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Same Everywhere I and II

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The Same Everywhere by Jane Mortimer

Sat Mar 08 20:37:15 1997
Newsgroups: alt.tv.x-files.creative
Subject: The Same Everywhere 1/4 (NC-17 slash)
Date: Sun, 09 Mar 1997 02:37:15 GMT

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Rated NC-17: No minors allowed. Sexual content, explicit language. Slash. If the thought of two men in bed bothers you, please read no further.
No one's trying to offend you here. This story was written for the sheer joy of creation and no other reason.
As you can see, events here take place post-Apocrypha in a non-Terma universe.
The characters, as usual, belong to Ten Thirteen. Anything else is (c) Jane Mortimer. Feedback may be sent to .


The Same Everywhere
By Jane Mortimer

Part 1 of 4

The Lost Lake Family Motel ("freezer available for fish and game") was not the sort of place Mulder would go on vacation, if he ever took vacations. It wasn't much of a resort, and did not seem greatly frequented by families, though the fact that it was mid-November might have had something to do with that. In fact, his room was the only one presently occupied. Lost Lake, at least, was properly lost, somewhere out beyond the evergreen, spruce, and maple, and he had no intention of looking for it.

He'd been here three days already. Three days in North Dakota in November, in an efficiency room with one table, one tiny refrigerator, a window with gingham curtains, a non-working television, and no VCR. He'd come here obediently as soon as the e-mail had arrived, last Thursday, and he'd waited obediently, but if no one showed up in the next twenty-four hours, he was going back to DC. He knew the rest of the world expected him to be obsessive, but they ought to at least provide entertainment while he proved them right.

He'd read the paperback he'd picked up at the airport three times. It wasn't nearly as tawdry as it pretended to be, and it was far too short. "Next time, =War and Peace,=" he said aloud, and tossed the dog-eared copy back on the bed.

There was a knock on the door. It =could= be the manager, though he should be drunk by this time of night. (Mulder didn't blame him; his TV didn't work, either.) He slid his gun from the holster strapped over the chair and walked to the door.

Another knock. He opened it.

And stared, frozen, as a blue and icy wind parted around him. Then he found that he was pulling his visitor inside, and that the barrel of the gun was pressing urgently against the man's skull.

"Hello, Alex," he said.

Krycek's voice said, "We need to talk." Only it was a voice as cold and certain and bottomless as the lake somewhere out there, and it was a voice Mulder was not unfamiliar with. Krycek's head turned to face him, and Mulder got a good look at his eyes.

Mulder was not normally given to profanity, but -- "Oh, fuck," he said.

"Well," said the alien, "that saved time. I wasn't sure you'd know me." He was pulling off a set of thick wool gloves as though he were a guest Mulder had just invited inside for a beer.

Mulder took a step back, still holding the gun. "You sent the e-mail." The alien didn't bother to dignify that with an answer. "Why?"

"I told you why in the letter. To offer you proof of a conspiracy to withhold information on an alien presence on Earth."

"Yeah." He spoke automatically, his thoughts still whirling. "But everybody who wants something tells me things like that. It's like saying they're attracted to me for my mind, and they'll respect me in the morning."

One of Krycek's eyebrows raised delicately. (=Nice control of fine-motor expression,= Mulder noted somewhere in the back of his mind.) "I'll respect you in the morning," the alien offered, throwing Mulder yet one more step off balance. It was a good thing he hadn't said he was attracted to--

"Do you want to sit down?" he asked abruptly, not knowing what else to do. God, his reflexes were shot to hell. Killing Krycek was one thing, but killing the alien with him was something else. And suppose the alien didn't die? He'd need another host, and options in this room were limited.

=You never do manage to shoot the people you think deserve it, do you? Cancerman, Krycek, the men sent to search your apartment -- =

=Shut up. There's good reason to leave him alone.=

=Oh, I know. There's always good reason, isn't there?=

Mulder motioned for -- it -- to take the chair by the window. Lately that inner arbiter had started using his father's voice, and he hated when that happened.

"Are you going to put away the gun? I'm really no threat."

Mulder set the gun very carefully down on the end of the bed, and strapped on his holster. Then he placed the gun inside it. He didn't plan on being in a room with any version of Alex Krycek without knowing where his weapon was.

The alien removed Krycek's black leather jacket and hung it on the back of the chair. "I'm hungry," he said.

For a second Mulder was surprised. But why shouldn't he be hungry? "Were you expecting an invitation to dinner? There aren't a lot of restaurants around here." The impassive alien face regarded him. Mulder nearly asked, "Will you really respect me in the morning?" But instead he just sighed and said, "Why don't you tell me what you wanted to talk about?"

"We have an area of mutual interest."

"Hockey? Victorian poetry? All-girl pirate movies?" He couldn't help it; he didn't trust this thing, it looked too human. And too familiar. But the alien just gazed back at him, waiting, and Mulder sighed. "You had some kind of a deal going with Cancerman, didn't you? And he stiffed you."

"He upheld the letter of our agreement. He said that he would return me to my ship and leave me free to do what I liked. He did. The fact that it was buried under twenty-six tons of concrete was irrelevant."

"It =was= in the silo. I knew it!"

"The concrete didn't have to be an obstacle. I knew that once I was united with my primary host -- "

"Primary host?"

"My ship."

This threw him. "Is your ship organic? I've only heard descriptions of mechanical craft."

"It =is= mechanical," said the alien, giving him a look that plainly said, =And your point is?=

"Okay, sorry, go on." =I'll make notes later.=

"Once reunited with my host, I could use the communications system to call for help. I transferred back into the ship. They had cameras rolling for that one, of course."

Finally, through the lack of affect, came a faint emotion: disgust.

Mulder said, "They're not great respecters of privacy."

"Evidently. Degrading though the concept was, I simply wanted to leave. Which was when I discovered the communications system no longer worked."

"This was something you hadn't noticed during fifty years of being stuck under the ocean?" The suspicion was back in his voice. Maybe this was really Alex Krycek he was sitting here chatting with, Krycek running a scam on him, and not for the first time. Krycek the helpful partner, Krycek the alien... just give you whatever you wanted to believe in...

"It had been working, but there was no point in using it. No one would have missed me yet."

And the eyes were pretty clear right now, weren't they? A nice, clear green. Maybe that other glimpse had been a trick of the light.

"I transferred back into Krycek, which was what they'd been expecting. They came in and took me to the nearest facility they could borrow for interrogation." His voice was thoughtful. "That wasn't much fun for them. Drugs didn't work and physically punishing this body meant less than nothing to me."

Abruptly his eyes clouded over. It was like dropping ink into water. Mulder drew in a breath.

"The one you call Cancerman decided to take over personally. He sent the others out of the room so we could have an intimate chat."

"And how did that go?" Mulder asked, still staring at the eyes, which were slipping back to green. He wouldn't have minded having a videocamera here, himself.

 "He wanted to impress the helplessness of my position on me. So without any warning, he stuck his face next to mine and shouted... He's not very bright, is he?"

Mulder grinned. As alien parasites went, he could learn to like this one.

It continued, "One of those psychological tricks he uses to try to throw people off balance." Almost a touch of irony. "Extremely rude, Krycek told me."

Mulder's grin half-faded. If he weren't a lying, murdering, test-tube of scum, he might almost like Krycek, too.

"He was waiting for a response. So I opened my mouth and spit some of myself at him. Once transfer was started there wasn't much he could do about it."

"Did you uncuff Krycek then," asked Mulder, fascinated, "make a deal, offer to let him go?"

"Why would I let my only potential ally leave? But my new position had some advantages. They'd known too much about me before I appeared, and now I saw why. There'd been an earlier ship."

Mulder considered that for a second. "I wonder how the communications system is on that one."

"Yes," it said, approval in its cold voice.

"They've got it somewhere," said Mulder, focusing in at once. "They never let anything go." Already he was sifting through possible contacts, locations, scenarios. Maybe he should take the alien back to Washington with him --

"They're very tidy in their organizational patterns," said the other. "The earlier ship has been moved to a room in the missile complex not far from the one I was in. They've begun using the base as a repository for salvaged items -- all that concrete, you know."

Of course the alien would know that. It would know, because --Mulder found his palms were damp and his heart was thumping under his shirt. He cleared his throat. "You've been in Cancerman's brain. You can tell me all about him, who he is, what his plans are -- "

"Why would I tell you what a former host is pleased to regard as his secrets?"

=Great. He had to get a creature who didn't want to be disbarred from the American Association of Bodysnatchers.=

All right. So for now they would focus on their area of "mutual interest."

"If they've moved into this 'repository' in bulk, I guess they've gone beyond a lock and an alarm system. How much do you know about the security measures?"

"Not enough." The alien regarded him with what might or might not be satisfaction. "Krycek knew you'd be the one to come to."

                         #

"A computer system like that would never be networked to the outside." They were both sitting at the table next to the gingham curtains, and crackers, soft cheese, jelly, and peanut butter were lined up before his visitor.

"You don't understand." For the first time the alien smiled. It was a cold little smile, and Mulder had no difficulty remembering that he was talking to someone of another species. "These are Important Men. They live in many places. They want to have the things they need at their fingertips."

Usually it didn't surprise him when politics overruled good sense, but -- "Can't they pick up a phone and ask someone at a central location to give them what they want?"

"And trust Cancerman's lackeys to give them the right answer? The security database belongs to him." The alien's hand moved over the selection of jars in front of him and stopped at the peanut butter. He twisted it open and took a spoonful. Mulder remembered the Butterfingers Krycek would buy from vending machines when he was too busy to eat; the alien was getting this stuff directly from Krycek, on the spot, as he needed it. "Besides, Cancerman is old-fashioned; he sees no reason to use computers himself, they're a tool for secretaries and technical staff. A person Krycek refers to as 'that idiot' convinced him that a firewall was as good as a physical separation."

=My. The possibilities here... =

"I have bread in the refrigerator."

"This is fine. Water would be helpful."

Mulder opened a gallon of spring water and poured him a glass.

"Now, this is just the database of security codes, right? We're not talking about the actual perimeter stuff."

"No. Once I have the codes, there remains the penetration of the physical system. And there's every possibility that by now they might be expecting me to go back to the repository."

"Although that's a leap of reason we needn't count on."

The alien paused halfway through the Skippy. "'We'?"

"That's why you're here, right? You want me to help you?"

There was a pause. "I was hoping for a little more than that, actually."

Mulder stared at him for a second. Then he reached for his gun.

And felt foolish, because the alien was just sitting there, not making a move. Maybe he'd misunderstood --

"Take it out if it'll make you feel more secure," said the alien. He'd put down the jar and was leaning back against the chair with that cool, judgmental look.

"Maybe," said Mulder carefully, "you'd like to explain."

"You're right," the other said, "I'd like to... exploit some of the possibilities you represent. But it would be entirely voluntary on your part."

"You've never been big on volunteers before."

A brief, cold smile. "I was rushed."

And that seemed to be the only explanation he was going to get on oil-slick ethics. "What's wrong with the body you've got now?"

"This operation will require more than one person, or even two. It needs a collective effort. Krycek has no friends, or none he can approach. Nor does he have money. You have both."

"I'm not exactly a party guy either," he warned. But he had to admit the alien was right; there were people he could ask.

And of course there was always Scully, but he didn't want her involved in this. It would draw attention if both of them set up camp here, and besides, he had a strong feeling Scully would object if he told her he was considering being possessed by a viscous liquid creature from beyond the stars. She was funny that way.

"I'd be willing to consider helping you without our getting to know each other quite that well," he said. "You being a tourist in distress, and all."

"I have expertise you lack. I know the database we're looking for, I know its set-up, I know what IDs and locations around the country would be likely points for us to target. And I know how the physical system is designed. The person in charge of this operation will need to be informed."

"Krycek is informed already. You're sitting here telling me these things."

"Would your friends be willing to accept direction from Krycek?"

They were barely tolerant enough to accept direction from =him.=

"And what do I get out of it?"

"Humanitarian satisfaction. The pleasure of annoying an enemy. And I'll leave you a present."

He laughed. "What kind of present? I'm warning you, my taste in ties probably doesn't fit the universal aesthetic."

"I have to get to know you first. Let it be a surprise."

                         #

His first clear thought was, if anyone was hare-brained obsessive enough to agree to this scheme it would be Mulder. Extreme alien contact and the chance to screw up his nemesis --put them together and Mulder would agree to any risky thing you suggested.

Which =he'd= known, so his guest had known.

He tried to pull away from Mulder -- no, from the alien.

"No," it said.

"Look, you've got what you want. You know I'm no threat. I just want to get out of here -- "

"I left you your memories for a reason."

The alien had him imprisoned against the wall. Krycek spared a longing glance for the door, but knew he'd never make it. "Yeah, you said that the last time you bounced in and out of my body. We had to cooperate then to get away. Well, we're away. I wish you luck, really, but I don't think there's much I can do for -- "

"There are no other people here I can trust."

Great. When he needed someone like Mulder to trust him he had to prove himself every day for weeks, and here alien beings were going out of their way to keep him around.

"I'm flattered. Really." It was amazing how sincere he sounded. Too bad the fine points of expression were probably wasted here. "But I don't know anything about the system you want to crack, and after all, these people know my face -- "

"No more than they know Mulder's. We don't want to call attention to our project, and that means keeping the number of newcomers to a minimum. I would appreciate your help."

It stepped back slightly and Krycek shifted an inch or two toward the door. There he stopped, because he knew he was pressing his luck. He thought quickly. So far the alien had gone around taking what it needed, but that last phrase had been almost polite. Maybe it was time for a more human argument.

"Mulder's getting a crack at something he wants. You're getting a chance to go home. I don't know how it is where you come from, but human society operates on the barter system, and so far I don't see myself coming out of this with much." He considered lodging a complaint about losing his tape, but since it hadn't really belonged to him, this might not be a moral area that would serve him well.

"I can put you on salary while you stay."

He was startled. "Where would the money come from?"

"Mulder's bank account."

He laughed involuntarily. "Was that his suggestion, or are you just operating on your own? Did you leave him conscious in there?"

The alien regarded him silently. Krycek wasn't used to seeing Mulder's face so unyielding; usually he showed every mental bruise and tic. In fact, in a world of general confusion and deceit, that had been one of Mulder's more likable qualities.

"It's a nice thought," Krycek admitted, "but not worth the risk. People around Mulder are always disappearing or getting killed." =And yes, I recognize the irony of that statement, but it is nonetheless true.=

The alien stepped closer again, and Krycek found that he was retreating toward the closed door. Breaking and running was an irrational temptation, and he controlled it; he knew how strong the other was.

It reached for him, placing one hand at the back of his neck, thumb near his jugular. He felt his heart pounding. It could break that neck like a matchstick, or just squeeze and hold till he strangled. It pulled him closer and placed Mulder's lips against his.

It was a different kind of shock entirely. Mulder's tongue ran over his lips and then pushed inside, and Krycek stopped trying to figure out what was happening. God knew he'd pictured this often enough; it wasn't as though his body would find it strange. In fact, he was pressed right back against Mulder even now, without having made any conscious decision to do so. His chain of strategy unlinked itself for the time being and dropped to the floor like so many toothpicks. Distantly he wondered, =Were my fantasies that obvious?=

Then hands were pushing him gently back. He opened his eyes and saw Mulder, about a foot away, his lips looking slightly and knee-weakeningly bruised. "This body. You've thought about it a lot. It can be made available."

Krycek drew back as though from a hot stove. "God, is he listening to this?"

"Why should you care if he is? He doesn't have a vote."

The alien had a point, he thought suddenly. Sure, Mulder would resent him later if he went along with this; but what did that mean? Mulder already blamed him for his personal losses and betrayals. After the execution of his father, a little passing sex could hardly make their relationship any worse.

He gave a smile he knew wasn't very nice. If Mulder was watching, let him see it and wonder.

"You could give me a sample," he said.

"You just had a sample."

"One kiss. That's nice, but it doesn't prove much. I have a better suggestion."

"Well?"

"A test of the merchandise. If you can make me come in a major way, I'll stay. But if I get bored anywhere along the... test procedure, I can walk out and you won't make a move to stop me." =And I win either way.=

For answer, it pulled him close again. The alien didn't lack confidence, but then that much had been clear from the beginning. It touched his neck with warm breath and followed that with a kiss just where the base curved into the shoulder. Krycek closed his eyes again. He felt hands pulling his shirt out from his pants and reaching up underneath to run over his skin.

=This had been... an incredibly good idea.= Pleasure was a limited experience in his life lately. He couldn't remember the last time that, that...

Hands descended down again, curving around his buttocks.

=...that it hadn't been a business transaction. Which of course this was too, but at least it was with someone he knew personally. So to speak.=

=Business transaction. Wait a minute...=

He opened his eyes. "Hold on."

He didn't really want to say it, since the other was engaged in touching mouth and tongue to his neck, chin, and forehead, while the hands on his ass were pulling him in against Mulder's cock. He still had a fair degree of confidence that he'd be able to stop and walk out in time, but just in case --

And the damned alien was ignoring him anyway. Krycek took a breath, forced his voice to sound controlled, and said, "Does Mulder happen to have any condoms on him? I know we didn't, and he probably doesn't anticipate fucking his contacts, as a general rule."

"Your concern isn't necessary. This body is free of any foreign infection. As was yours." The alien continued the kisses. "Except, of course, for me."

Free of infection? That was always nice to hear, although --"Why should I believe anything you tell me?"

"Why would I lie?"

"Maybe you... " He swallowed, as those lips brushed his lightly and then moved on. "Maybe you don't care what happens to your toys after you're finished playing with them."

"Consider the evidence." The breath of the words warmed his cheek, entered as a whisper into his ear, making his knees weak. "I've always taken care of my hosts. Fed them, kept them clean, saw to their physical needs." =All their needs, apparently.= "Left them without any memories of an invasion that might be traumatic."

It was true, the woman in Hong Kong had seemed more than healthy. "You left =my= memories."

The head drew back, and there was that crooked smile, slightly more edged than Mulder's, but with the same tinge of irony. "But you're strong enough to handle it."

"Gee," he said. "Thanks."

***********************************************************

Part 2 of 4

Five minutes later it was pulling the buttons off his shirt with its teeth. Mulder's teeth, rather. That mouth, those expressive lips... every time they engulfed a button he flashed on a different scenario entirely. He heard another one hit the floor and thought vaguely, =If somebody did this to you in any other circumstances, you'd want to kill them. Whereas right now I'm getting so turned on, I have a deep suspicion I'm going to end up working for an alien being.=

=Clink.= Another button on the floor. His cock responded to the sound like Pavlov's dog.

The part of his brain in charge of survival told him this had gone on far enough. He'd wanted his sample, and he'd known it would be playing with fire, but he'd also known that staying here would be even more dangerous. Taking away a few memories was one thing. Risking his life for a good fuck was dumb, dumb, dumb. =Are you listening to me?=

=Right. Get out of here, jack off when he was out of the danger zone, and continue with his life. Such as it was.=

Except this felt so good. He could go a while longer, couldn't he? He hadn't felt anything like this since -- well, not for a very long time, he thought, reflexively dropping the past. Who would have expected that an alien, and one without a body of its own at that, would --

Some degree of shock abruptly managed to penetrate his daze. Christ, it was doing this far too well. Was this really the alien? Although, if it was Mulder... you wouldn't think a guy who spent that much time in a basement would be such an Olympic contender. Suddenly Krycek was uncertain. He lifted Mulder's head, the words =Who are you?= on his lips.

Hazel eyes looked into his calmly. And a little contemptuously? Unfortunately a taste of that -- just a taste, too much would be annoying -- tended to turn him on.

"I have the experience of five human hosts. But you'll tell me if I'm doing anything wrong."

Then the mouth was back on his chest, moving down toward his navel. Shit, why should he care who it was? Especially since those long fingers were unbuttoning his jeans, pulling down the band of his boxers, and starting to tease him just the way he liked. Rolling shocks of pleasure ran through him, matched with a growing tension that was a pleasure in itself. A second later he felt the nip of teeth, a gorgeous salt of pain, and he found himself laughing. He had to make an effort to look down, because he was leaning against the door by then, eyes closed, absolutely and definitely not interested in leaving. In fact, sparing thought for any future beyond the next hour seemed like an irrelevant allocation of brain resources that ought to be devoted to here and now.

That beautiful dark head was below him. It almost made being possessed by an alien worthwhile, he thought vaguely: Mulder on his knees -- the guy who'd started their encounters by ditching him and usually ended them by shoving a gun in his face -- giving him the blowjob of a lifetime. He hoped the alien would let Mulder remember this --

A teasing shock of cool breath brushed his cock, which was already on fire. His eyes closed again and he heard himself moan. Then came the tongue, flicking and playing, making promises no tongue could keep, driving him to the edge. It was as though every move of sexual technique that had ever sent him spinning was being played back to him, at higher volume.

=Just the way he liked it...=

He twined a hand in Mulder's hair roughly and lifted that head... the head of an enemy, he supposed, whoever it belonged to. "I was one of the five hosts." His voice was hoarse.

"Are you reminding me or yourself?" God, that hateful, cold voice, that made no allowances for anything.

"You went through my drawers, didn't you? Even the parts of my mind you didn't need."

"They were interesting." A finger idly traced the sensitive skin along his balls, and he had to gulp for breath. "Are you saying you regret my knowledge?" The hand cupped the base of his cock, circling it with a precise expertise that from Mulder's face could mean anything; he could be measuring the damn thing for statistical records. The fact that the hand, sliding up and down, was sending searing waves of delight through his nervous system was probably totally irrelevant.

"I'm not... saying I regret it."

Back and forth... Jesus, he couldn't take much more of this.

His tormentor regarded the toy he was stroking idly. The fingers were tracing a route down the map of his cock, and Krycek could not help picturing, suddenly and sharply, how good it would be if Mulder took the damned thing in his mouth. Probably he'd been going to do that, before Krycek made the mistake of speaking up. He should have kept quiet like a good boy, and he wouldn't be writhing now.

"But you consider my knowledge tainted. If you prefer that I stop, I will," said the other, with that casual coolness.

"My god," Krycek said, gasping. "An alien cockteaser." =I'll kill myself if you stop now.= "Are you screwing with me deliberately?"

"That was in your mental drawers, as well."

He gave up. "Yeah," he admitted, "I guess it was." And he leaned back against the door, relaxing, letting his body signal to the other to do whatever it wanted.

Mulder's lips were on him in a second. He'd fantasized about those lips before, doing this very thing; now he couldn't see them, except when he closed his eyes, but they were warm and perfect on his skin. He let his thoughts dissolve.

Paradise removed itself for an arctic moment. "I ought to be offended at the name you called me. Mulder believes I ought to be. But I know that you meant it as praise."

This time Krycek didn't open his eyes. He understood the game now, and knew this torture was in his service. "You're right," he said.

"Then say it."

God, he even knew this, he even knew that for those really great fucks, Krycek liked to give it all up. He could feel orgasm rushing toward him like a tsunami.

"It was praise." =And you're lucky I can still talk.= That mouth was already enclosing him in dark, electric warmth. "Fucker," he added.

That was praise too.

                         #

Krycek arranged to rent an old farmhouse on a country road, three miles from the nearest town. It wasn't very large, but it was the only thing available. He and his new employer spent the afternoon clearing junk out of the downstairs and installing phone jacks; then he drove off to an electronics outlet store two hours away. He returned with five computers, modems, and a lot of phone line.

Mulder's friends had arrived while he was out; a short man in a bow tie and a blond guy in a t-shirt. They had "technical expert" written all over them; people who looked that chipper and quirky were always knowledgeable in some obscure field.

"Mulder" introduced the pair as Frohike and Langly. "This is my friend Alan," he told them. "Alan wants to remain anonymous."

"Smart man," said Frohike approvingly, and stuck out his hand. Langly followed suit. Frohike said, "You know, you're looking a little weird, Mulder. You're not back with that insomnia thing again, are you?"

"Just getting over the flu."

