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Il Traviato, Act Three


Contains explicit male/male sex.

Pairing: Mulder/Krycek

The Mulder and Krycek saga, very loosely based on the opera, La Traviata. Covers episodes “Sleepless” through “Apocrypha.”

Disclaimer: The X-Files is copyright Fox TV, Chris Carter, and Ten-Thirteen Productions. No infringement is intended.


La rea son io; Ma solo amore tal mi rende’…
[I am the guilty one, but it was love alone that made me do it…]

il traviato, act three

Mulder knelt before his disorganized CD collection, searching dejectedly through the motley pile, hoping to find something to take take the edge off his late-night nerves. There was no one to call this time: Scully was away for the weekend; the Lone Gunman office was empty. So he was left to his own devices, and if he was ever going to get to sleep, he’d have to figure out his own way to quiet his mind.

Some jazz, maybe? Wailing sax and jangly piano, driving and hypnotic? But melancholy, too, and perhaps a little too lonely. Rock and roll? Old favorites from college, to bring back other days? But other days reminded him too much of the regrets of today. Classical? Some stately baroque, perhaps, clean and elegant and intricate? Too detached. He scattered the CDs in the floor as he worked through the stacks, delving past his usual selections to the seldom-played choices underneath.

La Traviata. His hand froze on the jewel case. It had been a present from his mother, ages ago, a brief respite from the boring ties and leather wallets that were her usual gifts. He’d taken her to the opera for her birthday, one summer home from Oxford, and she’d bought him the CD for Christmas. Not that he didn’t like it, but it wasn’t something he often played, except for a brief flurry of interest back when… well, admit it, back when he was working with Krycek.

His hands moved slowly, picking up the CD and opening the case, while he stared at it, as if hypnotized. From inside the case, a small bit of gold foil fell—an origami crane, folded out of a candy wrapper. Mulder felt his heart pound, and his face grow hot.

The CD case fell, and he snatched up the gold crane, crushing it in his fist. He stood, staring around wildly for a moment, then strode into the kitchen and tossed the wadded bit of foil into the trash.

Traitor. Liar. Killer. Betrayer. His mind sang the litany of epithets against his former partner, battering and reviling the image that rose uncontrollably into his mind: the sweet, blushing man, sitting on the other side of Mulder’s desk, a stray lock of hair falling across his forehead, tongue between his teeth in concentration as he carefully folded the tiny crane from the inner wrapper of his candy bar. Just for you, Agent Mulder.

No. It had all been lies, deceit and treachery. Mulder wrapped his arms around himself, felt himself shaking. I hate you, Alex Krycek. I’ll kill you. Blood pounded in his ears. I hate you for what you did to me. What you did to Scully.

He remembered sitting in the car—in Alex Krycek’s car—the butt of a partially-smoked Morley cigarette in his hand, as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and the depth of his betrayal came clear. The pain was shocking, even now, hitting Mulder in the gut like a punch to the stomach. Scully. Mulder was halfway to the phone before he remembered. I’m not taking my cell phone with me, she’d told him before she left. It’s just for a few days. I need a little time to myself. You should take some time off, too. This has been hard on all of us.

It had been hard. He’d thought for a little while that he’d gotten his sister back. He’d gotten Scully back, and that had been hard, too, but despite what they’d done to her, she’d miraculously survived, and was once again at his side. Then Samantha—and he’d almost let himself believe that he was going to succeed, that he really could protect the people he cared about, that persistence and hard work and just wanting something badly enough could actually make a difference. But then he’d found out that the woman he thought was his sister was a clone, and he’d nearly been killed, and Scully had nearly been killed, and his mother’s heart had been broken all over again, and his father had been disappointed in him again.

But he’d gained a little, too. He’d learned a little more, and he was more sure than ever that his sister was still alive, and more determined than ever to find her. But it had been hard, and the last thing he wanted now was to think about Alex Goddamned Krycek, who’d disappeared months ago, before Mulder had ever gotten the chance to confront him about his treachery, whose merest memory was still enough to scald Mulder’s nerve endings like fire.

Mulder went back into the living room and picked up the CD, carefully closing the case and tucking it at the bottom of the pile. It was a gift from his mother, and damned if he’d let Krycek’s memory make him get rid of a gift from his mother. Maybe he’d never play it again, but he’d keep and cherish it just the same. The origami crane, though—funny how he’d managed to put it out of his mind for all these months. Well, now it was in the garbage, where it belonged. Mulder’s fingers worked, the prickly metallic feel of the foil imprinted unnaturally into his hand. He remembered Krycek’s hands, the long, delicate fingers carefully folding the foil. Just for you, Agent Mulder. His face had turned red, and he’d stared at the floor.

Mulder had always known that Krycek couldn’t possibly be as innocent as he seemed, and yet—and yet—it wasn’t possible to voluntarily control one’s blush response, was it? (Damn it, he needed to talk to Scully.) Still, supposing Krycek did embarrass himself folding cranes for his partner, it didn’t change anything. Unless it meant that not everything had been a lie. But Mulder didn’t want to know about that. Didn’t want to think about that. Because if not everything had been a lie, then one had to wonder what else might have been real among the falsehoods and deceits. Like, Remember that, Mulder. No matter what happens, I love you….

Mulder half-ran to his phone, punching out the number as he brought the receiver to his ear. Come on, Frohike, Langly, Byers, anybody, please be there…. But the phone rang eight, ten, twelve times, and Mulder finally hung up in frustration. The Lone Gunman office was empty, and those idiot paranoids wouldn’t tell even him their home phone numbers, if in fact they had any.

Phone sex? The home shopping network? Psychic hotline? Somewhere, even at four A.M., there were people he could talk to, live human voices on the other end of a phone line, for a price. Hi, Candy, are you naked? I fucked my partner once, and then he helped them abduct my friend Scully. Hi, Dionne, can you see my future? Will I ever be able to get him out of my mind? Hi, Joan, I’d really like one of those fake diamond rings, someone told me he was in love with me once, but I think he was lying….

Mulder sighed and put the phone down. Maybe he should go out and run? Wear himself out with some physical exercise? Read a book? Turn on the TV?

Or maybe he should just give up and think about Krycek. Think about those long nights in Montana, the touch of his skin, the breathy moans, the tremors in his body, the precious salty tears. What would he do with that body now, if he had the chance? Punish him. Hurt him. Make him suffer, as Mulder had suffered. Mulder trembled, his eyes closed as he stood in his living room, fists clenched at his sides. He imagined his hand around Krycek’s throat, the huge eyes wide and brilliant with fear. His fists would come down, over and over and over, and that beautiful, innocent face would crumple into pulpy, bruised flesh. You betrayed me. Mulder mouthed the words, hearing them in his mind, watching them score in flinching, whimpering guilt on the enemy lying naked at his feet. The body should be crisscrossed in welts and cuts. Mulder stood with a cane in his hand, ready to inflict the righteous punishment. Krycek, tied to a whipping post, his back exposed, begged for mercy.

Mulder, I have to tell you….

Tell me what, more lies? The bullwhip came down hard on the wide, muscular back, and the penitent screamed in pain.

Mulder sank to his knees, one hand between his legs, working his cock through the coarse denim of his jeans, unaware of the tears streaming down his face.

I love you! The ribs crunched and caved in under Mulder’s boot, and the cries ended in the choked gurgle of a punctured lung.

I love you too.

Mulder’s cock burned and swelled and erupted in his jeans, and he let himself fall to the floor, gasping and sobbing, as his mind spun away into darkness.

* * *

He went on. The X-Files went on. Scully was there, keeping him on track, keeping him steady. The memory of that other partner faded again, and settled into the corners of his mind, a slight irritant at the edge of his consciousness, like a grain of sand inside an oyster’s shell. The occasional harried dream; a sudden twinge at the sight of a Hershey bar, a newspaper ad for the opera, an origami crane; the image of a pale, muscled male body that intruded on his fantasies, firmly pushed away; the low, breathy voice that whispered in his ear late at night in the fringe world between waking and sleep… it seemed that Alex Krycek could not be banished completely, but perhaps in time the memories could be smoothed out, covered over in pearly essence to reduce their sting.

Mulder could only hope. He had no other defense against them.

* * *

It was a night in the early spring, fresh and clean after a light rain. The sort of night that Mulder usually found invigorating—nights he enjoyed being outside, when the skies were clear and full of stars, even in the city. He sat on the couch with his knees drawn up, chin resting on one knee, rocking slightly. He should get something to eat, he thought. He hadn’t had dinner. He should take a shower and change out of his sweats. The evening run, which had seemed like such a good idea when he got home from work, had just exhausted him further, but it was a nervous and shaky exhaustion, and held no promise of a better night’s sleep. How many days had it been since he’d had even a few hours of rest? Never a sound sleeper, Mulder’s nights lately had been even more restless than usual, full of troubled awakenings and feverish dreams. His head ached, and his tired mind wandered. If he didn’t feel better soon, he’d have to see a doctor.

The phone rang. Mulder started, then sat back, pulling irritably at his sweat-stained tee-shirt. It was his home phone, not his cell phone. He could ignore it and let the answering machine take it. The shrill ring made his sore head pound. Four rings before the machine picked up. Muttering under his breath, he let his feet fall to the floor and leaned forward to snatch up the receiver before it could shrill in his ear again.


“Agent Mulder? Agent Fox Mulder?” It was a woman’s voice, unfamiliar.


“Agent Mulder, this is Kate Krycek. Alex Krycek’s mother. I’m sorry to call you at home, but I’ve tried calling the FBI and I can’t get anyone to help me, and I know I shouldn’t be bothering you, but I’ve been so worried….”

“Mrs. Krycek?” Mulder’s tired mind struggled to keep up with the woman’s rapid-fire speech. “Is it Alex? Has something happened to him?” He’d met Krycek’s mother briefly, a few days after Krycek disappeared, hoping to find some clue to where his treacherous partner had gone. Krycek had called her, apparently, with some story about a special assignment, top-secret, that he couldn’t talk about, that would keep him out of touch for a while. Mulder hadn’t had the heart to tell her what had really happened. Well, she didn’t know anything, anyway. There was no point in making her worry.

“No. I don’t know. It’s just been so long. I know you can’t talk about what he’s doing, all I want to know is that he’s all right.”

“Mrs. Krycek, I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can tell you.”

“They keep saying he doesn’t even work for the FBI any more. That he just disappeared. It’s part of his cover, I suppose. He wouldn’t just disappear, despite what his father thinks.”

“I wish I could help you.”

There was a long pause. Mulder hoped rather desperately that she’d hang up. He did not want to be sitting here trying to reassure Alex Krycek’s mother. He betrayed me, Mrs. Krycek. If I ever see him again, I may just kill him. Kate Krycek had the same huge, liquid green eyes her son had.

“I’m sorry.” Her voice was a harried whisper, low and breathy. The same tones, several notes higher, that had sent aching shivers through Mulder’s body when her son whispered them. “I know you can’t tell me anything. It’s just that, well, I can’t help worrying. I know he’s a grown man, but,” a gentle laugh, also painfully familiar, “I’m a mother. And Alex—he’s a good boy, he tries so hard, but sometimes his enthusiasm gets the better of him, he throws himself into things without thinking them through.”

“I know.” Mulder’s own voice had gone soft with the effort to keep the bitterness away.

“I remember how proud he was when he got his first assignment. His father thought he wouldn’t even make it through the training, but I knew. And he was so excited about working with you. He used to talk about you all the time.”

“Me? He talked about me?” Mulder let his head fall forward into his hand. He gritted his teeth, thinking he had to end this phone call before he started screaming.

“Oh, yes, he really admired you. It was ‘Mulder this’ and ‘Mulder that’—I was so glad for him. I thought you’d be able to, well, keep an eye on him and help him. I know this job he’s doing now, whatever it is, must be something important and I’m sure he’s doing just fine. But I’d feel so much better if I knew he wasn’t alone, if he had someone like you working with him.”

“I would too, Mrs. Krycek.” Mulder gripped the receiver so tightly his hand ached.

