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Signs of Life

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"Gwyneth Paltrow needs to put on some weight."

This may have been a self-evident fact, but to Diana's mind, it bore repeating anyway. She cast a pitying look at the glossy photograph before turning the page.

"They say grey is the new black," she went on. "Which begs the question, is black still black? Or is it was-black, and now-suffering-an-identity-crisis?"

Krycek made a sound that might have been amusement, or irritation, or possibly just increased interest in the apartment opposite.

"Breasts are making a comeback," she said dryly. "That's a relief. I can dig mine out of the closet again."

Finally, he turned away from the window and looked at her. "Diana. Why do you read those things?"

"It's a girl thing," she mused. "You need something to talk about at the hairdresser, or else they ask what you do for a living. And then you have to say you're a triple agent embroiled in an intergalactic conspiracy to prevent a worldwide catastrophe, and then it's nothing but work, work, work to keep the conversation going. And to top it all off, you have to kill them when your hair is dry. It's a real downer. I went through three hairdressers and two manicurists before I subscribed to Vogue."

The delivery was deadpan, but Diana had never completely mastered the art of appearing unmoved by her own humour. She glanced at him sidelong. He was grinning. She broke into a smile, then laughed out loud with him. It was a girlish laugh. Not quite a giggle - not *Diana* - but with the same fresh and unselfconscious air as one. They had known one another for a very long time.

"Well," he said as their laughter died away, "if breasts are making a comeback, I don't think you'll have a problem." He nodded appreciatively to her tailored jacket and turned back to the window.

"I don't know," she said, moving the rear-view mirror and looking at herself critically. "I mean, what do they mean? Perky or voluptuous or what?"

He moved it back. "You're both, so who gives a shit?"

"You're not helping."

"Well, Diana, Consortium DNA manipulation doesn't extend into the cosmetic arena, so there's not much *I* can do about it."

Clearly, his patience with the small-talk was wearing thin, but she didn't like it when he lapsed into silence. Moodiness often followed. Late-night surveillance was tedious, but late-night surveillance with a bad-tempered Krycek was worse.

"Do you know, that's not strictly true," she said after a pause. "The latest lot of recommendations coming out of Litchfield include a specification of an A cup breast. They seem to think it's easier to standardise military training with a standard body type, and there was some crap about agility and centre of gravity in there, too."

"Yeah, I read that." He put down the camera with its telephoto lens and stretched. "You're fine, Diana. Quit worrying." She smiled at him, and he smiled too.

He seemed happier than before - that was a good sign. She turned the page. Calvin Klein ad. Male torso, well defined. She made an appreciative noise, holding up the photo for him to see. "Nice," she murmured. "Very nice." She waited for the inevitable smutty rejoinder.

Krycek looked at it. "What's the matter? I'm not man enough for you?" His teeth were bared into a predatory smile, but there was affection in his voice.

"Sure. But you're spoken for."

"Yeah," he said, turning back to the window. The smile faded from his face. His shoulders gradually settled down into a slump. Diana waited.

"How is she?" he asked after a while.

It was not a question she liked to answer, but he would consider her refusal a betrayal. Their friendship was old, and it could withstand many things, but not that. And in truth, talking about it was safer. That didn't seem to take him to such dark places as silence did.

Finally, she spoke. "She's holding up. Being brave. She's okay."

He turned to look at her. The lines of his jaw were tight and hard. "And I bet she's a picture of health, too," he said acerbically.

"That isn't fair, Alex. I have no more authority to remove her than you do."

He looked away. "Yeah. I didn't mean..." he trailed off. He did mean it, of course, but he looked back at her apologetically. "Sorry."

She found his hand on the steering wheel, squeezed it, and let go. "We're starting a new test series. Revision 4173 Alpha. It's a gentler formula. Less stress on the immune system," she said kindly. "That will help. And I've convinced Spender that now that she's our only test subject, he would do well to take better care of her. He's signed off on serviced rooms for her. She's comfortable. More or less."

"Bet you had to fight for that."

"He quibbled about the cost a bit, yes."

Krycek grunted, but she saw his hand tighten on the steering wheel.

"You know," she said, "you and I are pretty much all he has left now. I think if you asked again to have some input into her care, he'd agree to it."

"I don't know if I can do that," he said after a pause.