Frohike stepped back, looking alarmed. From the comments that followed, apparently he had theories about mutated biological agents running loose in the population. =You don't know the half of it.=

"It's not a big house," Krycek told them. "It was all I could get. I figured we'd set up four of the computers there in the living room, maybe squeeze another one into that little hallway. Oh, and there's no refrigerator, but there is a stove. So if you shoot anything, we can eat it."

Frohike grunted. "We can always order in Chinese or Thai or something."

"I don't think you've picked up this 'country' thing yet, Frohike." That was Mulder -- or rather, it wasn't Mulder, and Krycek glanced at him. The speech pattern had been characteristic. Was the alien finally patching together Mulder's memories, coming up with some kind of feel for the way he interacted? Or was Mulder conscious and aware in there, and had offered that statement to the alien to pass along?

"There's a room off the kitchen," Krycek said, "and I've shoved three cots in there. Mulder might still be contagious, so I figured we'd let him have the upstairs bedroom." He wasn't sure how this would go over.

"Good planning," said Frohike fervently.

Langly shrugged. "It doesn't matter to me."

Well, they were flexible hackers, anyway. He wondered how Mulder had gotten them to fly out on such short notice, and whether they were on salary too. If they were, he rather doubted they were getting the same benefits package.

                         #

With incredible luck, they might have the system cracked in three days. With an average amount of carelessness on the part of the users, Langly and the alien had figured on three weeks. Without luck or carelessness -- "Maybe never," Langly had said. The alien had not replied to that.

So far it had been a week and a half. A week and a half of sitting at the computer, following the protocols the others kept handing him. Krycek's station was the one in the hallway, and whenever possible he got out of that pretzel-seat and took a walk while the programs were running. He liked to know what other people were doing.

The first time he'd walked into the living room he'd found Langly taking a bite from a ham and cheese sandwich as he made notes, while Frohike tucked into a box of Frosted Flakes.

"The general store delivers," Frohike announced.

"For an extra five bucks," Langly added.

"I keep having the feeling I need to change my money before they'll take it, out here," said Frohike.

"Civilization," explained Langly, looking at Krycek, "is a long way away."

Apparently they were the Abbott and Costello of hacker teams.

But good at what they did. Because a second later, still not looking up from the screen, Frohike had said, "So, Alan, I gather the physical system you want to penetrate is not that far from here."

Krycek took the old, tattered armchair in the corner. This was interesting. "Why do you say that?"

"Rotating codes," said Langly. Krycek had the distinct impression that he and Frohike had not previously worked this out; they were just so used to each other's thought processes discussion was unnecessary.

"If they change them every day, you'll want to hit your target as soon as we get tomorrow's codes."

"Which means you won't want to book a flight and travel for six hours."

"Not necessarily," Alex said. "Assuming we don't flag anything when we get into the database -- in which case, the game's over anyway -- what's to keep you guys from going in again the following day, or the day after? With results you could then pass on to any location in the country. I'm supposing you've heard of the telephone."

"Ha-ha," said Frohike darkly. He took another mouthful of cereal and hit the Enter key. "Like Mulder would trust the phones."

=Well, they know their Mulder,= Krycek thought.

=Although maybe not this week.=

                         #

Ten days. Ten days and no results. At eleven-thirty in the morning, Krycek pushed back his chair -- it smacked into the opposite wall whenever he did -- and decided to stretch his legs. He wandered into the living room.

Where he met the hum of equipment and the tapping of keyboards. The blinds and drapes were closed and the lights were on. A dark room, four computers, three tables, three team members in three kitchen chairs, and a lot of discarded food wrappers. He ran his hand through his hair tiredly. He wasn't exactly moving in high-income circles these days, was he?

But it's the way we all live our lives, he thought. Not just me. Them, too. Project to project, focus to focus. Then the project changes and the focus goes with it, and there's no permanent link anywhere.

Krycek's gaze went automatically to Mulder first. He was sitting with long, casual grace at the far end, his attention focused on the terminal, tapping a key with the eraser end of a pencil. He was in jeans and his shirt was open, the desklamp shining on his left arm where it rested on the table, sleeve rolled up, highlighting every hair on that smooth, delicious skin. Krycek's mouth went dry. Now here was an unfortunate side-effect.

It had been two days since the alien had let him have any and Krycek recognized the signs of incipient addiction when he saw them. He knew that if they succeeded and the alien left, he was going to be just another user cut off by his supplier, but he did not bother to dwell on this prematurely. It only meant a certain increase in the percentage of pain, and he was used to that.

Frohike looked up when Krycek entered. He glanced toward Alex and then toward Mulder, a little doubtfully, and addressed the room in general: "At what point do we figure we've tried long enough?"

The alien ignored that. Langly said, "It's too early to start worrying about it. Wait another week."

"We haven't gotten =anywhere,= and that's with all the inside dope Mulder's contact gave him. Maybe this contact isn't trustworthy. We could be wasting our lives here."

Krycek said, "He's trustworthy."

"Well, maybe they're actually protecting their system in a rational manner, has anybody thought of that?"

Langly said, "Oh, come on. Like one of these schmucks isn't going to be hooked up to AOL or something through the same computer, no matter what he was told. The users are =management.= They're clueless by definition."

Frohike muttered something unintelligible. Then he added, "There is no Chinese food within a range of three hundred miles."

They began arguing, not rancorously, but with mutual annoyance; so Alex strolled over to the alien and waited. Not-Quite-Mulder looked up. His eyes were a little cloudy at that moment. He raised an eyebrow.

Betraying a weakness was not a survival skill, so Krycek pasted his best "fuck you" expression onto his face. "I've been feeling a little tense lately," he remarked.

The alien's expression didn't change. Krycek could imagine Mulder in there somewhere thinking, "Tense or horny?" ...Which meant maybe the alien was thinking it, too. Maybe this wasn't a good idea.

It continued looking at him silently. Yeah, maybe this wasn't...

"Wait up in my room after you finish your last set of trials."

It turned back to the program.

"Yeah," muttered Krycek. "Right."

                          #

Two hours later he heard the closing of the door that meant the delivery boy had dropped off lunch, and he went in to grab a sandwich. Frohike took him aside.

"The store sends the same kid through here every day. Lunch and dinner. He brings the box inside and sets it on the table and gets a good look at everything."

Krycek said, "I told him we're setting up a mail-order business."

"I don't like it. I thought Mulder would do something, but he barely seems to notice there's another human being in the room."

"So answer the door, take the box from him, and don't let him inside."

"I do! But I can see him looking past me to see what's going on. Who knows what he's saying back at the store, while those farmers are sitting around the pot-bellied stove."

"You've been watching too much =Green Acres= on Nickelodeon."

"I'm serious, dammit!" Frohike's voice was rising. Apparently tempers were fraying right and left today; except of course for "Mulder's."

Alex sighed. He said, soothingly, "Why don't you ask Mulder how he wants to handle it?"

"I did. He keeps telling us to bring all the detail stuff to you."

Right. Why bother his Alien Sufficiency with the mundane chores of keeping alive?

"And what do you want me to do about it?"

"Well, if you want to keep this quiet, we're either going to have to stop letting the delivery boy through here, or kill him."

Krycek looked at him with barely concealed impatience. "So?"

"Yeah, well, I didn't bring a gun with me from Washington."

"Let me know next time he comes through with the Rice Krispies and I'll pop a nine millimeter in his head."

Frohike looked at him sourly. He said, "I can see why you and Mulder get along. You're such a pair of smartasses."

Alex watched Frohike walk away and thought, =I know there's irony in there somewhere, but I'm too tired to figure it out.=

                         #

Nevertheless he called around, found there was a supermarket an hour away in the next large town ("large" being a comparative term here), and went on a foraging expedition. He came back with canned goods, boxes of cereal, powdered milk, bread, and peanut butter.

Frohike examined the box he carried in. "Cold chili and powdered milk? We need a refrigerator so we can have real food."

"We won't be here long enough for that." =I hope.= "I'll pick up pizza when it gets too much for you." =This is your life, Alex Krycek.=

"Well, thanks, anyway," said Frohike, as he started to pull out the groceries.

"For what?"

He motioned to the three cereal boxes. "For paying attention to what brands I like."

Alex, who could no more not pay attention to things like that than he could stop breathing, was always a little thrown by such statements. Did other people really go through life =not noticing things=? How did they =survive=?

But if it got him points, so much the better. "You're welcome," he said.

                         #

"I suppose you =are= a little tense," the alien commented late that evening.

Krycek, who was unable to speak just then, buried his face in the mattress. His head turned from side to side, as though denying how good this was.

Finally he collapsed in a boneless heap. He felt Mulder's body shift on the bed, but there was no gentle touch on Alex's hair, no helping him into his clothes, as the alien had done sometimes in the past, administering tenderness as though it were necessary medicine.

After a few minutes, Krycek pulled himself off the bed. He reached for his clothes. As he dressed, he became aware of the alien, sitting up against the headboard, watching him expressionlessly.

As he tucked in his shirt, it spoke. "Don't ask me too often. I don't want Mulder's friends wondering what we're doing up here."

Alex felt a cold and distant anger. How dare it turn him inside out and then treat him like some importunate child? He said roughly, "You have an obligation to live up to, don't you?"

The alien let the silence hang there like the aftermath of a gunshot. Then it said, "To both of you."

"Well, pay off Mulder in your own way. But don't try to take it out of my share."

The alien motioned him over. Krycek hesitated, then went. It pulled his head down for a kiss, and he cooperated. "It's an old house," said Mulder's voice, soft and gentle on the lips that were still a millimeter from his. "Do you ever hear noises at night?"

Alex jerked back. He moved away from the alien, keeping his eyes on it, then opened the door and hurried out.

***********************************************************

Part 3 of 4

It had said that to him as though it were administering a spanking. Not serious at all; a simple matter of disciplining the local life form with the behavior problem.

No, not serious at all.

He lay there on his cot in the small room off the kitchen. Frohike had gone to sleep, as he often did, in the armchair in the living room, papers scattered over his lap. Langly's breathing came soft and even from across the room.

He ought to be asleep, too. If the alien hadn't decided a night of insomnia would put him in his place.

No, the house did not make much in the way of noise at night. But his imagination was happy to fill in that lack for him. How could you ever know what was going on in the darkness? If he were alone he'd put on the light, but better to go without sleep for a night than to expose this to the contempt of another human being. Besides, he didn't think the light would help tonight. Just the opposite, maybe; because it was such a small room. Very small, in fact. Four walls, low ceiling, no windows. Probably it used to be a storeroom.

An =extremely= small room, he thought, as he considered it, and his pulse speeded up. There couldn't possibly be enough air in here for two people.

He got up hastily and pulled on his jacket; and taking his sneakers in hand, he practically ran out.

And he kept going, through the kitchen, out the door, into the night. He stopped at the step by the back door and gasped for breath. He sat down, still gasping, and started putting on his sneakers.

It had snowed; was snowing still. He'd gone out barefoot into it. The flakes now were big and slow-falling and sparse, the kind you'd catch on your tongue when you were a kid. The sky had the sharp clarity of a bell. And my, it was high up. He smiled.

His breaths were coming more normally now.

The door behind him opened. "Alan?" It was Langly. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I just felt a little... hot, in that room, I guess."

Langly nodded noncommittally. The house was drafty as the wind off the arctic at night; Langly himself slept with two pairs of socks on. He sat down beside Alex on the step. "It's a nice night."

"Yeah. A lot of people don't like snow."

"They're crazy."

"I think so, too."

"Well, I suppose," said Langly, in an effort to be fair that seemed totally charming in a North Dakota backyard in the middle of the night, "they may be affected by a long commute to work, or something. I don't have a car, so it doesn't bother me."

"Uh-huh." He didn't seem to be expected to say anything else, which was nice.

Langly said, thoughtfully, "You know, back when Scully disappeared, we all followed up any lead we could. We accessed Alex Krycek's records from the FBI -- but I think I was the only one who bothered to download his picture."

A few flakes of snow landed on the arm of his jacket. His breath and Langly's puffed out in clouds. "You knew from the beginning."

Langly nodded.

"And this is all okay with you?"

"Mulder was the person you hurt most, so he gets the right to choose now. If he thinks it's worth it to work with you, it's not a decision I'm going to argue with."

Krycek took in that open phrasing: "the person you hurt most." Yet Langly didn't seem to be saying it with bitterness, he said it as though that was the way it was.

Alex shook his head. "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, Langly, but did you know you're a very strange person?"

Langly nodded calmly. "People tell me." He looked up at the stars and pulled the collar of his coat tight around his neck. This couldn't be comfortable for him, Krycek thought; the man wore two pairs of socks to bed, after all.

Langly said, "Will you be out here all night?" It was amazing how unfreighted he made the question, as though he were asking out of distant intellectual curiosity. As though he were taking a poll here on the step, sitting in the snow.

Krycek looked down at his soaked sneakers, which would shortly be transmitting the cold and wet to his innocent feet. "I was stuck in an enclosed place once. I didn't like it."

Code-talk, he thought; there are some words men don't use. No, I "didn't like" it at all, and excuse my screaming and peeing in my pants. What fucking liars we are.

They both sat there for another full five minutes, and Alex started to think: =Am= I going to be out here all night? When I have a nice warm bed inside?=

Another five minutes. Finally Langly stood up and brushed the snow off his coat. "Feel like coming in? If you don't..." He shrugged.

"Okay." Krycek got up and followed him in.

Back in the room, he sat down on the bed and let his feet toast themselves under the covers. It felt great, but he didn't want to commit those feet as to what they'd be doing an hour from now.

"I might get up and leave again," he commented.

"Whatever," said Langly vaguely. Then he said, "I have an idea."

"Yeah?"

"Pretend that you're somewhere else, somewhere you're used to sleeping."

He looked at Langly with contempt. "I can't =imagine= myself away from a problem."

"Sure you can." He seemed unfazed by Krycek's tone. "Close your eyes."

Krycek sighed.

"Close your eyes. Come on, humor me."

He shut them. The night was absolutely quiet and black.

After a second he heard Langly's voice say, "See? The darkness is the same everywhere."

                    #

He lay there, picturing himself in that room in Baltimore; he'd spent four months there, and that was unusual. Bed up against the south and eastern walls; clear path to the windows and the door. Two rooms in a railroad flat, one of those old brick row houses with a one-step stoop. A wood pillar off each side at the middle of the apartment, running into the top and bottom molding. If he was lying on his left side, as he was now, he'd be facing the pillars and the next room.

He placed himself there, in the dark, with great care, like wrapping a piece of lead crystal in tissue paper and placing it in a box. Maybe Langly had a point. There was no way to tell where he was from the information reaching his brain; the only thing that was missing from the room in Baltimore was the traffic noise. =Quiet night,= he told himself. =No sirens=...

He woke up next morning disoriented, expecting a wall on his right side, where no wall was. He didn't like the second of confusion, but it was worth it if he could get some sleep.

So another week passed. Krycek was discreet about claiming his rights to Mulder's body; it did seem that pissing off a creature who knew your every thought and fear was probably not a good long-term plan. The situation reminded him of one of those tube arrangements in a hospital that allow patients to self-administer addictive painkillers. You learned to balance need and reward --abuse the privilege, and you might find yourself cut off one desperate night.

And he had to admit that -- lousy surroundings, small bedroom, drafty house, arrogant sexual partner and all -- he was on some level enjoying this time. And it wasn't simply for the sex, either.

                         #

It was the twenty-third evening, just past midnight. The last set of programs for the day were running. Alex had gone out into the night like a mighty hunter and returned with three pizzas and two bottled six-packs of Red Dog Beer for the guys back at the cave.

This made the guys back at the cave very happy, he noted. Not Mulder, of course, but Frohike and Langly were used to smashing the conversational ball back and forth without relying heavily on his input. Alex sat back in the armchair and watched them go at it.

Right now they were arguing about some bar in Georgetown. They appealed to Mulder to settle the question at one point, and the alien responded with a comment he had to have gotten from Mulder directly. The man was definitely conscious and alert, in there. Which should make life interesting, later.

Alex listened to them argue; pleasant arguing, as though it were something they'd decided to do to pass the time instead of Tetris. They skated from the bar in Georgetown to some complaint about the DC taxi system in a fashion whose logic escaped him. It must be strange, he thought. How did it feel to look at a map and see someplace that meant home and rest and people who would pick you up and put you into a cab if you had too many shots one night at the aforementioned Georgetown bar? Was there some kind of magical twinge when you saw that city's name?

And when you came flying in through the darkness and saw the lights spread out beneath you, did you get a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling, as opposed to the strained knowledge that you still had to hike your way through the airport and find some room somewhere before you could rest for a few hours?

=Mulder,= he thought, =you have no fucking clue about life.=

 Still arguing, Frohike picked up one of the now-warm beers, carried it over to Krycek's chair, and left it on the floor next to him as though it were the natural thing to do.

Krycek picked it up and gazed at the amber liquid through the light of the floor lamp. =Of course,= he added, =it is possible that neither of us has any fucking clue.=

                    #

By one o'clock he wanted to get away from all that warmth and good fellowship before he started thinking it was normal, and ended up dead someday. He nudged Mulder as he left the room. "Stormy night," he said. If the alien had rifled through his memories, he would recognize that.

It got him an unreadable look. Alex continued out of the room and took the stairs to the bathroom. Maybe that message hadn't been received. Still, he showered and brushed his teeth, wondering if the alien cared about that kind of thing. It followed the rules of good hygiene with its hosts, but maybe that was just politeness, or the need to blend in. Maybe if it were visiting fifteenth-century Europe it would take lice and bad breath as part of the local customs, too. Of course Mulder, as a product of his society, would definitely notice it if he --

Mulder was waiting outside the bathroom as he left. There was nobody else in the hallway. Krycek turned and followed him to his room.

As soon as the door shut behind them, the alien took hold of him and shoved him against it. Krycek's cheek pressed into the wood. It had gotten the message, all right.

"If we do this too loudly, Mulder's gonna get an interesting rep back in -- "

A stinging slap on his backside made him jump. More than stinging, actually; that had taken his breath away. "Shut up," he heard in his ear. =Jesus,= it was good at this. It had just the voice for it. He felt his pants pulled down roughly.

The other moved away and he heard its footsteps. Then it was back again, and the lotion was cold, and the fingers, he was glad to see, were not gentle.

His cock was burning almost painfully. He took it in his hand, working it. He didn't have to explain any of this to the alien, and that felt like an enormous relief, the removal of a burden. It just might be a wonderful thing, he thought, to be =known,= at least under certain rare conditions.

He gasped as Mulder's cock slid in. Then he was crushed further against the door as the other pumped into him with an impersonality that was turning him on more with every stroke. When he came it was absolute perfection; he felt his own breathing a minute later, his heartbeat against the wood of the door; it was like being safe.

"Thanks," he said, a word he'd never used to the alien before. Or not sincerely.

It was still inside him. A voice murmured into his ear.

"Mulder wants to know why you like it this way."

"You didn't tell him, did you?"

"Of course not."

"Well, don't."

He pushed himself back slightly from the door, and the other pulled out of him. It was a little hard to stand.

He started getting dressed. That little session had worked well enough after all; he felt enormously better. He pulled on the shirt he'd carried from the bathroom.

The alien sat on the bed watching him. As he was buttoning the shirt, it said, "I found the security code cache today."

Alex froze. =Cold turkey from here in, boys.= "You didn't say anything to the others."

"They can be told tomorrow. After I leave."

"That's kind of a hurry, isn't it?"

"I have an appointment elsewhere."

Alex finished the last button and stared at him. "You've been here for fifty years, but now you have an appointment?"

The alien nodded. "And it's important that I be punctual."

"Well. Thanks for the memories, and all that. What time are you going?"

"We should leave by eight-thirty."

Krycek looked at him suspiciously. "You usually say 'I' when you're referring to yourself. Are you counting the host now?"

"=We= refers to you and me. Mulder can return to Washington with his friends. We'll be going to the repository together."

For a moment things turned gray before his eyes. His knees felt shaky. Then he heard his own voice, and was surprised at how dangerous it sounded. "I'm not going back there."

The alien gave him that unyielding, I'm-not-familiar-with-the-word-no look, and Krycek cursed himself. That had been a reflexive response, and stupid. Lie, temporize, and then get the hell out.

"What do you need me for?" he asked in a more reasonable tone. "You've got Mulder."

"As you know, I rely on the knowledge and expertise of my hosts."

"Mulder's got cash, a credit card, and he knows how to follow a map. He's a trained FBI agent. He can drive a car, fire a gun --"

"Unfortunately, his instinct to survive isn't as creatively intense as yours. Somewhat the opposite, as far as I can tell from his memories. In a crisis, your reflexes and suggestions would be much more valuable."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." Where was the car? Frohike had used it last, which meant the seat would be pushed up, which might delay him a second. He'd have to bear that in mind when he crushed himself in, not let his reflexes be surprised. Frohike would have left it facing the garage, instead of backing in the way Krycek always did. (Life, after all, was a series of quick exits.) Don't even try to turn it around in the yard; just barrel out backwards and count the casualties later. "You know, it =is= possible they've anticipated us. I suppose you have a plan for approaching the place."

"Pointless, until I can look the area over. Until =we= can look it over."

 He took quick stock: His money was on him, as always; he had the spare car key in his right pocket; he was going to have to leave his black leather jacket on his bed, no time to stop for it. Pity, he'd had it three years, the longest he'd enjoyed a possession since he could remember. And it got cold in North Dakota.

"I've got a county-by-county atlas downstairs," he said. "Give me a minute and --"

The alien made that =grab= he did, that trick where suddenly your wrist was captured and you couldn't quite see how. Krycek remembered seeing that trick from the other side, and he still didn't know how it was done. The hand gripping his wrist was as unyielding as if he were chained to a sequoia. Probably the alien could do something to up the adrenalin at will.

"You're a little impatient, aren't you?" asked Krycek. "We've got plenty of time."

"We'll be leaving in the morning."

"That's hours away."

"Ideally, you should both have time to recover. And I want to carry out any obligations to Mulder before we depart."

"You're upsetting me. I have to go to the bathroom." There was no answer, and they seemed to have gotten very close. Alex cleared his throat. "I thought you let your hosts take care of little things like that."

"I'll take care of it for you," it said, "in a few minutes."

                         #

Mulder was exhausted. A lot more than Krycek seemed to be, as far as he could tell. Expelling the thing had been -- not painful, exactly, but harrowing, and his body felt as used-up as if he'd spent the night shaking and vomiting from some virus. It wasn't fair, now that he thought of it; Krycek hadn't been affected this strongly when he'd made the earlier transfer. Had the creature somehow not transferred completely, left a part of itself behind to keep an eye on Krycek? Or maybe evolution had just designed Alex Krycek better for carrying alien organisms.

=Invading parasites stick together,= he thought, but he didn't have the emotional strength to get behind the concept. He was too tired. =I'll hate him tomorrow,= he promised himself, and went to sleep.

Beside him on the bed, Krycek and his new senior partner lay awake, looking at the ceiling.

                         #

Mulder woke at sunrise, abruptly aware that he =was= awake, and alert, and in full control for a change. He was also aware of Krycek's body beside him in a way he hadn't been last night. Mulder found he was reluctant to make any motion, or to look over and see if the alien was awake.

He'd had plenty of time to come to terms with the fact that whatever the alien had chosen to do with his body, it hadn't harmed him physically; and he had to admit that his standards for appropriate sexual partners probably meant less than nothing to a creature so far removed from the human species.

Yes, watching, that first time, had started out a little traumatic; but then he'd gotten a distinct feeling of impatience from the alien, followed by -- he wasn't sure what. It was as if he'd been injected with a sedative. The action, and his initial outrage, had all become very distant and intellectual. Not that the change in his blood chemistry had had any effect on the alien -- the damned thing had gone right ahead, and even made sure Mulder had access to the physical pleasure of what it was doing.

Not that that should be taken to have any significance. A simple act of the nervous system, and probably just the alien's way of being polite.

No, Mulder had definitely come to terms with the whole thing. It wasn't a problem.

Except that lying next to Krycek took on a whole new dimension when suddenly you were responsible for your actions.