“He doesn’t have that many friends. Not that he isn’t easy to get along with, or that he doesn’t like people. I think it has to do with the way he was raised, moving around all the time. His father’s in the Army, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” A full colonel. Krycek’s father had been at work the day the FBI agent came to visit Krycek’s family home, so Mulder hadn’t met him. A phone call to the colonel’s office hadn’t gotten past his secretary. Apparently, he hadn’t found it worth his time to discuss his son’s sudden disappearance. Mrs. Krycek had smiled apologetically and shrugged. He’s a very busy man. Please, you don’t need to bother him. I’ll tell you everything you want to know. She’d seemed so sad, Mulder hadn’t had the heart to press the matter.

“He’d get so attached to people, and then we’d have to leave again, and it just broke his heart. It never seemed to get any easier for him, every time it was just like the first time. I hated to see it. I thought finally when he went to work at the FBI, he’d make some friends he’d be able to stay with.”

Then he shouldn’t have betrayed me. He could have stayed with me, it wasn’t my fault! That last night, he’d seemed in as much pain as Mulder. I want to stay with you, he’d insisted. You don’t know how bad I want to stay. But he’d made his choices, and he’d helped them to take Scully, and then he’d had to leave. “I guess the FBI’s like the Army that way. Sometimes you have to go where your job takes you.”

“Yes, I suppose. Well. I’d better go. I’m sorry to bother you, Agent Mulder.”

“It’s all right. Good night, Mrs. Krycek.”

“Good night.”

Mulder put the receiver down slowly, then pulled his legs back up onto the couch. Well, everyone had a mother. Even Alex Krycek. And he’d been a child once, an Army brat, whose heart had broken afresh every time the family moved. It wasn’t hard to believe, if the man you were talking about was the sweet-faced innocent who cried when he made love. But the man who betrayed his partner, silenced witnesses, helped the men in black to abduct an innocent woman—where was he in his mother’s words?

Where was Alex Krycek?

* * *

Two days later, it began. It was innocuous enough, if annoying. The Lone Gunmen showed up at his apartment, something they rarely did, and even more rarely uninvited. He was still feeling tired and jumpy and his head seemed to ache all the time, and he was not in the mood for his friends’ loopy paranoia. But their story of a colleague’s break-in of the Defense Department’s computer files was interrupted by gunshots—down the hall, a woman had murdered her husband, suddenly, for no apparent reason. Later, Mulder met with the man the Lone Gunmen had come to tell him about and received a digital computer tape that purportedly held all of the Defense Department’s UFO documents for the past fifty years—everything, including Roswell, the Majestic files, Area 51—everything Mulder had been searching for. The Holy Grail.

He brought the tape to work the next day, so excited he could barely breathe. But the files were encrypted; he couldn’t read them. And while Scully went to try to find a way to decode the files, Mulder flew into a rage at Skinner for no reason, and scuffled with his superior in the hallway outside his office. Sick and confused and dejected, Mulder went home and took a sleeping pill, only to be startled awake by Scully, coming to rail at him for putting both of them in danger. He appeased her as best he could, then taped an “X” on his window and sat down to wait for his sometime informant, to see if he could find out what was happening. But before the mysterious X had made contact, Mulder’s father called and asked him to come to see him.

Mulder’s relationship with his father had always been difficult. Mulder had supposed it was his own fault; he was a strange and opinionated child, intelligent and driven and moody. The abduction of Samantha had fractured the family, leaving everyone to crawl away and lick wounds in isolation. Never close, the family’s grief had driven a wedge between father and son that neither had ever been able to break through. And the recent incident with the Samantha clone had only made an already strained relationship worse: somehow, Mulder had been made to feel that it was his fault that his mother had been forced to endure the loss of her daughter a second time. He’d barely spoken to his father since. But always, he craved his father’s approval. Always, he did what his father asked, despite his exhaustion and need to meet with his informant. So he made the long drive to his father’s house in West Tisbury.

And sat in the living room while his father was murdered in the bathroom. He heard the shot, and rushed to find his father bleeding and dying in the floor. Forgive me, were his father’s last words to him. Forgive me. Mulder never found out for what.

He called Scully from his father’s house, with his father’s blood on his hands. Were you arguing? she asked. As if she believed he’d done it. He went to her house and spent the night in her bed, while she slept on the couch, to find in the morning that she’d taken his gun. She still didn’t trust him. Still thought he might have done it. Almost numb, he felt the pain of her abandonment only as a dull ache.

Later, he went back to his own apartment. But before he entered the building, he caught a glimpse of a shadow around a corner. Just a glimpse. It could have been anything, anyone, for any perfectly innocuous reason. But Mulder no longer believed in innocuous occurrences. The whole universe seemed to be conspiring against him—if Scully could no longer be trusted, why should nameless shadows be innocent? He ran around the building and waited behind the corner, listening to the approaching footsteps.

The hand, holding a gun, appeared first. Mulder grabbed, pulled, shoved the man against the brick wall, knocked the gun out of his hand. The sudden burst of fury was fierce and satisfying. Somehow, it was no surprise at all to find that the man he was hitting with all his strength was Alex Krycek. It seemed inevitable. Of course Krycek would return now, at this time, to make Mulder’s misery complete. Of course, Krycek was behind Mulder’s pain, just as he had been before. Krycek was the enemy. Krycek was now the receptacle for all of Mulder’s pent-up rage and pain.

Some corner of his photographic memory recorded the changes: longer hair, slicked back and styled; black leather jacket and work shirt; close-fitting blue jeans. No longer even a trace of innocence. Nothing awkward or charmingly geeky. A cold-eyed beauty, hard-faced and elegant and sleek. Mulder threw him onto the hood of a car, demanding, “Did you kill my father?” It seemed only obvious that Krycek must be the source of all the horror in Mulder’s life. But Krycek stubbornly refused to admit his guilt, even with his beautiful mouth bleeding. Oddly, his eyes turned up in his head when Mulder’s fist smashed into his mouth, just as they did when Mulder had touched his cock. It only increased Mulder’s fury.

Enemy. Traitor. Murderer. Each mental accusation accompanied by a blow. Throw him to the ground. Kick him. Point his own gun at him and demand the truth. Make him suffer. Make him pay.

Out of nowhere, Scully appeared. “Don’t do it, Mulder! I have him.” But he’d gone too far, he was over the edge, nothing was going to stop him now.

Except Scully’s bullet. He felt his eyes open in shock as the impact of the shot flung him to the ground. Scully shot me, he thought, as the ground whirled up to meet him. Somehow, it was no more surprising than anything else that had happened.

Then everything went black, and it was all over.

From Alex Krycek’s diary:

I talked to Mulder about killing once, in Montana, on that Kafka Killer case. When are you justified in killing someone? It all seemed so theoretical then, even though I had killed that man, Augustus Cole. But it wasn’t something I did deliberately, in cold blood. I thought he had a gun. I thought he was going to shoot Mulder. I did it to protect him, and I’d do it again. The stuff with the tram operator and Duane Barry—that was to protect Mulder, too, although he probably wouldn’t see it that way. But I knew if he got too close they’d kill him. They weren’t going to let him save Scully, no matter what, they’d made that clear to me. His only chance, and hers, was to let them take her, and do what they were going to do with her. I did it for him.

Can I make myself believe I did this for him, too? I killed his father. God. A sick old man in his bathroom, standing there with a bottle of pills in his hand, looking at me with sad, empty eyes. He didn’t look scared, or even surprised. He looked resigned, as though he’d been expecting me. Hell, maybe he had. He must have known they wouldn’t let him live, if he wasn’t going to play their game any more. Maybe he even wanted it. Maybe he was tired of it all, and just wanted it to be over. He just stood there and stared at me. He didn’t say anything or try to get away. He just stood there and let it happen.

It must have taken only a few seconds. I stepped out from behind the shower curtain while his back was turned, and he saw me in the medicine cabinet mirror. He turned, and our eyes met, and we both knew what was going to happen, almost as if it was preordained. I wasn’t even aware of the gun in my hand, or lifting it, or firing. I think the report of the gun was more of a shock to me than it was to him. Something in me wanted to stay and watch his life drain away. It seemed as if it was my right, even my duty, to stay and see him on his way. But of course I couldn’t—Mulder was in the next room, and I had to be gone before he rushed into the bathroom and found me there.

I couldn’t help wishing I could stay there with them, though. I don’t know what I thought would happen if Mulder ran in and saw me there, standing over his dead father. Maybe I thought I’d comfort him in his grief. Maybe I wanted him to hurt me, even kill me, to punish me for all the pain I’ve caused him. Maybe I just wanted to see him again, I don’t know. But I kept having this ridiculous feeling, all the time I was driving away, that I should have stayed with him, that it was wrong to run away like that. Maybe I was just remembering that last night before I had to leave, after Scully was taken, when he begged me to stay with him and I couldn’t do it. I was foolish enough then to think there was still a chance we could work things out, that I could explain to him why I’d done what I’d done and maybe he’d forgive me and everything would be all right. Sometimes I wish I’d gone ahead and spent one more night with him. Hell, it’s not like the sacrifice did either of us any good in the long run. Stupid of me to think that being able to say, “Well, I didn’t sleep with you after I helped them take Scully” was going to somehow make him hate me any less.

And now I’m a murderer. A professional hitman. Someone told me, “Go kill this man,” and I did it. I still can’t really believe it. Could there have been another way? Something else I could have done? Well, yes, I could have told him no, I wouldn’t do it. And then he would have killed me, because he couldn’t take the chance that I’d go to Mulder with what I know. And he would have killed Samantha, and that would have destroyed Mulder. Unless my nameless boss was lying to me about that. Hell, I wouldn’t know Samantha if I saw her, so how would I know if he’d killed her? He might have just been telling me that to make me do what he wanted. But even if he was, that just means he would have gotten someone else to kill Mulder’s father, and I’d still be dead, and it still wouldn’t have helped Mulder any. Hell. Should I have gone to Mulder, told him I’d tell him everything, and hoped he’d be able (and willing) to protect me?

It’s too late now. I thought maybe it wasn’t. Stupid. I thought maybe I could still go to him and explain. He doesn’t know I killed his father, I thought, maybe I can talk to him. If I can just get him to listen to me, maybe I can still make things right. Ha. He didn’t even give me a chance, he just grabbed me and started hitting me and demanding to know if I’d killed his father. God, how did he know? I’m sure he didn’t see me. Does he just hate me so much that he assumes I’m responsible for every tragedy that happens in his life? His face was so full of hate, I couldn’t even speak. Not even to lie to him. Or to tell him the truth. If Scully hadn’t shown up when she did, he would have killed me. I shouldn’t have gone so soon. I should have waited a while to let him get over it a little. Or hell, I should just give up and admit that Mulder is never, ever going to forgive me. My life is a sorry mess. What’s left of it, anyway. Now I’m stuck doing that cigarette-smoking bastard’s dirty work until he gets tired of me and has me killed. Maybe I should have just let Mulder do it, at least I could have died knowing I’d given him some satisfaction.

How did I end up like this? I never wanted to kill anyone. I know it was wrong, but I didn’t know what else to do. God, Mulder, please forgive me. I love you, god help me, I still love you.

He was vaguely aware of Scully pressing her hand to the gunshot wound she’d given him. And vaguely aware of being half-led, half-carried to a car, being bundled into the back seat, covered with a blanket and told to rest. And it seemed that he trusted her after all, even with her wound in his shoulder, because he shut his eyes obediently and went to sleep, knowing that whatever she was doing, it would be all right.

He half-dozed throughout the long days that followed, drifting along with the rhythm of the car engine’s hum, between sweet dreams of summer afternoons napping in the sun, and raddled nightmares of his father lying in his blood on the bathroom floor, Krycek pressed against the hood of a car with his mouth bleeding and his eyes staring, and Scully standing grimly behind the flash of a gun, and tearing agony in his shoulder.

He finally opened his eyes to sense and reality in a hotel room in Farmington, New Mexico. Scully was bathing his brow with a cool cloth, and a Navajo man named Albert stood calmly in the background. Out in the quarry, a boxcar lay buried, and in it, the bodies of many small, inhuman creatures. Creatures with long-fingered hands and large, pear-shaped heads with huge eye-sockets. Mulder stood among the bodies and excitedly called Scully on his cell phone, while the Navajo boy, Albert’s grandson, kept watch from above.

