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Contains explicit male/male sex.

Pairing: Mulder/Krycek

Summary: Krycek comes back from Russia to pay some debts. Follows “Patient X”/”The Red and the Black.”


Disclaimer: X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Broadcasting. No infringement is intended.

* * *

The boy appeared to be about sixteen. No one knew for sure; he hadn’t spoken a word since he’d been brought to the hospital. His battered body was long and thin, making barely a lump under the hospital blanket, and there was a weary look in his pale, bruised eyes, at once wary and resigned, as if he knew the world was a bad place but had not quite yet learned to accept its pain.

Mulder stood at the boy’s bedside, staring down at him, fists clenching and unclenching unnoticed at his sides. He’d tried talking to the boy, just as the nurses and doctors had done, and received the same silence. The boy wasn’t deaf—he responded to sounds, but he didn’t seem to understood what was being said to him, and he made no attempt to communicate. So there was no point trying to question him about what had happened on the bridge—the same bridge where Scully, standing now at Mulder’s side studying the boy’s chart, had nearly been lost—but he couldn’t quite pull himself away just yet. Perhaps it was that sad look in the boy’s eyes, that reminded him of another boy, whose world had come crashing down one November night, over twenty-four years ago.

“His nose is broken.” Scully’s voice was even, but there was an edge of anger to it. No matter how jaded one got, one never got used to seeing these things happen to children. “And these punctures around his mouth and eyes—he didn’t get these on the bridge.”

“It almost looks like….” Mulder couldn’t quite bring himself to say it.

“His eyes and mouth had been sewn shut.” Scully, however, said the unspeakable. “According to his chart, there were still sutures in his lips and left eye when he was found with the other survivors. The broken nose and other facial trauma predate the burns by at least a week.” She looked up from the chart, her mouth a hard line. “He also hadn’t eaten in days.”

Eyes and mouth sewn shut. Mulder’s hand reached out for the boy, who shuddered away, fear sparking in his bruised eyes. Mulder let his hand fall. The men on the bridge, who killed with fire, described by Scully as having no faces—eyes and mouths sealed shut by seams of scarred flesh. That image haunted Mulder, too—in the barely-remembered jumble of bright light and guns and the semi trailer of a military transport. There was a connection, a common thread running through it all, but what it was eluded him.

“There’s something else.” Scully paused, and Mulder looked down at her. There were still traces of the burns on her own face, reminders of her own experiences on the bridge. They were hard to look at, too. “There were traces of some kind of oily black material in his mouth. It hasn’t been identified.”

Mulder remembered another boy, in a small village shack outside a camp in Tunguska, with an empty sleeve where his left arm would have been—extreme measures to save him from the tests with the black oil. “I wonder if the sutures might have been an attempt to protect him from the black oil.”

Scully sighed. “If they were, they didn’t appear to work.”

“Does he have an implant?”

Scully consulted the chart again. “Yes. Same as the others.” Same as herself hung unsaid in the air between them.

Mulder stared at the boy, lying tumbled among the sheets, with his wide pale eyes and thin bruised face. Implants and black oil and men with no faces…. “Who is he?” he said softly, almost to himself.

Literal Scully looked again at the chart. “He was carrying no ID, no money, bus tickets, anything at all. The clothes he was wearing had no tags in them. He doesn’t match any known missing persons reports. They think he might be foreign, but he hasn’t responded to any of the other languages they’ve tried, either—Spanish, French, German. He hasn’t said a word, so they can only guess at what he might understand. Or he may simply be too traumatized to speak.”

They needed to know what had happened to this boy. They needed to know who had beaten him and why, who had sewn his eyes and mouth shut, exposed him to the black oil. And how he had ended up here, in a Pennsylvania hospital, survivor of a mass burning, the victim of men with no faces, who just might be alien rebels trying to stop the colonization of the world by alien invasion forces.

They needed to know, but the boy lay silent in his misery, staring up at them with his pale, wary eyes.


He started. How long had he been standing there, staring at the boy, as if his very need alone could make the boy speak? “Yeah.” He sighed. “We might as well leave him alone.”

“What now?” None of the other survivors had been any help. They just couldn’t remember what had happened. Any more than Mulder could remember more than scattered images from his experiences at Wiekamp Air Force Base, where, if Krycek were to be believed, an alien rebel was being held.

“Nothing. Unless this kid decides to talk, or Krycek shows up out of the blue with more….” The boy had flinched, hard, and shrunk away to the other side of the bed. Fear shone on his burned, bruised face. At the mention of Krycek’s name.

“Mulder?” This time, there was an edge of impatience in Scully’s voice.

“Sorry. Let’s go.”

* * *

“Has anyone tried speaking Russian to him?” —The boy knew Krycek and had reason to fear him. And Marita Covarrubias had told him of a similar burn site in Kazakhstan, and said she had someone with her who’d been there. But when he went to meet her, she was gone, and there was black oil on the phone booth. It was another of those intuitive leaps that were the hallmark of his investigative brilliance—that, and his near-perfect memory: countless bits of random knowledge, assembled into whole pictures with only the barest framework to connect them. It was this that had been the source of his nickname “Spooky” back in the FBI Academy—not his belief in UFOs, which had come years later, with his interest in the X-Files. Had this been the boy Marita had spoken of? Had Krycek brought him here from Kazakhstan?

The boy’s doctor shook his head. “Did he say something to you?”

“No, but I think he might be Russian. Or Kazakh. What do they speak in Kazakhstan?”

The bewildered doctor shook his head.

“Well, if the Russian doesn’t work, find out and try that. And get a description of him in the paper, see if anyone comes to claim him. And….” Mulder pulled a business card out of his pocket and pressed it into the doctor’s hand. “Call me immediately if anyone comes to see him. Immediately.”

* * *

Krycek. Mulder sat slumped on his couch, just as he’d sat all night the night Krycek had come to him. If he hurt that boy— There was no conclusion to that thought, only angry insistence. If he hurt that boy…. Over a year had passed since he’d left him in Tunguska, jumped or fallen from the back of the truck in the woods outside the gulag. Well, Krycek was the one who spoke Russian—he’d be better able to handle himself there than Mulder was, and he made it out of Russia all right. But—I can beat you with one hand, Krycek had told him, and wasn’t there an edge of bitterness in that taunt? Krycek’s left arm had hung at his side. It had been dark in the apartment, lit only by the streetlights filtering through the blinds, and Mulder had been distracted by other concerns, to say the least. It was not easy to concentrate on someone’s unthreatening left hand, when the right hand held a gun to your chest. So he couldn’t say for sure—but if Krycek had the use of his left arm, under those circumstances, one surely would have expected him to use it.

So assume Krycek had lost his arm to those Tunguska rebels, who had almost taken Mulder’s arm. You might say he deserved it, after all the pain he’d caused and damage he’d done. But you might also say it was Mulder’s fault, who’d dragged him handcuffed halfway around the world, attacked him and drove off with him bouncing around helplessly in the back of a truck. But wasn’t it Krycek who’d betrayed him yet again, leaving Mulder to his fate in the gulag while he cozied up with the camp guards?

Mulder heaved a sigh. No matter. He could make himself crazy worrying at whose fault was whose, after so many years of parry and feint, hidden agendas and lies. If Krycek had lost his arm in Tunguska, he didn’t seem inclined to blame Mulder for it. Or at least, not to make an issue of it. He seemed to think there were more important matters at hand than either of their personal grudges. Like alien invasions from space….

The laughter bubbled up inside Mulder’s throat, strained and humorless. Just when he’d finally been convinced that it was all a lie, and not even Scully’s own experiences could make him believe again, along comes Alex Krycek with a gun and a missing arm and a wild story and….

A hot mouth on Mulder’s cheek.

Krycek had just been messing with his head. He’d known how badly it would shake Mulder, to be kissed by his worst enemy. Or maybe it truly was some sort of misguided goodwill gesture. A Russian kind of kiss, between men working toward a common goal. Tovarish, Krycek had called him, as he left. Comrade, Mulder knew that meant. Friend, compatriot. He’d spoken in Russian, as if to himself, not knowing whether Mulder would understand, but surely expecting that likely he would not. (But had he known that Mulder’s prodigious memory would record the words, as reliably as a tape recorder, and as soon as it was convenient, work out their meaning? And had he known that words spoken thus in Russian would carry more weight than English, easily assumed to be a lie?)

But the tip Krycek had given him—the lead to Wiekamp Air Force Base—there was something to that, even if Mulder couldn’t put it all together into a coherent whole. And even that was evidence—lost time, bright lights, disrupted memories—something had happened to him in that semi trailer that was no ordinary military action. A man with no face. It was just one disconnected image, but it was strong and real, and combined with the other flashes of imagery, it was enough. Krycek had been telling the truth.

And Mulder didn’t know how to deal with that. Every night since Krycek had come, Mulder had sat on his couch in just the same way, for long hours into the night, unmoving except for the clenching and unclenching of his fists, replaying the sequence of events in his mind. He was no longer even sure what he was trying to learn from what had happened—no matter how he worried at it, no further understanding was forthcoming; no easing of the sharp, hot pain that the memory of Krycek’s presence brought him; no relaxation of the tension in his mind. It was as if it had become ritual; compulsion. He sat and thought about Krycek because he had to. Just as he had to eat and breathe.

* * *

It was near midnight when Mulder’s phone rang. It was the boy’s doctor. A man had come, whose name, he’d said, was Tolstoy. He was in with the boy now.

Mulder was out the door almost before he’d hung up the phone.

* * *

And there was Krycek, sitting on the side of the boy’s bed, talking to him quietly but urgently in Russian. Don’t you dare hurt him, was Mulder’s immediate thought, and he was almost through the hospital room door with his gun in Krycek’s back before he stopped himself. The boy didn’t look frightened; he lay on his side staring intently into Krycek’s face, his wide eyes unblinking. Now and then he answered softly: “Da.” He was talking at last, with someone he didn’t seem to find a threat. It would only frighten him needlessly to march in and take Krycek away at gunpoint.

So Mulder stood in the doorway and waited. Presently, Krycek turned and shot a wry smile at Mulder over his shoulder. Then he turned his attention back to the boy, reaching out to gently touch the boy’s arm.

Mulder flinched; the boy didn’t.

He waited until the conversation ended, watching in uncomfortable fascination. Oh, yes, Krycek could be gentle. Mulder knew that. He knew that tone of voice: How’d you sleep? Sure you don’t want something to eat? Come on, I’ll drive you home. He wanted to take the boy by the shoulders and insist, Don’t ever trust him. He’ll stab you in the back. If he could speak any language the boy would understand, he might have even done it. But there was nothing he could say to the boy, nothing he could do now that wouldn’t just frighten him more. If Krycek could ease his suffering, let him do it. Tomorrow, though, he’d make sure another translator talked to the boy. Just to make sure.

At last Krycek stood, patting the boy reassuringly on his arm, then leaning down to kiss the boy’s cheek.

Mulder stiffened, feeling the heat streak through his face. You murdering bastard. Leave him alone. He couldn’t say why it made him so furious. Or why he felt ashamed.

He swallowed it down, nodding shortly to Krycek as he came to the door. They started down the hall together. “What did you say to him, Tolstoy?”

Krycek watched the floor in front of him as he walked. His right hand was jammed into his jacket pocket; his left arm hung at his side. He took a deep breath. “Let’s go somewhere and talk.”

* * *

There was an all-night diner a couple of blocks from the hospital. Krycek ordered apple pie and ate like a starving man, while Mulder nursed a cup of coffee and waited. He’d always eaten like that, Mulder remembered—as though he never knew where his next meal was coming from. Mulder used to tease him about it, just to watch him blush. Now, it made Mulder’s face hot. He held his coffee cup tightly in his hands. Finally Krycek laid down his fork and leaned back in the booth.

“What did you say to him?”

“His name is Dmitri,” Krycek said slowly, staring into his coffee cup. “We found him in Kazakhstan. The only survivor of a mass burning, just like the one on the bridge. And the one on Skyland Mountain. I needed him. It wasn’t his fault.”

He cleared his throat, and looked up at Mulder. “I told him I was sorry. That I hadn’t wanted to hurt him, that there were reasons I had to do what I did. But it’s over now. His part in it, anyway. I told him he’s safe now, that no one will hurt him any more. I told him I’d protect him, and help him get home.”

“And he believed you?”

Krycek shrugged, smiling faintly. “I’ve never lied to him.”

“You’re going to take him back to Kazakhstan?”

“I don’t know. He’s Russian, not Kazakh. Russians aren’t very popular in Kazakhstan these days. His family’s dead. He might be better off somewhere else.”


Krycek smiled again, brief and sad. “He has relatives in Russia. He doesn’t know if they’d take him. And I’m not very popular in Russia these days. But we’ll figure something out.”

“We can take care of him,” Mulder said. “The State Department will make sure he’s taken care of.”

“No.” Krycek said flatly. “I’ll take care of him.”

Mulder sipped his coffee. He barely wanted to ask the next question, but it had to be asked. “You did that to him, didn’t you? Beat him up, infected him with the black oil. Sewed his….” He couldn’t get the words out.