She didn't press him. "Well, whatever. I'll look out for her as long as I can."

"Thanks." He said it awkwardly, looking away from her, at the window. That was how she knew it was genuine.

"You know," she said tentatively, "I could probably get her a message-"

"Diana," he said, his voice full of warning.

She held up her hands. "Sorry. Just saying."

"Well, don't." He nodded to the building across the street. "Fuck it, he's just getting drunk and writing more Raoul Bloodworth mysteries on his typewriter. It's a washout."

"I've always wondered why he doesn't get a computer," she mused. "You wanna go?"

"Might as well," he said. "You're just gonna read Vogue all night anyway."

She shot him a withering look. "I'm pacing myself."

They fell silent for a while. Krycek drove. Diana went back to her magazine. An anorexic model stared dully at her. She looked uncomfortably like Marita. Diana grimaced with distaste and turned the page. She flicked past three or four pages of ads. Scanned what appeared to be a beauty column but turned out to be an advertorial for a new eye rejuvenation formula from one of Europe's more over-priced brands.

Diana frowned.

After a moment, she leaned up towards the rear-view mirror. She peered at herself. After a moment, she sat back and pulled her make-up mirror from her purse, and looked in that, too.

"Diana?" he said. She wondered whether he was pissed at her for touching his precious rear-view mirror. But no, he just looked puzzled. "What on earth are you doing?"

If it had been anyone else, she might have been embarrassed, but she merely turned to him and wondered, "Do you think I have crows' feet?"

"Of course you do," he said complacently. "We both do. What do you expect?"

"I am thirty-nine," she conceded.

Amusement coloured his voice. "You're forty-four."

"Whatever." He turned a corner, and the Watergate came into view. She wondered, "Do you think I need some work done?"

The quizzical look returned. "What are you talking about, Diana? You're beautiful, and you know it."

"I scrub up nice in Versace and Yves Saint Laurent," she corrected as he pulled into the parking lot. "That's not the same thing."

He pulled the brake, switched off the ignition, and looked at her for a moment - really looked at her. Frowning. "What's going on with you? It's not like you to be insecure." He turned in towards the centre of the car. He held out his arm, waiting.

She watched him for a moment, biting her lip, and sighed. She shifted over and let him draw her against him. Dipped her face to the warm flesh of his neck. His hand drifted idly into her hair. It was a warm moment, very nearly a romantic one, and they weren't given to those. That was for other people. Marita, for him, and Fox, for her.

She sighed again. It was a heavy, heartbreaking sigh, and she hated the sound of it. She hated him hearing it.

"This is about El Rico, isn't it." It wasn't a question.

She tried to pull away. "Drop it, Alex."

He didn't release her. "You haven't asked about Mulder and Scully since."

She tugged a moment longer, then relented, settling back into the crook of his arm. "I said drop it."

He was silent for a moment, and she thought that maybe he was going to let the matter rest. Oh, they'd had plenty of late-night deep-and-meaningfuls down the years, usually fuelled by vodka or something stronger, but true soul baring wasn't something either of them were well-equipped for. Too much of that in their line of work, after all, was a very good way of going mad.

"I know why he did it, Diana," he said after a while. "I know why Mulder left you that night."

So he wasn't going to drop it. Tit for tat, maybe. "Look, I know why he did it, and I really don't want to hear that right now, Alex, so could you just-"

"He loves you, Diana."

She shook her head. "No, he doesn't."

Well, that was more self-pity than anything. He did love her. He just didn't love her enough. She learned that when he left her the night of El Rico.

"He was prepared to risk himself to stop it," Krycek insisted. "Scully, too. But he wasn't about to risk you. He wanted you to live. No matter how it turned out."

She thought about it. This wasn't really a revelation to her, she realised, for all her self-pitying thoughts to the contrary. She knew Fox. She knew how he thought. It made perfect sense.

So why did she feel so lost? Why did she feel, to her mortification, tears rising in her throat?

"I know you're right," she said after some thought. "I know that. But we used to be partners, too. And I know I was the one who walked, Alex, but I still miss it." He stroked her hair, and she swallowed hard. It had been a long time since anyone had comforted her. "And Scully - she hates me so much. I know that shouldn't matter to me, but it does. I feel like screaming at her sometimes. She has no fucking idea. No idea what we go through. No idea why."