The sound of a helicopter impinged on his consciousness, but he ignored it. Not this time, Mulder insisted. This time it would not all be snatched away from him, just as he was about to have what he needed. This time he would have his answers. This time….

The boxcar’s hatch slammed shut, leaving him in utter darkness. His cell phone cut out. His enemies had arrived. Scrambling in the dark, he found a door, which led to a tunnel into the rocks, and he flung himself into it. Desperately, he crawled into the earth. He felt the thrum of the helicopter landing. Rocks rattled and pinged around him. Pressure sang in his ears, and his injured shoulder throbbed. Then the explosion ripped through the ground, and the tunnel collapsed and twisted around him. He felt that the earth was swallowing him up. “Scully,” he whispered to the rocks, then his mind sank into blackness.

* * *

He seemed to be lying on a bed of branches under the starry desert sky. He seemed to hear chanting and smell sweet, aromatic smoke. He did not know where he was, but he wasn’t troubled. It seemed that he’d come here for a reason, and he had only to wait patiently, and the answers would come to him. He seemed to hear the voice of his mentor, the man he’d known only as Deep Throat, now a year dead. He seemed to see his father, who told him things he’d always known but never realized. Down below, in the world of the living, learning these things would be harsh and painful, but up here in the sky they were merely interesting facts. Mulder drifted on the breeze, light as a feather. Only the thinnest cord held him to the earth. It could easily break and let him float away, and for a time, he was content to drift, not caring whether the cord held or not. But eventually, he felt the cord tug at him. His mother still dwelt below. Scully. Samantha. He had unfinished business, and it was time to get on with it. So he closed his eyes, then opened them again, and he was lying on a bed of branches on the ground in a Navajo lodge, with Albert and others of his tribe looking on, welcoming him home.

* * *

As soon as he was able, he went home—first to his mother, to reassure her that he was all right and, yes, to ask her about his father, and about the past. In the basement, he found an old photograph of his father with a group of men. His mother’s mouth tightened as she looked at it, but she insisted she didn’t remember who any of them were. He took the photo and left.

He returned to his apartment. Where Scully was holding a gun on Skinner, who was holding a gun on Scully, who said she’d been warned that someone she trusted would try to kill her. He didn’t know the story but he knew who he trusted—Mulder added his gun to Scully’s. After some tense moments, it shook out like this: Skinner had the DAT tape, and would hold it for safekeeping, while Mulder and Scully continued their search for the truth.

At the Lone Gunman offices, they inspected Mulder’s photograph with Langly and Byers, and discovered that Mulder’s father had consorted with Nazi war criminals. Then Frohike burst in with a hug for Mulder, who he had feared was dead, and bad news for Scully—her sister had been shot, and was in the hospital in critical condition.

Scully’s sister, Melissa. The New Age mystic, who talked of healing crystals and auras and dark places of the soul, as opposite from her scientific, skeptical little sister as she could be. Mulder had to admit his first thought was, Thank god it wasn’t Scully. His second was to stop Scully from rushing to the hospital to see her, although it broke her heart to stay away. It wasn’t safe; the bastards were after her now, and would surely be at the hospital waiting for her. They had to stay out of sight, and they had to keep searching for the truth.

But this time, there was something more important than the truth. And it was Scully, straight-backed and stiff, saying grimly, “I need to see my sister.” So he told Skinner to make the deal: the tape and the information on it, for his and Scully’s jobs and their safety. They would find their answers, but they would find them another way.

Sadly, it was too late to save Melissa Scully.

* * *

“I don’t have the tape,” Skinner told them, in his office, after it was all over. “It was Albert, and the other codetalkers, and their incredible memories, I used to make the deal. I lost the tape at the hospital, when I went to see your mother.” He nodded to Scully, then looked at Mulder thoughtfully. The two agents sat across from him at his huge oak desk—an imposing man, with an imposing desk, in an imposing office. Mulder always felt a little like a schoolboy called to the principal’s office in Skinner’s grand and intimidating presence.

“There was a man outside the hospital room. Albert said he’d been there all day, watching. So I went after him, to find out what he was doing there. I was in the stairwell when he and two other men attacked me. Two of them held me while the third hit me, and took the tape.” He paused, again covering Mulder with that appraising stare. There was a bruise on his jaw. “The third man was Krycek.”

Mulder felt every muscle in his body clench. It took every ounce of strength he had to force himself to remain sitting, to remain silent, to keep the grimace from his face. “He hit you?” he asked. His voice was strained and rough. God, Mulder. What a stupid thing to say! He felt his face burn.

Skinner stared at him. “Yes, Agent Mulder. Several times. Looked like he was enjoying it, too.”

“I….” Mulder cleared his throat. What was he going to say? What was he wearing? How did he look? Did he mention me? “I wish you could have caught him.”

“So do I, Agent Mulder. So do I.”

Mulder nodded slightly, determined to keep his mouth shut. In his mind, the images roiled: Krycek, as he had been outside Mulder’s apartment building. Hair long and shiny as silk, black leather jacket and blue jeans, shockingly beautiful, an explosive, smoldering presence. A traitor and murderer.

Mulder felt Scully’s elbow nudge surreptitiously against his, and he abruptly let out a long breath that he didn’t know he’d been holding. So Krycek had the tape. Krycek had the tape, and silky-dark hair that fell in his eyes when he slammed back against a brick wall, and his fist had made the bruise on Skinner’s jaw. Mulder swallowed, and wanted to get up and run out of the room.

He wanted to run after Krycek.

From Alex Krycek’s diary:

The son of a bitch tried to kill me. Car bomb, as we were heading out of D.C. to New York. We stopped at a convenience store, and the other guys went in to get beer and sodas, and Luis kept asking me if I wanted anything, as if he cared. And the two of them stopped in the doorway of the store and stood there, looking back at me and it just gave me the creeps. Then I looked at the dashboard clock and it was flashing 12:00, 12:00, 12:00, and I just knew. So I slammed out of there and ran like hell, and the damn car blew up right behind me. Five seconds later and I’d be dead. Fuck. My hands are still shaking.

I’ve got the tape, though. I’ve got the goddamned DAT tape, that I beat up Skinner for. I don’t even know why I hit him so hard, except that I was so mad and so frustrated and so miserable, I just wanted to beat hell out of somebody, and he was there so I did it. Well, actually, I wanted somebody to beat hell out of me, but sometimes you have to be on top to be on the bottom.

I called up the son of a bitch and told him his bomb didn’t work. I probably should have just run, but what the hell. He was going to find out anyway, and I wanted the pleasure of telling him myself. Jesus, he’s a cool one. Didn’t even flinch. Of course, he had to keep up the cover for the rest of the gang, but Christ, you could almost swear he was happy to hear from me. Son of a bitch tried to kill me. Because I wouldn’t shoot Scully, because I let Luis kill her sister instead. God. A completely innocent woman. That face is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. This is the worst thing I’ve ever done, worse than killing Mulder’s father, who at least was a player himself, and nobody could have called him an innocent bystander. But Melissa Scully. There’s no possible justification for letting her die. I could have stopped Luis from shooting her—I knew it wasn’t Scully the minute she walked in the door. Too tall. Too much hair. And she just didn’t walk right. But I let him shoot, because if it wasn’t her it would have been Scully, and I couldn’t let them kill Scully. Mulder needs her. He’d be lost without her. And I’ll go to hell and suffer for all eternity, but I won’t let them take Scully away from him again.

He tried to kill me. I just can’t believe this. And just two days ago the son of a bitch was telling me how much he liked me, and wanted me to be happy. Fucking liar. “I’m doing this for you,” he told me. “I want you to forget about Mulder and the FBI. I want to bring you up in the organization. But you have to do some of the dirty work first, that’s part of the process. Everyone starts at the bottom.” You could almost believe he was sincere, the way he stood there with his blue eyes and his calm cool voice and his damned cigarettes. “I could help you. I could be like a father to you. I know your own family life hasn’t been ideal.” Well, my father might be a cold, demanding son of a bitch, but he never made me kill anybody. He even told me—Jesus, he told me, “You shouldn’t feel so bad about what you’ve done. He wasn’t really Mulder’s father.” As if that was supposed to help! Even if I believed him, how the hell is that supposed to make it any better? “Gee, Mulder, don’t be mad. I know I killed the man who raised you, who was married to your mother, but he wasn’t really your father so you shouldn’t be so upset.” Yeah, right. Well, we all know how sincere you were now. Car bomb, that’s how sincere you were.

So. Well. Guess I’m out of a job. And that’s a relief, even if it means I’m a fugitive with an international consortium trying to kill me. At least I don’t have to hurt Mulder any more. There’s no way anybody can ever make me hurt Mulder again. So I’m glad, even if it means spending the rest of my life running. My career as a member of the Mission Impossible team is over. Now I’m starring in The Fugitive. Or hell, maybe it’s La Traviata. Violetta left Alfredo and now her time’s running out. Car bombs or consumption, it’s all the same.

Oh god. I guess I’d better scrounge up a passport and some cash and get out of the country, if I can. Goodbye, Mulder. You won’t believe I did it for you, but I did. That hurts worse than anything, thinking about not seeing you again. I love you, Mulder. Goodbye.

It took him longer to come back this time. Each loss cut a little deeper, left another scar that wouldn’t heal. First Samantha, all those years ago. Then Scully, although he got her back, and Krycek, whom he didn’t. He got Samantha back, only to lose her again. Now his father, and Scully’s sister. He made the long journey back, from the desert, from the dry, cold places of his soul, but he left something there as well. Not his determination, not his dedication to his quest. If anything, that was stronger than ever. He’d been hurt too much to ever let go of that until he’d found the answers to his questions. He still had his job, and Scully, and on the surface everything was the same. What was missing was a little of the spark, the tease, the playfulness. What was missing was the man who’d grin and say, Nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted; who’d order pizza at four A.M. and show up at a friend’s door with it and invite himself in to watch TV; who’d sit on the couch listening to opera on the stereo and turning a small gold foil crane in his hands, smiling to himself.

But they went on, he and Scully, and they had some successes. He felt closer to her than ever, although, strangely, more distant as well. He worried about her, and what his quest was doing to her. He worried about what caring for her was doing to him. He remembered losing her, and didn’t want to feel that pain again. He strained toward her, and away from her, and somehow maintained a balance. It wasn’t always easy, but she was there, and that was enough.

* * *

It was a midsummer morning, fresh and bright. Later in the day, the oppressive sun would turn the air hot and sticky. But in the hour of sunrise, with the sky fading from pale robin’s egg stained with pink to clear, crystalline blue, the day was intoxicating in its newness. As Mulder circled his neighborhood on his morning run, he reflected that sometimes, a sky like this was all a person needed to feel that life was worth living. Not often, but often enough to remind him that there was a world out there, turning inexorably, following laws of physics and nature that had no concern for him and his quest.

Mulder was smiling to himself as he ran up the front stairs of his building, unlocked the downstairs door, and into the elevator. He was even humming as he stood in front of his apartment door, fumbling with his keys.

Then there was a something hard and cold pressing into the middle of his back, and a hot hand gripping tightly at his shoulder, and a voice that was painfully familiar despite the months since he’d heard it whispering in his ear, “Just open the door and go on in. You and I are going to have that talk.”

* * *

Mulder sat on his couch, hands clenched rigidly into fists, mouth pressed into a tight bow. His breath burned in his lungs, and his heart thudded viciously against his chest. From the corner of his eye he measured the distance to his gun in the desk drawer across the room. It was pure exercise, he knew—he was not going to get past the man stalking back and forth in front of him like a caged beast, gun waving nerve-wrackingly freely at his side.

It was yet another version of Alex Krycek holding Mulder at gunpoint in his own apartment. The leather jacket was the same. Black jeans and a faded blue tee-shirt. But the dark hair was cropped short now, and rumpled as if it had never been combed, and the thick-lashed eyes were haunted and rimmed with red. The smooth, youthful cheeks were unshaven, and the loose-limbed gait had grown sudden and explosive. The life he’d chosen was not faring well with him.