“Yes.” His face was calm, his dark eyes cool. But his hand trembled on his coffee cup. “He doesn’t remember much of it, after the black oil. That’s a blessing.” His chin jutted out defiantly. “It was rough on him, but he’ll be fine. He’s young and tough. The worst thing for him is losing his family. The rest of it he’ll get over. He’s already getting over it.”

“You’re the only person he can talk to right now. He’s lost and alone in a foreign country, and you’re the only familiar face he sees. As soon as we find someone else who can speak Russian to him, you might find he’s not so eager to put his life in your hands again.”

The thick dark eyelashes came down over Krycek’s eyes ever so slightly: a protective gesture, warding away pain. “Maybe. —They told me he was dead, you know. Maybe they really thought so, or maybe they were just trying to make me think I’d lost my bargaining chip. They may well intend for him to end up that way. Or they may have other plans for him. I’m not going to let that happen, regardless of what he thinks of me. He’s just a kid, and he’s been through enough. I’m going to see him safely home, outside of any official channels they might be able to follow to go after him.”

Krycek looked directly into Mulder’s eyes, as intent as he’d ever been. “Will you help me?”

* * *

Mulder lay on his couch, arms tucked across his chest, staring at the ceiling. He’d changed into sweat pants and a tee shirt when he’d gotten home, in a vain attempt to kid himself that he might actually get some sleep, but he lay painfully awake, just as he’d known he would, while the thoughts whirled around in his head like leaves in a storm. I’ll think about it, was all he’d been able to say. Although thinking seemed hardly an option for him, at least where Alex Krycek was concerned. And he’d watched Krycek walk away again, with no attempt to arrest him. He’d felt paralyzed, helpless and stupid, too full of conflicting needs and desires to act on any of them.

And if Krycek felt the need to make amends for some of his crimes, should Mulder try to interfere? Or, forgetting about Krycek for a moment, was it true that the boy, Dmitri, was in danger from the Consortium? If that were so, then for the boy’s sake, if no one else’s, it would be better to help Krycek slip the boy quietly out of the country, with no official government involvement. And deal with Krycek later. He wasn’t going far, not while Dmitri was still in the hospital. Mulder found that he believed Krycek that far: he cared about the boy, and was determined to help and protect him. Maybe it was only a guilty conscience, but at least that meant he had a conscience. So Mulder could afford to let the matter rest, for the moment, to give himself time to consider what to do, to try to get his roiling thoughts under control.

* * *

In the morning, Mulder and Scully went back to the hospital, this time with a Russian interpreter in tow. The boy lay still in his hospital bed, thin body barely rumpling the blanket, IV dripping liquid into his left arm, wide eyes blinking up at them. He spoke slowly, hesitantly, as if measuring each word before letting it go. His memories were a jumble of fire and death, pain and fear. He’d gone to the site in Kazakhstan with his parents, and had been playing in the woods with another boy when the bright lights came. They’d run back to find everything in flames. His parents’ car was a fireball. Everyone was dead. He remembered running and running through the woods, and the soldiers the next morning. He couldn’t remember coming to America, or the second burn site on the bridge. Or he wouldn’t speak of them. Yes, he’d been beaten—by soldiers, he thought. It was dark and he couldn’t see their faces. There was something about an experiment, and a big dark room and a table covered with chickenwire and something black that fell from the ceiling. There was a ship, and lots of water, but for some reason he was still very thirsty.

But everything was all right now. His cousin had come for him, and would make sure everything was all right.

* * *

“Krycek just wants to get the kid home.” Mulder sat perched on the edge of his desk, arms folded across his chest, trying to keep the defensive tone out of his voice.

“And you believed him?” Scully’s tone said plainly that she did not.

“Dmitri does.” The boy had insisted that it had been “soldiers” who’d beaten and experimented on him, and that Krycek was his cousin. And with no identification to prove otherwise and no one else to claim him, it seemed that the story would hold—as long as Mulder and Scully were willing to go along.

“I’m sure Krycek was very persuasive. He seems to have that effect on people.” There was just enough sharpness in her tone to make it an accusation.

Mulder felt his face grow hot. “He was just a kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now that it’s all over, why shouldn’t Krycek want to help him?”

“How can you be so sure it’s all over?”

She was angry. She always seemed to be angry with him lately. He’d screwed up big time, and he wasn’t even sure what he’d done. He supposed he should ask; but then, in his experience, asking people why they were angry with him just gave them the opportunity to find more reasons. His shoulders slumped. “I can’t be sure of anything. But I believed him.”

Scully pursed her lips and regarded him thoughtfully for a few moments. “Did Krycek ever tell you why he did what he did to the boy?”

“He said he had reasons. Beyond that, I didn’t ask. I didn’t think I was ready to hear about it.”

“Mulder… did you ever stop to consider that you’re not really rational when it comes to Krycek?”

His weak exhalation of breath was half laugh, half groan. “I think about it every day. But he did try to help me. And he seems sincere about wanting to help Dmitri. I think we should give him the chance.”

Scully just frowned at him.

* * *

There was other work to be done, and Mulder tried to turn his attention to it. But there was Scully, with her expression tight and every comment an accusation, and he didn’t want to think about that. And there was Dmitri in his hospital bed, heartbreakingly damaged, clinging to the man who’d beaten him with the pure intensity of the innocent, and Mulder couldn’t get him out of his mind. And there was Krycek, who’d broken into Mulder’s apartment and shoved a gun in his face, and tried to make him believe things he’d already made up his mind not to believe, and kissed his cheek as though they were no longer enemies, as though somehow he wanted to make amends. And it made Mulder angry to think of all these things: Scully angry, Dmitri forgiving, Krycek—Krycek alive and tangled up in Mulder’s life again.

I’ll be in touch, was all Krycek had said when he’d left the diner last night. Mulder had no idea where he was staying, or under what name, so it was useless trying to get in contact with him. He wanted Mulder’s help, though, so he’d be back, but Mulder chafed over not knowing when or where. The only acceptable way to have Krycek around was to have him under control—in handcuffs, preferably, or at least in sight and doing what he was told. But Krycek could somehow never be controlled—like quicksilver he slipped through your fingers, like a force of nature, no matter what you did you turned around and he was gone, only to reappear three months later, six months, a year, bloodied but unbroken, to turn your life upside-down again. It was maddening. It was completely unacceptable. And it was unacceptable that he should take a young boy, beat him and infect him with unspeakable organisms, sew his eyes and mouth shut, and then sit down and tell that boy he was sorry and he didn’t mean to do it and be forgiven, just as though anything he’d done were forgivable. And most of all it was unacceptable that he should enlist Mulder’s aid in stealing that boy away and sneaking out of the country with him, and that Mulder should feel obligated to do it.

It was all unacceptable, and Mulder stalked around his office avoiding Scully’s angry eyes and pretending to work until he couldn’t stand it any longer, and then he told her he was going back to the hospital to talk to Dmitri again, and grabbed his jacket and left.

* * *

Mulder paused a moment at the door to the boy’s hospital room, not entirely sure what he was doing there. He hadn’t brought an interpreter with him, and so couldn’t ask any more questions, even if he had any to ask. Still, for some reason, he felt irresistibly drawn here, as if this small, bruised Russian boy could somehow give him the answers he needed.

The boy lay still, staring out the window. Why was he always so still? A boy that age should be a whirlwind of energy. Of course, not necessarily when he was recuperating from first- and second-degree burns all over his body, a severe beating, and infection by an alien substance. Did he look depressed? Perhaps he was just bored.

Dmitri turned and saw Mulder in the doorway. For a moment, his face brightened; then just as quickly fell. Probably wishing it was Krycek, Mulder thought, as he walked into the room. Or at least someone who spoke Russian. The boy watched big-eyed and silent as Mulder took the chair by his bed, then offered a tentative smile.

Mulder smiled back. Poor kid, he must be terribly lonely. So lonely he had to lie here and hope for Krycek to come. “Hi, Dmitri.”

“A— Agent Mulder.” The boy’s soft accent and slight stutter made an exotic sound of Mulder’s name. Mulder was impressed that the boy remembered. Not that he had a whole lot else to think about.

And that was pretty much the extent of their available conversation. Mulder tried a slightly bigger smile, and said, “I know we can’t really talk. I’m just going to sit with you for a while, all right?”

The boy nodded earnestly, just as if he’d understood what Mulder said. Well, he could hear the tone of the words, at least. And he really did seem pleased to have Mulder’s company. Mulder once again felt sorry for him: no one to talk to, nothing to do—he couldn’t understand the television; there were no books or magazines he could read. Only one dry FBI agent who could do nothing but sit here and nod at him.

Only now did it occur to him that he should have brought something for the boy. Should he go back to the gift shop now? And what would they have for a sixteen-year-old Russian boy?

Mulder dug in his pockets. What did he have for a sixteen-year-old Russian boy? A dime-store pen? A business card? Wait—what about that keychain he’d bought at Heuvelmans Lake with a picture of Big Blue, the legendary sea serpent, on it? It was cheap and tacky, but it was the best he could do. Mulder retrieved the keychain and worked the keys off of it, sliding them loose back into his pocket, and hoping he didn’t lose any of them before he could get a new one (would they have any in the gift shop? With cheerful kittens and puppies on them, perhaps). He pressed the keychain into Dmitri’s hand.

Too late, it occurred to him that perhaps a souvenir of a man-eating sea monster was not the ideal present for a child who’d been assaulted by aliens. But Dmitri grinned happily over it, and rattled off several sentences in Russian, among which Mulder assumed were thanks. He held the keychain out to Mulder, pointing at the picture, his eyebrows raised in question.

“Big Blue,” Mulder said carefully. “Big Blue.”

Dmitri furrowed his brow. “Big. Blue.”

“That’s right,” Mulder nodded, thinking, The first words of English this kid learns, and it’s the name of a nonexistent sea monster.

“Big Blue,” Dmitri repeated to himself, gripping the keychain as if it were precious metal.

Mulder sat with Dmitri for another hour, sometimes in one-sided conversation, sometimes in companionable silence. He left when Dmitri had begun to yawn repeatedly, exhausted but determined not to nap while he had company. The boy was asleep before Mulder reached the door, keychain still clutched tightly in his hand.

* * *

Halfway back to the office, Mulder changed his mind and headed home instead. It was still early, but he wasn’t quite ready to face Scully again yet. She’d ask him if he’d found out anything at the hospital, and he’d say no, and eventually he’d end up telling her that he hadn’t even brought an interpreter with him, and all he’d ended up doing was giving away his keychain. She’d think he’d wasted the entire afternoon. And probably he had, but he felt a little better about the whole situation anyway. It was good to see the boy recovering from his injuries and in good spirits. Mulder couldn’t really tell, of course, without being able to talk to Dmitri, but he didn’t see any signs that the boy was frightened or in any way being coerced by Krycek. Krycek might be a liar and a murderer, but he’d convinced the boy he was his protector, and as long as he never did anything to make the boy think otherwise, that was just fine with Mulder.

Occasionally, he liked to say that he was cursed with a photographic memory. At times, he felt that it truly was a curse. Like now, as he entered the front door of his apartment, and his eye was uncontrollably drawn to that exact spot on the floor where the square of white paper had lain, the night Krycek had come to tell him that aliens were invading the world. Things are looking up, had been written on the paper, and as he’d bent to pick it up, Krycek had jumped him from behind and shoved him into the floor across the room by the desk. Mulder tried not to look at that spot in the floor; tried not to think about what had happened that night. But the image was burned indelibly into his mind; he saw that small square of paper lying there still, every time he walked into his apartment.

And there was where he’d lain on the floor in the dark, with Krycek bending over him, gun muzzle pressing into Mulder’s chest. You must be losing it, Mulder. I can beat you with one hand.

Isn’t that how you like to beat yourself? Mulder’s face burned as he remembered the foolish comeback that had popped out of his mouth. Whatever had possessed him to respond to a life-threatening situation with his worst enemy with lame cracks about masturbation? The gun muzzle had poked roughly into his chest. Mulder had felt his heart pounding back, as if straining to meet it. His hands and feet had tingled and gone numb, and there had been a faint buzzing sound in his ears. When he’d opened his mouth to speak, the unbidden image of the gun muzzle sliding into it had risen, threatening to choke him. Sweat had dripped into his eyes. If those are going to be my last words, I can do better.

I’m not here to kill you, Mulder. I’m here to help you.

Lies. Lies. But then Krycek had handed over his gun and walked away, leaving behind the small square of paper with the name of an Air Force base written on the back. An Air Force base where an alien was being held; where Mulder had seen… bright lights and a man with no face and other things he couldn’t remember, but which had given Mulder his faith back.

And—Krycek had ordered him to sit up, then, with surprising grace for a one-armed man, had leaned over and pressed his mouth to Mulder’s cheek. It was shock, Mulder was sure, that had caused him to start, and not some perverse impulse to turn his head toward Krycek’s and capture that kiss on his mouth. It was adrenaline that had caused that spark to race through his body like an electric current. It was the heightened sensitivity of fear that had made those lips burn into his cheek, and left him feeling as spent and helpless as if Krycek’s bullet had indeed pierced his heart and left him bleeding on the floor.

With an exasperated groan, Mulder turned on his heel and strode angrily to the stereo, turning the radio on and cranking up the volume. He was home early; he’d make use of the time and clean his apartment. Maybe if he scrubbed hard enough, he’d be able to wipe the memory of Krycek’s presence away.