"I know," he said, more into her hair than to her. "She's so damn sure of herself. So's Mulder, but there are times when he seems to get it, too, you know?"

She nodded. "I felt that, the night of El Rico. That he finally understood. At least a little."

"For what it's worth," he said, "he hasn't told her about that. At least not in the office or at home or in their cars."

"Well, he wouldn't, would he? I'm his dirty little secret. God forbid his sainted Scully find out he was willing to sell out and take the hybrid genes and be with me." Her voice was bitter.

He pulled back to look at her. "Oh, come on, Diana. Give the guy a little credit."

"Since when are you his defender?"

"Look, you know I don't like him, but I don't believe he thinks like that, either. And neither do you. You wouldn't love him if that was what you really thought of him."

She felt a little ashamed of her outburst, because, no, she didn't really believe that at all. "No, I know. I know. It's just hard to feel anything else."

"I'll bet." He stroked her hair. "You know why he won't tell her about you, don't you?"

"Because she wouldn't understand."

He nodded against her. "Yes. But not the way you think."

She looked up at him. "I'm not following."

He looked away. "I never told you how Marita got infected, did I, Diana?"

She frowned, puzzled by the about-face in subject, but she went with it. Krycek always had a point. "It's in her file. She stole an infected hostage. For you, I suppose."

"No. Not *for* me. *From* me."

She stared at him.

"It's true," he said. "He was my hostage. We argued about it. She wanted to let him talk to Mulder. Mulder had his head in his ass about the whole colonisation thing at the time. You are fucking lucky we go back a ways, Diana, otherwise I'd have killed that bastard long ago."

She grinned at him. "You're all talk. You like him, deep down."

"I hate him, deep down. Anyway. We argued about it. I thought it was too risky. Too many things that could go wrong, either getting him to Mulder or getting him back."

"And she took him anyway."

He nodded. "I've never told anyone that, Diana. No-one knows, now that the Brit is dead. I deleted the specifics from her file myself."

She frowned. "Why? Why does it matter now? The old factions don't matter any more. We're all in this together now - we don't have a choice."

He shrugged. "I just - don't want them thinking of her like that. To them, she'd just be yet another double-dealing whore who traded her way to the top." He gave a mirthless laugh. "Stupid thing to care about, in the scheme of things, really."

"Maybe not," she said. She thought his actions had probably protected Marita, although she didn't say so. She knew how those bastards at Fort Marlene worked. If they thought a woman might give them sex - for showers, food, anything - they'd ask for it. But as far as she knew, Marita had been spared that particular indignity. "So you're saying Fox..."

"He won't say a word against you, Diana. He won't tell anyone anything that they might consider an indictment of you. Especially not Scully. He would never, ever tell her anything she could use against you."

"Because he loves me."

He nodded. "Because he loves you."

She felt cheered. "You really think so?"

Krycek nodded. "I know how men think. We're not that hard to figure out, you know. No harder than why women read Vogue, anyway." She laughed a little. He looked down at her, his expression less grave. "Hey. Even if I'm wrong, you both came out of El Rico drawing breath. Not many people can say that. Where there's life, there's hope."

"Yeah. Thanks."

He shrugged it off, but he looked pleased, just the same. "Ready to go in?" She nodded, and he opened his door. "I'll walk you up."

"Thanks," she said. They went to the elevator and waited. "You want to come in?"

He shot her a look. "Like we used to, you mean?"

The thought hadn't really occurred to her, but she shrugged. "If you want."

The nerve in his cheek flickered. "Not tonight, Diana." She thought he was thinking about Marita.

"Okay," she said. "But come in anyway?"

"Why?"

"Because if you're going to drink yourself into oblivion tonight, I want to be there to watch your back." He wouldn't ask her how she knew what he was going to do. She just knew.

He smiled a little. "Got vodka?"

"Of course."

"Russian?"

"What else?"

He smiled again, and nodded. "All right. Thanks." He turned to face her. Stroked back her hair off her face. "You know, you've got beautiful eyes."

"Crows' feet," she shrugged. Smiled anyway.

"I like them," he said, brushing her temple, near the corner of her eyelid with his thumb. "They're signs of life."

She said, right on cue, "And where there's life-"

"-there's hope. Yeah."

The elevator arrived, and she took his hand, and tugged him in after her.

Because they had been friends for a very long time.

 

END