“You look like hell,” Mulder muttered. Krycek’s pacing was getting on his nerves. Why didn’t the man just get on with whatever he’d come here for?

“Yeah, well, you’d look like hell too if you had a contract out on you. It’s hell on your sleep.” The words came out in breathy little bursts, punctuated by jabs of his gun into the air between them. It made Mulder’s chest itch.

“Your master turn on his dog?” Mulder filled his voice with as much venom as he could muster.

Krycek stopped and stood staring at Mulder, his face a strange mixture of anger, resentment, pain and longing. No longer the innocent child, but not the cold beauty either. This Krycek was hot enough to scald. Mulder could barely look at him. “I didn’t come here to talk about that.” His voice was strained and curiously soft.

“What did you come to talk about? You want to tell me how you killed my father?”

“Things happen.” Krycek resumed his pacing. But this time it was awkward, confused, as if he couldn’t decide where to step next, as if he were trapped, with nowhere to go. “It was my fault, but it wasn’t all my fault. You promised we’d talk. I wanted to tell you, Mulder, but you wouldn’t let me. It could have been so different, if you’d given me a chance….”

Mulder felt his chest tighten in shock and anger. “Are you insane? You want to sit down and have a little talk about our relationship, now? After everything that’s happened? After everything you’ve done?” His body began to ache from the effort to stay still, to refrain from jumping up to punch, to hit, to punish this man, whom he’d brought into his bed, who had betrayed him so deeply. He pushed his hands beneath him, and sat with his teeth bared. His gun, across the room, loomed large in his vision.

“Jesus, Mulder, don’t be an idiot.” Krycek took a step forward, gun pointed straight at Mulder’s forehead, hands suddenly steady as a rock. Mulder froze. This was a man with a gun, he reminded himself. A strained and desperate man. Then the gun drooped, and Krycek’s shoulders slumped. And there was just a hint of the unhappy man who’d sat on the end of a bed in a hotel room in Montana, shaken and disappointed because he hadn’t managed to face up to a harrowing case. The moment hit Mulder with a shaft of pain, almost as hard as a bullet from a gun. Krycek continued, sounding horribly like that unhappy young FBI agent. “I don’t expect you to forgive me. I don’t expect anything. I’m leaving the country tonight, and I won’t be back. It didn’t… nothing turned out the way I wanted it to. I just want you to listen to me—”

“Tell me about my father, Krycek.” Mulder couldn’t stop his voice from rising. “Tell me about Scully, how you helped them take her. Tell me about—”

“Damn it, Mulder, will you just for once listen to me?” Krycek stepped forward, then whirled away, his left hand coming up to gesture helplessly. Mulder was halfway off the couch before Krycek turned back, gun once more trained steadily on his former partner. His face twisted, and his voice was full of tears. “You never listen. Why won’t you just listen to me?”

Mulder gritted his teeth and bit back several retorts. It was all too surreal to be taken seriously. Here stood a man who’d betrayed him, hurt him and Scully, murdered his father—complaining about Mulder’s relationship inadequacies like an angry lover. A man with a gun. Mulder sank down into the couch, easing his hands into his lap. “All right,” he said calmly. “Tell me what you came to say.”

Krycek swallowed, and wiped his face on the sleeve of his leather jacket. “I was working for him. You know who I mean. He recruited me when I was in the Academy, for special ops. You know, the investigations behind the investigations. Mission Impossible stuff. I thought… I don’t know what I thought. But what he told me about you—it didn’t take me long to figure out it wasn’t true. But I didn’t know what to do.” Krycek had stopped pacing. He stared somewhere at the wall near Mulder’s head. Mulder watched the gun hand, seeing the muscles gradually relax, biding his time.

“I couldn’t quit. I didn’t know what he’d do to me.” Krycek laughed ruefully. “Now I know. Car bomb. He tried to kill me, but I’m not as stupid as he thinks.” He smiled at Mulder, with a look that was friendly, almost affectionate. “Not as stupid as you think, either. Anyway, I thought it would be better for you if I stayed. I could protect you, if things got too crazy. I could keep them from hurting you, as much as I could. I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid. I knew you wouldn’t believe me. You’d refuse to work with me, and they’d put someone else on you and I wouldn’t be able to protect you. I tried… not to let… things happen.” His face twisted again in pain. “I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t help it. There was nothing I could tell you that would make sense. But after Montana I knew I had to tell you the truth, even if it meant the end of everything. I just couldn’t go on the way things were.”

The hand holding the gun was loose at Krycek’s side. Krycek stared at the wall and, just for a moment, pressed his eyes tightly shut.

It was all the moment Mulder needed. He launched himself off the couch, and onto Krycek with all his strength. They both went crashing to the floor, the gun flying loose and skittering across the hardwood floor and under the desk.

Mulder could smell the leather of Krycek’s jacket, and the musk of his fear. Krycek lay quiescent under him, arms curved at the elbow, open-palmed hands flat on the floor. His face was anguished, but there was no resistance in it. Mulder could feel Krycek’s heart thudding against his chest through the fabric of his blue tee-shirt. He could feel the hard column of flesh at Krycek’s crotch, pressing against his pelvis.

Time seemed to slow to a molasses crawl. He had Krycek under him, helpless, unresisting. He felt as though he stood on the edge of a cliff, looking down a long and dizzying depth. Lust for vengeance held him up, but another lust tickled at the back of his knees and shifted the ground beneath him. Krycek: lying quiescent, heart pounding, staring at him. Helpless.

Punish him. Mulder’s mouth came down on Krycek’s, hard and devouring. The little flinch and gasp could have been desire, could have been pain. Either response was satisfying. He took Krycek’s face in his hands, opened his mouth and ravaged his conquest, uncaring whether his teeth were too rough, or his tongue too deep. He could feel Krycek’s whole body trembling, feet scrabbling for purchase as he attempted to push his hips further under Mulder’s. Hands came up to grip Mulder’s forearms. And Krycek kissed him back, the wild creature within him unleashed.

Mulder almost laughed, a hollow sound between the mouths struggling into each other. As if he had discovered the true Krycek at last, in this rough possession. Discovered that here was a body he could do with as he pleased, control and punish and hurt if he liked, and no one could say he was wrong. The memory of Montana switched on in his brain: the second night, when they returned to the hotel, Krycek unhappy and agitated. Hurt me, Mulder, he’d insisted. Hit me. I can’t stand it like this. Mulder felt his chest swell with a terrible, triumphant glow.

Mulder pushed himself to his knees, planted on the floor on either side of Krycek’s hips. He sat upright, buttocks settled onto Krycek’s strong, hard thighs, pulling Krycek up with him by his left hand, gripping a fistful of Krycek’s shirt. Still, there was no resistance. Not even when Mulder drew his arm back and slapped Krycek hard across the face. He felt Krycek’s cock jump in his jeans, as Krycek cried out, eyes pressed tightly shut.

Mulder shook him, twice, by the fist still twisted in his shirt. “Look at me!” he hissed. Krycek’s eyes opened. They were dark and cloudy, swallowed up by wide, inky irises. His jaw was slack. Mulder could see the handprint forming on his jaw, the slight swelling in his full, round lip. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so beautiful. Again, his mouth crushed against Krycek’s, deliberately tasting the heat and tenderness of his blow on the other man’s face.

He pulled away, licking his lips, thoughtful now. Whatever else happened today, he was going to fuck Alex Krycek. But the logistics required a little thought. It would be a pleasure just to do it here and now, turn the man over and pull down his jeans and pound him into the floor. Unfortunately, the lube and condoms were in the bedroom. And getting from here to there might pose a problem. Krycek was pliant enough at the moment, but try to get up and haul him off to another room, and he might decide to fight. Both of their guns were out of easy reach. Mulder shifted slightly, pressing his burning cock into Krycek’s crotch. Both Krycek’s slack-jawed moan and the knife-sharp stab of need through his own groin were deliciously satisfying. Slowly, he began to push Krycek back to the floor, rubbing his crotch into Krycek’s as he did so.

He was smiling when he had Krycek lying once again on his back, breathing heavily and worrying at the swollen corner of his lip with his tongue. Krycek was calmer now, his face had cleared, and he lay quietly, hands loose at his shoulders, waiting. Almost as if this was what he had come for, or hoped for.

And perhaps it was. Then, wouldn’t he have come prepared? With a soft chuckle, still holding Krycek still by the throat, Mulder searched out the pockets of Krycek’s leather jacket and thrust a hand deep within them, one by one. And was rewarded with what he needed—several condoms and a small tube of lubricant. He tossed them out onto the floor at his right hand.

“Thank you,” Mulder whispered. “This makes things much easier. Did they teach you this in black ops? Always come prepared for any eventuality?”

Krycek’s eyes rolled back, and his mouth worked, but he didn’t answer.

“You’re right,” Mulder agreed. “What is there to talk about? Let’s just get on with it.” He released Krycek’s shirt and moved back, lifting himself up onto his knees. “Turn over.”

Between his legs, Krycek turned. Not as if he were following orders, but just as if he were finally being given the opportunity to do what he wanted all along. Cradling his head in his arms, he settled himself onto his stomach.

A powerful thrill coursed through Mulder, at the sight of his enemy and former partner face down on the floor between Mulder’s legs. The black leather jacket billowed out around him. His tender, reddened cheek lay crushed in his arms. His thick eyelashes brushed his sleeve. The round mounds of his bottom lay, covered by denim that would soon be removed, below the supple black leather of his jacket. Beautiful. He had always been beautiful, but he had been a liar, never truly Mulder’s until now. He leaned forward to place one soft kiss on the back of Krycek’s neck. “Open your pants,” he whispered into Krycek’s ear, nibbling at the lobe. Then he sat back again, up on his knees to allow Krycek the necessary room to move.

Krycek struggled awkwardly, lifting his hips to get his hands underneath himself, weight balanced on his chest and knees. Mulder enjoyed watching this, too. He waited while Krycek worked the buttons open, then stopped him with a hand on his wrist when he took the waistband of his jeans and began to push them down. “I’ll do that,” Mulder said, and Krycek acquiesced, bringing his arms back up to pillow his head.

Mulder took the waistband of Krycek’s jeans in his hands, and began to work them down over the smooth, pale marble of Krycek’s hips. Strong and muscular and still well-padded—he’d been eating well, despite being on the run, Mulder noted wryly. That was as it should be. He liked Krycek’s body this way. He left the jeans at Krycek’s thighs, and reached for the tube of lubricant. He found that his hands were trembling as he uncapped the tube and squeezed some of the cool, slippery gel onto his fingers. Too many unwanted memories came rushing back as he slid his fingers between Krycek’s buttocks and into his anus. He felt his face burning as his fingers moved in the hot, moist flesh. He remembered the first time he’d entered Krycek’s body, how wonderful it had felt to touch him inside, how amazing it had been to be allowed this intimacy. He’d wondered then why Krycek let him do it, how it could feel that good, and he wondered now even more. Krycek had come here for this? To give himself to a man he’d betrayed?

Almost in a trance, Mulder knelt over Krycek’s body, fingers moving carefully until he found the round lump of Krycek’s prostate, and began to stroke it slowly. Krycek moaned, and his fists opened and closed, and his hips squirmed into Mulder’s hands. It was so like it had been before, Mulder could almost forget they weren’t still in Montana. Except they were in the floor in Mulder’s apartment, and Krycek was in black leather and denim, and everything had changed.

Everything except this: Krycek’s body passive and receptive and hot as a furnace, soft little moans escaping his throat like tiny fluttering birds, and tears dampening his long eyelashes.

Mulder groaned and fell forward, covering Krycek’s body with his own. He withdrew his fingers and worked his own pants down past his stiff cock, just as awkwardly as Krycek had done. Impatiently cursing under his breath, he sat up again to find one of the condoms in the floor, and hurriedly put it on.