He’d finished the front room and the kitchen and was in the bedroom pulling the sheets from the bed when he turned to find Alex Krycek standing in the doorway. Grimacing angrily, he dropped the sheets onto the floor.

“I did knock,” Krycek said, before Mulder had the chance to ask the question. “You didn’t answer. And I wasn’t about to stand in the hallway pounding on your door.” The radio still blared.

“Come on in,” Mulder muttered. “Everyone else does.” He really should change his locks. Not that it would do any good.

“Need a hand with that?” Krycek indicated the pile of fresh sheets on the chair by the bed.

“No.” Krycek helping him to make his bed? God, no. Mulder felt his face grow hot. “Look, would you get out of here? Go wait in the other room.”

Krycek shrugged. “Sure.”

Mulder stood staring at the empty doorway, breath coming in shallow gasps. His hand shook as he bent to pick up the sheets he’d let fall. God. Krycek in his bedroom. He’d never sleep in his bed again. Hurriedly, he gathered up the dirty sheets, and jammed them into a ball at the foot of the bed. Then he began to spread the clean sheets over the mattress. Of all the times for Krycek to show up—at least he hadn’t made any cracks about Mulder doing housework. You’re the who makes smart remarks about everything, Mulder reminded himself. Not him. Anyway, he wants your help. He’ll be good. And Mulder had promised he’d think about helping him. Well, he’d thought about it endlessly, and come to no good conclusions. Now he had to go out there and try to talk rationally with him. He’d rather just crawl into this freshly-made bed and pull the covers over his head.

Krycek was standing by the end of the couch, staring at the framed print of a typewriter on the wall. He turned to greet Mulder with a tentative smile. “Nice picture.”

“Thanks.” It had been a gift from Mulder’s mother. He wasn’t about to tell Krycek that he hadn’t had the heart to tell her he found it only marginally more interesting than bare wall. But since he’d never gotten around to buying anything he actually liked, he left it up.

“Well.” Krycek turned towards Mulder, folding his arms across his chest. Fascinating, the way he casually slipped his hand under his left arm and pulled it up, tucking the hand under his elbow. If you weren’t watching for it, you might not even notice the left arm was a prosthetic. “Dmitri liked the keychain.”

“You were at the hospital today?”

“I just came from there. He said you were there for a couple of hours. Thanks.”

“I didn’t do it for you. And if I decide to help you get him out of the country, I won’t be doing that for you, either.”

Krycek shook his head, a slight smile curling his mouth. (Soft, round mouth. Mulder looked away.) “I never expected you to, Mulder. So, have you thought about it?”

Mulder didn’t know how to answer that. “Do you want coffee?” Ridiculous, offering the man coffee. But he had to have something to do, before he began to scream.

“Sure.” Krycek looked like he needed coffee. He looked like he needed sleep, actually. His face was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes. He shoved his right hand into his jacket pocket and followed Mulder into the kitchen, leaving his left arm to hang at his side. He’d been busy the past few days. Where had he slept, if he’d slept at all?

Mulder shook his head and busied himself with the coffee pot. “Is the boy really in danger?”

“I don’t know. Truthfully, I hope he isn’t. But I’m not taking any chances.”

“What exactly is it that you want me to do?” It made it a little easier, being able to busy himself with the coffee. He didn’t quite want to smash Krycek’s face in, or throw him up against the wall and demand to know why he did it.

“As much as you’re willing to do. Don’t tell them I’m not really Dmitri’s cousin, for one thing. Keep him out of your reports.”

Mulder nodded. “And…?”

“I’m trying to arrange some ID for both of us. Transport to Russia. I can manage that if I have to, but I wouldn’t mind some help.” Krycek leaned against the counter, eyeing the coffeepot as if expecting gold from it.

“You mean money.”

A slight shrug. The prosthetic arm swung at his side, a dead weight. “Among other things.” He laughed, a short humorless noise. “He took everything before he let me go. Trying to keep me on a short leash. I don’t even have a change of underwear.”

Definitely not something Mulder wanted to know. “What about a place to stay?”

“I’m fine.”

“When was the last time you slept?”

“I went to see Titanic this afternoon. I had a nice nap.”

Mulder swore to himself. Repeatedly. “You can’t afford a room at the YMCA or something?”

“I don’t want a room. I need to keep moving.”

“Fine.” Mulder suddenly remembered Los Angeles, the summer of the fires, when Scully was gone, and he went long days on nothing but catnaps, refusing to check into a hotel. Because Scully was gone, and there was nothing he could do but keep moving, because stopping would mean seeing the emptiness that was there. He understood the need to keep moving.

So what was it that was keeping Krycek moving? Was he worried about the boy? Consumed with guilt? But if he cared so much, how could he have done the things he did in the first place? “Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“What you did to Dmitri.”

Krycek looked away, grim and silent. His eyes narrowed and his mouth trembled, then pressed firmly shut. Pain twitched across his face, was determinedly rejected, then washed back again, stronger than his stoicism. Mulder stood and watched him, fascinated, even pleased. Time seemed to telescope down, till there was nothing but Mulder’s kitchen, the coffee perking gently in its pot, and Mulder’s enemy, struggling with a great pain. It was soothing, somehow, even comforting, to watch Krycek suffering, to know that the things he did had consequences for him. Mulder had punished Krycek before—handcuffed him and beat him, but it had never truly satisfied. Not like this. Krycek had refused to be brought down by it; he’d absorbed Mulder’s abuse and given nothing back. If only he’d suffered like this….

The coffeepot fell silent. Krycek looked at it expectantly; the spell was broken. Mulder got mugs from the cupboard and poured coffee into them. Krycek liked sugar in his coffee, Mulder remembered, and pulled the box of sugar down before he had time to think about it. Then stopped, suddenly, flustered and a little angry. Krycek reached for the sugar, all the time watching Mulder warily, as if expecting him to snatch it away.

God, Mulder thought. Had things become so hopelessly complicated between them that even a cup of coffee became a test? Exasperated, he jerked the silverware drawer open, and slammed a spoon down on the counter.

Krycek grinned crookedly as he picked up the spoon to stir his coffee. But his bravado was betrayed by the tightness at the corners of his mouth and the liquid pain in his eyes.

They returned to the living room. Mulder sprawled into the middle of his leather couch, arms spread along the back, claiming it as his territory. Krycek pulled out the desk chair and sat with a little whoosh, as if his knees couldn’t quite wait for his haunches to hit the chair before giving out. Pure exhaustion, Mulder thought. He’d lose his concentration soon and make a mistake that could be fatal. Which would be only just—except for Dmitri.

“Why did you do it?” he asked again. He didn’t even care if Krycek answered; he just wanted to see that pain again.

But several sips of strong, sweet coffee and a chair to sit in had given him back his composure. This time, Krycek stared off into the middle distance with the trace of a sad smile, and began to speak softly.

“He was my Trojan Horse. I told them he had information about the burn site in Kazakhstan—important information that no one else knew. And he did, at least until the same thing happened at Skyland Mountain and Ruskin Dam. But really, that was just to get him alone with them. They’d be horrified by the way I’d treated him, of course, and they’d rush to get the stitches out before they stopped to think why those stitches might be there. And the black oil would come rushing out—it wouldn’t have affected Dmitri, because he’d had the vaccination—same as you did, Mulder, which is why it didn’t hurt you—and one or more of them would be infected. If it got to enough of them, it could ruin them. Or at the very least put a very large monkey wrench into their plans.”

Mulder nodded slowly. A desperate plan, and by no means a foolproof one. But the payoff would have been worth the risk. To him. “What about Dmitri? What would have happened to him?”

That shadow of pain was back in Krycek’s face. “I hoped to be able to recover him afterwards. But if I couldn’t… I thought the stakes were high enough that the sacrifice was worth it.” He finally looked Mulder in the eye, grim and defiant. “I didn’t like doing it.” His gaze broke, and he stared into the distance again. “I’ve had to do a lot of things I didn’t like. And sometimes it wasn’t worth the price I had to pay. But this time… poor Dmitri was forfeit the minute he survived that holocaust. At least with me he had a chance.”

It was horrifyingly believable. And Krycek’s regret, too, spilling reluctantly out of him, was sweet balm to Mulder’s anger. But where did a broken nose fit into this seductive tale?

“Then why did you beat him?”

Krycek gave a slight shake of his head. “I had to know what he knew. I had to get him to talk to me, but he was afraid of the soldiers, and of me, and he tried to run away, and he lied pathetically about everything. I had to find out what he saw, and I couldn’t afford the time it would have taken to be kind and win his trust. It wouldn’t have been any favor to him, anyway, considering what came after.”

“So you beat him.” Mulder found that he was angry again. I had to know, and so I beat him. Then he put on that pretty look of repressed pain, and said that he was sorry, and expected his crimes to be justified. Sometimes sorry wasn’t enough. Sometimes it wasn’t anything at all.

Krycek looked at him dully, as if he knew what Mulder was thinking, and had suddenly given up trying to explain. “Yeah.”

And the boy forgave him. How could he forgive it—the terror, the pain, the assault? “It’s Stockholm Syndrome, you know.”

The dull look disappeared, to be replaced by wariness. “What?”

“The boy. Dmitri. You’ve terrorized him into depending on you, and now he’ll do anything to please you, to keep you from hurting him again. It’s fear, not forgiveness.”

Krycek shrugged. Something in his face hardened. “It really bothers you, doesn’t it? The idea that anyone could forgive me.”

Mulder found himself leaning forward on the couch, hands clenching into fists. “He’s a scared kid.”

“Or maybe he’s just more forgiving than some people.”

Mulder was on his feet, and had taken two steps towards Krycek before he could stop himself. “Some people you never bothered to ask for forgiveness.”

Krycek had also jumped to his feet, into a fighter’s stance, hard and ready. But his voice, when he spoke, was quiet and intense and full of sharp little needles. “Would it have done any good?”

Mulder closed the distance between them, and stood eye to eye with him, staring hard, as if the force of his gaze could give him the answers he wanted. But Krycek gave him nothing, as always. Only his presence, so close, that filled Mulder with a terrible need, that he had no idea how to satisfy. Mulder forced a deep breath, and then another, and then a harsh smile. He whispered, “Try me.”

Breathing hard, Krycek tried to step back, but his foot hit the chair behind him and he stopped, huge eyes glittering. His tongue came out and licked his lower lip, leaving it shiny. For a moment, he was open wide, and the pain rushed out of him, and flowed over Mulder like an offering. Then it was gone, and his only response was a slow shake of the head.

No! It was unacceptable. He couldn’t be allowed to get away with it. He had to pay—for what he did to Mulder, or for what he did to Dmitri, or for something, but he had to pay. Mulder’s hand swiped out and caught Krycek by the back of the neck, pulling him close, and Mulder’s mouth came down hard on Krycek’s.

They both froze for an instant, Mulder just as shocked as Krycek by what he’d done. But only for an instant. Mulder felt a blaze erupt in him, a horrible satisfaction that made him feel huge and powerful and almost unbearably good. He pulled Krycek closer, pressed his mouth harder, forcing Krycek’s mouth open and pushing his tongue inside. Krycek’s soft lips stretched wide. Inside he was hot and sweet. Mulder wrapped his arm around Krycek’s back and pressed his thigh between his legs. Strong, muscular legs, now straining to keep their balance as Mulder kept pushing forward.

It was dizzyingly good. Gasping for breath, Mulder broke the kiss, grinning terribly, intoxicated by the sight of Krycek’s lips, wet from Mulder’s mouth, and the hazy look in his eyes. God, it was sweet. Unthinking, his fist drew back to strike—

Krycek at once pushed forward, forcing Mulder back, then turned and rolled out of Mulder’s grasp and away.

They stood staring at each other. Mulder’s sense of overwhelming power burst and dissipated, like a punctured balloon, leaving him shaking and horrified. Krycek looked no better. He was red-faced and breathing harshly. His mouth worked, but no words came out. Then he shook his head and turned towards the door.

It couldn’t be left like this. Mulder struggled for words, but none came. His feet felt rooted to the floor. And he could do nothing, nothing at all, while Krycek slipped away without looking back, closing the door quietly behind him.

* * *

Mulder’s hand shook as he shaved the next morning. Too many sleepless nights, sitting on his couch until sheer exhaustion took him, dozing a few hours in his clothes before getting up to go through it all over again. Last night had been no different. Krycek had been here and then he was gone. Mulder got nothing from him but aggravation and lies. Another kiss that meant nothing, just more power games and maneuvering between them. It was no different. Except that the feel of Krycek’s plush lips were on his mouth now, not just on his cheek. Except that he’d shoved his tongue down Krycek’s throat—hard to call that a comradely Russian kiss. And if he hadn’t gone ballistic and lifted his arm to strike, who knew how far he would have gone? Or how far Krycek would have let him go? Or why? More questions; that was all Krycek brought, or ever brought. More questions and confusion and sleepless nights.

And now Krycek was gone again. Would he come back this time, after what had happened? Or was he gone for another six months, another year, until the next time he showed up out of nowhere, to disrupt Mulder’s life and his sleep one more time?