It was a ridiculous response, and this was hardly the time to over-analyze his experiences of the last three weeks based on his locker-room imprinting at the age of fifteen. True, he could acknowledge that Krycek was aesthetically beautiful, but Mulder was an aware, secure, educated humanist; there was no need to fear he took that knowledge personally.

After all, a Vermeer painting was a pleasure to look at, too, but that didn't mean he wanted to sleep with it.

***********************************************************

Part 4 of 4

An hour later he decided it was stupid to just lie here. He started to rise. A hand reached out and clasped his wrist, unnaturally strong.

"Tension release," explained the alien.

"Thanks, but I'm already relaxed--"

"Your heartrate is fifteen beats per minute above baseline. I've learned you primate males require periodic sexual appeasement, or you become hostile and inefficient."

"No we don't; we just pretend we do." By now his heartrate was twenty beats above baseline, probably. He tried to pull his hand away, without success.

The alien moved then, rolling on top of him. Mulder abruptly wished he'd worn his shirt to bed. Because there was the warmth and weight of Krycek's body on his skin, a body he'd already fucked several times -- from the safety of the passenger seat, true, but then the view was better from there, if he was going to be truthful with himself. And with every silent second that passed, that warmth and weight seemed to soak down into his muscles and bones, ruining that edge of smartass defiance where he kept his strength.

It smiled at him then; almost Krycek's smile. And if it didn't reach his eyes, well, that was Krycek too.

"Tell me," said the beautiful cold voice, "that the thought of sex with a member of another intelligent species never crossed your mind. Not even in fantasy."

He felt his face getting hot -- a heat entirely self-generated, this time.

"My host admires your beauty when your face colors that way."

And now it was twice as hot. "I don't want him seeing this," he blurted. "Switch him off, or something." =Seeing what?= a voice said. =You're not agreeing to this, are you?=

That rare smile again. "Don't concern yourself with his destiny," said the voice -- it matched the face, Mulder thought suddenly, which had always been inhumanly perfect, a fact which was becoming hard not to take personally. "Trust me," as the breath of the whisper slid over his neck. Krycek's groin was pressed against his, another fact that was forcing a personal response. Then the body shifted, and he found he wanted it back. One hand brushed his forehead, another traced a path along his boxers, making the pressure of the cotton suddenly erotic. "I know exactly what you'd like."

=I ought to talk him out of it,= he thought. =If Krycek remembers this later, I'll have to shoot him after all.=

"I don't think," he said, and then lost his way for a moment as the other took a nipple in his mouth. He tried again. "I don't think..." Tongue and teeth played with him. Surely there was no harm in postponing these futile efforts at conversation, was there? Just for a minute. Because it would be a crime not to dedicate some attention to what was happening. And really, it was useful knowledge for humanity, too. There was no denying that. He ought to be taking notes, not trying to make whatever obscure point he'd been going for. Just then Krycek's mouth sucked at the nipple powerfully and Mulder gasped, letting the rationalizations scatter like so many mice.

The other shifted further up again, gifting him with that now familiar, welcome touch of groin to groin. A hand slid behind his neck, rippling through his hair, sending delicious shivers down his spine. =So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, and find a reason for anything one wants to do.= Benjamin Franklin had said that, but why was it popping into his head now? Never mind. He wanted more. He found himself reaching for Krycek, pulling that mouth down against his.

And he'd never been kissed like that in his life. He didn't remember opening his lips and was barely aware of the tongue thrusting past them. Breathing became superfluous. It felt as though Krycek were sucking the life out of him, and suddenly that seemed like a good idea. Time collapsed. When the mouth pulled away from his he gasped. It felt strange, as though his lungs were aware of a need his brain was totally unacquainted with.

The other had moved on, over his cheekbone, his eyes, his forehead; he was conscious of the touches in a daze of disappointment and relief; one could really take only so many episodes of that much intensity. He lay there for a few minutes, letting the more delicate pleasure of these random touches penetrate the fog of his thoughts. He became aware that his cock was as hard as it had ever been in his life, but there was no pressure, no unpleasantness associated with it. No need to think about it at all, really, he considered in a detached way. Obviously Not-Krycek had the situation well in hand.

No, wait. He'd been going to say something before. =Krycek.= That was it, that was the problem. The other's knee slipped between his thighs. "I don't want Krycek here," he managed to get out.

"His presence is hardly new."

"No, but... " Dammit, trying to explain his reasoning seemed incredibly complicated, suddenly. That was probably because Krycek's tongue was even now tracing one ear, and his breath melting the left side of Mulder's neck. The heat was probably turning his brain into some kind of viscous material. And he was a person who'd seen plenty of viscous material in his time...

His thoughts were sliding off all over the place. =Logical progression.= He could do this. He didn't want Krycek here because, because...

"His memories," he said weakly. "It could be awkward..."

"Not at all," responded the alien, in the courteous tone a matron might use to accept a compliment on her tea, and giving Mulder's plea about that much importance. "I assure you, if Krycek lives through this, I'll leave him detailed instructions on how to please you."

=My god!= "No! That's exactly what you =shouldn't= do."

"It's for your ultimate benefit. And it won't be awkward at all; the directions I leave will be kinesthetic as well as abstract. He'll be quite skilled."

This was even more horrifying, in its way. "That's not what I meant by awkward."

"I know you have taboos," said the alien, pausing for a few seconds to lick his neck, "but they're too trivial to take seriously."

At the moment they did seem kind of trivial. But -- "That's not the point. You're choosing the one person that -- look, Alex Krycek and I are not even friends. We're... " He wasn't sure what they were, but violent death always seemed like a possibility when they met.

"How much more appropriate, then. You've been wasting your energies in a hatred you haven't even been able to fulfill." Two kisses, one on each eye. "I've studied your family of species, and it's clear to me that hostility is best defused by physical means." The voice managed to be cold, soft, and intimate at the same time. "Like all complex organisms, your instincts and your =self= are so intertwined, you can't tell the difference." Reading it off as though from a textbook while he rubbed his thigh against Mulder's cock. "Sex will divert your hormonally induced emotions to a more positive arena."

Mulder reached up, took that unyielding face in his hands, and made it look at him. "I wish you wouldn't talk about me as though I were some kind of recipe. Changing the amount of my ingredients won't change who I am."

Some expression moved over the cold angel's facade for a moment, he wasn't sure what; then the other kissed him on the lips. Gently, this time. "All you creatures are recipes. Everywhere I go. It's fascinating. I never get tired of it."

No one had ever told him before that his biochemical makeup added to his allure.

On the heels of that, stunningly, it occurred to him that maybe this thing, this creature, was having sex with him -- with both of them -- for its own personal pleasure. Not that he understood what that pleasure might be, or whether it was physical, emotional, or purely intellectual. But on some level, he suspected, it was getting more out of this than controlling the unpredictabilities of two unruly primates.

 He went on considering it, until he realized that he'd just cooperated in being turned over onto his stomach. "Wait a minute," he said, lifting his head from the pillow. A little oral sex was one thing, but --

"Do you disapprove of my technique?" The other was on his knees, kneading Mulder's buttocks, and as a matter of fact it felt pretty fantastic. It wasn't a pleasure he got often, and his muscles were reminding him of how much they'd missed it. "From your general sexual pattern, I assumed that I'd spent enough time --"

"You know damned well I don't disapprove of your technique," he muttered into the pillow. He ought to make a serious attempt to dislodge the alien, at this point. That would demonstrate his strong feelings on the matter. Although at the moment, melting into a puddle seemed a more attractive plan. And after all, there was plenty of time to stop him before the situation became... acute.

And the mattress felt great against his cock as the kneading continued. The edge had gone off his need during that rather alarming discussion about Krycek, but there was still enough to make the situation pleasant.

Which host had been the massage expert, he wondered? It was zeroing in on every source of muscle tension and draining it away. This could make you see that French diver's wife in a whole new light, he thought.

Of course there was a one-in-four chance he'd picked up this skill from Krycek. =We're not going there,= he told his mind. And under the influence of this kneading and stroking it actually cooperated, more interested in pleasure than in torturing him, for once.

 The rhythm changed gradually, and the touch of mouth and tongue joined the hands. It changed so gradually, in fact, that the sudden reaction of his cock to the feel of teeth tugging at his ear took him by surprise.

Then a slippery finger was exploring his anus. Of course, the lotion had been out from its session with Krycek last night, but when did it have time to...

=Jesus.= A burst of pleasure exploded through him in silent warmth.

Mulder tried to reach for the parts of his scattered mental army, but they'd all deserted their posts during that massage. Obviously the creature had just been softening him up for -- well, maybe that was the wrong term.

No matter how great this felt, it had gone on long enough. There was no way in hell he was going to get fucked by Krycek's body, no matter who was borrowing it.

"This is where we have to stop," he began.

Again. =Oh, god.= He closed his eyes. His cock was pulsing like a live shotgun.

"I =mean= it." What was he =saying=?

"We have very little time to talk," the alien said, almost conversationally. "I appreciate the use of your body." (=Now how exactly did it mean that?=) "I know you're curious about other places, other species; we have that in common." Now it was testing him with two fingers. "Would you like me to tell you about myself while I do this?"

He wanted the creature to stop. But he wanted the pleasure to continue. And he wanted to hear what it had to say. But not while it was doing this.

He was totally incapable of conveying anything that complex.

Another bright trail lit its way through his body. "I can be silent, if you'd rather," it told him.

"No," he managed to say, gritting his teeth as he shivered under this bombardment of delight. "Talk."

"The last world I visited," it said, "was covered with water, except for a few islands at the equator. Nearly all the life that existed was right there, on the interface between the ocean and the land. Small, perfect cities of white coral." It paused. "Hold still now; take a breath. Good."

He had another man's cock up his ass, but everything else seemed so unreal, it didn't even bother him. Maybe it would bother him later.

"The highest intelligence belonged to tiny, fragile creatures who lived in groups that were a kind of gestalt." The alien moved inside him now, a long stroke that took his breath away. "I entered six of them. They were one person." Another stroke, another arc of fiery pleasure. "I liked the way they thought. They made connections with each other, generating creative patterns that seemed random but were not."

He could feel the edges of control starting to erode. It wasn't fair, it was too much -- this assault on his senses; the novelty of the situation, in every way, destroying his ability to respond; Krycek's voice, telling him things he'd waited for years to hear.

"...but they died quickly. It wasn't me; they all died quickly, that was why they had to be in groups..."

He gasped as another wave took him.

"...at first, because they were blind. Which was ironic, I thought. That ocean, at night, was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen..."

--God, this was like that Vonnegut story where people could only think in fifteen-second bursts--

Finally he was only aware of Krycek's voice as a background murmur, and Krycek's arm supporting him as he came.

                         #

Afterwards, that arm removed, he dropped to the mattress. (When had the alien pulled him up to his knees? He didn't even remember that happening.) He felt thoroughly... used up and scrubbed out.

He heard the other moving around, gathering things from the room, cleaning itself off. It opened Mulder's suitcase and took one of his shirts. Mulder lifted himself onto one arm and watched it don the shirt with an almost possessive pleasure. It was a beautiful creature. Graceful and strong and...

It was Alex Krycek.

The thought stabbed through his satisfaction. Krycek had just watched him come apart over having a dick up his ass. Krycek's dick, to be precise. What was that going to do to the balance of power?

But perhaps it was a little premature to worry about that, given the odds on Krycek being dead in a short period of time.

He asked, "Are you sure you have everything you need?"

"Yes."

The alien moved to the battered oak dresser against the wall, slid open the top drawer, and removed a thick roll of money. Mulder's money. Mulder had no objection; the alien would need it, and maybe Krycek would need it, too, to get away from the area after the break-in. Assuming he was still alive at that point. But there was just something about fucking a person within an inch of their life and then taking a roll of their cash... He grinned. ALIEN CALL-GIRLS. The sequel to HOOKERS FROM MARS.

The alien looked at him quizzically. "Did something funny happen?"

"No, no. Pay no attention to me. It wasn't important."

It paused, and he could see it visibly consider. "Goodbye, then."

"Goodbye."

It seemed so anticlimactic; there ought to be a speech or something. And then he was watching the alien move to the door, with Krycek's easy, catlike walk; and then the door opened and closed, and it was gone.

Mulder fell back on the bed.

=If only he'd had a tape recorder.=

Although... there weren't a lot of people he'd want to play it for.

                          #

February was a wet, cold, dirty month in Washington, full of car wheels splashing icy water onto pedestrians and the smell of damp wool coats. It had been two months since the alien had walked out the door in North Dakota, and Mulder found himself thinking about Krycek a lot.

It would be nice to know if the man were alive. After all, if Mulder were to have any opportunity of penetrating this repository himself, it would be helpful to know how the first invasion force went. Not that Krycek was likely to tell him. If he'd offloaded the alien and slipped out safely, he was probably halfway across the country, planning some new damage to inflict on the universe.

But no, thought Mulder, as he waited at a red light on the way home from work one evening, he was probably dead. Getting into a secure installation was one thing. Getting out again, especially given the likelihood of tripping something while you were there, was expecting a lot even from a sneaky bastard like Alex Krycek.

...Or they might be holding him. A quick execution was the highest probability, but they might have decided it would be useful to study someone who'd hosted an alien for a prolonged period of time. And god knew their version of the scientific method was probably not gentle.

And of course it bothered him. Why shouldn't it bother him? There was something so unsatisfactory about having one's enemy taken out by strangers while on a mission of alliance. It ruined all proper reflexes.

He called out for Chinese when he got home. But it was eleven o'clock by the time he got around to it, and eleven-thirty before the bell rang. He went to answer it, thinking, =Idiot. Half the time you wonder if it'll be Alex Krycek, back from the dead. You know it'll be a Chinese kid with two bags of chicken cashew and a Visa card machine.= He tended to keep his holster strapped on these days, just the same, which meant he'd better grab his jacket so he didn't scare the delivery boy. He shrugged it on and opened the door.

Mulder blinked. The world tipped into unreality as he saw exactly the image he'd been picturing.

"Hey, Mulder. Did you miss me?"

Well, maybe his mental picture hadn't been quite this annoying. Alex Krycek in his black leather and tight jeans, leaning negligently against his doorway, projecting in every way the kind of insouciance that made you want to slap his face.

The codes had worked; he'd gotten in and out. So much for the eleven o'clock news. Mulder pulled out his gun in one smooth motion and aimed it at the spot between his visitor's eyes.

"I appreciate the update on your existence, Krycek. So I'm going to let you walk away. For now."

"Don't you want to ask me how it went? Any details on the ship, on the message, on how our friend's pals retrieved him?"

"No."

"That's not like you, Mulder. Don't you want to know things?"

"I want to blow your head off, but I'm controlling it. Don't press your luck."

It was a total bluff, but Krycek couldn't know that. The damned alien had been right, about this at least -- he disapproved of Krycek on any number of grounds, but that boiling hatred was gone, cold ashes on a dead hearth.

The cocky bastard smiled and put his palm up against the opening of the barrel, as though daring him to shoot. Krycek pushed the gun away.

Obviously firepower wasn't working. "I'd like you to leave," ordered Mulder, as firmly as he could.

The smile became a grin, and Krycek took a step forward. Mulder took a step back. "Trust me, Mulder," Krycek told him. "I know =exactly= what you'd like."

END

 


 

Mon Mar 17 00:56:24 1997
Newsgroups: alt.tv.x-files.creative
Subject: The Hand We Were Dealt 1/11 (NC-17 slash)
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 1997 06:56:24 GMT

Rated NC17: No minors allowed. Sexual content, explicit language. Slash. This is a sequel to "The Same Everywhere." (And thanks to those people who wrote me about that story; I hope you like this one. I had other things I was supposed to be writing, but Mulder and Alex refused to go home.)
As usual, the characters belong to Ten Thirteen; everything else is (c) Jane Mortimer. This story was written for the sheer joy of creation and no other reason. Feedback may be sent to .


The Hand We Were Dealt
by Jane Mortimer

Part 1

He had to stop. What was he going to do, keep retreating till he reached a wall? That would be embarrassing.

Krycek pushed the door shut behind him. He kept moving in, and Mulder kept moving back. "You could offer me a chair, you know."

"Have a chair," said Mulder, speaking automatically. "Somewhere else. The chairs in the National Gallery are very comfortable." Dammit, he'd fallen back far enough. He forced himself to stand still as Krycek moved into his personal space just enough to cause discomfort.

It was unsettling. Not just the proximity, looking at that delicate face and seeing it totally differently now, remembering... He was =not= going to flush this time. Mulder took a few careful breaths and thought about snow and taxes.

Krycek pulled off his gloves -- a nice leather pair, this time, and Mulder wondered if he'd bought them with the money the alien had given him from Mulder's account. "You're looking a little pale," Krycek commented. "Have you been getting out enough?"

"Is there some reason you're here?" =And not the reason I keep picturing?=

Krycek tossed the gloves onto the couch with the casual gesture of someone who expects to stay a while. "The alien left me something for you. You know," he said with beautifully false earnestness, "I think he was actually fond of us in his own way."

Mulder waited.

"I like to think so, anyway, considering how close we all were. I think my favorite episodes were the night and morning before the party broke up. You know, you fucking me, me fucking you -- "

=Snow and taxes. Snow and taxes...= "I don't think about it much," Mulder said, managing quite successfully to sound as if he meant it.

And really, he hadn't thought about it all that often. No more than two or three times an hour on days when he was particularly busy.

"Really? I think about it a lot. My memories are a great comfort to me, Mulder." He was looking directly into Mulder's eyes as he said it, from less than two feet away, and Mulder ruthlessly forced himself to stand still and return the gaze coolly.

"You said you had a reason for coming." =Coming.= Jesus, every innocent word he could think of was suddenly tainted.

"That's right. Our alien friend left us both presents, for being such helpful native guides." That wicked smile, nastiness and delight in equal proportions. "As far as I can tell, I'm yours."

The hell with this stand-your-ground crap. He'd step back further, but the sofa was behind him and that would only make the situation worse. =Breathe, Mulder, breathe.= "Yeah? What's =your= present?"

Krycek leaned in, and Mulder closed his eyes before he realized he was doing it. But one hand tilted his head gently and the lips touched his ear. "Not... as... inherently... interesting," came the warm whisper.

Mulder swallowed. "Aftershave?" he asked, hearing the tell-tale desperation in his tone. "Coffeemaker? Dipstick? I know, a list of the two or three people in America who don't want to kill you."

He threw out the words like random shots, trying to think. For some reason the process was difficult. He was still holding the gun, but short of shooting Krycek -- and that didn't appear to be happening -- the damned thing didn't seem to be very useful. He could punch the man in the jaw, knee him in the groin... but while those actions might not be without appeal ordinarily, they seemed like a ridiculous over-reaction to this particular situation. He couldn't possibly hit someone because they were coming on to him; he'd feel like an idiot. Obviously what he needed to do was state his intentions. Firmly.

"I want you to leave." Christ, that almost sounded like a plea. Pissed at himself, he added, "I =mean= it." There, that was somewhat better.

 "Sure, Mulder." Now Krycek was right up against him, the warmth of his body more than evident through two suits of clothes. He pulled up the front of Mulder's shirt roughly. "In a few minutes, if you still want me to."

=Why you arrogant son of a -- =

Hands moved up smoothly, along his chest, nipples, all the way to his shoulders. Krycek leaned forward, placed his mouth over a nipple, and sucked at it through the linen shirt. Before Mulder could react, he felt, beneath the linen, one long, glorious scratch of fingers from that nipple down to his waist, just the way Phoebe used to do it before she came. Twelve years disappeared in an instant and he groaned as his cock caught fire.

He wished to god he =were= up against a wall; his knees were embarrassingly weak. He opened his eyes as he felt Krycek loosening his belt. His body, long trained to expect instant gratification after that last maneuver, refused to let him move.

=I have to tell him to stop,= he thought.

=No, you don't,= firmly replied whatever part of him that was in charge right now. =He might listen to you.=

Krycek was glowing like a kid with a puppy on Christmas; in fact, he was humming under his breath as he pulled up the rest of Mulder's shirt. It took a minute for Mulder to place the tune. =We're gonna have fun, fun, fun, now that Daddy took the T-Bird away.= (The depth of Krycek's perverse nature had not hitherto been clear to him, but the juxtaposition of betrayal, seduction, and the Beach Boys was enough to make it crystal-sharp.)

Krycek lifted Mulder's shirt and put his mouth against the other nipple, directly. He ran his tongue over it, then drew back with a satisfied sigh. "Jeez, Mulder, you and Cuervo Gold," he murmured.

How were you supposed to take a remark like that? Krycek was unbuttoning his own shirt, still with that quiet, happy look, more appropriate to a choirboy at midnight Mass than an assassin who was apparently doing his best to seduce an innocent (well, comparatively) government agent. He hadn't taken off the jacket, though. Mulder had a soft spot for leather jackets; that's why he'd bought his own. But surely this was a level of detail the alien wouldn't have briefed Krycek on. Was it? =Face it, Mulder, for all you know, he's got the goddamned Fox Mulder Britannica stored in there now.= That was a scary thought.

He hadn't fully grasped before how much scary thoughts turned him on.

"All right, Mulder," Krycek breathed happily -- and a little frighteningly, too, when you looked at his eyes and knew who he was -- "everybody into the pool." And reached a hand around the back of Mulder's neck as though bracing him for a shock and covered Mulder's mouth with his own.

Christ. He kissed the way the alien kissed, like the Allies taking Normandy Beach. Fighting back was not an option. He could feel his thoughts slowing down and sinking like hot air balloons.

And maybe that pool metaphor had a point. When the kiss ended, at Krycek's option, Mulder's ears were ringing and he was breathing as though he'd just come up too fast from deep water. He could feel Krycek's lips moving over his throat and the base of his neck, and though Mulder was still determined on a course of denial, he was fairly certain the evening was totally out of control. His denial, in fact, was taking on more and more the flavor of a legal fiction, like the United Nations refusing to recognize some government it would rather not believe in.

That buzzing in his ears didn't seem to be going away, and he rather doubted it would while Krycek was still holding him, skin against skin. But despite the fact that every part of his body was apparently voting against him, and even though he didn't seem capable of moving away, he did not return the embrace. Krycek's hands slid slowly down from his shoulders, over his arms, the fabric of his shirt, to his wrists; and Mulder remembered abruptly that he was still holding his weapon.

Krycek's hand covered his, and moved to take the gun. Mulder's grip tightened. Krycek drew back slightly, watching him; the mocking expression was totally gone now, as was that light of scary happiness, and Mulder was unaware of how torn and miserable his own face looked.

Krycek kept his hand where it was, but made no more effort to increase the pressure. Instead he leaned forward and kissed Mulder on the lips, this time gently and seriously, and followed it up by doing the same on his left cheek, his throat, and the base of his neck. Each kiss was freighted with the information that Mulder was some infinitely precious and fragile object. Then Krycek drew back again and, not taking his eyes from Mulder's face, tugged on the gun. Mulder become aware that he had released his grip, and Krycek was very carefully putting the safety on and laying it on the table.

He took Mulder's hand, still looking unnaturally solemn, and pulled him toward the hall. "This way?"

"Yes." At least the alien hadn't given him a schematic of the apartment, Mulder thought. =Unless he's just pretending he doesn't know.=

Despite his present confusion, Mulder knew perfectly well that he'd just surrendered his weapon to Krycek, and that that fact would frighten him very much later on. Meanwhile he let himself be led toward the bedroom, at the image of which his thoughts seemed to pile up on a dead-end street, like a line of cars that had no clue where to go.

All right. Barefoot and dreamlike. Down the hall and down the rabbit-hole, or the bedroom, as the case may be.

It was darker in here, with only the strong glow of the streetlight coming through the blinds. You could still see everything in the room, still see Krycek's face and your own hand.

The bed was covered with books, folders, and stray papers. Krycek tossed a swathe of them onto the floor while Mulder watched, too far into an unprecedented situation to know what to do. His brain seemed to have locked up. Throw Krycek out? No, and he hadn't been able to manage that in the relative safety of the living room, anyway. Cooperate? Not ready. Say something? What, in god's name?