Then he moved his legs between Krycek’s, spreading him wide and ready for fucking. He paused a moment, kneading Krycek’s buttocks in his hands, gently at first, then harder, until he was pinching them roughly. Still, Krycek’s only response was to moan a little louder. With a sigh, and holding Krycek’s buttocks open, he let himself settle onto the leather-clad back. The smell of leather and sweat was sharp and heady. He gripped Krycek around the throat with one hand, holding him firmly, and with the other hand, took his cock and began to press into Krycek’s anus.

Mulder could hurt him now, but there was no need, he was already conquered. He could concentrate on pleasure now, on working his cock slowly in, on feeling the tight, hot muscles squeezing him, on overcoming the body’s last resistance until his cock slid fully home. Then he took a deep breath and lay for a moment, stroking Krycek’s hair and staring off into the distance. It could have been like this… or could it? Had there ever been a time when this was not a lie?

No. Mulder must not let himself be fooled by Krycek’s deceptive innocence again. He must not fall into Krycek’s trap.

But he would fuck him. Mulder lifted his hips, withdrawing his cock until only the head was inserted, then slowly plunging it in to its full depth. Again and again, he indulged in long, slow, deep strokes. He took Krycek by the hips and lifted him slightly, adjusting the angle so he could make his deepest entrance. It was good, never mind the rest, forget everything but this shiveringly sweet pleasure. He chuckled softly, and whispered to Krycek, “No guilt and no regrets.” Tears flowed beautifully from Krycek’s eyes, and he licked them from the damp cheek.

Then he thrust hard. Smiling to himself with terrible pleasure, he fucked Alex Krycek hard, until Krycek jerked with a gurgling cry, and his anus twitched on Mulder’s cock, and Mulder fucked him harder, in a frenzy of lust, until his own orgasm took him, and everything melted away.

* * *

Mulder groaned, and rolled off of Krycek’s back, grimacing slightly as he pulled his cock free. He stood, a little unsteadily, on knees still watery from an orgasm that had ripped through his entire body like a ravaging fever. He stared down at Krycek, lying unmoving on the floor, except for the rise and fall of his back under the leather jacket. There was an odd rushing sound in his ears. God, what had he been thinking? Well, obviously he hadn’t been thinking. He’d been angry; flush with adrenaline, and it had spilled over into leftover lust. No doubt Krycek was still beautiful. Even more so now, in his leather and denim. But he was evil, a liar and a murderer, and Mulder did not want him lying in his floor.

“You….” There was a strange catch in his voice. He cleared his throat and started again. “You’d better go. Before I lose the afterglow and decide it’s worth the cleanup and disposal problems to kill you.”

Krycek stirred, one hand coming up to wipe at his face, legs curling under him. He looked in no better shape than Mulder. With a disgusted groan, Mulder walked over to the wastebasket by the desk, stripping off the condom as he went, and tossing it angrily into the trash. Stupid, he told himself as he pulled up his sweatpants. He was going to be late for work, and what could he say? Alex Krycek stopped by for a quick fuck and I lost track of time. He should arrest him. Now? With a used condom in the trash and Krycek’s semen all over his living room floor? Just get the man out of here. He snatched up his own gun, then leaned down to scoop up Krycek’s gun from under the desk where it had slid. He should just keep the damned thing—but it would only get him in trouble somehow. Was this the gun that had killed his father? No way he could have it tested—how would he explain how he’d gotten it? He’d just end up framing himself, as Krycek had wanted all along. With his own gun tucked under his arm, he popped open Krycek’s revolver, determined at least not to give Krycek back a loaded gun.

All the chambers were empty. Mulder turned, staring at the man now standing shakily behind him, buttoning up his jeans. He’d come here with an unloaded gun.

“What’s the matter, Krycek? Can’t afford ammo?”

Krycek snatched the gun from Mulder’s hand. And Mulder let him take it. They’d gone insane, he thought. Both of them.

“I don’t want to hurt you, Mulder. You know that.”

“But you came here with a gun.”

“The last time I came here to talk to you, you tried to kill me. I just wanted to make you listen to me, that’s all.”

“Well, have you said what you came to say?”

Krycek stared somewhere in the middle of Mulder’s shirt. “Yeah. I guess.” His lower lip trembled. Mulder suppressed the urge to suck on it.

Krycek tucked the gun into its holster behind his back, and walked over to the door. “I won’t bother you again.” He looked back at Mulder. And there he was: wide-eyed and innocent, so sweet it would break your heart. Not even the bruise developing on the side of his face could spoil that aching sweetness. Mulder swallowed, hard, and closed his eyes. He heard the door open.

“I meant what I said, Mulder. There were things I lied to you about, but never about that. I love you.”

The door closed. Mulder pressed his eyes tightly shut, and stood there by his desk. “Alex….” I don’t believe you. But he couldn’t force himself to say the words.

And Alex wasn’t there to hear them, anyway.

* * *

I won’t bother you again. If only that were true. But Alex Krycek continued to bother him. In the morning when he returned from his morning jog (would he feel that gun at his back again? the hot hand on his shoulder, the warm breath in his ear?) at midday when he and Scully went out for lunch (Want to go to McDonald’s? I could sure go for a Big Mac) in the evening when he sat on his couch and stared at the spot on the floor where he’d mopped up the puddle of Krycek’s semen (thinking to himself, I know what this tastes like) late at night when he couldn’t sleep and reached for the phone and had the number half punched out before he remembered.

But Krycek wouldn’t be back. He was leaving the country, he’d said. Cancerman had tried to kill him, and he was now on the run. Did he still have the tape he’d stolen from Skinner? What would he do? Where would he go? Not that it mattered. Mulder would never see him again.

There were things I lied to you about, but never about that. The words haunted him. He kept replaying the incident over and over again in his mind. The anguish in Krycek’s face; the agitated confession; the strange passivity; the empty gun—he saw it all happening with crystal clarity, but when he tried to analyze it, to figure out reasons, his mind went numb and refused to look at it. Something nagged at him, something that wanted to suggest that Krycek was right, it was at least partly Mulder’s fault, that he had never given Krycek the chance to tell him the truth when he’d wanted to. He’d seen the big eyes and delicate features and heard the breathy voice, and invented an Alex Krycek in his mind to go along with the pictures he’d created, refusing to look at the real man behind those eyes. Should he have sat Krycek down and talked to him—really talked, the way he’d once promised they would? But that was ridiculous. Krycek had betrayed him and Scully, had killed his father. No matter what Mulder had done wrong, it was nothing compared to Krycek’s crimes. There was nothing to be gained by listening to his excuses. Nothing Krycek could say would make it all right.


* * *

Several more months passed. They got close again—beginning with a ridiculous phony-looking alien autopsy tape that Mulder had found advertised in the back of a magazine, which turned out to be not so phony. But once again, when all was over, they were left with more questions than answers. And Scully met a group of women who’d all found implants in the back of their necks, like the one Scully had. A group of women who were all dying of various cancers, most likely caused by the experiments they’d been subjected to. Branched DNA. And Scully, lying near death in a hospital bed, her body ravaged almost beyond repair….

Mulder had always been willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary of himself to pursue his search for the truth. He cared little enough for his own life, if he could spend it in the realization of his quest. He almost expected to die in it—he couldn’t really imagine life beyond the search. But the others—his family, his friends, Scully and her family—none of them should have to suffer for their involvement with him. Especially not Scully. But she’d been abducted, experimented on, lost her sister, and now it seemed that her health might be irrevocably damaged, all because she’d chosen to join him in his quest. Perhaps Krycek had had the right idea, after all—being Mulder’s partner was too much of a liability. Much safer to stay on the other side. Not that Krycek was in any better shape. Marked for death and on the run—and why? Why would Cancerman turn on him, and try to kill him? Krycek had done his dirty work, right down the line. Was it true, that he’d tried to quit? That he’d intended to tell Mulder the truth, that last night in Montana? That he’d changed sides, and that was why Cancerman no longer trusted him?

Then Krycek’s pain was Mulder’s responsibility, too, and Mulder couldn’t bear to think about that. So he pushed those thoughts firmly aside, and all the while at the back of his mind, Krycek’s voice tormented him: You never listen to me. If Mulder could have covered his ears against the sound, he would have.

I’m still not listening.

* * *

The next time, it was a French salvage ship that limped into San Diego harbor with all its crew—except for one man—dying of extreme radiation burns. Mulder followed the surviving diver to San Francisco, then the return address on a letter in the diver’s home led him to a salvage broker named Jerry (with a “J”) Kallenchuk, whom he followed to Hong Kong.

And she led him to Alex Krycek.

* * *

It was the last thing he would ever have expected, yet it had a strange inevitability about it. That he should be standing here in a small, dark office in Hong Kong, backlit in lurid red from the neon outside the window, with a woman handcuffed to his wrist, and Alex Krycek standing in the shadows with a gun pointed in Mulder’s face. Sweaty and red-eyed and grim, like a desperate creature that had been chased and harried through forest and dale, culvert and cave, run to ground and then flushed from its hiding place, survival the only instinct left. Mulder’s heart lurched, and then raced, and nearly pounded through his chest.

“Krycek….” His voice sounded strange in his own ears. His mind spun crazily, not knowing whether to laugh or scream. If he hadn’t been handcuffed to Kallenchuk, he might have flung himself onto Krycek. Whether to squeeze the life from his throat, or to embrace him in joy, he didn’t know.

Stop it, he ordered himself roughly. Get a grip. This man is evil. He is a liar and a murderer. He’s been selling top-secret information to foreign governments. He is my enemy. “I thought guns were illegal in Hong Kong.”

“You know what they say—when guns are outlawed….” Krycek’s grin was almost a grimace. His eyes were hard and cold.

“Why don’t you take that gun and shoot yourself in the head, like you shot my father.” It all seemed surreal, like he was standing in the middle of a Sam Peckinpah movie, trading macho cracks with a man he’d once… he’d once….

“Oh god. High noon in Hong Kong.” Apparently, Jerry Kallenchuk thought so too.

Krycek glared at her, teeth bared like an animal’s. It was as if he’d just noticed her presence, and found it completely unacceptable. “Why don’t you just shut up!” He grabbed her by the arm and roughly shoved her out into the hall, closing the door on the chain of the handcuffs.

“That’s no way to treat your partner,” Mulder said.

Shots rang out in the hallway. Mulder felt the chain of the cuffs being dragged down to the floor, heard the thump of her body. Krycek stared; his face shattering, for just a moment, into a haze of desperate pain. Then he broke and ran for the window, pausing before he leapt into the street. “Looks like she’s your partner now.”

And then he was gone.

* * *

He managed to find the handcuff key and free himself from the body of the salvage broker in time to escape out the window before Kallenchuk’s killers entered the office. From there, he headed to the airport. It was his best guess as to where Krycek would have gone, Hong Kong now being a little too hot for him, as well as Mulder’s own intention to return to D.C. at the earliest opportunity. And sure enough, Krycek was there. He was easy enough to spot—a big man in a black leather jacket, black jeans, boots and gloves. Not your typical Hong Kong businessman at all.

Mulder took him as he passed, clotheslining him with the telephone he’d been pretending to use. One punch to the stomach, a head butt to the head, and Krycek was moaning and gasping for breath as Mulder reached behind him to appropriate the gun from his back holster. (It was the third time he’d taken Krycek’s gun from him, some calculating part of his mind noted with interest. And some part of him that he tried not to listen to insisted that it couldn’t be because he was that much better fighter than his former partner.) A few threats and insults and “I didn’t kill your father,” Krycek protested, although it seemed to come more from desperation than truth. Then, “Finish it, Mulder. Go on and finish it.”

Mulder stepped back, then. He told himself it was because he didn’t want to make a scene while holding a gun in the Hong Kong airport. Not because Krycek’s voice was grief-stricken and hopeless. Not because Krycek’s face was streaked with sweat and tears and blood. Not because he felt sorry for him.

Mulder asked him about the tape.

“I’ll give it to you, if you let me go.” His only protection, and means of support. And he offered it to Mulder, for the chance to go free and live a little while longer. Life on the run had been hard on him, Mulder saw. There was no trace of innocence in that sweet face now. But it was still sweet. Mulder couldn’t bear seeing the blood dripping from his nose. He gritted his teeth and forced the hardness back into his voice.