The razor slipped, and Mulder jerked his hand away, swearing. Two small drops of blood welled along his cheek. He put the razor down and closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He couldn’t let Krycek do this to him. It would be just as well if he didn’t come back. Then maybe Mulder could forget, wipe the memory out of his mind, at least until the next time….

* * *

He managed to avoid Scully for most of the morning by burying himself in the Bureau’s endless files, digging up obscure records only marginally related to the case they were working on. But his head ached from the lack of sleep, and his eyes kept wanting to cross, and even if he had stumbled across anything useful he’d have been too fuzzy-headed to recognize it. So eventually he sighed, and sneezed in the dust, and went back to his office. He paused at the door, fingering the lock, then shook his head in self-disgust and left the door unlocked. It was ridiculous to hide from her—she was his best friend, his only friend, the only one who understood anything, even if she was feeling irritated with him these days for some reason. Hell, he was irritated with himself—no reason Scully should be any different. And he’d only alienate her further by running away from her. Besides, locking the door would be a useless gesture—if she came down here and found the door locked, she’d knock, and he’d have to let her in, and then he’d have to try to explain why he’d locked the door, and he’d only end up making things worse. Better just to accept the inevitable.

He was on his fourth cup of coffee when Scully tapped at his door and poked her head in. The caffeine had made him jittery and sent his scattered thoughts racing uselessly around his head, but hadn’t made a dent in the searing exhaustion that wrung out his senses. He jumped at her knock, nearly upset his cup, and swore to himself as he gestured her in, feeling his shoulders tense, angry with himself for letting things get so strained. She stood before his desk, watching him, worrying at her lower lip.

She looked tired, too, he thought. The burns on her face stood out sharply against her pale skin, and there were violet smudges under her eyes. How long had she been like this? Had it been days, and he just hadn’t noticed? She was always so calm, so controlled—it was too easy to assume that everything was all right with her, that none of this affected her as it did him, but of course that was selfish and absurd. She was the one who’d been abducted, experimented on, implanted, made sterile, her sister murdered, given cancer, nearly led to her death in a fiery holocaust. All because of him, and his pointless quest. If he really allowed himself to stop and think about it, he’d drown in guilt.

“Hey, Scully.” He could hear how tentative and awkward he sounded. “You look tired.”

“So do you. Did you find out anything more from Dmitri?” She continued to stand in front of his desk, arms crossed. She was hard as stone, an alabaster statue before him.

He swallowed. “No, not really. I didn’t— It wasn’t—” He lowered his gaze suddenly, unable to look at her. “I thought I would just stay with him for a little while. He’s so alone—” (A lonely teenaged boy, sister lost, no one to talk to—) “I didn’t want him to have to think that Krycek was the only person here he could depend on. I didn’t want him to be so scared.”

Scully’s voice softened. “That was probably a good idea.” He looked up at her again. She wasn’t smiling, but she was no longer made of stone, either. He felt something loosen in his chest. “And what about Krycek? Have you seen him again?”

He hoped she couldn’t see his face growing hot. “Yeah, he came by my apartment last night. We talked. He told me he’d been planning to use Dmitri as a kind of Trojan horse, to expose his enemies to the black oil. Dmitri was safe from it, because he’d been vaccinated. He hoped to be able to recover the boy afterwards, and send him safely home.”

Clearly, she was not appeased. Mulder didn’t know that he was, either. The stakes were high, no doubt of that—if Krycek had been telling the truth, or believed that he was telling the truth, the entire human race was in danger. Was it justified for him to use and torture one teenaged boy, if the future of humanity was at stake? Mulder didn’t know, and he didn’t want to know—what if some day someone told him that Samantha’s sacrifice had been necessary for the survival of the human race? His own pain and suffering, and Scully’s? His father’s death? He wasn’t ready to face those questions yet.

“Then what happened? How did Dmitri end up on the bridge?”

Mulder felt his face blaze again. That was part of the conversation they hadn’t gotten to. “I think someone stole Dmitri away from him before he got the chance to make the trade.” Marita. “But then the black oil got to whoever it was, and the boy got away. He had the implant; he was called to the site in Pennsylvania, just like he was to the one in Kazakhstan.” He hadn’t heard from Marita since her phone call telling him she had someone from the Kazakhstan site. Her office said she’d been called away. Was she dead, a victim of the black oil?

Scully shook her head in amazement. “He survived two of the mass burnings, a severe beating, infection by the black oil—it’s a miracle he’s still alive.”

Mulder nodded. “We have to help him. Even if it means helping Krycek too.”

Scully sighed. “All right, Mulder. What do you want to do?”

He wasn’t prepared for her agreement. He felt his face go red a third time, as he shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know.”

* * *

There wasn’t really much they could do—Mulder needed to talk to Krycek again, and he wasn’t eager to tell Scully he was not at all sure he would even see Krycek again, after assaulting him last night. But assume that Krycek was desperate enough for help that he’d be back, and that they would manage to keep their hands off each other long enough to make plans. Meanwhile, all they could do was keep an eye on Dmitri and make sure he was safe and comfortable.

To that end, Mulder headed back to the hospital after work to check in on the boy.

* * *

He really shouldn’t have been so surprised, Mulder thought. He should have been prepared for the possibility that Krycek might be here with the boy. But the sight still sent his heart into his throat—Krycek sitting on the edge of the boy’s bed, all leather and heat and purposeful intensity, trying valiantly to smile while Dmitri tugged at the left sleeve of his leather jacket. Mulder froze in the doorway. It was a private moment; he shouldn’t intrude—but he couldn’t take his eyes off them: Krycek, holding himself stiff and tightly controlled; Dmitri, with his swollen, bandaged nose and crusted burns and fading bruises, curiosity bright in his pale eyes, talking softly in Russian as he pulled the jacket down off Krycek’s shoulder. He wanted to see the prosthetic arm, the stump of the shoulder—and Krycek was allowing it. What had Krycek told him about it? Had he told Dmitri about Tunguska, and the gulag, and the men who cut off their arms to avoid being infected by the black oil? There was a strange sort of symmetry to it: Krycek’s amputated arm, Dmitri’s oil-invaded body.

Intent on the boy, Krycek appeared not to notice the intrusion—but Mulder was convinced that Krycek knew he was there, just the same. Krycek hadn’t flinched, hadn’t sent even the beginning of a glance toward the door; but somehow, Mulder could feel Krycek’s awareness of his presence, just as he could feel Krycek’s. It was something in the air, heavy and dark and almost sweet, like the tinge of ozone that presages a storm.

The leather jacket slid down Krycek’s left arm. He wore only a short-sleeved white cotton tee-shirt underneath, exposing the smooth flesh-colored plastic of the prosthetic. Dmitri stroked it, handling the jointed elbow and fingers, his brow furrowed in concentration.

Krycek was holding himself still as death, answering Dmitri’s questions in a voice too measured to tremble. Perfectly controlled, Krycek offered his disfigurement to the boy, and it made Mulder unreasonably angry, as just about everything else about Krycek made him angry. It hurt Krycek to let his false arm be exposed, but he let the boy have it, the pain only showing in his unnatural calm.

Then Dmitri raised his hand to Krycek’s shirt sleeve, IV tube trailing from his arm, and began to push the sleeve up. He wanted to see the whole arm, right up to the ruined shoulder, where the prosthetic met flesh. Still motionless, Krycek sucked in air, as if the boy had plunged a knife into him. But when Dmitri blinked at him, he nodded for him to go on, and even shifted to allow the boy easier access to his shoulder. His breathing had quickened, though, and he licked his lips shiny and wet.

Mulder barely suppressed his own gasp. He felt a flush that seemed to streak through his entire body, leaving him hot and shaky. It was a horribly intimate moment, and Mulder couldn’t bear it. Unbidden, the thought streaked across his consciousness: I’m going to have to fuck him or kill him. Mulder was shocked by his own thought. But it was as undeniable as the heat in his belly. Dmitri ran his slender fingers along the edge of the prosthetic, sliding his thumb beneath the elastic strap that attached the prosthetic arm to Krycek’s body. Kill him or fuck him. But he couldn’t kill him, not now, with Dmitri and the aliens and the FBI… so that meant he had to fuck him. Fuck him raw, fuck him into the ground, fuck him senseless… Mulder felt the words repeat, almost ringing in his ears, like a mantra, a chant, that somehow eased the terrible roiling in his mind. It was a plan, whether it made sense or not: a way to deal with the unbearable feelings Krycek aroused, and he had to do something or he’d go mad.

He was sure he could do it. Krycek hadn’t resisted Mulder’s kiss last night, he’d only broken away when Mulder had turned violent. He hadn’t really responded to it, either, but then Mulder hadn’t given him much chance to respond. He’d gotten away easily enough, though, when he wanted to. If he’d felt the need to break away from the kiss, he could have done that too.

Mulder could have done it last night, and everything would have been settled—if only he hadn’t lost control and tried to hit him. Now, it was going to be more difficult. Krycek would be wary. He wasn’t willing to let himself be abused. So Mulder would have to be careful. Make his move slowly, with no violence or roughness. Maybe even make Krycek believe he’d forgiven him. It didn’t matter what he had to do, as long as he got Krycek to drop his pants and bend over. Then maybe, at last, Mulder would find a little peace.

Dmitri smoothed the sleeve back down over Krycek’s shoulder, and lay back in the bed, his inspection over. “Hello, Mulder,” Krycek murmured softly, not looking up, as he pulled his leather jacket back on. Dmitri looked toward the doorway, a pleased smile spreading across his battered face, and repeated, “Hello, Mulder,” in his soft Russian voice.

Mulder put on a friendly smile, struggling to regain his composure. “Hi, Dmitri.” Then he turned to Krycek, letting the smile fade, biting his lip. “We need to talk.”

Krycek nodded, still gazing down at the boy. Was he unwilling to face Mulder, with his arm’s naked display still looming large in the room? He put his hand—his flesh and blood hand—on Dmitri’s shoulder, and said something that sounded like leave-taking.

The boy stretched out his arms, and Krycek gathered him up, holding him with his flesh and plastic arms, kissing him briefly but firmly on the lips. Mulder shifted uncomfortably. He told himself it was custom, and purely innocent, but still it made him cringe to watch Krycek kiss this child, his victim.

Then Krycek stood up from the bed, and Dmitri turned to Mulder, reaching out his arms to him, smiling hopefully. Krycek said something softly, in Russian, and Dmitri’s arms fell, and his smile turned to disappointment.

Krycek started toward the door, but Mulder stepped in front of him with a minute shake of his head. Krycek shrugged and moved to stand by the wall. Probably he was only trying to give Mulder a few moments alone with Dmitri—but he might also decide to take the opportunity to slip away, and Mulder wasn’t ready to lose track of him for another night. So Krycek watched while Mulder went to the bed and stood over the boy, who looked up at him with a tentative smile.

So now what? Shake the boy’s hand and take his leave, in the way his restrained New England upbringing had taught him? Dmitri was clearly used to easy physical expressions of affection, and Mulder’s distance would seem like a rejection. And there was no way to explain it to him. If Mulder truly wanted to help the boy, he would have to offer him the sort of friendship he would understand. So he put away his own discomfort, and sat down on the bed, bending over the boy to embrace him.

Dmitri’s response was eager and warm. Slender fingers dug into Mulder’s upper arms, and a hard little mouth, still cracked and scabbed from sutures and fists and fires, pressed briefly into Mulder’s. It was over in a moment, nothing troubling about it. Still, Mulder felt his anger flare again. The boy seemed so thin and fragile, the burns and bruises so heart-wrenching on his face. Mulder wanted to touch them, to stroke them away, but the throbbing pulse in his groin made mockery of his tenderness. It was Krycek’s fault—for kissing him, for kissing the boy, for twisting it all up until everything good seemed evil, and evil seemed like the only sensible thing to do. He felt that the boy was being used as a pawn in some sort of horrible game between them, but there were no rules and no sense to it, and no way out.

Except that he would fuck Krycek, and everything would be all right. The thought was an immediate balm to his troubled mind. He managed to smile at Dmitri, saying, “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. I’ll visit you again later.” He couldn’t quite resist brushing his fingertips across the boy’s temple, ever so lightly. Dmitri just beamed at him, uncomprehending.

Mulder took a deep breath and stood up. Krycek remained by the wall, regarding them with a strange, almost unhappy, expression. Mulder wanted to be angry again—what did he have to be unhappy about? But it was an absurd question, and even Mulder knew it—the plastic left arm under that leather jacket was one obvious answer.

He nodded to Krycek and headed for the door. Krycek peeled himself from the wall and followed. Did he seem slightly unsteady on his feet? Was it all taking its toll on him, too? He’d been exhausted yesterday, and wasn’t likely to have gotten a good night’s sleep in the meantime, if he was staying on the move. Good enough, he’d have less energy to resist.

They walked in silence to the elevator, and remained in silence throughout the ride to the ground floor. Mulder closed his eyes and leaned heavily against the side wall of the elevator, shoulder and forehead pressed against the plastic paneling. He was going to have to get some sleep soon, or he’d just fall over unconscious where he stood. It wasn’t until they stepped out onto the sidewalk that Mulder spoke.

“We’ll go to my place.”

Krycek stopped. “Why don’t we just go back to that diner?”

It hadn’t occurred to Mulder that he would be wary of returning to Mulder’s apartment. This was going to make things more difficult. He had to get Krycek alone somewhere. Well, never mind, say anything, just get him there.

