection."

Krycek reared back, pulling his head away. "What the hell is that?"

"A thermometer." She didn't add, "you dimwit," but her tone definitely implied it. "In your ear. It only takes a second."

Krycek looked ready to fight, but he allowed her to take the reading.

"You do have a temp, 101. I'm going to give you some antibiotics for that." She sorted through her medical bag to find the medications she needed. Mulder moved to the window, looked out at the moon sliding through the clouds. Anything not to have to look at Krycek.

"No, you're not shooting me up with anything!"

Mulder turned swiftly. Scully was filling a syringe with something from a small bottle.

"It's a tetanus shot. For the infection in your arm."

"No," Krycek rasped. "Just leave me the hell alone!"

Scully ignored him, reaching for his arm anyway. Instantly, Krycek jerked away, his hand shooting up to knock the syringe from her hand. Scully stumbled backwards. In three quick steps Mulder crossed the room, getting between Scully and Krycek. He shoved Krycek back on the bed, pulling out his gun and pressing the cold steel to Krycek's forehead.

"Simmer down there, asshole, or a tetanus shot will be the least of your worries. Scully, give me the cuffs."

Krycek's eyes widened. "You can't cuff me again!"

Mulder snapped the cuff in place around Krycek's bandaged wrist and yanked his arm back to lock the other cuff around the bedpost, ignoring Krycek's harsh snarl of pain.

"Mulder!" Scully's voice was shocked, warning him. "He's hurt!"

Krycek yanked at the restraint, cursing furiously. Mulder could see the muscles in his arm standing out.

"I'm going to fucking kill you, Mulder! Let me loose!"

"Krycek! Stop that! You're going to aggravate that injury!" Scully said.

Krycek shifted on the bed, bringing his leg up slightly. Mulder moved over and sat on Krycek's knee, pressing it to the bed. "Do I have to cuff your feet, too?"

"Fucking psycho sadist!"

Scully dug through her medical bag, filling another syringe. Up close, Krycek's arm looked even worse, the horrible mutilation of it, the bloody places where the skin was rubbed away.

"Get the hell away from me!" Krycek was getting more frenzied now, struggling so violently against the restraint that Mulder could feel the water in the mattress surging back and forth. Krycek spit at Mulder again, his eyes wild. Mulder felt shaken by Krycek's feral rage. He wondered if Krycek was on the verge of another panic attack, or something worse.

"You need to take the tetanus, Krycek." Scully raised her voice slightly to be heard. "I'm going to have to sedate you if you can't calm down."

Mulder got up slowly off Krycek's leg, keeping the gun trained on him. He stepped backward, putting out a hand. "All right, take it easy, Krycek." Scully busied herself filling a second syringe. She approached and laid both syringes on the bedside table. Krycek was panting, his teeth bared, his eyes wide. Mulder didn't want to watch this anymore.

"Scully...just leave him alone for now, give him some space." Mulder was surprised by the gentleness and compassion in his own voice. Both of them turned to look at him in utter amazement. Scully took advantage of Krycek's momentary distraction to grab the second syringe and jab it into Krycek's bicep, swiftly pressing the plunger.

"You fucking bitch!"

"Jesus, Scully. I told you not to do that!"

Again they were both staring at him. Krycek looked disoriented for a second. He made a small motion with the stump of his left arm, like he wanted to rub the spot on his arm where the needle had gone in, before stopping himself and looking first at Scully, then at Mulder, with burning, suspicious eyes.

Absurdly, Mulder had an impulse to go to him, to rub the pain away himself.

"It's just a sedative, Krycek, something to calm you down and help you sleep," Scully said. Krycek cursed at her in Russian.

Mulder waved the gun. "Hope those words all mean 'doctor,' Krycek."

Scully retrieved her medical bag. Carefully giving Krycek a wide berth, she walked to the doorway, motioning Mulder with a dip of her head to follow her out.

"Scully, was that necessary?"

"He's not the first person to get hysterical at the sight of a needle," Scully said coolly. "I gave him 10 mg. of Haldol. That should put him out in a few minutes, and then when he's under I'll administer the tetanus. He'll be a lot less dangerous this way, too. Haldol is pretty strong stuff." She cast another glance at Krycek. "Mulder, what happened here? Was he like this? Is that why—?"

Mulder knew Scully was expecting him to say that Krycek had attacked him and he had to subdue or disarm him. Not that he had knocked an unarmed, handcuffed man into a desk with enough force to break his ribs severely. But he didn't want to lie to her. And he didn't want to lie in front of Krycek. Despite the Haldol, which should have been putting him under but didn't seem to be doing a damn thing, Krycek was staring Mulder down. If Mulder lied, it would be a weakness, tantamount to admitting he had been in the wrong here.

And what explanation could he ever give for keeping Krycek chained to the sink for two days?