="Being that I flow in grief, the smallest twine may lead me."=

The benefits of an Oxford education -- you could always find a quote to describe how screwed up you were. He was flowing in =something,= and he wasn't sure he wanted to know what. The end result was this complete inability to act, since when he tried to think what action to take, there was only a huge, gaping hole with the wind blowing through.

And it was all so unreal. Now Krycek was standing behind him, pulling the jacket from his shoulders, peeling it off his arms. Onto the floor, after the books. Krycek's arms circled Mulder's chest, undoing the empty holster. And Krycek's voice was a soothing murmur in his ear. "It's all right, Mulder, it's just sex. It doesn't mean anything. No one's ever going to know..."

The tone brought back memories of how as a boy he'd watched a man on a horse farm soothe down a nervous mount. Mulder would have taken this as an insult, or just plain funny, except at the moment he sympathized with that horse.

His shirt joined the pile. His belt was already loose; it slid off easily, his pants came down, and he sat on the bed, trying to figure out how he'd gotten into this situation. He kicked the pants away -- if he wasn't going to put them on, he wasn't going to leave them around his ankles -- and watched Krycek pull off his jeans and briefs and toss the leather jacket on top of them. He looked kind of good, Mulder thought, wearing nothing but an open shirt.

Mulder replayed that thought, considering it as evidence, examining it the way he might look at the behavior of a murder suspect.

Apparently he was going to have sex with Alex Krycek. He might as well face it.

Through the static in his head, he tried to get hold of this fifth-dimensional concept. Why did things like this happen to him? He could chase after normal, sane, straight women for weeks and months, and they'd ignore him; where perverts of all sorts were drawn to him as though they were the vacuum cleaner and he was a dustball. Alien bodysnatchers, mysterious killers without a past, sadists with nice legs and upmarket accents. How did they find him? Was there some invisible sign outside his apartment that only they could read? What was the universal symbol for "For a good time, seduce and torture Fox Mulder"?

Krycek joined him on the bed.

Well, he was tired of being the seducee. The hell with it. It wasn't as though the balloon hadn't entirely cut loose from its moorings already. He took a deep breath and, feeling as though he were committing himself to a life of crime, he reached out, pulled Krycek's head forward, and kissed him. He could feel the chuckle deep in Krycek's chest. "Good for you, Mulder."

"Shut up," he growled, and pushed the other man down on the mattress. Shirt open, eyes gleaming in the shadows, lips ever so faintly bruised, the thorn in Mulder's existence was looking remarkably vulnerable suddenly. He gazed at the riches beneath him and for a second he hesitated.

"Why, Mulder," murmured the voice mockingly, "you're so forceful -- "

So much for hesitation. He was on top of Krycek before he knew what he was doing.

                                #

=A miracle of rare device.= That was one of Alex's favorite poems. This was almost unbelievably good fortune. He'd been hoping he could coax Mulder into taking a more active role tonight, but he'd thought it would require a lot more time and effort.

Mulder's lips and tongue were all over him; he seemed to have mistaken Alex for a popsicle. His skin was starting to tingle with a lovely erotic burn from all this attention. Then Mulder reached his right nipple, where he decided to linger a while.

He tongued the nipple, then flicked it with his fingers; tongued and flicked. He was a very sick boy, but Alex approved of that. And his apparent oral fixation was greatly to the benefit of his bedpartners. Krycek had once seen Mulder spend fifteen minutes spitting sunflower seeds into a glass five feet away while watching a surveillance videotape; he was now prepared to look on the whole episode a lot more tolerantly.

He ran a hand through Mulder's hair while Mulder continued to give him his complete attention. Though his mouth stayed where it was, his left hand traveled down, sliding over Alex's skin as it went, in the somehow satisfied way you might slide it over smooth silk or a woman's hair. =You fucking hedonist,= Alex thought, delighted at this side of his gorgeously neurotic ex-partner. =I'm so glad nobody told me to kill you.=

Down, down... Mulder reached the groin area and hesitated half a second; then his fingers brushed Alex's cock, with a delicate, exploratory touch, as though he were dealing with an alien artifact. Alex felt a sizzle of burning wire go through him, following those fingers. He heard himself moan. Mulder wasn't letting up on that little trick with the nipples, either; well, he was an obsessive, anything worth doing was worth doing well. Probably his family would have shot him if he didn't bring home all A's.

Alex shifted as the grip of the fingers changed. Ahh, good. Well, in fact, glorious, but that wasn't the long-term reason for pushing Mulder into the deep end. If they were going to work together, they needed to bleed off a little of that smoldering hostility Mulder still had to be nursing, and there was nothing like fucking somebody to put you in a good humor toward them. And if Mulder wasn't working up to exactly that, Alex was ready to turn in his fake passport and get a job in McDonald's.

=That's right, Mulder. Treat it as if it were your own. Feel free... = It was amazing how confident that hand had gotten in the last couple of minutes. Well, probably the evidence of his success could speak for itself.

"Turn over," Mulder said. His voice was hoarse.

"I beg your pardon?" Damn, that was a little shakier than he'd planned. But maybe that was to the good.

"You heard me."

=Yes, *sir*,= Alex thought, grinning into the pillow as he turned.

...Not to mention, there would be no way Mulder would be able to convince himself tomorrow that he hadn't participated whole-heartedly in this little episode.

He felt hands running smoothly up his arms, over his shoulders, the small of his back, his ass... Christ, the hands were so careful, so gentle, it felt as if Mulder were using them to look at his body for the first time. Alex's throat felt suddenly dry. He hadn't expected -- Then there was the touch of lips on his neck. A tongue tracing behind his ear.

And then, nothing. A protesting sound came involuntarily to his throat and he twisted his neck around. Mulder was sitting up, one hand on Alex's ass, looking thoughtful.

"What?" Alex asked. =Oh.= "I came prepared. In my jacket."

Mulder got off the bed and retrieved the jacket from the floor. He felt around in the pockets. "Condoms," he said.

"What were you expecting? I don't carry KY around our nation's capital in my pockets, for those sudden sexual emergencies."

Mulder gave him a look that, even reading sideways, told him that nobody likes a smartass. =Coming from you, Mulder, that idea lacks a certain authority.=

"If I'm too annoying," Alex said, "I can leave."

"I'll kill you," Mulder responded immediately, and apparently without thinking, because he looked startled at having said it.

This time Krycek kept his grin internal. Possession by an alien was nothing in return for this; he'd gotten access to Mulder's buttons at bargain prices. And pushing them was pure, uncut delight; like hang-gliding, like jumping a motorcycle over a parked car, like the moment when you knew you were finally going to hit somebody before they hit you.

"I hope you have some lube," he said innocently. "It would be too bad if we had to forfeit the game on account of bad weather."

Mulder gave him a harsh look, the kind of look he gave high-ranking people who told him UFOs were weather balloons and he should stay out of classified areas. He turned and strode toward the bathroom.

=Thank you,= Alex thought toward the ceiling. =I don't know who or where the hell you are now, but we are definitely more than even.=

***********************************************************

Part 2

He heard Mulder moving things around in the bathroom impatiently, the clink of bottles and the sound of a drawer opening and closing. A few seconds later he returned, carrying a tube of something. At this point Alex didn't care if it was toothpaste, as long as his delightfully corruptible lover got back to where he'd left off.

Mulder sat down on the edge of the bed, and Alex heard a condom package rip open. There was some shifting around on the mattress, then a curse. "Fuck," Mulder said.

Alex put down his head and smiled into the pillow. Then he lifted it and inquired calmly, "Mulder?"

"Tore it. Wait a second. I'm getting another."

God, he hadn't had this much fun in months. Maybe years. Apparently Fox Mulder was absolutely determined on this course of action: fucking Alex Krycek was his current project, and nothing was going to stand in the way. All that beautiful focus, centered on his ass. What he wouldn't give for videotape...

Then a slippery finger entered him, and he let that thought dissolve. =Ah.= He felt his back arch the way it always did, as the wire of pleasure burned through him. From the grip of the hand on his buttocks, Mulder liked that response. =No problem, Mulder. Happy to respond. Do it again.=

And Mulder did. Alex gulped, as the fire leaped to the sparks in his cock and balls.

After a minute or two of exploration, he was thoroughly lubed and his breath was coming out in pants. The fingers withdrew. He felt the tip of Mulder's cock and closed his eyes.

And waited. And waited some more. That tantalizing touch removed itself.

Goddamn it, he was ready now! More than ready.

No, this was no way to get into Fox Mulder's still-relatively-virginal head and pants. He let out his breath and made sure his voice showed no impatience. "Is anything wrong?"

There was a pause. "I, um... I've never done this before."

"You were there when our favorite Martian and I did it. Don't worry, Mulder, you're not going to hurt me." This was ironic, wasn't it? Mulder would have been glad to hurt him any number of times, but put it in a sexual context and all his reflexes went the other way.

Mulder shifted on the bed. Alex felt hands rest briefly on his cheeks, felt Mulder positioning himself.

And again, nothing.

He twisted around and reconnoitered the territory in question. Mulder was still hard, but he was going to lose it if he kept worrying. Alex looked up into his face then, and met a shamefaced glance. =All right, Mulder. Let's see a little more of that *focus* you're so good at.= Alex pulled himself out from under him, knelt up, and placed his hands on either side of Mulder's face. He kissed him for a long time. When he drew back he could see that that beautiful otherworldly look had returned to Mulder's eyes. Alex lay back down and gave him what he knew was his most irritating smile -- and it was, he had been assured, =extremely= irritating.

"Come on, Mulder. When's the last time you thought I was fragile? Was it the last time you thought I was an FBI agent?" He reached up and stroked the side of Mulder's head with terrible gentleness. "Put me in my place."

Then rough hands were turning him over, and he was laughing.

And, soon after, gasping. And sobbing. And gripping the sheets in his hands. =Points to both teams,= he thought, as his nervous system went into flatline, and he wondered how receptive Mulder would be feeling in the morning.

Then he stopped thinking about it.

                         #

There was a soft touch at his throat. Mulder woke to find the room full of sunlight, and Alex Krycek's face about six inches from his own. =Jesus, you were out of your mind last night. What the hell were you *thinking?*=

"What time is-- "

Alex shut him up by kissing him. It was a brief touch of the lips, but there was something in his eyes that made Mulder swallow hard.

"What time--"

Another kiss, deeper. When Alex drew back, Mulder took a breath and said, "I only want to know what -- "

This kiss made his head buzz. There was a finger on his lips when it ended, telling him not to talk.

Krycek said, "I don't want to hear about the fucking clock, Mulder."

Mulder was vaguely aware that sanity had been left behind some time ago, but that didn't mean he needed to be given orders from a liar and murderer. "Some of us have actual lawful employment -- "

"Some of us don't. And we're on my schedule."

=The hell we are.= Mulder was about to say something he hoped he'd regret, when Krycek rolled on top of him. He felt lips trace a route over his neck and teeth tug at his earlobe. A soft, soft voice spoke directly into his ear. "Let's get this straight, Mulder. If I hear you going for your watch one more time, I'm going to turn you over and fuck your brains out."

There was a lengthy silence, during which Mulder became remarkably aware of Krycek's cock touching his. It was like having an electric heater strapped to his groin.

"So," he said finally, "what time did you say it was?"

He felt Alex's chuckle against his chest, and then suddenly they were in a tangle of bedcovers. "I might have known," Krycek said, "from your shocking aggressiveness last night -- "

"=My= aggressive-- "

"Mulder?" Scully's voice. "Are you all -- "

The door swung open.

They froze. Scully was standing on the threshold, all scrubbed and businesslike in her beige pantsuit, looking horrified. Mulder realized that Alex's head was under the covers. Thankgodthankgodthankgod. He grabbed a corner of the sheet and covered the arm that was sticking out.

Scully was already backing away. "I'm sorry! God, I -- I'm so sorry. I didn't -- Mulder, I knocked, but there was no answer, and I thought -- " She shook her head, and the fact that the door was still open seemed to penetrate her embarrassment. She shut it hastily. "I'll be in the living room!" her voice called from the hall.

Unlike Scully's, Mulder's daze had not yet passed. She was supposed to pick him up early this morning so they could drive to Baltimore. How could it have slipped his mind? =You know damn well how it slipped your mind,= he thought, and became aware that Alex's foot was sticking out of the bottom of the sheet.

=Don't panic. Scully will think your girlfriend has big feet, and she'll be too polite to comment on it.=

There was some kind of sound emerging from under the covers. Mulder lifted the sheet.

Alex was lying on his back. Laughing hysterically. Hysterically enough that the heaves of merriment were those fairly silent ones that make the whole body shake, but even as he watched in horror, Mulder could hear them getting louder.

"Stop it!" Mulder hissed in his ear.

His order -- all right, plea -- had no effect whatsoever. Krycek continued to shake with gales of laughter. The humor of the situation was lost on Mulder, and if he hadn't left his gun in the living room last night, he'd have the barrel against the man's skull right now. It wasn't enough that his sex life was out of control, now he had to lie here and watch the rest of it disintegrate to the sound of, god help us, giggles. Were cold-blooded assassins supposed to giggle like this? Couldn't he even stay in character? "Alex, stop it. Dammit, stop. She's going to hear you."

He might as well have been talking to himself. "Alex, please! Please stop."

Mulder could face being shot at by spree killers with equanimity, but in a situation as dire as this he was not above begging. He could just picture explaining it all to his dauntingly sane partner: "Scully, I've been sleeping with a dangerous killer. All right, a dangerous =male= killer. But I wouldn't want you to draw any conclusions from this fact as to my sexual preferences, or my state of mind." Oh, definitely, she would accept that. And then he could add, "By the way, Scully, I may not have mentioned =which= dangerous killer this is..."

Mulder clapped a hand over Krycek's mouth. "=Please.=" The laughter continued exploding beneath his hand. "Alex? Come on, stop. I'll owe you one." He rolled over on top of Krycek, keeping his hand in place, and dropped kisses on his chest and neck. "Please. Please. Please." Then he looked down into his face. "See? You've got me where you want me. If I were you, I'd take advantage of the fact."

The laughter had been draining away with each kiss, and now it was totally gone. He could feel the other's cock pressing into him. Mulder had noticed before that Krycek's humor and sexual impulses seemed to run on entirely different circuits; you could trigger one or the other, but not both at the same time.

The voice came soft and thoughtful, sending a shiver down his spine: "You'd owe me one, would you?"

"Yeah." Mulder caught his breath. Krycek's eyes were only a few inches away from his; they'd darkened, and there was a kind of intimate, appraising gleam there that made Mulder want to drop right down into those eyes and suggest that this offer should perhaps be taken advantage of here and now. He pulled himself together and added quickly, "If you stay in here and don't let her see or hear you."

A second later his own words sunk in, and he rolled back onto the mattress as though avoiding a live grenade. Scully was in the next room, for godsake! What was he thinking? Jesus. Apparently close physical contact with Alex Krycek could burn right through your higher brain centers.

=Just say no.= God, that really had been a dumb ad campaign, hadn't it, he thought savagely as he pulled on his jeans. He crossed the room as he did so, imagining the wheels in Dana Scully's head turning at lightspeed every second he kept her waiting.

He reached for the doorknob.

"Mulder."

"What?" He turned.

"I think you want to zip up."

Mulder looked down and felt himself flush. "Oh. Yeah."

He zipped, turned back to the door, took a deep breath, and opened it.

=Pronouns,= he told himself, as he walked through. =*Her.* She, she, she. Got to remember that... =

                                   #

"Mulder, I'm really sorry." She stood up as soon as she saw him, clearly still a little distressed. "I know I have no right to barge into your bedroom like that, but you didn't answer the door, and you didn't seem to hear me, and I couldn't help thinking, you know, maybe he's lying unconscious on the floor or something, and -- "

"Scully, it's all right." He thanked god that she seemed more embarrassed than he was. "No harm done. I'm sorry I wasn't ready. I... lost track of the time."

She didn't respond to that; he supposed his distraction had been pretty obvious. After a second she said, "Did I upset your friend?"

"No," (she, she, she) "she took it in stride."

Another silence, during which Mulder had time to reflect that Scully had never seen (1) him with a woman, or (2) any other human being invited into this apartment with him; and that this unnatural occurrence seemed to cry out to be explained to a close friend. Although she was too polite to ask.

"It's, um, someone I met in North Dakota. Her name's Mary Ann." =Mary Ann. That was an innocent name. You could not imagine anything bad of a Mary Ann. Now all he needed was Gilligan and the Skipper...=

"That North Dakota thing? I guess it wasn't a total disappointment after all, then."

"No," he said, feeling as though he were running uphill. Lying to Scully took an enormous amount of energy from him; it was several whole octaves harder than lying to people in general, who after all were only there to present him with obstacles. "She was a... waitress, at the local restaurant."

Scully nodded, her face totally nonjudgmental. She specialized in that.

For a second a complete profile swam into Mulder's mind out of whole cloth: Age 30, one child, applying to grad school as soon as the kid was older, living with her mother in the same town to save on expenses, child's name was Erin, three years old. He could picture her house, a run-down Victorian.

Sometimes Mulder's mind made him nervous.

=It's only sex. Everybody lies about sex.= "I, er, suppose I'd better get dressed."

It occurred to him that if Alex strolled out now, his life with Scully wouldn't be worth a plugged nickel. He hoped to god that Krycek was every bit as manipulative as he seemed to be, and that he'd enjoy Mulder owing him a favor too much to inflict the hit-and-run.

"Mulder, would you like me to wait out in the car?"

  =Yes.= "Uh, would you? I know it's really rude, but Mary Ann's kind of shy, and I should talk to her before we go -- "

"No problem, I don't mind. Please tell her I'm sorry." Scully paused, and then picked up a sheet of paper from the couch. She handed it to him. "This was stuck to your door."

A menu from Gold Mountain Szechuan. Shit, the kid with the Chinese food had shown up after all; probably at one of those moments when Mulder had been several fathoms under water. Krycek might have mentioned it, damn him. Mulder was going to have a lot of apologizing to do today, it seemed.

He saw Scully out and returned to the bedroom.

"She's gone," he said. "But you can't leave till after we do; she's out in the car." Jesus, he couldn't believe this, he was fucking =conspiring= with Alex Krycek to keep Scully in the dark.

Nor did the irony of the situation seemed to have escaped his visitor, who was lounging on the bed, looking amused. "Anything to oblige, Mulder. I'll check out what's in your refrigerator and run through a few videotapes before I go."

Mulder controlled the impulse to glare, which he knew would only amuse Krycek further. Mulder hated the idea of leaving the man in his personal territory, but logically, there was nothing he could do about it. Besides, people seemed to make free of his apartment all the time; the locks were practically a formality. Krycek could probably walk in and out whenever he pleased anyway.

"Try =Jolly Rogering II=," he said coolly. "You'll be impressed by the cimematography."

"If it makes you happy, Mulder," Krycek offered, looking him straight in the eyes, "it makes me happy."

=Shit.= Mulder stubbed a toe as he tried to pull on his good trousers, and had to hobble into the bathroom.

***********************************************************

Part 3

He turned the rental car off the beltway and made his way toward the center of town, running his tires through the puddles from last night's rain with childlike enjoyment.

Alex had never seduced an FBI agent before. It certainly gave a cheery, upbeat mood to one's entire day; he could recommend it to others. When he'd shown up on Mulder's doorstep last evening, he'd wanted to see if he could get that body again -- the challenge was irresistible -- and he'd wanted the simple comfort of the body itself. Having attained his goals, he was ready now to examine his own motives and see why he thought there was something more needed here.

Yes, Mulder might be helpful if this little project turned out to be more complex than it seemed. But that wasn't where the sense of something lacking was coming from.

Not that the =sex= was lacking; the sex was stellar, and Alex was in no position to carp at his rare good fortune. Life had been a little colder and harsher than usual, of late, and he was perfectly happy to pick up a paranormal investigator or two where he could find them.

As for Mulder himself, he was like a thoroughbred horse or some kind of champion racing hound -- lean and graceful and if you put that mechanical rabbit out in front of him, he'd run around the track forever and ever, until that champion heart gave out and he dropped down dead. It was idiotic, but there was something noble about it, too.

And a good part of what had made last night so erotic was the fact that, unlike nearly everybody else Krycek had to deal with, Mulder's responses were right out there in the open, in a kind of glass case about a foot in front of his body. You said or did something to him, and you could see the whole thought process of how he took it in, dealt with it intellectually, liked it or hated it...

My god. He grinned. =I'm attracted to Mulder for his mind.=

=You pervert,= he told himself.

Well, but this didn't change anything, did it? He'd always found the man intriguing. If only he weren't hellishly annoying, as well. Alex remembered how sweet it had been when the alien had used Mulder's body to offer him oral sex -- clever of it, to confront him at once with what he'd most like to see. Every irritation, every threat Mulder had ever made to him had simply faded into the background like distant radio static.

=Now there was a worthy goal.= Mulder had been charmingly forward about fucking him last night, but they'd never gotten around to the other. Which was a pity, because in Alex's view, there was so much more control you could exercise from the front. And he'd dearly like to be able to look up and see that brutally open face respond to --

No, that would ruin it. Mulder as a lover was generous and malleable; if you sucked him off once or twice, he'd be bound to decide that etiquette alone required him to return the favor -- no matter how distasteful he found the idea. And then it wouldn't count. You didn't win at Solitaire unless all the cards came out, and you wouldn't win with Mulder unless it were his own idea. Alex wanted him to do it out of passion. He wanted him to get down on his knees and offer to do this for the person who'd executed his father and kept him from saving his best friend, for no other reason than that he wanted to give that person sexual pleasure.

=Not asking a lot, are we?=

He turned the car into the office garage he'd been directed to, off K Street.

Mulder Solitaire. It would be difficult, but not impossible. Look at the evidence: Mulder required Scully's approval, he'd made that clear often enough. He'd started out suspecting her, and ended up emotionally dependent on her. He could definitely be gotten to; but then, how much of a surprise was that?

 =You know, maybe you're just looking for an excuse to stay in Washington.=

He found a spot near the exit, switched off the engine, and took a breath in the abrupt silence. =Business mode,= he told himself; and all these personal and tantalizing thoughts rolled into their cupboards obediently and shut their doors.

                         #

Mulder didn't have a business mode; he could focus even more intensely than Krycek on a particular task at hand, but he didn't choose his states of mind. They chose him.

=You let him take away your gun. What the hell is wrong with you?=

He gazed out the window at the hills lining the highway, a row of identical white suburban houses just visible beyond the crest.

Yeah, well, any one of those houses could be harboring a serial killer, child molester, or just a teenager who read too much =Soldier of Fortune= and was waiting to blossom into something requiring weaponry. The world was full of things that were screwed up on the inside.

"You're pretty quiet today, Mulder." Scully glanced over at him from the driver's seat.

He shrugged. "Tired, I guess."

"You usually only get like this when you're working on a case."

"We don't know if we have a case yet. I don't think this thing in Baltimore is going to pan out."

"No 'paranormal bouquet'? Well, that's my point, Mulder. We don't have a case, and here you are, preoccupied. I might almost think you were worried about your personal life."

"But since we both know I don't have one -- "

"Tell me the truth, did I mess things up with your girlfriend? I can't tell you how embarrassed I am -- "

"Scully, you've apologized four times. It was just a mix-up. Really, it was kind of funny, when you think about it." =Or some people, if they were really annoying, might see it that way.=

She looked a little disbelieving, but didn't pursue it. Thank god.

=What the hell is wrong with you?=

It was those oddly tender kisses, just before he took the gun. They stood out from the rest of the evening like a beacon, which was strange when you thought about it. They'd barely been erotic at all -- well, no, that was going too far; but they'd been something else too, something too much like water in the desert, something that triggered the "want to believe" mechanism.

Which could be a problem, if Krycek was going to hang around Washington for any length of time. And very likely he would, now that Mulder thought about it; he probably hadn't traveled here for one night of somewhat explosive sex with the person who periodically tried to kill him. (Although he doubtless found that amusing as well. Krycek's sense of humor should be put before a firing squad.)

Had Mulder ever known a time when Krycek didn't have a second agenda?