“Look, about that… last night.” He paused, struggling for words. He couldn’t quite force himself to say he was sorry. “It won’t happen again.”

Krycek looked away, his mouth tight. It hurt him to hear Mulder’s attempts at apologies, which Mulder found darkly satisfying. He went on, “Look, I’m tired, I want to go home. Just come, all right?”

Krycek made a small, exasperated noise. “Yeah, okay.”

Mulder couldn’t quite believe how relieved he was. It would happen now, he was sure of it. And everything would be all right.

By the time they reached be apartment, though, Mulder could feel himself crashing hard. The relief of finally having a plan for dealing with Krycek had robbed him of his nervous adrenaline, and the long string of sleepless nights was at last catching up to him. His hands trembled as he fumbled for the key to his door, and he nearly stumbled across the threshold. Ignoring Krycek, he staggered into the living room and fell heavily onto the sofa.

Krycek stood wavering in the doorway. His eyes were red-rimmed and he was having trouble keeping them open. Sleep. They both needed sleep.

No help for it, Mulder just managed to think. The body had reached its limit. “Go to bed,” he ordered weakly, not caring how his instructions sounded. “I’m going to sleep here. You can take the bed. We’ll talk about it….” He could barely keep track of his sentences. “Later.” He was already half asleep. Forget about changing clothes, just get a pillow under his head… and he sank inexorably into darkness.

* * *

When Mulder woke, daylight had faded to deep night, and he was cold and uncomfortable in his work clothes, half-lying on the couch, his feet still on the floor. But he had slept deeply for what must have been hours, and although he knew it would take more hours before he’d truly made up his sleep deficit, he felt reasonably rested and able to cope. He pushed himself to a sitting position, yawning, shrugging at his coat and loosening his tie. For once, he’d slept without troubling dreams, without constant starts to wakefulness, without Krycek haunting him—

Krycek. Mulder was on his feet before he had time to think. Where was he? Had he gotten away again, to leave Mulder in torment? Damn his exhaustion, he’d almost had him.

He rushed to the bedroom. Ridiculous to expect Krycek to be here—but there he was, lying sprawled across Mulder’s bed in his tee-shirt and jeans, leather jacket crumpled beside him, sound asleep. He lay on his back, face pale in the street light spilling through the unshaded window, prosthetic arm emerging from his shirt sleeve, lying at his side, shiny and lifeless. Mulder stepped into the room, staring down at him, his heart suddenly pounding. Krycek in his bed. So close…. Did he look innocent in his sleep? Mulder couldn’t say that he did. Not with a week’s stubble, and that plastic arm—or the betrayal that Mulder knew lurked behind that deceptively youthful face. But there was something ethereal about him, lying here in the dark, his round lips slightly parted, long lashes almost unnaturally thick and black against his pale cheeks. Or maybe it was just that, having made the decision to fuck him, he was now seeing Krycek in a new light, measuring his sexual attractiveness, like a wild animal selecting its mate. Krycek was certainly fine specimen, physically, despite the lost arm. Strong and graceful and even pretty. What would he look like naked, lying on his stomach, legs spread for the taking? Mulder took an awkward step, shoe hitting the floor harder than he’d meant it to, and Krycek stirred.

No threat, Mulder warned himself, forcing a gentle smile. “Hi. Didn’t mean to wake you.”

Krycek pushed himself up onto one elbow, blinking. The other arm, the false one, hung from his shoulder like a dead thing. “What time is it?”

“I don’t know. Late. Or early, depending on how you look at it.”

Krycek nodded, as if he’d actually gotten an answer. He yawned, craning his neck down to his side, so that he could rub his eyes with his fingers. “I feel like that’s the first sleep I’ve gotten in years.”

“Me too.” Mulder felt his smile coming more easily now, even naturally. Krycek was relaxed, suspecting nothing. Everything was going fine, if only he didn’t spook now. Mulder moved toward him and sat on the edge of the bed.

Krycek shifted, moving his prosthetic arm as if he’d just now noticed it was there, trying to get the elbow under him for more support. He was making no attempt to hide or cover the arm, so Mulder supposed he’d lost his shyness about it that afternoon. Tentatively, Mulder reached across him to touch it, watching for signs of resistance. But Krycek remained calm, even indifferent. Mulder stroked the arm above the jointed elbow. It was just smooth plastic, slightly cool to the touch, nothing more. Could Krycek feel that he was being touched? Did the pressure of Mulder’s hand, however light, transmit itself to the flesh above? He ran his hand up the arm, beneath the sleeve, until his fingers met warm skin. He stroked absently for a moment, watching Krycek’s eyes drift closed, like a sleepy cat being petted.

“What did you tell Dmitri about it?” Not, perhaps, the topic of conversation most conducive to Mulder’s ends, but he’d already betrayed his interest in the arm, and besides, he wanted to know.

“That it happened while I was fighting the same enemy that had destroyed his family.”

Clever. And not even necessarily a lie. “What have you told him about it all? The black cancer and the mass abductions?”

“I’ve tried not to tell him too much. I want him out of it—he should be able to live his life in peace, without having to worry about alien invasions and the end of the world.” Krycek sighed, and smiled a little. “I’ve told him it was secret projects and spy stuff. Hell, he was a ten-year-old Russian living in Kazakhstan during the breakup of the Soviet Union—he knows all about governments and their games.”

Mulder smiled back, still caressing Krycek’s shoulder under the sleeve. The skin was soft and warm and pleasant to the touch. Strange to feel it end here, in cold, hard plastic. He felt himself drifting, as lulled by the quiet intimacy of the moment as the other man. He moved his hand away, then, and smoothed Krycek’s sleeve down, feeling the ridge of the prosthesis pressing against flesh beneath the thin cotton. He remembered Tunguska, and the man in his cabin, holding a huge machete in his hand, ready to chop off Mulder’s arm to save him from the tests with the black oil. No hospitals, no anaesthetics—just desperate men doing what they thought they had to do to survive. Krycek had suffered what Mulder had barely escaped. He couldn’t imagine it, although in his nightmares he’d tried. The huge knife, slicing through muscle, severing arteries, crushing bone…. “What did it feel like?” he found himself asking, in a voice low and husky—and instantly regretted it. Demonstrating his sick fascination with the man’s pain was not the way to seduce him.

Krycek stared. His mouth worked, and his eyes were like chips of stone. Mulder thought for a moment he was going to get up and leave. But then he drew a ragged breath and lay back, closing his eyes briefly, then staring at the ceiling thoughtfully. “It was huge,” he said at last, “the pain….” He paused, frowning, searching for words. It occurred to Mulder that perhaps, after all this time, he wanted to talk about it. “So huge… it was everything, forever. It was deep and thick and sharp, all at the same time. It was so horrible….” He paused again, and took a deep breath. “It felt like death.” He closed his eyes again, and swallowed, bringing his hand up to his forehead. Mulder could feel the heat coming off him.

All sense, all cunning cast aside, Mulder bent down and let his lips meet Krycek’s. A brief kiss, chaste, no more than he’d given Dmitri. But his heart was pounding. He kissed Krycek’s mouth again, as he had before, then pulled back far enough to see Krycek’s expression.

Calm. Accepting. It was—god, it was the way he’d offered himself to Dmitri, in penance for his sins. Was he now offering himself to Mulder the same way?

Strangely, Mulder now felt a twinge of reluctance. Although, wasn’t that what he wanted him for? Penance? Krycek’s guilt and pain, in return for his betrayal? But he hadn’t quite gotten as far as thinking that the act of his submission might bring a measure of ease to Krycek, too. Some people you never bothered to ask for forgiveness, he’d accused, and, Would it have done any good? Krycek had asked. Not, I don’t want your forgiveness. Not, I don’t care what I did to you. Willing to make amends, as long as the effort was not a lost cause. Unwilling to take on more pain, but willing to share what he had, if it would bring comfort to them both.

No. Mulder wasn’t ready for that. It implied forgiveness, and there was no forgiveness here. No forgiveness—only a burning need that demanded satisfaction. He only had to be gentle enough to make Krycek lie still for it. If the man mistakenly assumed it meant more than it did, that was his problem.

Mulder bent down again, and pressed his mouth to Krycek’s, this time letting the kiss linger, becoming unmistakably sexual. He stretched out his body, drawing his knees up onto the bed until he was lying next to Krycek, and brought his elbows down on either side of Krycek’s chest. And he kissed him slowly, exploring the feel and taste of those plush, round lips, letting his tongue flick between them, dampening them.

Krycek groaned, and his arms came up to encircle Mulder’s back, one warm, firm flesh, the other hard, cool plastic. It was an odd feeling, but not an unpleasant one. The living fingers dug into his back, and Krycek’s upper body lifted to meet his, heaving chest pressed against him.

Mulder let his mouth roam over Krycek’s face, nuzzling the unshaven cheeks, nibbling the lobes of his small, neat ears, then returned to his lips, hungry now, demanding, forcing his tongue into the wet cavern of his mouth. Krycek took him in, opening his own mouth wide, as if he would swallow Mulder up. Mulder almost laughed at the limitless abandon of it, but instead he gripped Krycek’s upper arms—both real and fake, like the man himself—and bore down harder, sent his tongue in deeper, until his jaws ached and his head spun.

At last he pushed back, sitting up on his knees, gasping for breath, and began to unbutton his shirt. Krycek looked up at him, mouth shiny and wet, eyes bright. His expression was strange, almost grim, as if there were serious work to be done. Mulder almost laughed again, turned it into a grimace, and pushed himself to his feet to finish undressing. It seemed that neither of them was in this purely for the pleasure of it.

Krycek worked his prosthetic elbow under himself, and reached down to unbutton his jeans with one hand. Mulder had never considered how awkward it must be to dress and undress with only one arm. Should he help? But that would probably only embarrass him. Instead, Mulder turned away, under cover of draping his clothing across a chair, and left Krycek in semi-privacy to get his pants off.

Presently, he heard the sound of Krycek’s jeans hitting the floor. It sent a flush to his face, and he hurried to finish getting his own clothes off, scattering socks and underwear like wind-blown leaves. When he turned back to the bed, Krycek was sitting up, naked below the waist, attempting to get a grip on his tee-shirt hem with his prosthetic hand. Too impatient to coddle Krycek’s sensitivities any longer, Mulder knelt beside him on the bed and pushed his hands aside, then pulled the tee-shirt over his head. Krycek cooperated as best he could—the prosthesis was not as maneuverable as the real arm, and the shirt tangled over it for a moment, but Mulder just took him firmly by the shoulder and worked it free, tossing it in the floor with the rest of his clothes. Krycek allowed this, as he’d allowed the rest of it, only the tightening of his mouth betraying any ambivalence about having his damaged arm handled. He rubbed his shoulder briefly.

Mulder sat regarding the prosthesis. “Do you want to take it off?”

Krycek looked away, frowning, with a slight shake of his head. He gripped the arm just above the elbow, as if afraid Mulder would try to take it from him

“Okay. It’s okay, Krycek, I don’t mind it. I just thought you might be more comfortable without it.” He didn’t have to make an effort to put the gentleness in his voice. Hell, tormenting the guy about his disability was not what this was about. In fact, he was impatient with it already.

Krycek closed his eyes briefly, took a breath. A visible wash of calm settled over him, the grip on his arm loosened, and he looked back at Mulder, a faint smile on his face.

It was beautiful the way he did that: a deep breath, an effort of will, and his perfect control was back. Mulder was tempted to envy him—although he knew quite well that self-control had never been one of his primary goals. What would it take to shatter that control? Mulder had a sudden desire to see him thrashing, twisting, squirming, out of control. His cock jumped at the thought. Twisting and squirming with Mulder’s cock up his ass. He smiled back, amused to know that Krycek had no idea why he was really smiling.

And now what? Lay him down and kiss him some more? That had been nice. Touch him all over, feel his cock and balls, pinch his nipples, work him up into a nice frenzy before turning him over and shoving it into him? Make him suck it for a while first? Such a nice round mouth, just made for cocksucking. How many other cocks had been down that throat, up that ass? He was far too accepting of all this to be a virgin. Too pretty not to have been approached. Probably a slut who’d sit on it for anybody.

Mulder’s breath grew hot and sharp in his lungs. The terrible need was back. And now, at last, he could fulfill it.

“I want to fuck you.”

Krycek’s smile turned ironic. “Why does that not surprise me?”

“Good. It wasn’t my plan to surprise you.” Mulder put a hand on Krycek’s shoulder, and pushed him back down on the bed. Another leisurely kiss, even better now that he could press his bare body into Krycek’s, feel skin on skin, let his full cock slide over Krycek’s thigh. The feel of the prosthetic arm on his back was stranger now, with no cloth between it and the bare skin of his back. But the other arm… hand massaging its way down his spine, stroking his butt, fingers drifting over his tailbone, teasing, then sliding back up to dig into the back of his neck, through his hair—Mulder didn’t know if he’d be able to take two arms working him like that. The man was a menace. And he was kissing back, now, too—hungrily, using his tongue as deftly as he used his hand, and his thigh was squirming between Mulder’s legs, rubbing against the underside of his cock, threatening to push him over the edge here and now.