“Go to the bathroom and clean yourself off. If you’re not out of there in three minutes, I’m coming in there to kill you.”

Krycek seemed no more to believe the threat than Mulder did. But he allowed himself to be led to the restrooms, stood compliantly while Mulder checked out the men’s room. Mulder was aware that Krycek could easily have broken and run while Mulder left him standing there. But he chose not to. He’d thrown in with Mulder. It was strange the way that thought twisted in him, made his stomach hurt.

But when Krycek came out of the bathroom, something had changed. He was calm now, his face smoothed into a cool mask, his movements even and sinuous. So many Kryceks, and here was another new one. Mulder wondered which one this was.

* * *

It wasn’t until after he’d lost Krycek again, after the car accident, and Mulder had learned that the French diver’s wife had been found in the bathroom of the Hong Kong airport, covered in the same diesel oil as her husband when he’d been found, that Mulder realized what had happened. The alien had been trapped at the bottom of the sea, until the French diver had found it. It had inhabited the diver, then the diver’s wife, then Krycek, and now it was loose somewhere in the United States, looking for something. Now Mulder had to find out what it was that the alien wanted.

For the next few days, events happened so quickly Mulder barely had time to think. Skinner was shot—by the same man who’d killed Scully’s sister. He found the locker that was opened by the key that Krycek had given him, but the tape had already been taken. He did find the impression of a phone number on the package, which led to a meeting with a man who told him that the UFO the French salvage ship had found had been moved to a location in the United States. Then Scully caught her sister’s killer, as he attempted to finish off Skinner, and found that he’d been present when Krycek had traded the tape to Cancerman for information on the location of the alien’s ship. He told her where Krycek was headed—an abandoned missile site in North Dakota.

Mulder and Scully immediately caught the first flight to North Dakota. They found men dying of radiation burns in the missile silo—proof that the alien had been there, in Krycek’s body. They were close, so close—

But once again, it was not to be. Before they could find the alien, or its ship, or Krycek, Cancerman had found them. They were hauled out of the silo at gunpoint, unceremoniously loaded into a car and driven away. Once again, they ended up with nothing but more suspicions, more close calls, more unanswered questions. Skinner recovered. The French diver and his wife recovered. Luis Cardinale, Scully’s sister’s killer, died in his cell. And Krycek?

Krycek was lost again.

* * *

A few days later, Mulder was sitting in his basement office when Scully tapped on the door and came in with a fax in her hand and a tentative smile on her face. He sat back in his chair and smiled back, nodding to her to sit down. She pulled up a chair to the other side of his desk.

She looked tired. A little strained around the eyes. The business with Luis Cardinale had hit her hard. She wanted justice for her sister, but all she got was another death, and another coverup. The men who gave the orders, the ones who were really responsible for Melissa Scully’s murder, were still untouchable.

“How are you doing?” he asked softly.

She forced another smile, and nodded. Then she handed him the fax. “This just came in from San Francisco. The search of J. Kallenchuk Salvage Brokers turned up something interesting—a the key to a safety deposit box in a bank here in Washington.”

Mulder felt his eyes widen as he read the fax. Jerry Kallenchuk had had bank accounts all over the west coast and in Hong Kong. She had operations out of Seattle, Portland, and San Diego. She had recently traveled to Vancouver, B.C., Honolulu, Bangkok, and Manila, as well as Hong Kong. She seemed to have fingers in pies all over the Pacific Rim.

But outside the Pacific Rim, there was one single key to a safety deposit box in Washington, D.C.

“How soon can we get an order to open the box?” His fingers were tingling with excitement. He wasn’t sure what they were onto, but he he had a feeling it was something big.

“Already in the works. The key is being couriered, and should be here this afternoon. We’ll have the court order by then.”

* * *

Two D.C. police officers, two bank officials, and Agents Mulder and Scully gathered in the narrow corridor between the walls of safety deposit boxes. Box number seventy-two was a small one, rented four months ago. According to bank records, the box had been opened only twice, once when it had been rented, and then again about a month ago. Mulder slipped his latex gloves onto trembling fingers as he watched the bank official and one of the police officers pull the box out of its slot and bring it over to the table.

Mulder stepped up to the box. Inside, there were books. Three small, worn blank books with various patterned covers. And a microcassette. Scully, beside him, lifted the cassette in a gloved hand, holding it delicately between thumb and finger.

“All it has is a date. December, nineteen ninety-four.”

Mulder nodded, staring at the books. He reached in and picked up the one on the top, one with a flowered cloth cover that looked like old-fashioned wallpaper. His chest was so tight he could barely breathe. Perhaps it was something about the patterns, the tacky flowers and marbleized papers and fake lizardskin, that reminded him of red and navy striped ties and cheap thrillers and Hershey bars, but somehow he knew, even before he opened the book and saw the familiar handwriting, and read the first few lines.

“Mulder?” Scully was looking up at him curiously. She reached for another of the books, and he stopped her with a gentle hand on her wrist.

He swallowed, and cleared his throat. “Scully, these… these are Alex Krycek’s diaries.”

* * *

They bagged the diaries and tape and brought them back to Mulder’s basement office. Mulder stood behind his desk, holding the bag in his hands, looking at Scully standing across from him, waiting with her arms crossed, more-or-less patiently, for him to unbag the things so they could begin looking at them.

There was no possible way he could tell her he didn’t want her to read the diaries. She’d just want to know why, and no matter what he said, it would sound foolish, and no doubt she’d figure out the truth anyway. He could try sending her off to do something else… but that would only be a temporary solution, she’d still want to read them when she got the chance, and what were the chances she’d allow herself to be sidetracked by anything else in the first place? She was just as interested in Krycek’s doings as he was.

Should he try to warn her somehow? Prepare her for what she might read? But suppose Krycek hadn’t written about the sex. Then he’d just be getting himself in deep water for no reason. Maybe….

“Mulder. Is something wrong?”

Too late. He’d waffled too long, and Scully knew something was up. “No. It’s just that he might have written about things that happened while he and I were working together. Things I’d just as soon no one else knew about.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “Things worse than anything that happened while you and I were working together?”

“No. Well, not necessarily worse. Just different. It depends on your point of view, I suppose.” He could feel his face growing hotter by the minute.

She gave him one of those appraising looks. The ones that felt like they were going right through him, seeing all his secrets. She bit her lip. “Mulder, I don’t want to invade your privacy. But I thought… I hoped that by now you would know that there isn’t anything you can’t tell me.”

And then he felt ashamed. After everything they’d been through together, how could he think she wouldn’t understand? She’d seen him at his worst—angry and violent and selfish, insubordinate and insensitive, running roughshod over everyone in his path in the pursuit of his quest. And she’d stood by him, unconditionally, with more patience than he’d ever deserved. It was about time he gave her something back. Well, letting her find out he’d been sleeping with Krycek wasn’t exactly a Christmas present, but it was an offer of trust that might in some small way repay the trust she’d given him.

He nodded slowly. Then he dug through the bag to find the earliest of the diaries. The one that began, I met Fox Mulder today. And he handed it to her.

* * *

Mulder picked up the second of the diaries, sat down, and began to read:

“I’m in Calgary now. It’s not so bad, except that it reminds me of Montana. It’s even the same kind of hotel. I wake up at night almost expecting he’ll be here in bed with me. Then I have to get up and go out, because I can’t get back to sleep. Funny how three days can change your life like that. Probably never be able to stay in a cheap hotel again without thinking about him. Hey, how about that, Mulder? I think of you whenever I think about serial killers and bloodhounds and cheap hotels.

“And pizza and La Traviata and Ford Tauruses and the FBI and white shirts and grey suits and practically everything else. I think about Mulder every day, with every breath I draw, and wish like hell it hadn’t been like this. What would have happened, that last night in Montana, if I’d made him listen to me, and told him the truth? Hell. Either he’d have kicked me out and that would have been the end of it, or he’d have let me stay with him and I’d have tried to help him save Scully, and we’d both have been killed. And Scully, too. I keep going over it in my mind, the whole thing, from the day that nameless bastard came to me, when I was fresh out of the academy and so naive I squeaked, and asked me if I wanted to do some special ops. Where was my mistake? What should I have done, to make things turn out right for me and Mulder? And I just can’t figure it out. He wouldn’t have let me quit. Mulder wouldn’t have believed me if I tried to tell him I’d changed sides. The only answer I can come up with is that I should have told the sonofabitch no right there at the start, never gotten involved in his damned special ops in the first place. But then I never would have met Mulder at all. And he’d have gotten someone else to spy on Mulder. It just makes me crazy to think that no matter what I did, I couldn’t have helped Mulder. That has to be wrong, I must be missing something, but I don’t know what.

“And what difference would it make now, even if I could figure it out? It’s all over, way more than too late. I’ve lost Mulder, I’ve lost my job, and I’m sitting here in Canada waiting for the man who owns me to pull on my leash and tell me what to do next. And I don’t even know how to get out of that.

“It’s hard, being here with nothing to do but think. He told me I could come back in another couple of weeks. He says he’ll have a special job for me when I get back. I don’t know whether to be glad about that or not. I don’t know what he’s going to want me to do now, but I know it’s going to be something bad. I try not to think about it, but there’s nothing to do here but think. I’ve gone out cruising a couple of times. It’s weird, not to have to think about keeping up the cover any more. It wasn’t any good, though. It just makes me think about Mulder, like everything else.”

* * *

Mulder paused, eyes tightly shut, hand pressed to his forehead. Damn Krycek! How dare he have regrets? How dare he wish things had been different? How dare he be… human, a decent man who’d made mistakes, too frightened and confused to know how to make things right?

Mulder lowered his hand and looked across his desk at Scully, reading intently in the first of the diaries. She was biting her lower lip, and there were spots of red on her cheeks. Then she lowered the book, aware of his eyes on her, and glanced up at him. Her sympathetic smile had a slight waver in it.

“He’s… not at all what I expected.”

“How far have you gotten?”

“Not far. He’s just gone home and cried all night after killing Augustus Cole. He says… wait, I’ll read it to you: ‘Mulder was awfully nice to me about it. Even though the guy turned out not to have a gun, and Mulder was yelling at me not to shoot, and I screwed everything up. It kind of knocked me for a loop, having Mulder be so kind. Stupid, but I never expected anything like that. Like he wasn’t going to be a real human being, he was just going to be the mark and I’d never have to worry about what anything I might have to do was going to do to him. Damn, I wish he’d just forget about this stuff, and do his job. Maybe if they transferred him out of D.C. he’d settle down. Send him to L.A. or somewhere, give him something really interesting to work on, not all this boring wiretap junk, so he won’t mind losing the X-Files so much. Get him away from Scully, too. Really away, not just a two-hour drive to Quantico, did they really think that was going to stop him from seeing her? I made the recommendation, but I don’t think my boss is going to listen to me. Well, I suppose he’s got his reasons, I know there’s a lot of stuff going on I don’t know about, but it just seems mean, to keep letting Mulder get so close and then cutting him off at the knees. Makes me almost feel sorry for him.’ ”

She looked up again, and her smile was sad and regretful. “Sounds like he didn’t know what he was getting into at all.”

Mulder blinked several times. “Yeah.” He could hear the huskiness in his own voice. “You know, he was probably right, too. I wonder why they never transferred us to other field offices? It would have been so much easier.” She hadn’t yet gotten to the night he’d made his move—on both of his partners. The anticipation was making him ache. Should he just tell her now and get it over with?

“I don’t know. Maybe they thought it would be easier to keep an eye on you if you were here. What’s happening in your volume?”

Mulder cleared his throat. “Ah, he’s holed up in Calgary. It’s sometime after he took off. He doesn’t date his entries, I’m not sure exactly when. He’s doing a lot of thinking, wondering what he could have done differently.”

Her laugh was rueful. “I could tell him that.”

“Me too.” But it wasn’t quite so simple, was it? Krycek had been proven right in his worry that Cancerman would try to kill him if he rebelled. And—was he right about Mulder, too? What would he have done if Krycek had told him the truth, that last night in Montana? Would he have been able to listen, and forgive? Or would he have turned away, angry and betrayed, and thrust Krycek out of his life? “I guess it all looked different from where he was sitting.”