=As a matter of fact, no.=

It was like stepping down onto a staircase that wasn't there. What was he doing in Washington? And was Mulder supposed to be a sidebar, or part of the main action?

"Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you just going to sit there like a lump all the way to the Baltimore PD?"

"Probably."

She made a disgusted sound and he felt the car lurch as she turned onto the fast lane.

                                #

It was a tired, shabby little office, but it did have a second door; Alex was not the only person to take note of these things when renting a place. The man behind the desk was about forty, dark-haired and dark-eyed, plump and balding, wearing a nondescript suit. He looked up when Krycek entered, then stood and took a couple of steps toward the other door.

A second later Krycek had him against the wall in an arm lock. "Hello, Anthony," he said.

"Don't call me that." He was shorter than Krycek, and obviously outclassed when it came to physical force, but he didn't seem to take it personally. You would think, in fact, that he was greeted this way every day. "Would you like to sit down?"

Alex released him. The man said, "Can I go to the bathroom first?"

"Would you like me to come with you?"

"Never mind." He took the seat behind the desk. "The moment passed."

Alex took the other chair. He glanced around the office pointedly.

The man gave him a sour look. "So I don't spend a lot on rent. Budget cuts -- I've been outsourced. A lot of people use me now."

"A lot of people always did."

The phone on the desk rang. Anthony picked it up. "Corporate Services." He listened. "No, that's no problem, we can get you tickets for any show. Five in the center row? Well, five is a little... no, we can do it. You want tonight or tomorrow?" He scratched something down on a piece of paper. His desk was littered with tiny pieces of paper. "You want champagne sent to the client's hotel room? Well, we do do it normally... no, no problem. Thank =you=, sir."

He hung up and took a breath. "Where were we?"

"I came to ask a favor."

A wary look came into Anthony's eyes. Being shoved against a wall had not disconcerted him, but this was evidently cause for worry.

"Gee, Anthony, relax. I just want some information." Anthony waited, still cautious. "I was wondering what you hear from the smoke-filled back room."

 "In regard to... ?"

"Me."

Anthony swallowed. "Alex, you know, I'm not really in the loop anymore..."

"The loop does not exist that you are not in," said Krycek, regarding him calmly.

There was a brief silence. Then Anthony burst out, "Why the hell did you come back? I never thought you were stupid."

"Is it that bad?"

"If you consider getting whacked bad, yeah, I would say it's that bad."

The phone rang. Anthony picked it up. "Corporate Services. Yes, we book cruises. Any line. Do you have a preference, or do you want us to arrange it?" He grabbed another scrap of paper and scribbled at race-car speed. "Aegean? I can send you brochures from the top two lines, if you'd like to examine them yourself. Not at all. Thank you, ma'am."

He hung up. Alex said, "Are you ever going to get a computer?"

"I don't believe in computers. When information is efficient, anybody can get it."

Alex grinned. "I missed you, Anthony."

"Yeah, I'm sure." He eyed Krycek appraisingly for a second, then said, "Why don't you let me book you a cruise? Caribbean, five days, six nights, several international ports of call. Let me do this for you, Alex. You look stressed."

"I'm sure I would not be stressed at all by the time the cruise was over. But thank you for the thought." He rose. "One last thing. If anybody follows me, or takes a shot at me, or makes me nervous in any way, I'm going to assume you told them I was here, and I'm going to kill you."

Anthony gave him a look that was both hurt and protesting. "That's not fair, Alex. They're bound to notice you're here sooner or later."

"We can both hope it's later," said Alex, with a friendly smile. He moved toward the door, remaining aware of where Anthony's hands were as he did. Anthony's eyes stayed on him. His phone rang.

"Corporate Services. Yes, we provide long-range and short-range weapons on a temporary basis..."

                         #

"Hey, Mulder. Heading home?"

Krycek emerged from the shadow of a building as Mulder crossed the sidewalk. It was nearly eight o'clock. Mulder wore his usual raincoat against the February wind, while Krycek wore the omnipresent black leather jacket, the texture of which Mulder was now intimately familiar with.

"Eventually." He kept walking.

Alex fell in beside him. Mulder said, "I have somewhere to go." He glanced over at Krycek, irritated. Krycek looked good in the play of light and shadow from the streetlamps -- they illuminated his profile, making his skin glow, darkening his eyes and hair by contrast. Krycek, damn him, had started looking good everywhere, and Mulder experienced a recurrence of the desire to hit him.

"Where to? Or is it classified?"

Mulder sighed. "I am going to Gold Mountain Szechuan to apologize for stiffing them on the chicken cashew they sent to my apartment last night. If I don't, they're never going to take my calls again."

"Mulder, your voice sounds almost accusing. I know you think I'm responsible for the world's ills, but I don't see how you can blame your delivery problems on me."

It was maddening. There was no possible way he =could= blame Krycek, either, without coming out and admitting he'd been on some other, sexually-induced plane last night. He walked on, trying to ignore the man.

When they reached Gold Mountain, Alex accompanied him inside. Mulder continued to ignore him, but it was like ignoring a six-foot white rabbit at your side; Mulder half expected everybody else in the restaurant to be staring at Krycek the way he was trying not to.

He put on his best apologetic-Mulder look and threaded his way through the tables till he reached the cash register where Mr. Chang sat.

The Gold Mountain had the finest Chinese food within a fifty-block radius and, like him, they kept long hours. He was addicted to their product, and he liked that when he was in the middle of a project he didn't have to stop and think about where to call if he didn't want pizza. He would be willing to go to great lengths to stay on their good side.

There was one problem, though. "Mr. Chang?" he said. "I'm sorry about last night-- "

Mr. Chang let loose a flood of Chinese -- the specifics were a mystery, but the displeasure was evident.

"Mr. Chang -- wait a minute -- let me explain -- "

Mr. Chang ran Gold Mountain with his wife, his son, and his two grown daughters; and while, granted, they spoke more English than Mulder spoke Chinese, unfortunately that wasn't saying much. Usually it didn't matter -- the Changs spoke arithmetic, food, and street address, which was enough to give everyone what they needed; but it was hard to beg forgiveness in any of these.

Chang's eldest daughter approached, carrying a tray. She turned to Mulder. "He say he is tired of people not home when they call us. He say, 'no more.' He say you go now."

Mr. Chang emphasized this by making a sweeping-out gesture with his hands. This was not going well, Mulder thought.

Just then Krycek stepped up and addressed Mr. Chang. In Spanish.

Mulder stared at him. Chang paused, then answered him back. Also in Spanish.

It was a little surreal. Unfortunately, Mulder didn't speak Spanish either -- linguistics had never been his strong point. But Krycek was using that friendly, deferential tone ("Mulder, some of us believed in what you were doing") and whatever he was saying, it seemed to be coming out pretty fluently.

He gestured toward Mulder then, and the ironic amusement was clear. Chang glanced at Mulder and started to laugh; a friendly laughter, though, almost affectionate. Mulder had no idea what was happening to his reputation.

When they were finished, Mulder cautiously pushed a twenty toward Mr. Chang to cover last night's delivery. It was waved away with a grin, and a brief stream of Chinese.

"The same to you," Mulder said warily, "I think." He glanced toward Krycek.

"Gracias," Krycek was saying. =Finally,= Mulder thought, =a word I understand.=

They seemed to be dismissed. Mulder turned and started out, Krycek following. Mulder opened the door, then stopped on the threshold and faced him. "=What= did you tell them?"

"Don't worry about it, Mulder. They =like= you."

Once he was through Mulder tried to slam the door, but it had one of those pneumatic closures and he only ended up straining a finger. Krycek remained attached to him as he strode down the street, and Mulder decided to return to his "ignore" policy. If governments could do it, he could do it.

Ten seconds later, he stopped again. "Why =Spanish=?" he demanded.

"You will note, Mulder, that Spanish food appears on the menu too. And a lot of Chinese immigrants go to South America before they move to the United States."

"They do," said Mulder.

"Yes, they do. And you will note that the sign on the outside was painted over a somewhat older sign, which reads 'Monte Oro,' which is the Spanish version of a Chinese immigrant nickname for the US, which is..."

"Gold Mountain," said Mulder, looking over his shoulder at the building's facade. "I never noticed."

"You tend to notice things within a narrow field, Mulder."

He didn't answer that one. After a moment, Krycek said, "Besides, it's not as though I could talk to them in Chinese." Mulder was about to make some disparaging crack about that, when Alex added reasonably, "I only know a little Mandarin, and they speak Cantonese."

Mulder shut his eyes for a second. "You speak Mandarin."

"No, I told you, I only know a little. I took it in school."

=What the hell was your major, Krycek?= "Any particular reason you chose that?"

He shrugged. "I just thought it might be useful. You know, four billion people on the planet speaking it, and all. And as you must be aware, Mulder, it's important to be useful to others if you want to lead a decent life." He paused. "Or even lead a life."

"Is that Krycek Philosophy 101?"

Alex didn't answer. He scanned the street: Mulder's car was parked at the end of the block. Then he looked up and down and gestured toward an opening between two of the buildings not far from them.

"Come on. I want to talk to you about something where nobody's likely to hear."

Mulder gazed at him suspiciously. Krycek made an impatient sound. "It'll only take a minute," he said. When Mulder still didn't move, Alex added, "For godsake. You're a grown man, you're armed, you're fully dressed -- "

"Okay, okay!" Mulder glanced around quickly to see who might have heard that, then followed Krycek into the alley.

***********************************************************

Part 4

There was nothing here but a dumpster, some brick walls, and what illumination from the streetlight penetrated the entrance. Mulder walked to within three feet of Krycek, and stopped. "All right, I'm here."

Was there a faint smile on Alex's face? Hard to tell in the dim light. "I want to present a problem for Mulder's Brain."

Mulder had never claimed that he could resist curiosity. "You already present a problem, but go ahead."

"Three addresses." And Krycek named three places in the greater Washington area; one in Gaithersburg, one in Chevy Chase, and one in downtown DC. "They mean anything to you?"

"Should they?"

"One's a dry cleaner. One's a school. The third's a warehouse. What do they have in common?"

"Will I get a prize for this?"

"I take it that means you don't know."

Mulder was a little annoyed by that, because in fact he didn't know. "Where did you get them?"

"How about this? A basement suite in an office building --near FBI headquarters, now that I think of it. Any link?"

"No," he said, frowning. =School, warehouse, dry cleaner...=

"Good, I see the brain is engaged. You keep thinking about it, Mulder, and I'll pass you more locations as I get the details."

Mulder brought his focus back on Krycek. "Why should I -- " He stopped. Alex had gotten a lot closer suddenly. He put his hands on either side of Mulder's face. "You know, clandestine meetings become you," he said softly. Mulder's throat went dry. Was he going to --

He was. He did. When Krycek took his mouth away, Mulder staggered back a step. =I'm going to reach some advanced zen level of kissing by the time this is over.= He was breathing hard. =I suppose it'll be more popular at parties than those card tricks I learned in seventh grade.=

"You could give a signal or something before you do that," Mulder said, pleased at the control he'd forced into his voice.

"Open your coat," Alex suggested in his softest tone, a tone Mulder's cock knew well enough that it was already straining toward it.

"No." ...Fucking Way, he made plain.

"Come on, Mulder. Haven't you ever done it outside a nice, clean room? You don't know what getting fucked against bricks, in the dark, can do for you. I'd be happy to show you. And I promise you'll like it."

He had to get away from here. He had to get away from here because if Alex kept talking in that tone of voice he was going to lose it; he was going to lose it, and it was going to happen soon.

"I told you no."

Panic made him sound serious. At least, Krycek accepted it as serious, or seemed to. He stroked Mulder's face once. "No problem, Mulder. Your choice entirely." He turned and walked toward the street.

Mulder took a minute to catch his breath, then followed. When he got out onto the sidewalk, Krycek was gone.

That was a narrow escape. He'd been about =this= close to getting fucked in an alley.

Why did he feel so disappointed?

                         #

Another week passed. Nobody was waiting for him when he got off work, no shadows detached themselves from buildings and formed into a figure in a leather jacket, no one unusual called his office. Perhaps Alex had gone on to destroy somebody else's peace of mind, or maybe one of the legion of people he'd offended had finally managed to shoot him. =Think of how many problems that would solve.= Mulder started to relax a little during that dangerous daily walk from the car to his apartment, and even managed to stop tensing when the phone rang.

So one day, when he was expecting a call from Ballistics, it took him a moment to regroup.

"Mulder."

"Meet me in Pulaski Park."

He paused, as his brain dealt with this. Then: "When?"

"Now would be good."

Krycek hung up. Mulder looked at the phone in his hand.

"Mulder?" He glanced up; Scully was watching him with a frown. "Is anything wrong?"

"No, um... I was thinking of something else. I have to go pick up my dry cleaning, they're closing the store early today. Be back in half an hour." Wow, that had leapt into and out of his mind so perfectly. He'd hate to think it was getting easier to lie to Scully. Because then he'd start thinking he deserved to be having painful affairs with conscienceless perverts who killed members of his close family. And Mulder already had enough self-image problems.

Pulaski Park was only fifteen minutes away. It wasn't a big place; only a couple of blocks wide, with a fountain, some swings, and a scattering of bare winter trees. It was cold today, and the sky was gray with the possibility of snow.

Mulder crossed the street. Krycek was sitting at one of the cement chess tables. He was still in the leather jacket (surprise), but his hands were red and raw. He was rubbing them together as Mulder approached.

"What happened to your gloves?" Now, that was a stupid way to greet one of your worst enemies, even if you =were= sleeping with him.

Krycek looked down at his hands blankly, as though he'd forgotten they were a problem. "Oh. I left them someplace I couldn't go back to." He stood up. "Let's stroll. It's harder to keep a directional mike on somebody when they're moving."

One of the pluses in dealing with Krycek was that you didn't have to be the person who always said these things and got funny looks.

They walked down the gravel pathway. Neither of them spoke; there were only footsteps crunching on the pebbles and the muffled sound of the wind, which periodically cut right through Mulder's overcoat. He became aware that a leather jacket couldn't possibly be enough protection on a day like this.

"I've been busy," Alex said finally.

Mulder could believe it. He glanced sideways at Krycek's face; it was worn and tired, sharp lines etched under his eyes. You would think it would detract from the sexual aura Mulder was starting to regularly perceive around him, but unfortunately (and most unfairly) it did not. Mulder never looked like that when =he= was tired. Alex looked like an angel who'd spent the last century in some European capital of decadence, drinking absinthe and sleeping with minor poets.

"Are you going to tell me what you've been busy doing?"

That familiar twist of grin, but this time Mulder had the feeling Krycek was directing the mockery at himself. "Yeah, I think I am. I don't seem to be making a lot of headway on this on my own."

Mulder waited. They reached the end of the park and started following the circle of path back again.

"You remember I said the alien left me a present."

He nodded. "You didn't tell me what it was."

"Yeah, well, =it= didn't tell me what it was, either. It left me some information, without any explanation of what I was supposed to do with it."

Mulder damped down the faint stirrings of excitement ruthlessly. "What information?" he asked, unable to entirely keep the eagerness out of his voice.

Alex sighed. "It gave me a list of locations. Street addresses, all in the greater Washington area. It fucking burned them right into my memory -- I could reel them off now. I'll probably be able to reel them off on my goddamned deathbed, but did it stop to tell me what they meant?"

"The locations you gave me... "

"Yeah. There are more. I've been checking out as many as I can personally, trying to see if there's =something= they have in common, something I'm supposed to know, or figure out. Maybe it thought the purpose would be obvious, I don't know." Alex shrugged. "For a creature that had such a superior attitude toward our thought processes, you'd think it would have bothered to spell the damn thing out."

"Do you have any theories?"

"Do you? You've got the first four addresses."

=Not really.= "You first."

Krycek shrugged. "The alien told you that it wanted to get to know you before it decided on your present, right?"

Mulder looked away. He generally tried not to think about how much Krycek had been aware of while he was the host. "So?"

"So it wanted to tailor-make our little gifts. Give us what it thought we wanted or needed. Very sweet, when you think about it."

His face was definitely getting hot. Alex continued, "So I thought about what I needed most. And what I chiefly need, is for people to not try to kill me when I'm in the United States."

"I'm not trying -- "

"I don't mean you, Mulder, I mean our friend with the nicotine problem. Cancerman, you called him, didn't you?"

"How did you hear about that, anyway?"

Alex grinned. "He's heard about it too, and it pisses him no end. Not that he'd let you know, of course. Have you ever called him that to his face?"

"No."

"Next time I think you should work it into the conversation, if at all possible." For a moment Krycek wore that happy glow again, that innocently joyful look that made you either want to disrobe or strap on a bulletproof vest. "Anyway, Cancerman considers me =his= little problem, so I mainly only have to be careful when I'm on his territory; which is definitely Washington, less definitely the whole mid-Atlantic Seaboard, and with cause for worry in the rest of the lower forty-eight. You can see how this would limit my scope, Mulder. I can't spend my life in Hong Kong."

Mulder was noncommittally silent.

"There's a lot of action in the US," Alex said, "and I'd be totally cut out of it. Not to mention I'd miss the television."

Christ. Krycek could even manage to be obnoxious when he was discussing his own life and death.

"I mean, I thought about Europe, but there is absolutely =nothing= going on there right now -- "

"All right, so you want Cancerman to lay off you. You think this 'present' has something to do with that?"

"It's a logical hypothesis. It's my most serious need."

His most serious need was for a keeper with a semi-automatic weapon. Mulder said, "Maybe a being from another star doesn't consider your street address a matter of pressing concern."

Krycek was silent. He tucked his hands under his arms as he walked, glanced around at the stark trees and leaden sky. When he spoke, his voice was different. "Mulder, if I can't operate effectively in the United States, I'm not useful. And if you want to live, you have to be useful to people."

Mulder was given pause for a second. Alex dropped those words as though they were undeniable religious doctrine. As though Mulder had requested, for some bizarre reason of his own, to have the overwhelmingly obvious pointed out to him.

He put his mind back to the problem. "You think these locations have to do with some kind of black operation? Something you could use for leverage?"

Alex shrugged. It was getting colder; his breath came out in little puffs. "Will you help me find out?"

Mulder thought about it, listening to their footsteps crunching onward in calm synchronicity. Finally he said, "I..." and stopped.

"What is it?"

Mulder said, slowly, "If we... if we =do= uncover some operation of his, I'm going to want to stop it. Or expose it." =Idiot. Why did you *tell* him?=

Krycek merely nodded. "As opposed to letting it roll on its merry way as the price for my safety. I figured. Let's worry about that when we come to it."

For no good reason, Mulder found himself saying, "Have you been getting enough sleep?"

"Not exactly. I don't have a hotel room anymore." Mulder stared at him. Alex grinned and gave another shrug. "My financial sources are a little irregular at this time." Then he said, "Do we have a deal? A shared operation?"

"I... maybe we do. I'm not entirely sure I believe anything you tell me."

"Very wise. But... for the time being, and until everything goes to hell...?"

"Yeah." He couldn't believe he was saying this. Mutually taking on the people who'd screwed with his life was a far more intimate thing to do than mere sex. "We have a deal." He looked at Krycek. "How much money do you need?"

"A few hundred would be a good start. I'll want more later."

He said it without hesitation, and Mulder was about to go along with it, when he stopped short. Was blindly bankrolling whatever Alex Krycek was doing in the capital really a good idea? But the only other possibility that presented itself was... No. Well, maybe.

"Do you want to stay at my place?"

"You cheapskate, Mulder," said Alex, grinning. "I'd be happy to stay at your place."

"You can have the bed. I'm used to the sofa." =Don't make me spell it out any more than that, you son of a bitch.=

"Whatever," said Alex, with absolutely nothing in his tone you could object to.

"Fine," said Mulder, his mind whirling. How had he managed to do this? And why couldn't he think of something else to do? Or say?

"I'd better get back to the office." Maybe he should get a spare key made; he couldn't always be there to let Alex in. On the other hand, people bypassed his locks regularly. "Do you want a key?"

Alex looked at him the way you look at somebody who's forgotten their thorazine. "Well, Mulder, it would be nice."

                          #

The whole thought of having Krycek in his apartment was bizarre. Bizarre but riveting; he couldn't stop thinking about it for the rest of the afternoon. It was like having a pet leopard on a chain at home -- you didn't know which was more attractive, the sheer grace and beauty or the satisfaction of getting through the danger one more day.

=It kills other people, but so far it just sleeps with me.= You would have to be a very sick person to find that thought arousing.

The apartment was dark when he got home. He fed the fish, booted up the computer, and got a glass of water. The doorbell rang.

It was Krycek, carrying a small knapsack that couldn't contain a lot more than a few changes of underwear and one or two personal items. "Hey, Mulder." He dropped the knapsack into a corner, then turned and smiled. "Better give me the key before we forget."

Mulder handed it to him. This was surreal.

"Any food in the house?"

"No. I was going to call out later." He felt as though he were watching the scene on videotape.

Krycek wandered into the bedroom (well, of course he would know where it was) and wandered out again minus the jacket. Mulder was still standing there.

"Mulder?" Krycek walked slowly over to him, but made no attempt to close the last foot of distance. "I think we should both understand that you're not going to be on the couch tonight."

"I know," Mulder heard himself saying calmly.

                           #

"I don't understand why he wanted to kill you, anyway. Does he try to blow up all his employees? Isn't it a little hard on morale?" Mulder was sitting on the floor in the bedroom, knees pulled up, leaning against the wall.

Krycek smiled faintly from his perch on the bed. "We never discussed it, but I kind of suspect he may have figured out that I left those cigarette butts in the car deliberately."

Mulder stared at him.

The smile became a grin. Apparently almost getting blown up was worth the joke. "When he first lit up, he told me to clean out the ashtray after he left."

Mulder's eyes were wide. "Why didn't you?"

Krycek took a deep breath and let it out. "He made it clear that my entry-level position was going to stay entry-level. As long as I was your partner, I was going to be an errand boy. I decided that I had to either detach myself from his organization entirely, or get in deeper."

"So if you were being sought by the FBI, they'd have to take you in. And use you for things that were closer to the action."

"And I figured you were unlikely to tell him how you found out about me. Considering how rarely you two converse."

=God.=

Alex patted the mattress next to him. Mulder got up and came over. "Between the polygraph appointment and the cigarette stubs, you couldn't possibly attribute my absence to anything but guilt. It ensured that I could have no legal occupation in DC, maybe in the country, after that; you guys would be on my tail. So they had to bring me further into the secret side of the organization. For the sake of that morale thing, you know.

"Besides," said Alex, burying his face in Mulder's neck, "the man was a fucking annoyance."

"So was I."

"But you were more interesting to watch."

=Jesus Christ.=

A few minutes later, he said, "Remember that favor you owe me? Hold on a sec." He got up, left the room, and came back carrying something.

Mulder froze. "I thought you'd want to use that favor for something valuable. Something work-related."

"Don't be silly," said Krycek, "I can appeal to your rational side for that." He sat down on the bed and touched Mulder's shoulder. "Come on, Mulder, you'll like it. I've done this from the other side, and I like it."

Mulder eyed the cuffs warily. "You know, our tastes might not be -- "

"It's just a game."

Yeah, Krycek had been telling him from the beginning that all this was just a game, just sex, no big deal. So why did he have the feeling the deep end of the pool was a lot more bottomless than it looked from the outside?

Krycek sat beside him. "You've never done any of this stuff before."

"As a matter of fact, I have," said Mulder, controlling an impulse to say, "Did too, did too!" as though he were in a schoolyard.

"Really."

"Really." Of course, that was a few years ago, and they'd only tried it out of some vague desire to walk on the wild side, and they'd both giggled too much to actually get the cuffs on. But he was damned if he was going to admit that now.

"Were you the cuff-er or the cuff-ee?"

Since the whole event had been a fiasco, he didn't qualify as either. "Do we have to go through my past? Are you going to tell me about your adventures, too?"

"Well, you never know. The night is young." Krycek ran the side of the cuff down his arm. The metal made him shiver. "We don't have to do it if you don't feel up to it."

That didn't even qualify as manipulation; it was right out there in the open. Pick up the glove, Mulder, or are you too nervous?