Mulder pulled away, growling in his throat. “Turn over, bitch.”

Krycek chuckled softly. “Like to talk dirty, huh? Get that from your phone sex habit?”

Mulder clutched at Krycek’s thigh, ran his hand between Krycek’s legs, scooped up his balls, kneading them, just on the edge of roughness. “Bitch. Cunt.”

“I’m not impressed, Mulder.” Still maddeningly controlled. But there was a hint of breathiness in his voice.


“Better. Work for it, sweetheart.”

Mulder gave Krycek’s balls one last pull, making his hips jerk, then released them to take hold of his cock, squeezing it hard, pressing his thumb over the tip. Krycek gave a squeaky moan, his back arching off the mattress.

“You goddamn lying bastard. Murdering treacherous son of a bitch.”

“Yeah,” Krycek whispered. His hand slid up the back of Mulder’s neck, tightened in his hair.

“Whore. God, I want to fuck you.”

Krycek pushed away, heaved himself over onto his stomach. “Do it. Do it.”

There was a red haze behind Mulder’s eyes as he scrabbled in the nightstand drawer for a condom and the plastic bottle of lubricant he used for masturbating. Biting his lip, cursing under his breath, he tore open the condom and rolled it over his cock with trembling hands. Then he flipped the top of the lubricant bottle and poured a generous amount into his hand. Still swearing to himself, he touched Krycek’s tailbone with slick fingers, slid his hand down between firm, round buttocks, drawing in a sharp breath when his fingers found the bud of Krycek’s anus. He stroked it, letting the lubricant run down his fingers and drip into the tight depression of Krycek’s ass. The flesh here was hot and tender. He pressed one finger in, and felt the ring of muscle give, felt his finger slide within.

Krycek moaned, and gripped the pillow, digging into it with his fingers. The muscles in his back twitched. Mulder pushed his finger in deeper, up to the last knuckle, moving it inside him, feeling the heat of him, the moist give of flesh, gasping with the pleasure of it. He pulled out and went in with two fingers, and he slid in easily, meeting no resistance. How many cocks? Enough. Enough—and now one more.

He pulled his fingers free, and knelt back to pour more lubricant into his hand, and spread it over his aching cock. Then he mounted Krycek’s back, pushing his legs apart with his knees, and guided his cock between Krycek’s buttocks.

Despite the ease with which his fingers went in, Mulder was prepared to go slowly, but as soon as his cock found the puckered entrance, Krycek pushed back, making noises like an animal, growling, “Give it to me, fucker, give it to me,” and Mulder was only too glad to oblige. He held himself in check only until Krycek had worked the head of Mulder’s cock past his sphincter, then he thrust hard and drove it home. Krycek squealed and pounded the mattress with his fist; Mulder felt a triumphant shout welling up inside his throat. Krycek was magnificent—thoroughly impaled on Mulder’s cock, squirming and growling, his beautiful control gone. His ass was tight and hot and Mulder was up to his balls in it, pounding him hard, and it was perfect, and Mulder wanted it to go on forever—

And then he was gripping Krycek’s shoulders as tightly as his fingers would hold, jamming his cock in to the limit, and the shout tore loose from his throat, as he pulsed out an orgasm so strong his ears were ringing.

Too soon. Too good to be over so soon. Gasping, Mulder started thrusting again, and Krycek moved with him, lifting his hips, arching them up to take Mulder’s thrusts at their deepest angle. Laughing softly with pure joy, Mulder worked his arms around Krycek’s body, one hard across his heaving chest, the other sliding down to grip Krycek’s cock. Wet with sweat, and then with precum, his fist became a slick channel for Krycek to pump into, and brief moments later, Krycek gasped and came, collapsing onto the mattress with a strangled cry.

Mulder barely had the strength to pull out and strip the condom from his softening cock and toss it into the trash. Rapidly spiralling down into sleep, moving without thinking, he pulled up the covers, threw one arm over Krycek’s back, and let the darkness take him.

* * *

It was sometime in the early morning, with predawn light beginning to brighten the room, when Mulder once again drifted awake. He lay still for a moment, unused to waking in his bed. Unused to waking with someone else in his bed with him. They weren’t touching, but he was keenly aware of Krycek’s presence—the soft sounds of his breathing, the gentle depression in the mattress from the weight of his body. Alex Krycek, sleeping in his bed. He remembered the brief, frantic coupling of a few hours ago, replaying the actions and sensations in his mind: Krycek lying beneath him, his strong body hot and slick with sweat, thrusting back onto Mulder’s cock, desperate animal sounds in his throat. His breath quickened even as he thought about it. So good it had been; everything that Mulder thought he wanted—and yet, had he really imagined that this would solve anything? He looked over to where Krycek lay sleeping, curled up on his side, back to Mulder. He was still the same man as before: capable of horrible things, yet determinedly carrying out small acts of restitution along the way; full of contradictions, beauty and evil; whatever core there was of him elusive quicksilver, that Mulder would never touch.

So the seduction had brought him one burst of wild pleasure, a few hours of rest—a physical release, nothing more. Well, let that be good enough, and send the man on his way, and hope for Dmitri’s sake that they got out of the country safely. He might as well go back out to the living room and spend what was left of the night on the couch. But he felt strangely reluctant to move. It was warm here, and comfortable, and the bed was big enough.

Mulder turned on his side, facing Krycek’s broad back, and watched the sleeping body. Krycek lay on his left side, the prosthetic arm tucked under him, out of Mulder’s sight. He was solidly built, with the appearance of quiet strength. His skin was smooth and creamy. The sheet draped across his hip, revealing only a teasing glimpse of the dimple of his tailbone. That faint sheen might be a trace of lubricant still clinging, but was probably only a trick of the light.

Mulder reached out his hand, placed the palm flat between Krycek’s shoulderblades. Just the lightest touch at first—he didn’t want to wake him, he just wanted to lie here quietly with him and think. But Krycek remained motionless, dead asleep, so he pressed his hand more firmly against Krycek’s back, stroking a little, enjoying the heat of him, the softness of his skin, the hard muscle beneath.

How could it feel so good to touch him? Just to lie here, with his hand pressed against the middle of Krycek’s back? He didn’t know, and he was fairly sure he didn’t really want to know. There was just something touchable about Krycek, and there always had been, right from the start, although Mulder didn’t like to think about those days now. But if he ignored everything else and just remembered the physical Krycek, the starched white shirts and cheap suits and long slender fingers and dazzling smile, he remembered pressing his shoulder against Krycek’s as they sat huddled in front of a computer screen, putting a hand on Krycek’s shoulder or forearm to make a point, taking him by the elbow to hurry him along; and it had felt so right, so natural that Mulder had never even thought about it. And he remembered later days, when the hand had turned into a fist, and the pat on the shoulder into a shove—and while the contact was now driven by rage and hatred, there was still that uncontrollable need to have his hands on him.

And now here he was in Mulder’s bed, and Mulder had fucked him, and far from seeming as it should like some unnatural aberration, there was a strange inevitability about it, as if every touch from the very first time Krycek had brushed passed him, leaving his heat imprinted on Mulder’s arm and his scent lingering in the air, had been leading inexorably up to this.

Mulder edged closer, still careful not to wake him, and let his hand slip around Krycek’s side and across his firm stomach. His body always seemed to be several degrees hotter than Mulder’s—he could feel the delicious heat rising off him. Mulder eased himself forward, until he was pressed tightly against Krycek’s body, chest to back, groin to butt, thigh to thigh. Krycek stirred slightly, making little sleep noises and settling back against the body cradling him from behind. Still, he didn’t wake. Did he feel safe here, Mulder wondered? A man like Krycek didn’t live long falling defenselessly sound asleep in an enemy’s stronghold. So did that mean Krycek didn’t think of him as an enemy? The image came back to Mulder with the force of a blow: Krycek, bending down to him on the floor, soft lips pressing against Mulder’s cheek, then, unbelievably, uncocking his gun and handing it over, and calmly walking away as if nothing at all had happened.

Without thinking, Mulder bent his neck forward, and pressed his lips to Krycek’s cheek. Now we’re even, he thought, and although he knew full well the absurdity of it, he settled back with a faint smile on his face, and went peacefully back to sleep.

* * *

When he woke again, it was full morning, and Mulder was alone in bed. There was a moment of panic—visions of abandonment and betrayal and endless nights of wondering: how long this time?—then he glanced across the room, and there was Krycek, standing by the window, back to Mulder, still undressed. Even more so, in fact—he’d taken off the prosthesis. It lay on Mulder’s chest of drawers, looking strangely formless, a thing of plastic and metal and straps. Krycek was stretching, twisting his back, rubbing the stump of his left arm. There were indentations where the prosthesis fitted to the stump, and across his back where the straps had dug. It must be uncomfortable to sleep with it on, Mulder thought, and so much for Krycek feeling safe here, if he’d kept it on regardless. On the other hand, he’d gone out like a light as soon as he’d come, and possibly hadn’t awakened to take it off until now. He must have been wearing it for days now, never stopping long enough to rest, much less holing up anywhere safe enough to risk stripping down to his skin. Mulder found that he was glad that Krycek had the chance to do it here.

“Good morning, Mulder,” Krycek said matter-of-factly, without turning around. He lowered his arms—one whole and one cruelly shortened—and reached out to snag the prosthesis from the chest of drawers. Then he turned, looking sleek and content, and smiled benevolently at Mulder. “Sleep well?”

Mulder propped himself up onto his elbow and nodded. “Want some help with that?”

Krycek shook his head, mouth tightening briefly. Then, in a series of smooth, practiced motions, he slipped the strap over his head, tucked his arm through it, and pulled the prosthesis over the stump with a slight wriggle to set it in place. He walked back over to the bed, adjusting the buckles, and sat down with a satisfied smile.

Mulder grinned at him. “What are you going to do today?”

“Finish arrangements for the ID and visas. Try to get money for the plane tickets. Check in with my current employer and see if I can figure out a way to do this without burning my bridges behind me. Again.” He ticked it all off in that same matter-of-fact tone, as if he were talking about picking up his laundry.

“What can I do?”

Krycek frowned thoughtfully at him for a moment. “I need a photo of Dmitri for his passport. Preferably one where his face isn’t all messed up.”

He could take a Polaroid at the hospital, and get the Lone Gunmen to work their digital magic on it. It wouldn’t look exactly like Dmitri, probably, but the boy would still have bandages all over his face when he left, so it should do. He thought Frohike had a digital camera he could borrow—that would be even better. “I can do that. What else?”

“He needs clothes. His own things were ruined. A couple of pairs of jeans, tee-shirts, underwear, things like that.”

“Okay. What about you? Do you need underwear?”

Krycek smiled faintly. “I’ll take care of my own underwear, thanks, Mulder. Just take care of Mitya, all right?”


Krycek’s cheeks went pink. “Short for Dmitri. Call him that when you see him, will you? It will make him happy.”

“All right. Anything else?”

“Just whatever he’ll need for the trip. Toothbrush and things like that. A duffel bag to put it all in.”

“Russian comic books to read on the plane….”

Krycek chuckled. “If anybody could come up with something like that, it would be you, Mulder.” He stood, then, and began gathering up his clothes from the floor. “Do you mind if I use your bathroom?”

“Help yourself,” Mulder said, sitting up and untangling himself from the sheet. “Just let me in there for a minute first, then it’s all yours.”

* * *

An hour later, they were both showered and dressed and ready to go to work. Mulder smiled to see his houseguest, fresh-scrubbed and clean-shaven and bright-eyed, armored in his leather and gloves, looking dark and dangerous and stunningly beautiful. He wanted to take him in his arms, but felt shy all of a sudden. Last night was already taking on the quality of a dream, something he wasn’t sure had really happened.

“I’ll get the things for Dmitri—for Mitya—today. Will you come back here tonight?” They’d take things slower tonight, Mulder thought. Just as intense, but not quite so frenzied—

A shadow passed across Krycek’s face. “Mulder….” He paused, chewing on his lower lip. “We’re leaving tonight. Dmitri’s being released from the hospital today—I thought you knew.”

Mulder’s stomach lurched. He could feel the heat rush to his face, the sinking feeling in his gut. No! he wanted to protest. You can’t disappear on me again, you can’t leave me like this. But that wasn’t fair, and he knew it. He’d always known Krycek was leaving as soon as he could arrange to get himself and Dmitri out of the country. He’d agreed to help him do it. He’d known Krycek was leaving, why should it be such a knockout blow to him now?

But he hadn’t spent the night with Krycek before. He hadn’t known that having his hands on him was all he needed to make the madness Krycek induced go away. He hadn’t known what it felt like to ride him, to feel him bucking beneath him, to revel in his heat. He knew Krycek had to leave, he just hadn’t been prepared for it to be so soon. He was somehow never prepared for Krycek to leave, even though he always did.

He forced a smile. “No, I didn’t know. That’s good. Are you sure you’ll be ready in time?” He knew the shock and dismay was plain on his face, but he wilfully pretended it wasn’t. What would be the point?

Krycek nodded shortly, as if to say he understood. “I’ll be ready. If you can get the photo and the things for Dmitri, I’ll do the rest.”

It would only take a few hours, Mulder thought, to arrange for the photograph and buy some clothes for the boy. “I can do it. Where should we meet?”