"Did he attack you...or threaten you?" She wanted so much to find a reason for this, he knew. Her mind just couldn't conceive of such a thing—to beat a person that badly, chain him up like an animal and deny him medical care for his injuries. What did she think of him now?

And what could he say? He had a gun, but he gave it to me voluntarily, when he first came in. He threatened to kill me, after I had kept him chained up for a couple of days. He kicked me when I tried to rape him.

"Yeah," he mumbled, "something like that."

"But when did you—what did you—you should have brought him into custody!"

"You know he'd never be safe in custody."

"It doesn't look like he was safe here!"

The words hurt, more than she could have imagined, he knew. They stood for a few moments in uncomfortable silence. He knew she had seen a side of him that deeply troubled her. He had no explanation, other than what Krycek was, all he had done. But who was Mulder now, with what he had done.

Scully snuck a glance at her watch. Mulder felt like the lowest of the low. Not only had he beaten the shit out of an unarmed man, he was now forcing his best friend to spend the night administering medical care to a rabid maniac instead of having a last enjoyable evening with her fiance.

"Um, you want a soda?"

Scully gave him a little smile, looking relieved to be off the subject of Krycek. "Sure...thanks." Mulder fetched the sodas, then pulled over a couple of chairs so they could sit comfortably while still keeping an eye on their charge in the bedroom. Scully kicked her shoes off, curling up in the chair and sighing.

"I've still got packing to do."

Mulder tried to lighten the mood. "Packing? We're going to a cabin in the woods. Throw in some jeans, a couple of those lumberjack shirts, your chainsaw..."

"And we were supposed to have lunch with my mom on Saturday."

Mulder shrugged off another pang of guilt. "So, is it going to be a white wedding?"

Scully gave him a small grin. "I thought I'd wear red, actually."

"Woo-hoo. And I'll wear my Elvis jumpsuit."

"Mulder." The suddenly serious tone of her voice brought his full attention around to her. She was sitting up straight in the chair, biting her lip. "I need to ask you something."

Mulder had a sudden hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. Two possibilities occurred to him, neither very pleasant. One was that she was going to ask him to spell out exactly what had happened with Krycek. And he would not be able to lie to her. The other was that she was going to ask to be removed from the assignment altogether.

Her next words floored him. "Would...would you stand up with me in the wedding, Mulder?"

Mulder could manage nothing more articulate than, "Huh?"

Scully reddened, looking down. "As my—my attendant. I mean, I know it's traditionally female, and it would have been—" She broke off, glancing in the direction of the bedroom. Mulder knew what she had been going to say. It would have been Melissa. A spark of rage shot through him, burning off the guilt he had felt earlier for beating Krycek. Krycek had helped to murder Scully's sister. He deserved every beating he got, and then some.

He reached to gently squeeze her hand. "I know. I'm sorry."

"I don't really have a female friend that's closer...you're my best friend..."

Mulder realized he had never answered her question. "I'd be honored."

Her eyes were damp, and her mouth twisted for a second. "Oh, damn. Sorry."

"Not as sorry as I'll be, standing up there in lilac chiffon."

Scully laughed shakily, and Mulder smiled back at her. Despite his words and his smile, however, a cloud of depression was settling on him at the idea, and not just because lilac wasn't his color.

That should be me up there with her, and not as her attendant.

But even as he thought that, his mind was jumping ahead, picturing the two of them making wedding plans, saying wedding vows, picking out china patterns together—

Jesus, NO!

He didn't really want to marry Scully. He didn't even really want to sleep with her. Looking at her now, he could note objectively how attractive she was, and yet she did not stir that overpowering desire in him, that crazy need that made his heart beat a little faster.

For some reason his eyes went to Krycek on the bed, the slitted green eyes that still watched him like a hawk.

If he had to selfishly admit it, what he wanted was not to marry Scully, and not to stand by her side at her wedding. What he wanted was to have her at his side, on his side. Without her as a buffer he would go back to being a marginal outcast.

"You're really leaving the X-Files, huh?"

She was silent a long moment before replying, her expression saying everything she could not. "I couldn't do that all my life, Mulder."

No, of course not. Who could? Who believed in all this as strongly as he did?

Maybe you could not have both. Maybe some people, like Scully, were meant to forge those human bonds, to get married, have children, make that the center of their lives. And maybe some were meant to be searchers, their dogged quest burning everything else away. Maybe some would always walk alone.

And once again, his eyes returned to Alex.


Chapter Two: The Coyote


A thousand thanks to my most excellent betas, Kindli, Ratadder, Candace and Kashmir, who read and reread these pages with infinite thoughtfulness and care. Their comments, suggestions and insights made this work immeasurably better.
Also thanks to Ilya and Leann for their stunning artwork; to Dan S. and Minotaur for answers to my questions; to Tyler for putting it up as a serial on the Cube, and to all the Cube folks for their thoughtful and helpful feedback.

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