No, he didn't trust him. On the other hand, considering everything else he'd let Krycek do, this was practically a formality. Krycek had had his gun in his hand, and hadn't done anything with it. He could have damaged Mulder's relationship with Scully by letting her know the extent of his psychological problems (sleeping with Alex Krycek being ample proof in itself). But he hadn't done that, either. He didn't trust Krycek in life -- but maybe he trusted him in bed?

No, he wasn't even sure of that. But the evidence did point to one thing... and as he considered it, he was aware that Krycek was running that cold metal over his upper arm and down his chest, too quickly for the cold to register as pain, but slow enough for it to make him tingle with the faint shock. The evidence said that following Krycek into this maze was likely to result in one scary, dangerous, very very tempting round of mind-blowing sex. Whatever happened, this wasn't going to be something by-the-numbers. Already he was breathing hard, and he hadn't even agreed to anything.

"All right," he said. He was already certifiable, after all. It was just a question of degree.

"You're sure."

For answer he held out his wrists. He watched as the cuffs clicked shut on his left arm, then his right, and as they were pulled back to the headboard. "Your hands are going to be a little near the radiator. Is it likely to get hot?"

"No. I have it turned off. This apartment gets overheated in the winter."

"Good. I'd hate to do anything to you that I hadn't planned on doing."

***********************************************************

Part 5

There was a note in his voice when he said that that acted on Mulder the same way the cuff had, running over his skin. He took a second to make sure his voice was casual, and said, "So what happens now?"

Krycek sat back, regarding his new acquisition. "Well, we could do any number of things," he said lightly. "We could pretend that you're the British captive and I'm the Roman general, or that you're the spy my stormtroopers found hiding in the basement, and we need to interrogate you."

The funny thing was, both those scenarios felt perfectly safe. And a little disappointing.

Krycek leaned in and stroked the side of his face. "But let's just say that you're Fox Mulder and I'm Alex Krycek, and you're mine for the night."

=Casual. Cool and casual.= "Just for the night?"

"I don't expect to keep my possessions very long."

"Do you break them, or lose them? Or sell them?"

"All of the above. I'll try to exercise due care with you, but I can't promise anything." He leaned over and kissed Mulder on the mouth, nipping the lower lip as he pulled back. Enough to cause pain.

"Hey!"

"It's all right." He placed another kiss there, a tender one. When he drew back there was a tiny drop of red in the corner of his mouth. "I just want to make sure we understand each other, or I'll unlock the cuffs and drop the whole thing. As long as we're going through with this, it's all the way. I'm in charge, I can do what I want with you, and you'll do what I tell you."

He laid it all out like a challenge. Like a challenge, Mulder thought, that only an idiot would accept, and the fact that his cock found the danger level more interesting than anything it had encountered in a long time ought to be irrelevant. If he was this turned on already, god knew what was coming.

Krycek said, "I want your word first, before we start."

Well, he wouldn't be the first person to do something really stupid for good sex.

"I agree," he said. "I'll do whatever you tell me... in bed," he qualified, remembering suddenly that deals with the devil need to be spelled out.

An amused smile. "Yes, Fox, in bed."

Mulder opened his mouth to tell him not to call him Fox, then shut it again. He'd just agreed that he wouldn't be calling the shots tonight.

"I think you've got the idea," Krycek murmured, and kissed him again.

When Mulder came up for air, he realized that he'd been twisting in the cuffs. "This could get uncomfortable," he said, hearing his voice come out soft and aroused.

"Guess you'd better not try to resist, then," Krycek remarked with a grin.

"It's not the resist-- " began Mulder, and stopped. He really didn't feel like spelling out the fact that he lost control over his physical responses when Krycek was around. Perhaps it was obvious, but it really didn't need to be said out loud. =You would think,= Mulder's mind told him belatedly, =that drawing blood would be a good sign that you shouldn't do this.=

=Yeah, where were you two minutes ago?=

He lost that thought in another kiss. Then Alex was moving down, continuing the game with Mulder's neck, where the skin was still warm and sensitive from a few minutes ago. He opened Mulder's shirt, kissed his chest, toyed with a nipple, and Mulder felt the edges of a nice haze starting.

"You let somebody do this to you?" he asked.

"Uh-huh." Alex was working his way down the side of Mulder's body, undressing him as he went. "Why not? It feels good."

Mulder swallowed. It did feel good. It was just that it also felt, he didn't know, felt like...

"And it straightens out your head. Helps you get your ducks," Alex said, somewhere in the region of Mulder's navel, "in a row."

"I wouldn't count on it in my case," Mulder muttered. "We could spend our lives trying to get =my= ducks in a row."

Alex's chuckle was a pleasant vibration on his stomach. "We've all noticed," he said. He rolled off the bed long enough to finish pulling Mulder's pants off, then he was back at his post, sliding his hands over Mulder's skin everywhere his kisses went, pressing in his thumbs, stroking, licking, as though he were coating Mulder with an invisible layer of oil and didn't want to miss a spot. God. Mulder swallowed and lay back against the pillows. His body rarely got this much general attention; Krycek was even extending the favor to his arms, his breath warm on Mulder's face as he did so. It was like being gradually covered by some warm, tingly, second skin. He could feel his body temperature starting to rise.

"So tell me," said Alex, conversationally, "is this better for you because I'm doing it?"

Mulder had never thought he'd appreciate this much time spent on zones he'd previously considered non-erogenous. Maybe it was the cuffs; they encouraged a certain fatalism of outlook. There was nothing he could do about the evening, anyway, so he might as well let it happen. "You mean because you think you're so damned good at this?"

"No," said Alex, pausing to nip gently at a tempting area of flesh below the breastbone. He looked up and met Mulder's eyes. "I mean because you've twice stuck a gun in my face and threatened to kill me. Because you can't be sure what I'll do next."

Mulder's heart started to pound. He forced himself to sound cool. "Is scaring me part of tonight's program?"

"Am I scaring you? Am I saying this just to give you a more interesting ride? Can you be absolutely sure? You know what I've done in the past. And let's bear in mind that your gun is only twelve feet away."

Mulder forced himself to breathe.

"Imagine the irony of the situation," Krycek said, running a finger gently around his left ear. "I realize not everybody has my sense of humor, but I'd like to think you'd appreciate it, Mulder. Especially after what you've tried to do to me. I come back into your life, seduce you, have a little fun with your mind. And body," he added, kissing his shoulder. "Then I lock you in cuffs, fuck you, and put a bullet in your head. Imagine the reaction when they find you. Your own gun, too. Now that I think of it, I should really stop at the pay phone on the corner when I leave and call the Washington Post photographer."

=Jesus.=

"Not that they could use the more interesting shots, but at least they'd be on record. And they could probably run something cropped down to just your face and arms."

He put his mouth over Mulder's and kissed him for a long time. Pleasure, fear, and a numb unreality mingled as Mulder found himself kissing back. Then Krycek pulled away and said, softly, "Can you be sure I won't? Can you be absolutely sure?"

"You fucker," Mulder said. No, he wasn't absolutely sure. And he'd never known before what a danger junkie he was. His cock was burning up, and it hadn't even been touched.

He could picture it with clarity: Krycek, sated, getting up, pulling the gun from the holster on the chair, and applying the cold metal to Mulder's lips. ="Come on, Mulder, open up. You promised to do what you were told."= He'd say it in the same electrically aroused voice he was saying everything else. He was fully capable of it.

But it was unlikely, Mulder reminded himself, it was extremely unlikely. Alex wasn't that angry with him (was he?) and so far he'd only performed his various acts of violence in the line of duty.

So far as Mulder knew.

 "Well," said Krycek, "there's plenty of time to figure it out." And he went back to work on Mulder's skin, which was beginning to tingle and burn under this fear, arousal, and constant physical attention, taking on a life of its own. It was pleasure and discomfort merging into he didn't know what, and Mulder found himself shifting uneasily in the cuffs. He was fairly certain Krycek was just playing with him. Fairly certain.

As his skin warmed and his temperature increased, he could feel the ache rising through his entire body, blossoming at his groin. Why didn't Krycek move a little further south, if he wanted to fuck him? (=Because he wants to fuck *with* you, Mulder. Haven't we established this?=)

"If you're going to kill me," Mulder said, "you could at least deal with my hard-on first."

"One thing at a time, Fox."

"Its time has come, Alex."

Alex smiled. He ran a hand through Mulder's hair in a parody of comfort. "I don't mind taking the trouble, Mulder. I'm in no hurry."

=You fucking sadist, how can you not be in a hurry? Did you bathe for an hour in ice water before you came over?=

Alex bent down and sucked powerfully at a nipple, and Mulder felt his back arch and chest rise beneath the sensation. Alex was obviously going to kill him, and he didn't need a gun. Then, while Mulder's mind was still falling back to earth from that one, Krycek moved further on top of him, touching every point of his body that he could -- except the one that most needed it -- and administered one of those blitzkrieg kisses he'd learned to inflict.

When it was over, Mulder figured, through the haze, that his current IQ had to have dropped below 70. And for the first time that evening, Krycek actually touched his cock; a brief, deliberate rub with his thigh as he shifted on the bed. Mulder's groan came right out of his soul, before he realized he was doing it.

"Oh, god. Stop fooling with me, goddamn it."

"I don't think you're ready yet, =Fox.="

"You know... fucking well... that I'm ready." Krycek was running the back of his hand over Mulder's chest, nipple to nipple. "Oh, god. God. Just do me, all right? I can't stand this."

"Are you calling off the game?" The hand on his chest was still.

Mulder took a couple of breaths and let that idea soak in. He'd forgotten they were playing. Did he really want to stop? "What happens if I say yes?"

"I unlock the cuffs. And leave."

=You shit, Krycek.= He could at least jack off, then, but... "No, I'm not calling it off."

"I guess you can stand it after all, then."

Mulder didn't answer that one, but Krycek pulled himself up till his face was only a few inches from Mulder's. "I said, I guess you can stand it."

"Yeah," said Mulder. "I can stand it." =Just... do whatever you're going to do, before I have a heart attack.=

"Of course," Krycek murmured, "that was your last chance to ensure I don't kill you."

"You're not going to kill me. You like torturing me too much."

Krycek grinned. "Well. We cannot hide the things we love."

He pulled himself off the bed and stepped away. "Hey!" Mulder protested. =If you're going to torture me, you can at least maintain physical contact while doing it.=

"Relax, Mulder, I'll be right back." And he =was= back, a second later, with something gleaming in his hand. He climbed back on the bed, and Mulder felt him unlocking the cuffs.

"What's the idea?" he asked, astonished to hear the resentment in his tone. But if Krycek wasn't going to take care of this little physical problem he'd caused, Mulder was going to be the one getting the gun.

"Natural biological law intervenes," said Alex, as though speaking to a schoolchild. "I have to turn you over."

"Oh. Right."

"Otherwise, you know, I have no access to your charming ass."

"I get the picture."

"I'm so glad. Now get up and turn over."

Mulder did.

"No, stay on your knees," Alex instructed him, over his shoulder. "Here. And you can leave your hands down." Mulder heard a condom package ripping open.

"You're not going to use the cuffs any more?" Shit, that came out disappointed. Alex laughed.

"I don't need them, do I? If you're a man of your word." His breath was warm on Mulder's neck.

"If you don't need them, why did you use them?"

"To put you," he said, kissing the neck where it curved into shoulder, "in the right frame of mind." And he continued the kisses, down Mulder's spine.

"Is frame of mind important for this?" Mulder asked, hearing the words emerge slowly, as though from molasses.

"Oh, it's absolutely imperative."

That buzz was starting again. Krycek was kneeling up now, his arms enclosing Mulder at the waist. His voice murmured in Mulder's ear: "You can lean back if you want to. That's not an order, it's optional."

"Optional," Mulder muttered into the haze. "Power steering. I'm starting to feel like a new car."

"Well, not quite new," the soft voice answered, as one hand slid down to Mulder's ass, "but we'll continue tuning it up under the hood, and who knows?" Then the hand was removed, the voice whispered something unintelligible into his neck, and a second later a slippery finger returned. "More like a ... beautiful... gold... hood ornament." The words and tone would have been enough to do him in, but together with the sensations the finger was creating, it was too much. He moaned and bucked. Krycek held him still. "Come on, not yet."

"Yes, yet. I'm dying, here."

"We both agreed you could stand it."

"One of us was out of his mind."

He felt his hands straying down toward his cock. True, Krycek hadn't told him to touch it, but then he hadn't told him =not= to touch it, had he? Maybe if he moved very slowly, he wouldn't have to get a ruling from the referee on this one...

"Forget it, Mulder, it's off-limits. Put your hands on mine so I know where they are."

Mulder put his hands on the hand at his waist, feeling sheepish and a little desperate. The voice at his neck said, "Do try to remember that it's my cock for the night. And my gorgeous ass..." The palm of Krycek's hand moved over the curve of Mulder's ass as though it were a valued piece of some private art collection. Mulder groaned.

Jesus, he could see it, Krycek in his leather jacket with Van Goghs in his basement. It was impossible to figure out what the hell he --

  Then he felt the head of Krycek's cock. "Thank god." He gasped as it entered.

"Have faith, Mulder," said the voice, amused. And then Alex moved inside him, sending a streak of flame through him, head to foot, ass to cock. It was like being on a cross of fire. He'd never been this ready in his life. He braced himself and waited.

And waited. Until it dawned on him that Alex was playing with him again.

=How could he do that?= Was this all part of Your Handy Alien Guide To Sex, or was he an alien himself?

Mulder bit down, with enormous effort, on the groan of protest that rose inside him. "What about having faith?"

"Well, Mulder? Where is it?"

Another streak of fire ran through him. He was beginning to see why the word "fire" went so neatly with the word "weapon." And then another, and another. =Finally.= He felt the rhythm start to build. Then...

=No... he couldn't possibly... not again... =

"Dammit, Krycek, stop doing that. You're going to kill me." He got control of his gasps as the rhythm slowed.

There was a kiss against the side of his neck, a kiss with a faint nip in it, and he could taste the affectionate mockery. "You don't seem to be able to hold onto the concept that you're not running the show."

"Look... fine, but look, what do you want me to do? Beg?"

"Begging is always nice, but I'd rather it were your own idea."

"My own idea? What difference would that ma-- "

The back of his neck was kissed quite thoroughly, and Krycek's hands moved up to cover his nipples, and he lost track of what they'd been talking about.

"Mulder. When your doctor gives you a prescription, do you ignore the instructions?"

"I don't know. ...No, of course not. Stop asking me to think."

Alex laughed. "Yeah, maybe the Socratic method is a little much for you right now. I'm trying to make a point."

Mulder grunted.

"The point is, you can't tell me what to do. You can ask, you can beg, you can discuss the weather, but you're not here to tell me what to do. Not till the game is over."

Mulder was silent. Alex shook him gently. "Am I getting through?"

"Yeah. Sorry about that. I'll try."

So if he wasn't supposed to tell Krycek what to do, and if he wasn't supposed to take any physical initiative, what =was= he supposed to do?

Another bright stroke of pleasure and torment. =Absolutely nothing.= Wasn't that the point of the cuffs? He still felt the afterspark of that last invasion on his nerve endings, and replayed it, considering. Had that been so bad? The sensations were... well, they were sensation. Why shouldn't he like the taste? Especially when... It happened again, and he moaned, his fingers gripping Alex's. =Just ride with it, don't even try to direct it. When has Alex not come through sexually? You know he's planning to see that you lose your mind somewhere along the way. He may deceive and murder, but he's going to make you come. He has to; he wouldn't be able to feel so damn superior if he didn't.=

The hand that had been on his ass moved around to the front, but not, even now, to give him any relief; he felt the light, teasing touch of fingers tracing over his balls and actually heard himself whimper. =Go with it, go with it. Relax.=

...And it was easy. All he had to do was shut down the centers of judgment and volition, and they'd only ever given him pain anyway. It was wonderful. It was like turning off a light. Let somebody else bear the weight for a while. He was conscious of an intense feeling of gratitude

The change must have showed in his muscles and the tilt of his body, because he heard Krycek whisper, "That's it, that's fine, you're getting there."

He wasn't sure where he was getting, but it was a place where all those questions about truth and guilt and his memories of the past were completely irrelevant. His world zeroed down to a tight focus, and everything not on this bed right now moved outside his field of vision. Electric pleasure illuminated his whole body from Alex's cock and fingers; diamond hard pleasure built in his own cock.

Somewhere beyond the sensations, random thoughts swam up; thoughts entirely free of any emotional baggage, and he didn't try to restrict or organize them. This was really a strange place to be, but he liked it. He remembered their encounter in the Hong Kong airport, knowing he was in control of the situation, that he could do whatever he wanted and Krycek would have to take it. He'd liked that, he'd liked it a lot, so how could he like the opposite? It didn't make any sense. He let himself lean back against Krycek; well, Alex had said he could, and why not let him take on more of the effort, so that Mulder could be free to soak in this river of sensation.

"I just thought of something," he said, without troubling to censor himself at all.

"Fox, I could almost resent this coherence. What did you think of?"

"I can ask them to run those addresses through the computer at the Bureau, see if the names bring anything up."

There was the briefest pause in the rhythm. "You'd do that for me?"

"I'd do anything for you," he said, eyes closed. At the moment, he meant it, and saying it pushed him right up near the top. He was going to come in a minute, whether his cock got any attention or not.

"God," said Alex hoarsely, his arms tightening, "you have a natural gift."

"I'm going to come in a minute," Mulder remarked, his voice distant.

"Damn right you are," muttered Krycek, and Mulder felt a hand circle his cock. His body temperature shot up about ten degrees. "And it's going to be a major event. Brace your arms against the wall." Mulder did, leaning on his palms, and felt another hand join the first. He had a sense like ozone in a field, a sense of thunder gathering, about to strike.

=Oh, god.= Krycek pumped him, hard. And the thunder burst, smacking into him like a wave. And like a wave, it seemed to pull him off his feet and bury him dizzily under its force, leaving him tumbling with no direction, no control, no anything, except waiting until it was finished with him.

=Well,= he finally thought, when he could think a little, =Krycek had said it would be a major event. And he'd promised to do what he was told.=

***********************************************************

Part 6

He dropped onto the mattress and lay there for a while staring at the ceiling. He'd fallen back into reality about ten seconds after orgasm, like a plane coming through the cloud layer; but Jesus. That had been one hell of a ride.

Mulder was still wrong-side-to on the bed, his feet toward the headboard, and Alex was moving around behind him on the mattress, getting his clothes. Alex paused, leaned over and, upside down, kissed Mulder on the forehead. "They have no idea what they've got down in the basement, do they? Are you going to get dressed, or are you going to make me call out for dinner?"

"=I= can't do it," Mulder said, amazed that anyone expected anything of him. "I'm dead."

Alex scooped up a shirt and dropped it on his chest. "In the world of Alex Krycek, death is no excuse." He got up and began to dress.

Mulder rolled over onto his stomach and watched the process, still marveling at the last half hour. But this little tidbit was intriguing, too. "What =is= an excuse, in Krycekland?"

Alex buttoned his jeans and smiled sideways toward Mulder. "There are explanations," he said, as though it were a quote, and one that he'd never liked. "There =are= no excuses." The smile had a nasty, ironic twist. =Cynicism, thy name is Krycek. Vanity, too,= he added, as Alex slipped his comb into his back pocket.

                         #

They decided in the end that Alex, who had a lot of nervous energy just then, would go fetch dinner from the Gold Mountain himself, while Mulder, who had no remaining energy in his body at all, would lie on the bed like so much silly putty till he came back. It seemed a fair division at the time.

This was a rare and fascinating after-effect, for Mulder; he went through life running and swimming and reading himself into exhaustion, and even then, watching tapes in the hope they'd get his brain to shut up. And here he was feeling... what was it? Lassitude... languorous... those rhythmy L-words that suggested silk pillows and pools of scented water.

=Amazing,= he thought, as he savored it. =And it won't even show up on a random drug test.=

                         #

They ate the Chinese sitting on the bed, leaning against the headboard. Mulder used chopsticks. Krycek used a fork. He saw Mulder looking at him as he tossed his pair of chopsticks into the wastebasket, and said, tapping the fork against the carton, "This was a breakthrough in engineering when it was developed."

"So you ritually throw away your chopsticks at this time, to honor that unknown person who developed it."

"Very good, Mulder. You've got the point."

Mulder noticed, however, that Krycek tended to eat quickly and efficiently, and not as though he enjoyed it; more as if he expected to be interrupted at any time. =Well, I suppose a life on the run doesn't encourage lingering over meals.= And forks were nothing if not speedy.

Funny the habits people picked up, even when they left whole chunks of their life behind.

Mulder's gaze wandered, not for the first time, to the handcuffs on the floor. It was hard to stop thinking about it.

"That thing we just did." =Whatever it was.= "It wasn't what I expected."

Krycek raised an eyebrow. "You didn't like it? I'm crushed."

All was right with the world; Krycek's habitual mockery was returning. "I think," said Mulder, with dignity, "that we are both aware I liked it." =Although I would like to know why.= Being on the inside had been several orders of magnitude different from reading about a little B&D; it was like thinking you knew a language until you tried to speak to the natives, and they laughed at you. And remembering certain episodes in North Dakota, he suspected Krycek had had time to give this a lot more thought than Mulder had. Certainly Alex seemed to take it all in stride. (Still, what did that mean? Alex's view of the world seemed to take any amount of sex and violence, separately or together, as perfectly normal. Mulder tried to imagine him as, say, an average sixteen-year-old suburban kid; the picture disintegrated immediately.)

"How do you feel now?" Alex asked, rooting around in his carton for the last of the fried rice.

"I don't know. Like water," he said suddenly, knowing it made no sense.

"Yeah, it really clears you out. Like a good sneeze."

"Like a good sn--" He looked at Krycek and laughed.

Oh, the hell with it. Obviously Krycekland was on another entire continent. He'd have to send envoys over the ocean to open diplomatic relations before they could even begin to understand each other.

When Mulder was finished with his carton, Alex took it, with his own, into the kitchen and disposed of them. He didn't ask about it, he just did it, as though it were natural. =Like somebody who prefers the components of his life tucked neatly away at all times. Like somebody who never leaves loose ends.=

=Dammit, Mulder, stop analyzing everything the man does. Maybe he just doesn't want to step into a carton of sweet and sour pork on the way to the bathroom.= =In which case, why didn't he bug me to clean up?= =I told you to *stop,* didn't I?=

Mulder's Brain had apparently switched on again. Well, it had been too good to last.

Alex came back and took his place on the bed. He glanced at Mulder. "You still willing to get me that computer run? I won't hold you to it," he said, "you were in an alternate state of consciousness."

=For which you give yourself full credit, you arrogant bastard,= Mulder thought, amused.

He rested his arm on the pillows, behind Krycek's shoulders. Alex seemed to hesitate a moment, then relaxed into it like a cat on a warm windowsill. "No, it's a good idea," Mulder said. "I didn't think of it before because mainframe time gets charged back by department. But I'm pretty sure I know a case number I can hide it in."

"Well," said Alex -- was there a faint hint of surprise? --"Thanks."

They relaxed in an unexpectedly companionable silence. After a minute, Alex said, "How soon do you think you can run it through?"

Mulder started to laugh.

"It's a reasonable question, Mulder."

"Uh-huh."

He spoke with irritated precision. "I am a marked man staying in the prime territory of the person who marked him. It is reasonable to want to estimate how long I need to put myself in danger."

"Was I arguing?"

Krycek sighed. After a minute, Mulder said, "How many locations are on the list?"

"Sixty-three."

Mulder controlled an impulse to whistle. But he couldn't help saying, "=Sixty-three=? ...Were you planning on staying through the summer?"

"I didn't =make= the list, Mulder, I'm just using it. But, thank you for depressing me."

He felt a brief flash of guilt. He supposed he =wasn't= being helpful, when you thought about it. "Well, I guess Scully and I could check out a few in person. Since there's no possible way one individual could get to them in a reasonable amount of time."

A brief silence from Krycek. Then: "Thank you," he said.