She sighed. “Yes. It can’t have been easy for him. He was playing a dangerous game.” She lifted her book, and began to read again.

“Scully?” Mulder’s hands gripped his own volume.

She looked up expectantly.

“Those things I was telling you about….” His throat closed on the words. He swallowed and shook his head. She’d find out soon enough. Why put himself through it? “Let me know when you get there. You’ll know.”

She nodded thoughtfully. Mulder tried to smile, and returned to his own volume.

* * *

It was painful reading. At times, tears filled his eyes, blurring the pages so that he had to stop and force back sobs, waiting for his breathing to slow, so that he could continue. The job that called Krycek out of Calgary was, as he’d suspected, something bad. The assassination of Mulder’s father. Somehow he’d always known that it was Krycek, although he knew perfectly well that he had no real evidence, but even so, seeing it written in Krycek’s own hand was far more wrenching than he could have imagined. But now, he also saw the threats, the anguish and remorse that had accompanied that action, and the agitated jumble of the words on the page twisted in his guts like tiny knives of ink. Astonishingly, as the damning words burned into his eyes, his hatred shifted, sliding across Krycek to focus on the Cancerman, and the fierce protective desire he’d once felt, long ago in Montana, welled up again. How dare you make him do that, his anger burst out at his enemy. How dare you hurt him like that. He’s mine.

* * *

A hand gently touched his arm. “Mulder?” He looked up, startled, to find Scully standing at his side, her eyes dark with concern.

He sat up, dropping the book on his desk, and wiped at his eyes with his shirt sleeve. “I’m okay. He’s writing about my father. He did it, Scully. Cancerman told him if he didn’t, he’d kill Samantha.”

Scully swallowed. “My god.”

He glanced at the volume in her hand. “How far did you get?”

She put her own book on the desk, smoothing the cover with her hand. Her mouth tightened into a painful smile. “I finished this one. It ends just after he disappeared.”

“Then you know.”

“That you had an affair with him? Yes. Mulder… he was in love with you.”

“So he kept telling me.”

“He kept telling you?”

Mulder took a deep breath. “That night in Montana. Then after we got home, that last night.” He turned to her, taking her hands in his, and looked up into her face. “After you were taken. I tried to get him to stay with me that night, but he wouldn’t. He kept saying he had to tell me something first, but he couldn’t tell me then. But he told me to remember what he’d said. ‘Always remember that’—that’s what he kept telling me. And then, about three months ago, he turned up at my apartment one morning with an empty gun, and told me again. He was leaving the country, he said, and he wanted to tell me before he left.”

Scully looked away, her eyes growing shiny, her lips pressed together. “My god. Poor Krycek.” She looked down at him, and her mouth trembled. “Poor Mulder.”

Mulder shook his head. “He should have… he should have….”

“Mulder, he said that he was going to start taping his conversations with his boss. I wonder if this tape…?”

The microcassette. He’d forgotten all about it, engrossed in the diary and his roiling memories. “Where’s the tape player?” He released Scully, and began scrabbling around on his desk. It was time for a break, past time, although god only knew if listening to whatever was on that tape was going to be any easier than reading Krycek’s diaries.

Scully helped him find the tape player, and then settled back into her chair to listen with him. He inserted the cassette, switched it on, and sat back.

* * *

“Mr. Krycek, how was your vacation?” No mistaking that voice. It was Cancerman.

And the answering voice was Alex Krycek’s. “Fine. Not quite what I had in mind, but….”

“It’s unfortunate that your career in the FBI was cut short. I’d hoped to keep you in place considerably longer.”

“Yeah. Me too.” Krycek’s voice was weary.

“But you can still be useful to us. I have a job for you. This may be a little more difficult for you, but if you can complete this assignment satisfactorily, then you’ll still have bright future with us.” Smooth, as always. Unemotional. As if they were discussing the weather.

“What is it?”

“I want you to terminate someone—a member of our group who has become dissatisfied, and threatens to reveal certain facts about our project.”

Mulder’s hands gripped the arms of his chair.

“I… I’m not a killer.”

“When you first joined us, you said you would do whatever was necessary.”

“But that was different! That wasn’t… I was supposed to be working undercover, keeping tabs on Mulder. Not some kind of professional assassin.”

“You got to be quite fond of Mulder, didn’t you? That’s always a danger of this kind of work. You pretend something long enough, and you begin to believe it. You should like this assignment, then. You’ll be protecting Mulder, in a way.”

“What do you mean?” Krycek was wary, untrusting, yet there was a flat sadness in his voice, as if he were already resigned to what he would be forced to do. Mulder’s teeth clenched.

“We’ve been watching Agent Mulder’s father for some time now. There has always been a danger that he might be tempted to tell his son more than it would be safe for him to know. That unfortunate business with the young woman who pretended to be the daughter, Samantha, has only made the problem worse. We can’t take the risk any longer. He’ll have to be removed.”

“You… you want me to kill Mulder’s father?”


“And I’m supposed to believe that this is protecting Mulder?” There was a sharp bitterness in Krycek’s voice now.

“If his father were to tell him too much, we’d have to eliminate them both. I’m sure neither of us wants that to happen.”

Bastard, Mulder thought. Liar.

“I… I don’t know if I can do it.”

“There is one other option. We could terminate Samantha Mulder. Perhaps that would be a better solution in the long run. End Mulder’s quest once and for all.”

And there it was. It was true, what Krycek had written. The bastard had threatened Samantha. Used his sister to force Krycek to commit murder.

“Kill Samantha? That would destroy Mulder.”

“I would prefer the first option, myself. But it will have to be one or the other.”

“But why me? Why make me do this?”

“I think you know the answer to that.”

There was a pause. When Krycek continued, his voice was rough with pain. “You want Mulder to hate me. You want to make sure I can never go to him and tell him the truth.”

“I think we’ll all rest easier, when you’ve finally been able to put all your doubts about the choices you’ve made to rest.”

“And if I refuse, you’ll kill Samantha.”

“Those are the options.”

“And you’ll kill me.”

“I don’t like to make threats. But you know our methods.”

There was another very long pause. Mulder and Scully both sat motionless in their chairs. The faint squeak of the tape player hubs turning filled the still air of the room. Finally, very quietly, Krycek’s voice emerged.

“All right. All right, you win. I’ll do it.”

* * *

Mulder reached out angrily and punched the stop button, so hard the tape player jumped on the desk. “Damn it, Scully. Damn it. He was just a stupid, green kid who didn’t know any better. Why did they have to do it to him?”

Scully sat staring at the tape player. Then, she put her hand on the first volume of Krycek’s diaries, and pushed it a few inches across the desk toward him. “I think you should read this.”

* * *

The afternoon wore on into evening. Mulder sat until his back grew stiff and his stomach empty, reading. Scully sat across from him, likewise. At first, he cried while he read, the tears streaming down his face until he no longer bothered to wipe them, watching them with vague curiosity as they stained his tie. Eventually, the pain passed beyond the point of tears, and his mind went numb as he took in all of Krycek’s confusion, suffering and guilt. He relived with him the poignant and heady excitement of the days in Montana, his face burning as he finally discovered the source of Krycek’s resistance and pain. He read of Krycek’s horror as the events of Scully’s abduction unfolded, saw the helpless reluctance with which he followed his orders and helped them take her. He followed Krycek to Calgary, to San Francisco, and to Hong Kong, reading page after page filled with Mulder’s name, even months after Krycek had left, and all hope was gone.

The third volume was short and bitter. This was the man Mulder had encountered in Hong Kong barely a week ago—angry and desperate and beaten down, with no future to look forward to, and no pleasure to ease the crushing emptiness of his days. He’d reduced his goals and needs to this: survival for another day, clinging to his life with a tenacity that was almost mindless in its unreasoning fierceness. He’d discovered an animal cunning in himself that he regarded with ironic amusement.

* * *

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll live. Probably not long. He’ll catch up with me eventually, there’s no way I can stay out of his reach forever, especially now that I’ve started selling information from the tape. Strange to think that I’m committing treason by doing this. Strange to think I’m doing it and I don’t care. I used to think the law was a wonderful thing, shining and noble and worthy of one’s life, like knights in armor defending its honor. Lady Justice, with her blindfold and scales. It used to give me chills to look at her. I used to love my FBI badge, like I loved my job, like I loved Fox Mulder. Well, I’ve lost all that. All I’ve got left is my life, which isn’t worth a Hong Kong nickel. Still, I hang onto it. I’m a thorn in that bastard’s side, and that’s worth something. I can’t help Mulder, but I can worry his enemies. I hope I can give them a good run before I die.”

* * *

Mulder laid the volume down, and took a ragged breath. Scully, who’d been listening to the tape on headphones, switched off the tape player and pulled the headphones off. “If we can get a voice analysis on this tape, we can nail him for ordering your father’s death. And mine.”

Mulder stared at the tape. She was right, it was hard evidence against Cancerman. It hadn’t even occurred to him, he’d only been thinking of Krycek. “We’d need Krycek’s testimony to nail it down. And he’s….”

“We need to find him. We can offer him immunity for his testimony, put him in the witness protection program.”

“Scully. He wouldn’t live a day in custody, you know that. Even if we could find him. If he’s still alive in the first place.”

She frowned thoughtfully. “There’s no reason to think he’s dead. The diver and his wife both recovered fully. And there’s been no body found. They’ve never been too concerned about hiding the bodies.”

Mulder closed his eyes. Alex Krycek, alive. Somewhere. Running, hurting, desperate. “If he’s alive, using the tape will be the surest way to kill him.”

Scully didn’t answer. Mulder opened his eyes, to find her regarding him carefully. He looked away, hurt by the intensity of her gaze.

“Mulder,” she began quietly, “maybe we should back up a little. The diaries, obviously, we won’t use. He never mentioned his boss by name, or described him in any way that would absolutely identify him. The diaries aren’t evidence against anybody but Krycek, and we don’t need evidence against him. Arresting him would be as good as killing him, as you’ve said.”

“Not to mention that they’d damage the reputation of a certain FBI agent.”

The attempt at humor was pathetically weak, but Scully beamed at him just the same. “So we’ll seal them and put them away, and with any luck, they’ll mold away before anyone ever gets the notion to look at them.”

Mulder sat up suddenly. God, that was another thing that had never occurred to him—the diaries were evidence in a Federal investigation. They’d been counted and logged in and couldn’t just be made to disappear, not without questions and further investigations. “Scully, if anybody reads those, I’m finished.”

Scully shook her head slowly. “I don’t think so. Technically, you didn’t do anything wrong. Relationships between partners are discouraged, but not forbidden outright. And neither is homosexual activity. They’d have to have some other reason to use it against you. And they’d need some sort of corroborating evidence. The diaries alone don’t constitute proof, especially without Krycek to back them up.”

Mulder just sat there, unable to speak. It was all too much. Krycek, Cancerman, evidence… he didn’t know what to say.

Scully sighed. “Look, this isn’t what’s important right now.” She picked up the first volume of the diaries, and held it thoughtfully, stroking the sad flowered cover. “You’ve hated him for a long time. He betrayed you, and hurt you terribly. But you cared about him once, a lot more than I ever realized. Maybe more than you realized. And now, we have his side of the story. And it looks like he had reasons for doing some of the things he did that mitigate his actions. I know I feel differently about him now. How about you?”

“I don’t know.” Mulder took the diary from her, and opened it to the first page. I met Fox Mulder today…. “He killed my father. He helped them take you.” He reached across the table and touched her face with his fingertips. Then he sighed. “He’s probably dead anyway. And even if he isn’t, we’ll never find him. How can I forgive him?”

“Do you want to forgive him?”

“What difference does that make?”

“Mulder, I’d say that makes all the difference. You don’t forgive someone because it’s convenient. Or because you have some guarantee that things will work out if you do, or because what they’ve done falls into some predefined set of forgivable sins. You forgive them because they’re sorry, and because you want to. Because you care enough to want to heal the damage done.”

Mulder felt his lip tremble. Tears clouded his eyes. “I want to. But it’s too late.”

