"It seems so much darker with the lights on," he heard Krycek murmur, and he thought about it, and realized it was true. Or at the very least, that it felt true.
They were in the street in front of the split-level townhouse, and surprisingly few of the houses on Krycek's side of the street had motion light detectors. A velveteen orange darkness swirled in the whispering trees, while the brass glare from the streetlights across the way invited the night to skulk there like a living ring of sightlessness.
He didn't nod, but got the impression that Krycek knew he agreed with him.
Krycek's feet seemed heavy on the stairs, and he was at the landing and dragging his keys from his pocket before he really seemed to notice that Mulder was still standing behind him.
"Look, Mulder, I appreciate the thought, but..."
"I don't feel like driving for another two hours," he shrugged. "I don't know how you commute so far every fucking day."
Krycek's face tightened, and he opened his mouth -- and then closed it again.
"You can crash on the couch."
The apartment was astonishingly utilitarian. The furniture looked as shabby and anonymous as any motel set, and there was nothing on the walls, nothing on the shelves ... nothing.
Mulder didn't bother to look in the refrigerator. He knew what wouldn't be there.
"I just moved in," Krycek reported mechanically.
"Right. Love what you've done with the place."
The debriefing had been, surprisingly, brief, and when Krycek had suggested they bug out of Gotham and wing back to DC, Mulder had given him his head. Better to shiver out the night terrors in your own bed.
Or not, Mulder mused, as he noticed the fine down of dust on the kitchen counter.
Krycek piled a set of sheets on the couch and wordlessly headed off to his bedroom.
Mulder gave Krycek what he considered ample time to puke, brush his teeth, shower, change, puke and brush his teeth again before rapping on the door.
"What?" Even his voice sounded pale.
"Can I come in?"
Alex opened the door and peered at him, lifting his chin, and pasting that pissant frown above his browbones.
"Do I look like a damsel in distress?"
"Not in that dress, no." And it was true: Alex Krycek was all man beneath those three dollar suits. Muscled thighs climbed out of blue boxers, muscled shoulders shrugged from the sleeves of his T-shirt, and writhed beneath the taut cotton. How the hell had he thought this barrel chested greenhorn stringy?
But his face... High cheekbones, a kid's nose. The eyes were...
Dark. Hard. Glinting. The man's upper lip seemed too short to cover his teeth...
"Would you mind sitting up with me for a while?"
Krycek tilted his head, clearly wary.
"Well, I was held at gunpoint recently, and I'm a little shaky about it," he replied easily.
"Bullshit, Mulder. I don't need this. I don't need some kind of damned baby-sitter."
"I just thought you might want to talk about it."
"Yeah, well, Mulder, I don't wanna talk about it, I want to get some sleep," and he made as if to close the door, but Mulder braced the flat of his hand against the fresh white paint.
"So lay down. I'll sit up, do my nails, tell you about how I got on the cheerleading squad, it'll be just like Girl Scouts all over again--"
The look Krycek gave him was priceless, but he sputtered, sparked and tipped his receding chin up again, belligerent.
"I don't know what kind of weird thrill you're getting out of this, Spooky, but if you think I'm--"
"The first time is hard, Krycek. Trust me. I know."
This seemed to unsettle Krycek; he leaned back, took a deep gulping breath, exhaled it staring at the floor.
He padded back to his bed, slipped under the sheets and closed his eyes. He sighed again when he heard Mulder draw up the straight-backed kitchen chair Mulder had filched from the unused dining set.
"You sure you don't wanna talk about it?"
"You're the one who seems so big on talk, Mulder. Why don't you tell me why the hell you're hovering over me like a goddamned mother hen?"
Mulder shrugged, but Alex, with his forearm draped over his eyes, couldn't hear that, so he cleared his throat and stared at his shoes in the dull gloom of Krycek's flat, spare bedroom.
The room smelled empty to him, despite the scent of shampoo and the low even breathing of the other man.
"I killed a man."
That breathing stilled, or became so shallow that Mulder couldn't hear it-- he couldn't see Krycek's chest moving in the near dark, although he tried, and then he continued.
"And about a second too late I shot another man hard on his heels."
He heard the rustle of bedclothes as Krycek shifted, rolled to face him, brought his arm down from his eyes. Mulder knew Krycek's eyes were closed, but it was enough to know he was listening.
"I was pretty green. He was my partner. I let some psychotic bastard shoot him right in front of me, because it wasn't policy to take the shot I had...
"And when I saw Steve slide to his knees, I pulled the trigger and sent that fucker to the hospital."
"The morgue," Krycek murmured.
"You killed him. The guy who shot your partner. You killed him. Sent him to the morgue."
Mulder shook his head ... sighed, tried to get comfortable in the damned chair.
"Yes and no.
"I... I have some issues." He wondered why the hell he wasn't shutting up, but went with his gut, plowed on. "Wallenberg- Steve-- I was supposed to protect him, it was my job, it was my duty, and I wanted to, jesus, I wanted to... But it didn't work out that way.
"And when Steve went down, it killed the last part of me that believed, that really believed, that I could protect anybody.
"That night ... it was just about the worst night of my life. I was just there, shaking, and...
"And I sweated it out, I rode it, I came out alive, but it was hard. More than anything I wanted someone there. Talking. Holding my fucking crybaby hand, because, I'll tell you... that first death, it takes a lot out of you.
"Maybe you're tougher than I was. Maybe you're glad. Proud. Maybe you should be. You thought he had a gun, you did what you had to do to protect your partner, to protect me-- so I guess I'm trying to thank you. And that's why I'm hovering over you like a goddamned mother hen."
Prolonged silence filled the room like smoke, and Krycek shifted beneath the sheets again, the gentle sound of cotton against cotton whispering reassurances to Mulder's ear.
Maybe half an hour had passed, and Mulder was nodding in his chair when the asphalt rasp of Krycek's voice, muffled by the pillow, brought him blinking back into consciousness.
"Yes and no."
"Did you kill him? The bastard who shot your partner?"
Mulder scrubbed his face with his hands.
"About a year ago, he 'died' in prison. But it turned out that -- it's a long story. But basically, I shot the fucker. And this time, he went under the knife and didn't come up again.
"But not before shooting my partner."
"He what?" Krycek was sitting up now.
Mulder made a bitter little plosive sound, a black parody of a laugh, and said, "Yeah. He shot Scully. That sick fuck shot her. But this time I was lucky, and Scully, who has always been smarter than me, was bright enough to wear a Kevlar vest, and so I didn't have to eat my gun.
"And that's enough talking for one night. Get some sleep, Krycek. It'll be light soon."
And he really didn't feel up to shouldering the burden of Krycek's gratitude, so, he hushed the other man, and resettled in his chair.
"Sleep. You should be glad you can."
"You just gonna stay there?"
Mulder didn't bother to glare at him.
The bedsprings creaked a little as Krycek shrugged, and settled into the pillow again.
Mulder waited until Krycek's breath was even before folding his arms and sliding into a fitful doze himself.
He felt something like gratitude to the night, before he slipped into sleep.
Soft words in the dark were much easier to accept than anything said by daylight. Easier to admit, to believe. The things that chew on your guts in the small hours were easier to wheedle out of your soul. He wondered, idly, what it would take to wheedle a few little rats of the past from Krycek's nighthooded heart.
Wondered if he'd still want to try in the strong, damning light of morning.