For the first time Mulder had the sense that Krycek had been thrown ever so slightly off-balance. But why? Manipulative bastard that he was, he must have been expecting the offer.

=Sixty-three.= =That= could really nail Krycek down in Washington for a while. "I don't suppose the alien gave you any kind of hint as to what this meant."

"No, he didn't give me a hint. For godsake, Mulder, if he'd given me a hint, I -- "

Alex cut himself off, and a voice in Mulder's head filled in, =I wouldn't need *you.*=

Well, that was no surprise, either. Would he be getting all this great sex if he didn't have access to FBI resources? Even though Krycek so clearly enjoyed fucking with him, in more ways than one -- =Christ, Alex, isn't torturing me mentally enough for you?= For a second he meant it, and actually felt hurt.

Alex sighed. He removed Mulder's hand from his shoulder, placed it in his lap, and ran his own hands over it. Then he turned over, half kneeling, and applied a gentle kiss to the very middle of Mulder's chest. He left his head there and spoke, muffled: "I know I'm annoying, Mulder. I'm supposed to be annoying. But this is, as they say, not an appropriate situation."

It was probably the nearest the universe would ever get to a sincere apology from Alex Krycek, and Mulder valued it accordingly. He put his hand on Alex's hair. "Never mind. I guess we can figure out what this present is sometime before your next birthday." Or maybe not. "When is your birthday, anyway?"

"In October, I think." Alex had settled in in his catlike way; he looked very comfortable now, his right ear and cheek pressed into Mulder's sternum, one hand resting below the nipple.

"You think? Don't you know?"

He felt Alex shrug.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you when your birthday was?"

"Of course they =told= me, Mulder, I just don't recall right now." A faintly irritated cat, in fact.

"How can you forget -- Well, what does it say on your passport?"

An exasperated sigh. "If you're going to believe what's on passports, you have more problems than either of us knew about." The fingers below his nipple had dug in, and Mulder was glad Alex didn't actually have claws.

Mulder wondered if it would be wise to pursue this, but he knew =nothing= about Krycek, and he wanted to know, and when had he ever stopped pursuing anything?

"Does this mean you just don't remember your childhood, or --"

"Jesus, Mulder. It's October, all right? It's definitely October. Pick a fucking date and I'll run with it."

That soft head had been removed from his chest, and he regretted it. "Look, I didn't mean -- "

Krycek gave him a look of precise coldness. "In fact, pick any year that sounds plausible, and I'll swear to that, too. I'm extremely flexible. Trust me."

=How can I, when you're telling me not to?=

Words were only getting him into trouble, so he looked back at those cold green eyes, lifted Alex's hand, and softly kissed the front of his wrist. Then he leaned over and kissed his lips. When he drew back, he saw the eyes were no longer cold. Instead they were wary, and he wasn't sure he liked that better. He felt a smile come to his lips and, inspired, said, "Want to do the thing with the cuffs again?"

Alex stared for a second, then burst into laughter. He shook his head disbelievingly and settled back down into Mulder's arm. "God," he said, still chuckling. "You fucking perv, Mulder."

"Look who's calling names -- my number one bad influence. You are what Daniel Defoe would call 'a hardened jade.'"

"Yeah, well, I've read Defoe. And I'd have to agree with you."

Mulder's leopard being in a good humor again, he leaned back against the wall and enjoyed the warmth of the body pressed against his. It =was= like having some beautiful, lethal creature of another species there. And because he couldn't help it, he considered the situation.

Somehow he had a strong feeling young Alex had =not= gotten a birthday cake.

=I knew that PhD would come in handy,= he thought. And on the heels of that, =Shit.= He was used to his brain administering these doses of self-mockery, but when they started to come in Krycek's voice, you had to know you were living dangerously.

                         #

The car was parked on a side-street in Alexandria. Mulder walked over, opened the passenger-side door, and slid in. "Hey, Scully, I brought you coffee."

"Coffee does not make up for skipping lunch, Mulder."

Mulder tried to look innocent, apologetic, and casual at the same time. =I may have overshot,= he told himself when he saw her reply expression.

"I have been to six different places since eight AM. Two residences, four businesses. I have purchased comic books, asked strangers about schools in the neighborhood, listened to the prices of pre-Columbian art, and struck up conversations with fellow customers on every conceivable subject. I have two offers for a date this Saturday night, but I have no indication whatsoever of any suspicious activity."

"I have the sense you're trying to tell me this is a negative."

"All this, may I remind you, when I was supposed to be writing a report on the Thomas Cady case. Which is due on Skinner's desk tomorrow by nine-thirty."

"I really appreciate your help, Scully."

"Sincerity won't help you, Mulder. I've been staring at this dry cleaner since three o'clock. The couple who runs it is very nice, by the way. I can recite the poster on their wall that explains why they can't take responsibility for buttons."

Mulder began to suspect that perhaps he shouldn't give Scully those extra locations he'd been planning on bringing up.

She faced him. "I usually don't object to participating in your strange adventures, Mulder, but can you tell me that you have any idea what it is we're supposed to be looking for?"

He looked sheepish. "Come on, you know my source didn't say."

"And with nothing whatever to back it up, you still think this is worth pursuing?"

"The source is extremely reliable." =I cannot believe I just said that. And with such apparent sincerity.=

"This isn't one of your UFO-related friends, is it?"

"The greater Washington area usually isn't a big center for UFO activity, Scully. If we don't count the presidential motorcade."

"Then... " She paused and looked uncomfortable. "Mulder, I respect your keeping your sources private, but it would help if I had =some= idea of where this was coming from."

He felt the seconds stretching out. His mind was absolutely blank. It had never occurred to him to have a cover story ready for her; he didn't associate cover stories with Scully.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked -- "

"No, no. It's a reasonable question. It's, um, sort of an underground source."

"Underground...? You mean like a Sixties radical? A disillusioned terrorist? An organized crime witness?"

"Uh, not exactly. It's..." Oh, god, he was going to have to say =something.= "He's a political aide. He'd lose his job if he could be identified."

"We're not Woodward and Bernstein, Mulder." She stopped and frowned. "How does this make him underground?"

He smiled. "Well, we do meet a lot in basement parking garages."

She rolled her eyes, but appeared willing to accept this as his habitual pain-in-the-ass way of expressing himself. "All right, if you think he knows what he's talking about, I guess we can keep this going for a little while." She shrugged. "Now if only =we= knew what he was talking about."

=She believed him.= Well, of course she believed him, he'd said that very well, and any initial hesitation would be appropriate on his part. =Shoot me now.=

"What I don't understand," she said, "is how you could have committed us to checking out this many locations in so short a time. We'll never have it done by this evening. How do you let your sources talk you into these things?"

=Well, I don't know if I can pinpoint it, Scully, but I believe I made that promise when Alex Krycek put me in cuffs and fucked me till I lost touch with reality.=

"Mulder, your face is turning a little red."

"It's the heat in the car."

"Sorry," she said, and reached over to the dashboard to turn it down.

He flashed back for a second to the previous night. Kneeling on the bed, the sheets in a tangle, Alex's arms around his waist; the universe casting off in a new direction.

"You know, I wasn't going to say anything, but you seem very distracted lately."

"You think so?" he said, forcing himself to turn, focus on her, and say it casually.

"Is it this Mary Ann?"

He frowned. "Who?"

                         #

 


 

Mon Mar 17 01:02:59 1997
Newsgroups: alt.tv.x-files.creative
Subject: The Hand We Were Dealt 7/11 (NC-17 slash)
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 1997 07:02:59 GMT

Rated NC17: No minors allowed. Sexual content, explicit language. Slash. This is a sequel to "The Same Everywhere."
As usual, the characters belong to Ten Thirteen; everything else is (c) Jane Mortimer. Feedback may be sent to .


The Hand We Were Dealt
by Jane Mortimer

Part 7

The apartment was dark and silent when he got home. Usually he =liked= it dark and silent, but he'd never noticed before just how much silence there was. He didn't bother to boot up the computer, just plumped down on the couch and put his feet up, staring at the dark ceiling. He set the computer printout he'd brought with him down carefully on the floor next to him.

The process was starting. He was losing the ability to concentrate on anything but the project at hand. (Although since Krycek was part of the project, he could still concentrate on =him,= in fact he couldn't stop, which was good for Mulder's sex life, though damned exhausting. There should be some kind of medal for obsessives, he thought. ="In recognition of the gallons of lifeforce you have involuntarily poured into these black holes, a grateful populace awards you the... " The what? "The Conehead of Distinction. Wear it so the rest of us can see you coming and duck for shelter...")

=Alex should be home by now.= It was a little hard to get past that thought. He ought to pick up a book, put a tape in the VCR, check his e-mail. He lay there and watched the ceiling.

The Voice of Reason had not entirely forsaken Mulder, even though he rarely paid it the least bit of attention. Now it said to him, =Mulder, perhaps you should consider the fact that the person you -- and apparently your cock -- are waiting for threatened to shoot you and leave you in handcuffs the last time you saw him.=

=Yeah, but he was only being considerate.= The funny thing was, it was true. Alex had worked hard to give him what he called "an interesting ride."

=Maybe, but would the ride have been so interesting if you didn't know he was capable of doing it?=

Mulder had no answer to that.

He shifted on the couch, uneasily. He =was= getting a little bit of a hard-on, thinking about Krycek. But after all, this was just a temporary arrangement. It wasn't a problem...

=You asshole.= Mulder was startled; the Voice of Reason usually didn't address him that way. =You're lying on your chargeback forms -- =

=That's just bureaucratic crap.=

=-- you're lying to *Scully,* and you're experiencing very warm feelings just now toward a murderous psychopath because he put you in restraints last night and tortured you sexually. Can we begin to agree that there is, indeed, a 'problem'?=

He heard the front lock turning, and swung his feet down to the floor. The door opened, and Krycek entered. "Hey, Mulder, sorry I'm late. Did you bring the analysis?"

"Yes." He stood up and approached Alex for a kiss. Alex obliged immediately. When they broke, he took the printout from Mulder and examined it.

After a moment, he looked up. "So, as far as we know, no pattern in the owners. Or residents, though there's no way we can check all the people who live or work at these addresses."

Mulder nodded. "Bear in mind it's an incomplete listing. We can get a lot of resident or business names by using a reverse phone and address directory, and owners of record are supposed to be on file in at least two government databases I know of. But they're always incomplete. I don't think we've got more than sixty percent here."

"Well, there are any number of possibilities still to check --maybe they all use the same cleaning service, the same bank. Or their kids go to the same school." He did not, however, say it as though he were hopeful. "It would take a fully-staffed team to cover all the bases. And a lot of time." He glanced at Mulder. "But you have an idea," he said, with certainty.

"Yes. We stop trying to hit as many of the sites as possible. Pick one and put it under surveillance." He spoke with the confidence he always felt in running an analysis; he might not get the answers, but he knew how to attack a problem, how to best detach each petal from the stem until nothing was left but a heady scent and absolute essence. Truth. Or as close as he was likely to come.

Alex looked up from the printout and smiled, a beautiful, wicked light in his eyes. "I love you in this mode."

Mulder's gut responded to that. And yet he managed to maintain his focus on the problem; this was interesting -- it looked as though he were getting used to riding the rollercoaster. Which was disturbing in itself. "I suggest the dry cleaner in Alexandria. It'll be easier to monitor the entrances and exits than an office building or warehouse. And we'll be less conspicuous parked in a business district than if we were outside someone's house."

"I defer to your judgment," said Alex. "You want to start now? We're going to have to work shifts, but I can keep you company this evening."

"Sure," he said. He grabbed his jacket and followed Alex out into the night, with a lingering sense of something unfinished.

=Mulder?= asked the Voice of Reason. =Are you listening to me?=

=Mulder?=

                         #

Alex's hands were cold as he opened the car door. He'd walked six blocks in the February night, from the all-night coffeeshop on Spring Street.

"I brought you a danish with your coffee." He set the paper bag on top of the dashboard.

"You're so good to me."

He flashed Mulder an angelic smile. "I know, but I have to keep you happy if I want to take advantage of you."

Mulder gave him one of those sweet, wary looks, as though he thought there was too much truth in that statement. The street outside was dark and quiet, lined with stores long since closed. Two blocks down, the dry cleaners stood, empty and innocent. The car radio played softly in the silence, an old surveillance trick to keep awake.

Staring out the window, Mulder said quietly, "Have you thought about what you're going to do if you can't pull this off? If they still want to kill you?"

Of course he'd thought about it. He blew on his hands to warm them, then tucked them under his thighs. "In that case, we become a transoceanic couple, Mulder. You'll have to use some of that accumulated vacation when you want my body."

"Well, that sounds attractive. So any time we're going to have sex, I'll just book a flight, travel for thirteen hours, and disembark under an assumed name in someplace like Tokyo or Bangkok."

"Oh, whine, whine, whine. You know I'll make it worth your while." He closed his eyes while saying it, and imagined that lovely heartstopping moment last night, when he'd been holding Mulder on the bed, just before he came. The last sentence came out charged with arousal. He opened his eyes and saw that Mulder had frozen, his hand half in the paper bag. =Just one of the many reasons I support my local aliens,= thought Alex, smiling faintly in the darkness of the car.

Mulder cleared his throat and said, with only a trace of difficulty, "And jumping into a new identity doesn't bother you?"

"Why should it?" he asked. "I can be Alex Krycek for you this week. I can be something else for someone else next week."

"Don't do that," said Mulder.

"Do what?"

"Don't play with my head."

"Your head," he assured him, not able to keep the grin out of his voice, "is the most erotic thing I've had to play with in ages." =In fact, your head could be the Mattel Toy of the Year, but I suppose I'd better not say that out loud. People can be so blind to their more attractive qualities...=

Mulder said, stiffly, "Then your life must be devoid of amusement."

"Well, that may be true, but don't sell yourself short. You stack up against primetime television any time. We could use it as a national rating system, in fact -- Poker, Tetris, cable TV, and at the top of the list, Fox Mulder."

"Jesus, Krycek, do you have to -- "

"Besides," Alex added, taking pity on him, "it doesn't always have to be the Far East. The Grand Caymans are a lot closer to Washington."

Mulder looked thoughtful. "Planning on doing a little money-laundering?"

"Oh, do they really do that there? I only heard about the beaches."

Mulder made a disgusted sound and turned his attention pointedly to his danish and coffee. Alex folded his arms and slumped down in the seat, grinning. Considering that he was in constant danger of his life here, he was really having a delightful time.

There were worse things in life than being a present.

And let's face it, he'd loved the idea the instant he'd realized what the alien wanted. All it had to do was provide him with directions. There'd been no need for discussion. It knew Alex's reaction to this particular body. It knew that once Alex had the keys, he'd take the first opportunity to drive Mulder off the lot, as it were. =I've given you the tools,= the alien had let him know, with no great degree of respect. =Whether you can apply them is another matter entirely.=

Well, he =had= applied them, with enormous care and attention, and continued to do so; and as a result, Alex felt perfectly entitled to his satisfaction and pride. Well, all right, his gloating; but it was entirely justified, and how could anyone =not= consider it a job well done -- look at Mulder there, he was as close to a work of art as a human being could get. He was brilliant, responsive, graceful, and had an ass whose curves could only be described in Euclidean terms. Not to mention a streak of beautiful neurosis and perversity, riches that Alex had seen hinted at but had never really expected to get.

He watched as Mulder shrugged off his coat and reached for the cup of coffee on the dash. Wonderful hands, long graceful fingers, and Alex no longer had to worry that, with the alien gone, he'd never feel those hands on him again. He now had total access to Mulder's mental and physical resources. A man who had every reason to shoot him.

=Jimmy Stewart was right,= he thought. =It's a wonderful life.= For short periods of time, anyway; and he had every intention of enjoying this pleasure to the limit while it was in his custody.

Speaking of which, it was too bad he hadn't somehow led things around last night to the oral Solitaire question -- in the state of mind he'd been in, Mulder would have done it without hesitation. And it would satisfy the "passion" rule.

Still, it wouldn't =entirely= have been his own idea. And, Krycek thought, probably even incidents of minor psychological pressure ought not to be allowed. (=Perfectionist. Keep making the rules more strict, that way you'll never win.=)

Well, never mind, Mulder's lesson last night had been far more useful. And after all, Alex had not come to Washington for a game of Solitaire; that was simply a rewarding way of enhancing his downtime. Besides, to be honest, having Mulder kneeling in his arms, naked but for an open shirt, had been... distracting. He'd had his hands full, literally.

=There you are. Obviously you'll have to keep having sex with him till you get it right.=

"What are you smiling about?" Mulder inquired.

"Nothing."

                         #

Right, nothing. that had been an extraordinarily wicked smile. As a law-enforcement agent, Mulder should probably go out right now, locate whoever Krycek had been thinking of, and issue them a warning about the danger they were in.

Alex was twisting the volume on the radio; he sang softly, along with the band, "I'm ready to cross that fine line." He glanced at Mulder. "I had a friend who was crazy about this song."

=You had a friend?= Mulder thought.

     "I'll learn to work the saxophone,

      And I'll play just what I feel.

      Drink scotch whiskey all night long,

      And die behind the w--"

Mulder reached over and switched off the radio abruptly. He did it as a reflex, without thinking, then felt embarrassment wash over him. Krycek raised an eyebrow.

"Lately I've started getting into heavy metal, " Mulder said coolly. It came out in perfect smartass, I-don't- give-a-damn style, but Alex didn't respond in kind.

He stared down the dark street, then turned to Mulder. "It's bound to happen eventually."

He'd spoken with eerie quietness. For Mulder it was like getting punched in the stomach.

They were both silent for a few minutes. Then Alex said, "I'd better get some sleep if I'm going to take over in the morning." He opened the door.

"How are you going to get home? The buses aren't running now."

Alex stepped out, then bent and addressed him through the open door. "I can walk down to Braddock and find a cab. You'll have to give me some more money, though."

There was something endearing about Alex's unabashed dipping into his resources. Mulder pulled out his wallet and handed Alex a fifty, saying, "I'm paying your cabfare, and we haven't even had sex tonight."

"Just think of me as an expensive date. You should see what I tip washroom attendants."

Mulder reached into his pockets. "Wait a minute." He pulled out his favorite pair of gray Isotoners. He'd bought them to handle that occasional pesky trail of inhuman slime, and only realized they were his favorites when he found himself taking them off and using his bare hands so as not to ruin the gloves. "It has to be ten blocks to the nearest cab stand. Better take these."

"I'm okay, Mulder, I'm used to the cold."

"I'll be in the car, I won't need them."

"It's not necessar-- "

"Will you =take= the fucking gloves?"

Alex stared at him, then burst out laughing.

"=What?=" inquired Mulder, from between gritted teeth.

"Nothing. I can hardly refuse when you put it that way. Thank you, Mulder."

Mulder watched him walk away in the rear view mirror. =And die behind the wheel.= It had been a shock, that Alex would be nursing that thought, that he would say it out loud. Alex had always struck him as someone who had every intention of dying of old age. =He has every intention of trying, anyway.=

                         #

"Mulder, are you getting enough sleep?" Scully asked the next morning.

"I'm fine," he said, and went into the other room for some more coffee.

He did catch her looking at him a couple of times during the afternoon. =God, let me be able to keep this up.= ("That's what happens when you have things like friends," he could imagine Alex saying. "They end up knowing too much about you.")

Too bad Alex wasn't here now to coach him on lying to people who trust you. If life continued the way it was going, it looked like he was going to learn all kinds of new skills.

                         #

That was Tuesday. On Wednesday Alex passed another couple of hours in the car with him when they changed shifts. They ought to just switch places and let the first watcher go home; it would be a lot more sensible, sleep-wise. But neither of them seemed willing to do it. It was weird, Mulder thought, in the comfort level it seemed to provide; as though they really were partners. =But we're only *acting* like partners. And this time both of us know it.=

"You know," Alex remarked, "two people aren't really enough to run surveillance. Under the easiest circumstances you should have three, and if you really want to be discreet, eight. And that's in the course of a single night."

=Yeah, well, unless you've got six unemployed assassin friends-- =

Alex added, "They used eight for the last maildrop on the Aldrich Ames case, though god only knows why they bothered. The man was living in a dream world."

Mulder frowned. The FBI =had= used eight on the Ames pickup; he'd managed to get a look at the original report. The media had never reported it that way, though. "Krycek, how the hell do you know these things?"

The other grinned that nasty grin that used to make Mulder ache to slap it off. These days he ached to kiss it off and watch the face turn serious. "Clairvoyance. They come to me in dreams." Oh, lord. "Every Thursday, skywriters leave notes for me over the Capitol Building."

"All right -- "

"Ancestral voices prophesy over the fillings in my teeth -- "

"All =right,= I get the message. It's open season on Mulder's Brain."

Alex put on an expression of amazing earnestness. "Is there ever a =closed= season on Mulder's Brain?"

=This was sick. Mental torture was beginning to seem homey and cheerful. Like, if it were gone, he would miss it.= Alex added, confusingly, "Damned stickshifts."

"What?"

"Nothing." He could hear the quirk of grin in the voice. "Messing with your mind always gives me this overwhelming urge to mess with your body."

=Uh-huh.= Mulder glanced toward Alex's profile in the darkened car, ready to slap him down, and met two shadowed green eyes as they were turned on him. =Jesus, he's serious.= The heat was like the crackle of burning paper.

A flash of mental images: Green, rain-forest eyes; from a place where there were too many creatures and things died all the time. =Tiger, tiger, burning bright.= Mercy would be superfluous, he thought, having no idea what he meant by that.

  Yeah, it's definitely hot in here, it occurred to him (=emeralds in a volcano=) as he turned quickly away, and he shrugged off his coat. And then: =Damned stickshifts.=

=Snap out of this. Alex Krycek is not your personal romantic fantasy, your goddamned gift, no matter what the alien decided.= (="And for ordering from our catalogue today, Mr. Mulder, we'd like to include a bonus with your delivery...just answer the following questions from the Kinsey sex preferences test...=")

Jesus. He took a breath -- the car seemed strangely devoid of oxygen -- and reviewed the situation. Not that long ago he'd been working his regular caseload and fantasizing about shooting Krycek, as any sane person would. Now here he was, out hunting with Shere Khan. =I noticed some gazelles down at the watering hole, Mulder, and wondered if you'd join me for lunch.= Right. He has that same attentive, appraising look for the gazelles that he has for me. Hot and cold at the same time. Like that absolute beam of attention a Siamese projects onto something they're about to kill. Or in my case -- =And after lunch, Mulder, maybe I'll tie you down and play with you. I like to play with the things I -- =

"Is he stopping?" Alex asked.

A car was slowing down near the dry cleaners. Mulder lifted the binoculars. "He's looking at a map. I think he's lost."

Alex sighed and stretched.

Not that Shere Khan was turning out to be a bad houseguest. There were no bodies in the shower, no mysterious phone calls. Not even dirty dishes. Now that Mulder thought of it, Alex squeezed the toothpaste tube from the bottom up, the way Mulder did; was that natural to him, or protective coloration, a detail he'd noticed? How many other things had he noticed that Mulder was unaware of?

"Just think," Alex remarked, "if we were normal people, we'd be asleep right now. Maybe in a house in the country, with an apple tree and a swing set."

You couldn't be sure if he were mocking or not; there was an edge in his tone, but there was nearly always an edge there. "Normality," said Mulder grimly, as he watched the car drive away through the binoculars, "was never an option."

"You're telling me."

When he wasn't working surveillance, Krycek tried to keep his appearances in the city to a minimum. He did come home one day with a new Baretta, which Mulder did not remark on (=now I know where at least some of my money went=), but he appeared to spend most of his time in Mulder's apartment, running through his books and tapes.