Scully took the microcassette out of the player, and held it thoughtfully in her fingers. “Maybe not. Krycek made this tape for protection, but apparently he never got the chance to use it. Maybe it could still be used.”

A faint smile touched his mouth. “Agent Scully, that tape is Federal evidence.”

“And this tape will go safely into Federal evidence storage. Along with those diaries. Where, unfortunately, it will most likely be mislabelled and buried at the bottom of some file drawer and never seen again. But I think it would be a good idea to make a copy, just for safekeeping. Don’t you?”

Mulder managed a laugh—small and fragile, but genuine. Thank god for Scully. Thank god. “Yes, I think that would be a very good idea.”

Alex. Maybe it wasn’t too late.

But they had to work fast.

* * *

Mulder stood in the hallway, hand poised to knock on the man’s apartment door. He’d been here only once before, back in some of the darkest days of his life, when Scully, finally returned, lay dying in the hospital. He’d been given the address by someone—he thought it was Skinner, but he couldn’t be sure—and he’d come here, crazy with grief, not really sure what he meant to do, waving his gun and right on the edge of losing everything, to confront the man who’d taken Scully from him. Well, he’d gotten Scully back, and now he wanted Krycek back, and he’d come once again to confront this man. Not with a gun this time, but with a tiny cassette tape in his pocket. Funny, he knew the man’s address, but he still didn’t know his name.

He knocked. He could hear the television through the apartment door, so he knew the man was home. He waited patiently, trying to smooth his features, trying not to look like the homicidal maniac he felt inside, to present the face of a reasonable man to the spyhole. I just want to talk, he rehearsed. I’m not armed.

The door opened, and there Mulder’s nemesis stood, face an emotionless mask, ever-present cigarette in his hand, wreathing smoke around his fingers.

“Mr. Mulder. To what do I owe the pleasure…?”

“I want to talk to you. About Krycek. I’m not armed.”

“No reason for you to be.” The man stood aside, and allowed Mulder to step into the room. A small apartment, not so different from Mulder’s own, except for the haze of cigarette smoke, and the glass of bourbon on the side table. An old western movie played on the television. “Would you like a drink?”

“No. What I want is Krycek. I want you to let him go.”

The man sat in his well-worn easy chair, and gestured Mulder to the couch. Mulder ignored the gesture and stood where he was, several feet from the man’s chair. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, letting the feel of the cassette pricking his fingers calm him.

“What makes you think I have him?”

“He was there at the silo. I know. Cardinale told us where Krycek was headed before you had him killed. We saw the men there with the radiation burns. He was there, and so were you, and you have him. Or you know what happened to him.”

“What makes you think he’s alive?”

Mulder’s fists twisted in his pockets. “If he isn’t, show me a body. Let me bury him. Let me call his mother and tell her, so she doesn’t worry for the rest of her life. Let me put him to rest.” Tears gathered, and he fought them back.

“And if he is alive?” The man smoked his cigarette. Mulder wanted to hit him.

“Let me have him. Give him back to me, like you gave Scully back.”

“And why should I do that?”

“For the same reason.” Why her and not me? Mulder had demanded, that time before. And the man had replied, I like you. I like her, too. That’s why she was returned to you.

For the first time, there was just the tiniest crack in the man’s equanimity. He looked away, taking a quick drag on his cigarette, a quick gulp of his bourbon. Then he was looking back at Mulder, calm and smooth as ever. “I do like him. But he’s a danger to me.”

The pieces of the puzzle fell suddenly into place. Mulder swallowed a choking gasp that was almost a laugh, and a glow of hope began to gather in his chest. You bastard, Mulder thought, daring to let a triumphant note creep into his inner voice. You’re in love with him too. It had all been there in Krycek’s diaries, although Krycek himself had never seen it: the continued attempts to bring Krycek in line, to bind him with the awful deeds he was forced to commit, to drive a wedge between him and Mulder. The ridiculous lie about Mulder’s father, a sad attempt at comfort when Krycek’s grief over what he’d been forced to do threatened to overwhelm him. The strange, calm pleasure with which the man discovered that his clumsy attempt to eliminate his recalcitrant operative had failed. And the final, damning proof—Krycek was still alive, despite everything he’d done. Cancerman had him, and it would have been so easy to kill him, so easy to clean up his body along with the other radiation-burned troops in the silo, and every reason to do so, and no possible reason to keep him alive.

Except that he didn’t want to. He loved his precious, rebellious, impossibly innocent fallen angel of an agent, and couldn’t bring himself to kill him. Now all he needed was an excuse, a reason to let him go. And watching Mulder beg, having Mulder owe him a favor—wouldn’t that be the most pleasant reason of all?

Mulder crushed his fist around the microcassette in his pocket. He wasn’t going to need it. His heart pounded in his chest. “Not if you let him go. All he wants is to be free. He won’t hurt you, please, just let him go.”

“Are you guaranteeing his behavior?” There was just a trace of a smile on the man’s face.

“Yes.” Some part of himself wondered that he so easily made this promise. But he’d read those diaries. He knew what Alex Krycek wanted, and it wasn’t revenge, and it wasn’t the truth, and it wasn’t justice. It was Fox Mulder. He could guarantee this. “He can’t hurt you. He doesn’t know enough, he’d be in too much trouble himself if he tried. You’ve got the DAT tape back. He’s just an unhappy employee, who wants out of his contract. Let him go.”

“And you’re willing to forego the use of whatever knowledge Krycek might have?”

“Yes.” This was a little harder. But that knowledge was out of his reach, anyway. It was Alex’s death if he used it, and he was willing to trade it for Alex Krycek, solid and real and in his arms.

The man took one more long drag on his cigarette, then stubbed it out in an overflowing ashtray. Taking another cigarette from the pack sitting beside the ashtray, he lit it with his silver lighter. Mulder watched the smoke drift up, barely breathing, waiting.

Then the man looked up at him and nodded. A slight smile stretched his mouth. “I believe you’re an honorable man, Mr. Mulder. We have a deal.”

* * *

Mulder and Scully pulled up their rental car in front of the missile silo in the bright glare of a clear midday sun, as they had just days ago. The site appeared just as empty as it had then, but they knew that this time the cigarette-smoking man would not be arriving with his goons to haul them away. In fact, that man himself had promised that no one at all would be there, except for the one man they had come to find. Behind the door of silo 1013, no doubt hungry and thirsty and frightened, but still alive, Mulder would find his other lost partner.

They’d spent the rest of the night, before they caught the early morning flight to Fargo, North Dakota, negotiating with Skinner to drop all the warrants against Krycek. Mulder had to chuckle about that—Skinner had been a much harder sell than Cancerman, and of course they couldn’t show him the diaries in explanation of their sudden change of heart toward their erstwhile enemy. Mulder had ended up spinning an elaborate semi-true tale about secret deals with Cancerman and Krycek at which Skinner, already at a disadvantage from being awakened at two in the morning by his two brightest and best but most irritating agents, finally threw up his hands and agreed that yes, all right, they didn’t have any solid evidence against him anyway, and yes, he would no doubt be killed the day he was put in custody, so if they were willing to forget everything Krycek had done, so was he.

So it was all going to be all right. Mulder could barely believe it. All he had to do now was walk into the silo, go eight stories down to the bottom, and open door 1013, and he would have Alex back. His skin tingled at the thought. His knees were like jelly, and his hand froze on the door handle.


He smiled sheepishly at Scully, who was grinning at him from the driver’s seat. (You drive, Scully. I’m too nervous. He’d expected to be teased unmercifully, but all he’d gotten was one lift of her expressive eyebrow.)

“I’ll wait here for you,” she told him. “But don’t take too long. I’d hate to get worried and go down there to find you in the middle of your reunion.”

All right, she couldn’t resist at least one dig. Mulder forced a laugh, while his face flamed. He hadn’t thought about that, though—never mind, he hadn’t brought any condoms with him, and anyway, Krycek was going to be starving and miserable and in no shape for sex. Soon, though. Very soon. Mulder took a deep breath. Then another. Finally, he opened the car door and stepped out. He turned to say something to Scully, but found that he couldn’t speak past the huge, silly grin on his face.

Scully’s answering smile was warm and generous and full of affection. With his heart so full he could barely breathe, he nodded and went into the silo.

* * *

Door 1013. Mulder’s hands were shaking as he turned the wheel to open it. It was dark inside, and he could see nothing through the glare on the glass in the small window. He stood back and pulled the door open.

Alex Krycek stood several feet away in the doorway, blinking in the light. Still wearing the black leather jacket and black jeans and grey shirt he’d been wearing when Mulder had found him in Hong Kong a week ago. Still wary and desperate. Several days more growth of beard; several days less sleep. He was red-eyed and shaky and streaked with oil. He was the most beautiful thing Mulder had ever seen.

“Hello, Alex,” he said softly.

“Mulder.” Krycek’s voice was flat and toneless. “Go ahead and kill me. I’d rather it was you than him.” His shoulders hung, defeated. And he offered up his life.

Mulder’s eyes stung. “I’m not here to kill you, Alex. I’m here to take you home.”

Krycek flinched, as if he’d been hit. Then he stood blinking, unable to comprehend it. His mouth worked. Heedless of the oil and dirt, Mulder stepped up to him and folded him into his arms. It felt like sheer heaven, oil and leather and hot trembling flesh. Krycek made a small, helpless sound and melted into him.

“Mulder, I… I….” Krycek’s warm breath tickled the hairs on his neck.

“It’s all right,” Mulder whispered. Then, suddenly remembering Krycek’s long days locked up here in the dark, he pulled one arm free to find the bottle of water in the capacious pocket of his anorak.

Krycek took it eagerly, and as he drank, Mulder stroked his hair and explained, “We found your diaries and the tape. I understand now, Alex. I’m sorry I wouldn’t listen to you before.”

Krycek’s face twisted, and the empty bottle fell to his feet. “Oh, god, Mulder, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry about everything, I made so many mistakes….”

Mulder crushed him into his arms again. “It’s all right. Everything’s all right. Come on, let’s get out of here. Scully’s waiting for us up top.”

Still dazed, Krycek allowed himself to be led out of the silo. But then, in the corridor, he pulled away and stopped. His face was frightened and desolate again. “Mulder, he’s going to kill me.”

“No, he won’t,” Mulder smiled gently. “I talked to him. He agreed to let you go.”

Krycek shook his head, once. “He did? Why?”

“Because he likes you. I don’t know, maybe he felt sorry for me. I had to promise we’d never use anything you know against him, but I didn’t think that would be a problem.”

Krycek stood, mouth hanging open. One choked laugh bubbled from his throat. Then, a smile split his face and he laughed again. “He’s Germont.”

“What?” Mulder smiled back, playing along, glad to see Krycek finally coming out of his shock. Poor guy, he was delirious with relief. Not to mention hunger. Well, he had a right. Mulder himself was giddy with it: Krycek standing there in front of him, solid flesh and bone, touchable and takeable and every inch of him Mulder’s.

“Germont. Alfredo’s father.” Krycek shook his head, then giggled. It was like a million tiny sweet fingers tickling Mulder’s skin. “You remember, Mulder. La Traviata. Germont forces them apart, but in the third act he relents and lets Alfredo and Violetta be together again.”

Mulder laughed, a long, happy laugh. “Well, I’ve often thought my life had operatic overtones.”

Krycek’s smile widened. “Here’s where I die of consumption.”

Mulder pulled him into his arms again, decided damn the oil and pressed his lips to Krycek’s. Krycek’s eyes fluttered shut, and he returned the kiss delicately. There was a sharp tang on Mulder’s lips, but the soft, warm roundness of the mouth beneath his was sweet as nectar. “Not this time, Violetta,” he whispered into Krycek’s ear.

He stepped back, still holding Krycek around the shoulders, and began once again to lead them toward the exit. “Not this time,” he repeated. “This opera has a happy ending.”

Krycek smiled crookedly, and happy tears dripped down his cheeks, making trails in the dirt and oil on his face. Would he still cry when Mulder made love to him, now that there were no secrets between them? Somehow, Mulder thought he would. And somehow, the thought made him very happy.

He had his Krycek back. He didn’t intend to let him go again.


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