Krycek looked away, blinking, his mouth a hard line. His control was better than Mulder’s, but he was unhappy, too. This time, however, his pain was not pleasant to watch. “You can bring the stuff to the hospital. I’ll be picking up Dmitri around three.”

Mulder chafed. At the hospital, in public, with the boy watching, and all those false Russian kisses. He didn’t want it to be there, it was no good, there had to be somewhere private, and they had to have more time. There were things that had to be said. Mulder had no idea what those things were, but even if he managed to figure them out, there would be no chance to say them at the hospital. He could go with them to the airport, maybe—another public place, and stretch the inevitable out even longer, with no hope of accomplishing anything but making himself more miserable. No, whatever goodbyes were to be said had to be here and now.

“All right. I’ll meet you at the hospital at three.”

Krycek nodded, and turned to walk to the door. With his hand on the doorknob, he turned back. “Mulder. Thanks for… everything.”

Mulder returned the nod, his heart in his throat. He had to say something, damn it, but the words wouldn’t come. He could only stand in frozen misery while Krycek went out the door.

* * *

It was necessary to sit for a while on the couch after Krycek had gone, to remember how to breathe, and to let his mind return to some semblance of order. Eventually he reminded himself that he did have things to do today, not the least of which was to make some sort of appearance at the office and try not to annoy Scully any more than he already had. So he forced himself up off the couch, and set out.

First stop was the Lone Gunmen offices, to talk Frohike into giving up his digital camera for the morning, and extract his friends’ promises to help him with the photo, amid rude comments about kiddie porn and Russian-American relations. It was good to be with them for that short time, among people who weren’t angry with him for unfathomable reasons, who didn’t drive him unreasoningly crazy, who didn’t make him feel guilty, who didn’t ask him unanswerable questions. They just kidded him and made stupid jokes, and if they noticed that Mulder was painfully unhappy, they were kind enough or confused enough to pretend that they didn’t. It was tempting to stay there all morning, but he had too much to do. So as soon as he could, he collected the camera and took his leave.

Still, he was seriously late for work, which did nothing to soften Scully’s attitude towards him. She cornered him only a few minutes after he’d arrived at his office, pulling up a chair in front of his desk that she neglected to sit in, and chewing on her lip in that way that she did when she was trying not to tell him what an idiot he was.

“Have you had any news?” she asked.

“I saw Krycek last night.” Naked. He shook his head and tried to will his heart to stop pounding. If he were to tell her what had really happened, was there the slightest chance that it wouldn’t sound as if he’d completely lost his mind? “He was at the hospital with Dmitri. Did I tell you they cut off his arm in Tunguska?”

Her eyes widened. “Krycek? They cut off his arm?”

“Remember, I told you about the men in Tunguska who cut off their left arms to avoid the tests with the black oil?” He was babbling, and he knew it, but at least he wasn’t saying, I fucked Krycek last night, which was what seemed to keep wanting to come out of his mouth.

She nodded slowly. “How horrible. Even for Krycek.”

“He was showing it to Dmitri when I got there. He has a prosthesis. He’s good with it—you’d hardly know it’s not real.” Except when you’re stripping him, and it gets tangled up in his tee-shirt. But when he’s lying on his stomach getting fucked, you barely notice it. Except for the strap across his back. Next time, they’d take it off before they—

Next time? There’s not going to be any damned next time, Mulder told himself furiously. Krycek was going back to Russia tonight, and god only knew when or if he’d be back, or under what circumstances, and Mulder had just better put all thoughts of next time right out of his mind.

“It’s a wonder he’s alive at all, if it happened to him in the way you described that it almost happened to you—no proper medical facilities, no anaesthetic—it’s barbaric.” That was the doctor in her, now, disapproving of it as a medical procedure.

“He said it hurt so much, it felt like death.”

One eyebrow lifted. “He talked to you about it?”

Mulder shrugged, embarrassed for no reason he could fathom. “He didn’t seem to mind. It was over a year ago—I suppose by now he’s dealt with it.”

“What else did you talk about?”

Not much, Mulder thought. Once again, they hadn’t done much talking at all. “He asked me to pick up some things for Dmitri. He’s getting out of the hospital today, and they’re leaving tonight.”

“Good,” she said, in a tone that plainly meant, Good riddance.

It hurt. Mulder was honestly surprised by how much it hurt. And it must have showed on his face, too, because Scully’s expression instantly turned to one of dismay.

“It’s not good?” Despite the irritation that never quite left her face, in the set of her jaw and the slight narrowing of her eyes, she tried to understand him. But he didn’t understand it himself—how in hell could he want something so badly that was so clearly a disaster?

“Scully, why are you mad at me?” It came out without thinking: a sudden refusal of his mind to think about Krycek any longer. Even Scully’s anger was preferable to Krycek’s imminent departure.

She shook her head. “I’m not mad at you.”

“Yes, you are. You’ve been angry with me for days now. Come on, Scully, I’m dense, but I’m not that dense. What is it?”

She looked at him, considering. Reluctant, despite the tension at the corners of her mouth. “Mulder, are you sure you want to go into this now?”

No. He laughed, a short pained noise, more an exhalation of breath than a real laugh. “Is it that bad?”

She heaved a deep breath, staring at the wall, and nodded. “All right.” She turned, then, and walked over to the door, back across the room to stop for a moment, her fist tapping twice against the file cabinets wherein the X-Files rested, then finally settled against the end of his desk, arms folded, glancing at him sidelong as she spoke. “Mulder, do you remember our first case together? Teenagers were disappearing in the woods in Oregon. You told me they were being abducted by aliens.” She gave a strained laugh, and Mulder managed to smile with her. “Then there were mysterious lights in the sky over an Air Force base, and a test pilot whose wife insisted he’d returned from being missing a different man. UFOs, you said, and alien involvement. A serial killer you insisted was some sort of genetic mutant who could stretch his body thinner than a baseball bat, who lived on human livers. Need I go on?”

Mulder shook his head, but Scully had already turned away, to move around to the front of his desk, where she stood facing him with a grim look on her face. ” ‘Why can’t you believe?’ you asked me. ‘Open your mind to extreme possibilities.’ With no solid evidence, no scientific basis, no sensible logic, you’ve asked me to take you on faith, to follow you on your quest for the truth. And I have. I’ve put my career, my life, my health on the line for you, time and time again.

“And now….” She paused, looked away for a moment. There was pain in her eyes—pain he’d put there, and he hated to see it. “Now, you’ve changed your mind. It was all a hoax, everything we saw, everything we learned. Because some total stranger pops up with a plausible story, you’re ready to throw it all away. Never mind all the times I tried to tell you that the theories you were so eager to believe didn’t make sense. And when things started happening to me—things I saw with my own eyes—men with no faces, and fire, and a craft covered with lights moving over the bridge—all the kinds of things you’ve been trying to tell me were real for the past five years—you still don’t believe me. Until Alex Krycek comes along and shoves a gun in your face and hands you a piece of paper, and now you’re ready to believe again. Why is it, Mulder, that your enemies and total strangers can spin any story and you’ll take it as gospel, but nothing I say, even when it’s my own personal experience, means anything to you?”

Oh god. Was that how it seemed to her? Mulder wanted to shrink in his chair, until he was as small as he felt. His face burned with shame, that he’d been so blind and stupid, to let Scully think she meant so little to him. “Scully… it’s not like that.”

“Then how is it?” Her voice was still rough, but it had softened a little, now that she’d said her piece. She was upset, but she would listen to him. It was enough to make him feel a little steadier. Now all he had to do was figure out how to explain it to her. It wasn’t something he was good at, and he had no faith he’d be able to make things right. But he owed it to her to try.

“I remember our first case,” he said, still not knowing what he was going to say, but needing to say something. “You told me I was crazy. The first of many times.” They both smiled unhappy smiles. “I remember all the times you looked at me when I told you about our next case, exasperated, obviously thinking, there he goes again, off on some wild goose chase. The way you’d stand there, embarrassed, wishing you could pretend you weren’t with me, when I was trying to explain my theories to some local officials. What about you, Scully? ‘Open your mind to extreme possibilities’—but you never could.” He stopped, shook his head. “But it didn’t matter to me. Because, whether you believed or not, you stood by me. You kept me from going off the deep end. There have been times when having you disagree with me has been the only thing that’s kept me sane. I guess… whether we agreed with each other has just never seemed that important to me.”

Miracle of miracles, he’d gotten it right. Her face cleared, and the hurt drained away. “I suppose you’re right. If our partnership depended on our believing each other’s theories, we wouldn’t have lasted two weeks.”

The hard knot in his chest loosened. “So we’re okay?”

Scully nodded, offering a conciliatory smile. “What about Krycek?”

He flinched. For that short time, he’d managed to forget. The knot in his chest began to form again. “I’m meeting him at the hospital at three. I need to get some things for him—for Dmitri. They’ll probably go straight from there to the airport. I don’t know what time their flight is….”

“Mulder,” she said patiently. “What about Krycek?”

The knot was becoming a crushing weight. No, he insisted to himself. I am not going to cry over Alex Goddamned Krycek. But he had to tell Scully the truth. Except that he didn’t know what the truth was, and it made him blind crazy even to think about it. “I don’t want him to leave.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know… as bad as it is to have him here, it feels worse to have him leave.”

She sat down, finally, looking at him thoughtfully. “Mulder, that doesn’t make sense.” It was a familiar look on her face: part frustration, part confusion, part honest effort to puzzle her oddball partner out. But at last no anger.

“I thought we were finally beginning to work some things out. Maybe it wouldn’t have come to anything. But now there’s no time to find out.”

“After everything he’s done, why would you even want to work anything out with him?”

It was a good question. One he wished he had an answer for. “I don’t know, Scully. There’s something between us… it gets crazier every time I see him. If I could just get him out of my life, I would, but we seem to be fated to keep stumbling over each other’s paths. I don’t want to go through this every time it happens. There has to be another way.” Kill him or fuck him. Too close, she was getting too close to things he couldn’t bear to think about.

She sat for long moments, pressing her lips together, nodding slightly to herself. He found himself tensing against her next question, not really wanting to know what conclusions she was drawing.

But all she said was, “He’ll come back, though, won’t he? Is he planning to stay in Russia?”

Mulder let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. “I don’t know.”

“Don’t you want to ask him?”

Mulder shook his head helplessly. “Scully, I can’t—it’s no good. I can’t put my faith in believing that he’ll come back.”

Scully nodded slowly. “I understand. But Mulder—if there are things you need to say to him, you should say them. You’ve still got this afternoon.”

He could only shrug miserably. “I don’t know what to say.”

* * *

Next stop was the hospital: another small relief to his nerves, to be able to sit for a while with Dmitri—boisterous and giggly today, just another teenaged boy, except for the bandages and the bruises fading to a riot of purple and green and brown on his face. Mulder had greeted him as “Mitya,” to the boy’s delight, and been called something he thought was “Mulyosha” in return. He wondered whether he wanted to ask Krycek about that. They chattered inconsequentially to each other, each in his own language. He didn’t know if Krycek had explained to Dmitri about the photograph, but in any case the boy was happy to sit up and pose for pictures, and fascinated by the images of himself on the camera’s little monitor screen. Mulder ended up posing for a few shots himself, all the while dreading what would become of them in the Lone Gunmen’s computers.

“I have to go now,” he told Dmitri at last, pocketing the camera and straightening Dmitri’s sheets. “I’ll see you again this afternoon. I’ll have some new clothes for you then.”

Dmitri let out a furious burst of Russian, at which Mulder could only nod, and flung his arms around Mulder as he tried to stand. Mulder gave the boy a quick kiss, again feeling a little uneasy about it, but liking the wiry strength in the boy’s thin arms gripping him, and the pleased smile on Dmitri’s face as he lay back down in his hospital bed.

Funny, Mulder thought as he left, the person I get along with best these days, and neither of us can understand a word the other says.

* * *

The next few hours passed easily enough, as he concentrated on his errands, and tried to forget everything else. He retrieved Dmitri’s tattered, scorched clothing from the nurses, to use in determining what sizes he wore, dropped off the camera with the Lone Gunmen, then went shopping. He hated shopping for himself, but he found that he enjoyed picking out things for Dmitri—imagining the boy wearing them, picturing the smiles on his face. He bought three pairs of jeans, three tee-shirts, a sweater, a denim jacket with flannel lining, half a dozen pairs of underwear and socks, handkerchiefs, sneakers, even a baseball cap; along with toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and soap, and a large canvas duffel bag. He stopped at an international newsstand and bought all the Russian magazines and papers he could find. No comic books, but at least the boy would have something to read.

By then it was time to go back to the Lone Gunmen’s office and collect the doctored photos—they’d done a stunning job, as usual, and Mulder would never have guessed that the boy in the photos had ever had plaster across his nose, two black eyes, and needle punctures all around his mouth and eyelids. He wondered whether the uninjured Dmitri really looked like that—and felt a little sad that he’d likely never know.

And then it was time to go back to the hospital, and Krycek.

Krycek: black leather and heat. Firm, solid muscle. Wide, liquid eyes and soft, full lips. One arm lost to bright, sharp metal.

It felt like death.

The taste of his mouth, hot and smoky.

Moist, yielding flesh inside.

Do it. Do it.

Krycek: say what there is to say to him now, or spend endless nights lying awake, wondering. Kill him or fuck him. And then what? Fuck him again, and again, and again, until everything had dissolved, all the hate and betrayal and painful loss, until nothing was left but hot, spent bodies clinging together in the night.

* * *

By the time Mulder opened the door to Dmitri’s hospital room, he was finding it difficult to get quite enough air into his lungs, gasping as if he’d run all the way up the stairs. The first glimpse of Krycek standing by Dmitri’s bed was such a shock he had to close his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he concentrated on Dmitri, who was sitting up, all the tubes gone from his arms, a fresh bandage across his nose, and a big smile on his face.

“Hey, Mitya,” Mulder said, trying to be jovial in a voice that barely made it above a whisper. He unslung the duffel bag from his shoulder. “I brought you some clothes.”

Krycek came to stand by him, while Dmitri took the duffel bag and began digging through its contents, with small, excited exclamations. Mulder felt, impossibly, that he could feel Krycek’s heat from here.

Krycek put a hand on his arm. The prosthetic hand, under a black leather glove. Mulder’s breath came out in short puffs. He was relieved not to be touched by Krycek’s flesh hand, even under gloves. It was difficult to force his neck to turn, to look into Krycek’s face.

Krycek blinked. His wide eyes were troubled. Tension formed a white line around his mouth. His voice, when he spoke, was dark water tumbling headlong over rocks. “Let’s go out, and let Dmitri get dressed.”

In the hallway, Mulder dug in his pockets for the photos, and handed them to Krycek. Krycek looked at them and nodded. “Good. These are good.” But he frowned at them, and Mulder wondered why, until he realized—Krycek knew what the boy looked like without the broken nose and bruises. When he had first found him, the boy had been unharmed.

“He’s feeling a lot better today,” Mulder offered. “You were right, he’s a tough kid. He’s bounced back quickly.”

Krycek nodded shortly. “Now all I have to do is find a home for him, in a country where most people can’t afford their own kids.”

“You said he had relatives.”

“I hope they’ll take him.”

“What will you do if they won’t?”

Krycek shrugged. “That’s my problem. I’ll take care of him.” He looked Mulder in the eye, grimly determined. “I won’t let him down, Mulder.”

Mulder believed him. It was an odd feeling, and a disquieting one. A Krycek who could be believed. Who tried to make up for the pain he’d inflicted. Who slept peacefully in Mulder’s bed….

“What time is your flight?”

“Six-thirty. We should get there in plenty of time. I just need to make one quick stop along the way.”

Dmitri’s passport. Krycek must have a lot of faith in his forger, to leave it so late. But then, he’d been cutting it close all along, trying to get Dmitri out of the country with all possible speed. A good idea, if Dmitri really was in danger. And no way to know if he wasn’t, without exposing him to risk. So they’d have to leave soon, and not take any time for lingering farewells. “I’ll drive you.” He made the offer without thinking, knowing it was a bad idea, but unable to let go.

“Sorry, Mulder. My contact won’t appreciate the uninvited company.” He truly did sound sorry.

“I’ll meet you at the airport, then.” God, he was making a fool of himself.

Krycek’s face darkened with pain, but only for a moment. “I… I don’t think that’s a good idea. You might be recognized. It’s an added risk.”

Mulder bit his lip and nodded. He supposed it was true. He also supposed it was possible that Krycek just wanted to get it over with. Unlike Mulder, he didn’t seem the type to deliberately prolong his agony. “I guess this is it, then.”

Krycek tried to smile. Mulder suddenly saw him as he’d been the first day they’d met—impossibly young-looking and awkward in his off-the-rack suit and bad haircut, fresh-faced and green and eager to please. Could that naivete have been entirely an act? Or had he truly been a child-agent then, hardened and honed by the dangerous years that followed? Mulder wanted to hold him down, strip him of all his defenses, and find out.

“Thanks for your help. Dmitri thanks you, too.”

Mulder shrugged. “I didn’t really do that much.”

Krycek seemed surprised. He eyed Mulder curiously. “You did enough. You could have stopped me, and you didn’t. I appreciate that. I needed to do this.”

Mulder nodded. The knot in his chest was back. “Well. Tell Dmitri good luck, and safe journey.” In a barely audible voice, he added, “You too.”

“Thanks.” Krycek touched his arm, briefly—with his right hand, the real one. Then he turned to go back into Dmitri’s room.

Krycek’s hand was on the door handle. “I don’t want you to go,” Mulder choked out, shocked at his own words.

No more than Krycek. He turned, eyes wide. “Mulder….”

Mulder shook his head, took a step back, his face burning. “No, never mind—”

“Mulder, I—you know I have to—”

“I know,” Mulder interrupted. Krycek’s face was frozen pain; Mulder couldn’t bear it. Or the way his own heart churned, wanting something he didn’t dare believe in. “Forget I said anything.”

“I’ll come back. After I get Dmitri settled.”

“No, you won’t.”

“It may only be a week or two. A month at most.”

“Goodbye, Krycek.” His voice rose, insistent.

Krycek stood, staring at him. There was a wild look in his eyes. His fist clenched and unclenched at his side. Long moments passed, in which Mulder felt that anything could happen, anything at all.

Then Krycek took a deep breath, and his mask of calm settled over him. But it was brittle, and looked about to shatter. “Dos vidaniya, Mulder.” And he slipped away, through the door of Dmitri’s room.

Feeling blank and empty, Mulder turned and walked away.

* * *

Mulder went home that night, undressed, and got into bed—something he hadn’t done in ages, until last night. He lay in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for the desolation to go away, as if Krycek’s presence still clung to the sheets, as if by lying where Krycek had lain he could somehow conjure him up again, as if he could push himself back into yesterday and Krycek wouldn’t really be gone. But there was no comfort here—the bed was cold, the mattress unyielding. For a long time Mulder lay in the dark, telling himself that there was no reason to be unhappy. Krycek was gone, the madness was over—at least for now, at least until the next time—and nothing had really changed, so there was nothing to regret. Until at last he turned onto his stomach, buried his face in the pillow, and wept.

* * *

Days passed, and turned into weeks. Mulder determinedly turned his mind away from whatever it was that Alex Krycek was doing in his life, and back to his quest for the truth: his lost sister, his broken family, and the damaged teenaged boy in his own life, who was himself. Scully was there, calm and strong, and with the relief of two people who’d gone through a rough time and come out the other side, they treated each other with extra care and gentleness. Once again, he thought that he wouldn’t have made it without her, and that perhaps he should tell her so, but there seemed no pressing need for it, so he let it go. He threw himself into his work, and when there was nothing left for work, he visited the Lone Gunmen, and watched his videos, and his life gradually returned to something that was, if not normal, at least not on the edge of insanity.

But alone in his apartment after the day was done, he still sat on his couch in the dark, waiting out the sleepless nights, fists clenched against the images that refused to be banished from his mind: Krycek bending over Dmitri in his hospital bed, kissing away the boy’s pain. Krycek lying in Mulder’s bed, staring at the ceiling, whispering, It felt like death. Krycek on his stomach, legs open, demanding, Do it!

And Krycek standing in a hospital corridor, face intent and eyes sparking with pain, insisting, I’ll come back.

No, you won’t, Mulder always answered that image. I don’t want you to. You’re a liar, and a murderer, and I never want to see you again. (And now who’s the liar? whispered in the back of his mind, another voice he tried very hard not to hear.) Inextricable relationships, for which there were no explanations and no answers, and no relief. And Krycek, weary of being disbelieved, turning away, saying, Dos vidaniya—which Mulder knew meant, Until we meet again.

* * *

It was around ten o’clock in the evening, nearly three weeks after Krycek and Dmitri had gone. Mulder lay on the couch, absently watching a video that, for all its panting and grunting and sweating, left him cold. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and wondered if he should turn off the television and go to bed early for a change, when there was a knock on the door.

He sat up, instantly wide awake, heart pounding. With unreasoning certainty, he knew who it was. He nearly stumbled in his rush to the door.

Krycek. The familiar image was like a blast of tropical heat: black leather, black jeans, bright white tee-shirt. A tentative smile that grew reluctantly but uncontrollably to joy. Big eyes wide and eager, but head lowered, with the slight tension of wariness. Krycek.

Mulder grabbed his arm and pulled him inside, as if he were shining too brightly to leave standing in the hallway. His fingers tightened painfully around Krycek’s bicep (but it was the prosthetic he’d grabbed, hard and unyielding). He brought him into the living room, then abruptly let go, and stood staring at him, unable to think.

“Hi,” Krycek said softly. The smile had turned into a grimace, gone through fear, pain, resignation, hope, wonder, and back to joy, all in the space of a few heartbeats.

“Hi,” Mulder responded, trying desperately to find his tongue. “How’s Dmitri?”

Krycek blew out a small breath of relief: something to talk about. “He’s fine. He’s going to be fine. We found some cousins to take him, a young married couple. Their place is small, but there’s only the three of them, so they’ll be all right. They took to him right away—the woman, Svetlana, especially. She thinks he’s adorable.”

Mulder smiled. “She’s right. What about Dmitri? Does he like them?”

“He will.” A shadow passed across Krycek’s face. “It’s hard for him, after everything he’s been through. Losing his family… he thought he wanted to stay with me, but of course…. And how could I explain it to him?”

“I’m sure he understands. He’s a smart kid. He was just… crazy about you.”

Krycek laughed ruefully. “So much the worse for him.” The laugh turned to dismay. “I didn’t mean that.”

An uncomfortable silence descended. Finally, Mulder said, “It was a good thing you did for him.”

Krycek nodded. More silence. It wasn’t that they had nothing to say to each other, Mulder thought. They had too much to say; they couldn’t wrap their minds around it.

Krycek stared at the floor. Carefully, he worked the glove from his right hand. Then he lifted his arm, suddenly, and touched Mulder’s face; gentle fingertips just brushing his cheek.

Mulder froze. It was as if an electric current shocked through his body.

“I told you I’d come back,” Krycek said, in that cool water voice.

Mulder felt tears sting his eyes. “I didn’t believe you.”

“I know.” The hand left his face.

He wanted to snatch it back. His fingers went involuntarily to his cheek. Then he drew a ragged breath, and said, “Why did you?”

There was another silence. Krycek took his time, searching for the words. “Because you wanted me to,” he said finally. “Because I wanted to. Because of the way you held onto me, after. Because—because I don’t want things to be the way they have been between us any more.”

“Do you think we can change them?”

“I think we already have. Just a little, but it’s a start.”

No, nothing had changed, Mulder wanted to protest. But everything had changed: Krycek had come back. He’d said he would come back, and he had, and here he was, all heat and leather and wanting things to be different. Mulder tried to think about what that meant, but his mind spun away from it, refusing to accept that Krycek might be trusted, that he could be anything but an enemy.

But he was here, dammit. Things had already changed: that was true, just because Krycek was here.

“Will you stay?” Mulder asked. It was a hard thing to ask, and he wanted to take it back the moment it came out of his mouth, but he gritted his teeth and stood his ground, steeling himself against the inevitable hurt.

“When I can.” Mulder didn’t like that—he tucked his chin and took an abortive step back, and Krycek hurried to continue, “Mulder, I have a job. And so do you. I have things I need to take care of. I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep. But when I can, I’ll be here.”

It was, Mulder realized, a true answer; moreover, it was the only answer he would have believed. And even more than that, he realized that he’d expected a true answer. He’d thought Krycek would be straight with him—what he was steeling himself against was not a lie, but a truth he didn’t want to hear.

And that was different, too—somehow, he’d come to expect the truth from Krycek. And Krycek would be here—maybe not every day, maybe not whenever Mulder took a notion to wanting him around, but when he could. No more waiting for six months, a year, wondering if he’d ever see him again. Another change.

And that opened up a whole world of possibilities: if you could ask him questions, and feel confident you were getting honest answers, you could talk to him about things that had happened, and maybe find out what had really been in his mind all those years. And if he wasn’t going to disappear before you’d gotten a chance to ask all your questions, then maybe—

It all made him dizzy; it was too much to think about, too soon. But there would be time, that was the important thing. They would make their changes a little at a time, and meanwhile—

Meanwhile, Krycek was here. Living, breathing, flesh and blood (and a little bit of plastic), dark eyes and soft mouth, leather and heat. Mulder reached out to touch him, the flat of his palm on the upper part of Krycek’s chest, fingers overlapping his collarbone, hand half under the leather jacket. Through the thin cotton of Krycek’s tee-shirt, he could feel the heat rising off him, and it made Mulder’s breath quicken.

He stood like that for a moment, just touching him. Krycek didn’t move, but Mulder could feel the rise and fall of his chest, and he knew that Krycek’s breath was quickening, too. So he took a step closer, and pulled Krycek tight against him, wrapping his arms around leather and firm muscle and warm body. It felt good, and for the moment Mulder didn’t care why, only that it did.

He nipped Krycek’s earlobe, making him jump and giggle, a moist exhalation of breath against Mulder’s cheek. “I want to fuck you,” Mulder said, for the pleasure of saying it.

“I was hoping you would.” The words came out hot and breathy. Fingers dug into Mulder’s back.

He stepped back, one arm still around Krycek’s shoulders, and began to lead him into the bedroom.


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