The books, especially, seemed to be a treat. For a long time now, apparently, Krycek had only been reading what he bought or stole from airport racks and candy stores, and now that he had leisure and opportunity he ran indiscriminately through Mulder's hardcovers, paperbacks, comic books, and graphic novels. He read =The Watchmen= and =The Dark Knight Returns,= =Naked Lunch= and =Balthazar.= ("That one won't make sense without the other three," Mulder told him. "Already started," Alex replied without even looking up from where he sprawled on the sofa. "Can't stop now." Mulder could see the epitaph: =He Read As He Lived.=)

=What we need is a Fugitive Circulating Library,= he thought. =Pick up a book in Springfield, Illinois, and return it in Tampa. "What name will you be checking this out under, sir?"=

The strongest response came from, of all things, =Northanger Abbey.= "Fanfuckingtastic," pronounced Alex, closing the book with delight in his eyes. "It's not the story, you know," he assured Mulder earnestly. "It's the narration."

"I know," said Mulder, bemused. Alex Krycek: liar, killer, mercenary for hire. Jane Austen fan.

Now Alex opened the car door. "I'm going to have to go home and think impure thoughts, or I'll never get to sleep." He got out and began walking away.

Mulder ran down his window. "Alex!"

Krycek walked around the side of the car. "What?"

"I got a copy of =Sense and Sensibility= for you. It's on the shelves near the fish tank."

A beautiful, solemn smile broke over his face. "Really?" His eyes lit up. He stuck his head in the window, grasped the lapels on Mulder's jacket, twisting them in his hands, and kissed Mulder's lips, half sideways, pushing his tongue in with the enthusiasm of a religious convert. When he drew back he said, with childlike pleasure, "Thanks, Mulder." He turned and started down the street.

Mulder leaned back in the seat. =Jesus. What would he have done for =Pride and Prejudice?=

***********************************************************

Part 8

Scully pulled her chair over to Mulder's desk. She put her arms down on top of his slide collection and fixed him with one of those patented Scully looks.

He said, with faint nervousness, "I used a deodorant soap."

"Mulder, tell me you haven't been running surveillance on those addresses."

=Oops.= Nine times out of ten, she could nail him. If she'd sit still for it, he'd give her the Rhine telepathy test.

"Um, not the addresses, exactly."

"What, exactly?"

"Well, not addresses, plural. Just one address."

"Just one address? Like that makes it better? Mulder, one person cannot run surveillance. Especially when that person has another job they're supposed to be doing."

He returned her gaze, not knowing what to say. She had the goods on him, and there was no excuse he could give without bringing Alex into it.

She sighed. "You're going to keep on doing this, aren't you?"

He nodded.

"I'd give you a personality transplant if I could. But barring that... I suppose I'll have to take a shift."

He found that he wasn't surprised. "You don't need to."

"If I'm going to keep you from wandering around here on sleep-dep, I'll need to. Don't make a big deal out of it, Mulder, I've done surveillance before."

He hesitated. "Scully, I still have no clue what's going on. Which means it =could= be extremely dangerous."

Her expression said, =And your point is?=

=Shit.= Ordinarily he was willing to the share the risk around, but this wasn't Scully's problem, and she had no way of knowing what she was getting into. Finally he said, "Call in every hour."

"I know procedure, Mulder."

"If you have reason to believe you might be spotted, just leave."

"Mulder, I will be the soul of discretion. Will you listen to yourself? Look who's giving advice to whom about unnecessary risk."

He didn't return her smile. "Make it every half hour."

                         #

"I bless and revere her," said Alex. "You know what this means, don't you? We finally get more than a quick fuck."

"Krycek, I don't know where all that sexual energy comes from -- I don't know if you have it beamed in by satellite or what --but I was planning on sleeping a full six hours tonight."

"Don't be silly, Mulder, you wouldn't know what to do with six hours. And there are a few more things I think you need to learn in the realm of handcuffs."

"Yeah? Am I supposed to do you next?"

"That's for the advanced class, Mulder. You haven't graduated intermediate yet."

Mulder looked thoughtful. Finally he said, "She's going to be calling in every thirty minutes until two AM."

Alex grinned. "Should be interesting for you, then. I'll be sure to hold the phone up to your ear if your hands are full."

                         #

=Friday night, 2:15 am:=

"Mulder, wake up."

Mulder uncoiled gradually from his cramped position in the back seat. Alex had told him to get some sleep, that he'd keep going for a few more hours, and somehow it had seemed more pleasant to zone out in the car with Krycek than to go home.

Mulder's nights now revolved around surveillance and sleep, with the occasional otherworldly sidetrip for nineteenth-century literature or abnormal sex. The change-of-shift hours in the car with Alex, on the other hand, felt like a strangely innocent, homespun activity -- like kids in a treehouse watching for invaders. Weirdly, they were starting to turn into his favorite time of day.

He pulled himself up. "What is it?"

Alex handed him the binoculars.

There was a large van parked in front of the dry cleaners. Men were unloading cartons from the back and carrying them into the store, where a faint light shone through the window.

Mulder said, "The cartons are too small for dry cleaning. More like what you would carry books in, or something heavy."

There were a dozen or so boxes, a few open, with indecipherable shapes sticking out of the top. "Some kind of equipment?" Alex asked.

"Can't tell." Mulder watched as the van was closed and padlocked and the last of the men disappeared into the dry cleaners. "They're pretty damn bold about this, whatever it is."

"No patrolcars, Mulder. How many hours have we been here? And I haven't seen a cop since the stores closed at six."

"They've been told to keep away." Mulder said it as though he were pleased. Conspiracies, how nice -- now they were making progress. He reached for the door handle. "They're all inside. I'll see what I can make of the van."

Alex reached out and grabbed his arm to hold him back. "I can see why evildoers keep catching you and beating you up, Mulder."

"What do you want? We can't follow them when they leave --there's no other traffic, we'd be too conspicuous."

"You'll be fucking conspicuous trying to break into the van, too. Christ."

"You have a better idea?"

"Yes. We sit here like good surveillance ops and keep watching. We determine how long these guys stay, whether or not they come back, what nights they are =not= likely to be here, and we break into the store then."

"When they're not there. When they've taken their toys and gone."

"Uh-huh."

"And the point of this exercise would be?"

Alex grinned. "You haven't participated in a lot of criminal activity, have you?"

"I was going to add another hobby, but swimming and track take up too much time."

"Look, they've been running this thing for a while -- months, maybe years for all we know. On a street where no one bothers them, where no cops drive by. No matter how careful they were told to be in the beginning, they're not careful now. It's human nature. I have never seen it fail. By now, the crew leader of this little part of the operation has decided that he can bring his book of phone numbers with him, or that he doesn't have to sweep for bugs anymore. Or there's some kind of equipment they need to do whatever they're doing, and instead of clearing it out when they leave, it'll just be so much more convenient to keep it on the premises." Alex looked at him. "Really, Mulder, people are incredibly unreliable. They leave cigarette butts in ashtrays sometimes, too."

Mulder said, slowly, "I don't believe that you would be any more careless in the second year of an operation than you were on the first day."

"Well, true, but I'm outside the normal curve on that."

=Just on that?=

So they waited. Three hours later two more vans showed up. The cartons were now brought out of the store, loaded onto the new vehicles, and the original van, now empty, drove away.

They stayed until six. The vans did not return. Dawn crept gradually over the deserted street, and Alex stretched and grinned. "It was good for me, Mulder."

Mulder muttered, started up the car, and took them home.

                         #

Alex refused to allow them to break into the store for another ten days. ("Let me remind you this is =my= present. Not to mention, my life.") The vans returned on Monday and again on Friday; it looked like a twice-a-week schedule. The following Monday, when the visitors had come and gone, Mulder turned to Krycek. "Put me in, Coach."

"Yeah, I think our time has come."

They broke in through the side window, after a slight pause for discussion. "I was counting on you to disable the alarm system," Mulder said.

"You have funny ideas about me, Mulder." Alex looked the window up and down. "Anyway, they probably don't have an alarm. They don't want to attract the attention of any legitimate police."

They didn't. Alex forced the window up and turned to Mulder with one of his more annoying smiles.

"It could be a silent alarm."

"Just go with the karma, Mulder." Alex gestured for him to enter.

Once inside, Mulder found himself standing behind a forest of suits and coats. He heard Alex climb through behind him, and pushed his way through the material.

The wall of clothing on conveyors stopped halfway back in the room. Beyond it was a long table, where used plastic cups, liters of soda, beer cans, and cigarette stubs littered the top and floor. "Yeah," said Krycek, picking up a cup, "I have a feeling they're not cleaning up the way they should."

"Not very considerate. Probably the shop owners have to come through here with brooms and paper towels every morning after they leave." Mulder spotted something on the floor and squatted down. A tiny pile of white powder. He touched a fingertip to it and said, "Cancerman's into coke-dealing? That's kind of a come-down."

Alex knelt beside him and rubbed the powder between two fingers. Like Mulder, he chose not to taste it. "Feels more like China White."

"Heroin? That's still a few streets down from his usual neighborhood."

"Maybe this is a financial thing, like that drug-running the CIA did to pay for their insurgents?"

"They never proved that," said Mulder, who despite his tangles with the alphabet agencies still had friends in the CIA. Then he looked up and grinned. Alex laughed. "See if we can collect enough for an ounce."

"Will you be able to get an analysis done, without a legitimate casenumber?"

"Don't need to. I know someone who'll do it for Redskin tickets."

                         #

To: Fox Mulder (f.mulder@wash.fbi.gov) From: Karen Pawls (k.pawls@wash.hhs.gov) Subject: What the hell???

I've got your analysis. Heroin base, cut with a chemical compound I can't identify. It's organic, which I know doesn't tell you much, but it's the best I can do --infrared and NMR spectroscopy profiles both ID it as a chemical I've never seen before. One part of the structure is vaguely similar to a family of neuro-transmitter analogue drugs I know, but I couldn't even guess at the rest of it.

I have to figure it's a designer drug, created either illegally or by a pharmaceutical company. I have no clue what it does, and I won't unless you can get me more and a whole lot of altruistic rats.

Speaking of which... there can be a lot of money associated with things like this. Have you ever thought of going into the private sector, and how do you feel about partners?

Karen

Alex looked up from the screen as Mulder walked in. "You should password your e-mail," he said.

"I do password my e-mail." He pulled off his coat and hung it up, then walked over to join Alex at the desk.

"You know, I only looked at the FBI stuff. I didn't even try to call up your AOL account."

"Because in the world of Alex Krycek, national security is up for grabs, but you're trying to respect my personal life."

"Well, yeah. And I figure, we're still at that beginning stage of a relationship where you'll find my doing this kind of thing charming, as opposed to later, when you'd shoot me if I tried it."

Mulder gazed at him silently. Alex said, unabashed, "You want to hear about the lab analysis?"

"Is it in?" Mulder took the keyboard away from him and started tapping. He stared at the screen, completely motionless, for thirty seconds. Then he turned to Alex, "An unidentifiable organic substance."

"Together with China White. They're going for the caviar-of-heroin crowd. This is definitely a joint operation, Mulder -- the government's using organized crime for their distribution network." He laughed. "They really are practicing corporate outsourcing."

Mulder's mind was not on their organizational structure. "A neurotransmitter analogue. God. It could do anything, it could be anything. For all we know, it's..."

"Not of this earth?" Alex smiled.

Mulder started to pace. "Another damned experiment." He stopped, looked out the window, and turned back to Alex. "To accomplish what?"

Krycek shrugged. "Who knows? The people running this may not even know. They've always been more enthusiastic than rigorous about their clinical trials." He caught Mulder's glance and said, "I'm only reporting gossip."

"You think they'd unleash wholesale chemical changes into an entire segment of the population without knowing exactly what it does?"

"You don't?"

Mulder sat down on the couch. How many heroin users were in the greater Washington area? And how did they know this thing wasn't national in scope? Jesus, even international?

Alex was still following his own thoughts. "And if the experiment turns out to be too destructive, well, it's not like they're risking the flower of American citizenry. Unless... no."

Mulder looked up. "What?"

"You get the feeling of long-range, mass planning from these men, don't you? It occurred to me that they might =want= this experiment to be destructive. Maybe their brave new world doesn't have room for street addicts; Cancerman always struck me as one of those old-fashioned, disciplinary types. Nothing like cleaning out the gene pool in one fell swoop." He shrugged again. "But it was just a passing thought -- you can see right away that it wouldn't be likely."

"Why not?"

He looked startled. "If I were a leader, I wouldn't try to breed addictive behavior out of a population. They're more controllable with it in."

=You would think of that, wouldn't you?=

Alex started to pace thoughtfully. That look of joyful excitement was coming back into his face, a look Mulder hadn't seen in full throttle since the night Alex seduced him. He was marking out a potential area for exploitation and getting ready to attack it.

"We need to approach the criminal side of the organization," he stated.

"They're all criminals."

"Well, yeah, but you know what I mean. As long as they're approached the right way, organized crime is bolder about making a deal and continuing their op than any government power is. After all, they do it all the time. The governmental way is to go straight for termination, because it's safer and they get nervous easily." He grinned. "Having a respectable life and a house in Chevy Chase can do that to you."

=Not a problem you're likely to ever face, Krycek.=

Here Alex was, walking back and forth, talking about his deal, when a few seconds ago he'd been calmly advancing the theory that this stuff could wipe out an entire section of the population. But then, Alex had made it clear from the beginning that he lived in a world where his survival was the number-one priority.

"This is it," Alex said, still glowing. "All we need are the names. I can negotiate with this." He finally took note of Mulder's face and paused. "Relax, Mulder, they've been doing this for months, maybe years, and we haven't heard anything in the news, have we? Besides, these people like to keep a low profile. Whatever the compound is, it's probably not destructive. Or if it is, not =very= destructive."

"Not ='very'= destructive?" he repeated, disbelievingly.

"Cigarettes are destructive, Mulder. Alcohol. Overeating. Some prescription drugs. These are addicts, Mulder, they're not treating their bodies like a temple to begin with. Hell, I've probably put worse things into my system than whatever this stuff is."

=He really expects me to let this go. He really expects it.=

That thought revolved through his mind for the rest of the evening. He watched Alex call out for pizza and get them both beers from the refrigerator. He watched as Alex lay face-down on the bed, reading. He saw Alex's expression, the expression of a hopeful kid, when he asked if Mulder had a library card he could borrow. And he watched, as if from a distance, when Alex finally took him in his arms and kissed him, with the solemn confidence of a still-new lover.

=Maybe... maybe it would be okay. Alex seemed to recognize the way these men's minds worked, and he thought it was unlikely the replacement drug was too destructive. Maybe, Mulder thought, he should just let it go...=

=What are you *thinking*?=

"What is it?" Alex's voice was gentle, his hands sweetly possessive on Mulder's face. "You looked upset for a second."

"Nothing." He took hold of Alex's wrist and placed a soft kiss on the inside. Looking straight into those indecipherable green eyes, he said firmly, "I don't want to go there. In fact, I want to forget about it as soon as possible."

All he had to do was say it; it was like flicking a switch. The eyes lit with their old mockery and a sort of aware delight at this opportunity. =He must know about forgetting things,= Mulder said to himself, then lost that thought as Alex pushed him back toward the bed. "We're here to cooperate," he stated, nipping Mulder's ear as he maneuvered him backwards, "in any way we can." They fell over onto the mattress. "Just let us know if we're not doing our job."

He was pulling off Mulder's clothes as he spoke, nibbling his ear, biting his neck and shoulders. The alternating pain and pleasure set off a tripwire through his nervous system, lighting matches everywhere; a tripwire that called for more of everything -- more fire, more pain, more force. This one was going to be on the rough side, that was clear to him right off, and the unexpected relief he felt was intense. God, he needed this, he needed it right now, he was going to die if -- he made a frustrated, impatient sound.

Alex paused, his arms braced on Mulder's shoulder's, examining his face. "What now?"

"Nothing. Momentary lust overdose."

He grinned. "Let's see if we can get it back."

                         #

He was all right as long as they were actually having sex, and for an hour or so afterwards, but even his currently obsessive libido was not up to the challenge of keeping this out of his mind.

Though he tried. Two days later he was standing naked in Alex's arms, in the afternoon, his body already melting from the touch and dizzy from the soft voice in his ear. =Yeah, keep going, Alex, let's drop this "reality" thing for a while.= By the time they were on the bed it felt as though his body had vanished entirely and these rolling shocks of pleasure were breaking directly on his brain and nervous system. It was exactly what he wanted; to not be there, although he was.

Afterwards, Alex raised himself on one arm and pushed the hair back from Mulder's forehead. They were both damp with sweat, and still breathing hard. "How many times do you want to do it, Mulder?" Alex asked. "Not that I have any objection... still, it's a little disheartening to think you're not responding to my charms, but to some weird music of your own."

"I'm all right," he said.

Alex regarded him without expression for what seemed like a long time. "Yeah," he said.

***********************************************************

Part 9

Monday, more surveillance, the vans now a routine sight. "How are we going to find out who's running this by just watching them?" Mulder asked. "We still can't follow the damned vans, and they're not wearing name tags."

"How the fuck do I know?" Alex responded.

This did nothing for Mulder's prickly awareness of the truth --that he was glad they didn't have that last piece of information. It meant that nobody had to make any decisions.

Friday, back in the car, watching the same show. =We could keep doing this forever,= Mulder thought. And then: =Would that be so bad?=

Even if Alex succeeded in this, and even if Mulder were willing to go along with it, where would that leave him? Krycek would vanish back into the secret world, and assuming he even wanted to see Mulder again, any continuance of their relationship would be more dangerous than ever.

="For the time being," Krycek had said, when they made their deal, "and until it all goes to hell."= That was no way to live a life and retain your sanity.

And then, as they watched, a car pulled up across the street from the vans as they were being loaded. A man got out and walked over.

"I know that guy," Alex said, handing Mulder the binoculars. "I don't know his name, but I saw him back when I was trying to convince the organization what a good lackey I was. He helped clean up a little... unpleasantness, one day. I don't think he'd recognize =me,= though."

"I know him too," Mulder said. "He works at the Bureau. Sadowski, in White-Collar Crime."

They looked at each other. "This is all getting incestuous," Alex said. With a certain pleasure in his voice.

Sadowski was in his early forties, sandy-haired and ruddy-faced. He wore a tan raincoat. When he reached the van he began talking with the man who was directing the loading; after a minute, the man waved to his crew to put down their boxes. They did. Sadowski walked back and forth among them, then pointed at a particular box. It was opened, and he removed something from it --a brick of heroin, it looked like, neatly encased in its plastic bag.

Alex turned to Mulder and grinned. "I think Quality Control is on the scene." He hummed a bar of cheerful music, then added, "=Him= we can follow."

Mulder was surprised. "We'll still be conspicuous."

"Doesn't matter. We're going to stop him before he reaches his destination anyway."

"We are?"

"Mulder, we cannot spend our lives in this friggin' car. Sadowski's not part of the criminal side, and we won't offend anybody by questioning him."

"...Questioning him."

The words came out absolutely devoid of tone, and Alex laughed. "Trust me, Mulder, it's time you crossed that fine line."

Mulder was silent. Alex said, "We do want to know where he goes, don't we?"

"That's not the part I'm disputing."

"Whoops, heads up -- he's pulling out."

=So are you hunting gazelles with Shere Khan tonight or not? And if not, what was the purpose of all this surveillance?= Mulder started the ignition, quietly backed the car to the last corner, turned and followed their quarry.

The streets were dark and quiet, with very little traffic all the way to downtown Washington. "I guess white-collar specialists aren't used to being followed," Alex commented.

"Alex, do you really think it's wise to confront him? I mean, aren't you trying to keep your presence here a secret?"

"Yeah, but I have to take some kind of action sooner or later. And the odds are with me on this number -- I'm pretty sure he doesn't know my name, and besides, if he answers our questions, he'll never report the conversation. You never, ever report it when you talk; that's rule number one."

"Maybe they didn't issue him the same book of criminal etiquette you got," said Mulder, adding, "I don't believe this." Sadowski was turning off into the entrance to the Bureau parking garage.

Alex laughed. "Perfect. I couldn't have written this better."

Mulder looked at him disbelievingly. "=Perfect?=" =Insanity must run in the Krycek family.= They paused at the guardpost and Mulder had Alex signed in as a guest. "What name did you write?" Mulder asked, as they drove on down the ramp.

"Henry Tilney, if anyone asks."

"Alex, is it enough that we're following a shadow operative into the goddamned FBI parking garage? Do you have to use aliases from Jane Austen, too?"

"Come on, Mulder, at most they'll think it's a coincidence. You worry too much." He grinned sweetly. "Hasn't anyone told you it takes more energy to frown than it does to smile?"

Mulder took a sharp right turn, following the taillights in the distance, and muttered, "You're lucky I don't have a gun in my hand right now."

Sadowski parked not far from the elevators. They got out of the car and Mulder quickened his pace to overtake him. "Sadowski?" he called, when they'd almost reached the doors.

The man turned. "Mulder? It's a little early in the morning for you, isn't -- "

Alex barrelled into him, shoving him against the wall. Before Sadowski could recover, or even take it in, Krycek's gun was out and leveled at him. Alex took a step away and said, "Mulder, grab his arms, =now.= I wouldn't want him to do anything stupid."

Mulder, who would also prefer not to explain a body in the parking garage, locked onto Sadowski from behind. It was not how he'd planned to spend his evening, but things had slipped from control the second the Baretta came out.

Except the Baretta had just vanished, somehow, and Mulder watched in disbelief as his gray Isotoner, on Alex's right fist, slammed into Sadowski's abdomen. Alex's left fist connected with the jaw. Startled, Mulder let go. The man staggered and bent in half. Alex glared over Sadowski's head at Mulder with pure white anger. "I =need= you," he said. And Mulder could hear, clear as a line of precisely breaking icicles, the words that followed with it: =*Now.* We can discuss your fucking sense of ethics later.=

Outside of the occasional struggle for his life, Mulder had never hit somebody he didn't have a personal connection with. He'd never hit anybody with any intention but that of causing them pain. When he was violent, there was never room for a secondary agenda.

Alex could apparently enter whole-heartedly into causing pain with no personal connection at all. Nor was he distant from the event; a quick look at his face was enough to tell you that.

"=Mulder.=" said Alex. "Is this worth doing, or not?"

And a dozen complicated thoughts ran through his mind, fast as a light switch, but beyond them all he could see the answer. It was worth doing. Whether it hurt or not.

He took hold of Sadowski's arms as the man tried to straighten up. Mulder said, "Alex, I don't -- "

Sadowski peered up at Krycek. "'Alex'?" he slurred, with faint puzzlement. Then, "Alex =Krycek=?"

"=Fuck,=" said Alex, and he slammed his fist into the man again.

Sadowski saw it coming and tried as well as he could to avoid the blow; his raincoat swung around as he moved, and Alex's knuckles connected with his target by way of the right coat pocket. There was a popping sound and a cloud of white powder exploded, rising up softly to cover the right side of Sadowski's coat and face. He panicked as though someone had touched a match to him.

"Get it off me, get it off me!" he screamed, managing to pull his arms out of Mulder's grasp. He slapped at his cheek and hair, trying to clear them of the stuff.

=Probably not destructive, eh, Alex?= Mulder thought.

Krycek had his gun out again, and he'd pushed Sadowski against the cement wall. "It's off," he told him, loudly. "It's off, you got it off, you're okay. It's off. It's off." He repeated it until Sadowski calmed enough to stand still. They could hear his gasps for air. Alex pushed the barrel of his gun up against his chin, gave him a second to grasp what was happening, and said clearly, "This will kill you tonight a lot quicker than anything else will."

Sadowski became abolutely motionless. Krycek watched him for a second, then said, "Come on, Mulder, let's continue this in your office."

=In my *what*?=

Alex pressed the elevator button with his left hand. He took a quick glance at Mulder's face. "Think about it," he said.

As the doors closed on them, Mulder did think about it. They were already past the guardpost. They would be getting off on the basement level, one flight up. The odds on meeting anyone there, at this hour of the morning, were virtually nil. And the walls here were damned thick, reinforced against terrorist incident --certainly thicker than his apartment at home, where if the neighbors heard anyone screaming (wait, but that wasn't going to happen, was it?), they'd call the police.

Clearly Alex made a habit of considering the best places to beat people up.

The elevator opened and they hustled Sadowski down the corridor. Mulder unlocked the door to his office with shaking hands and it wasn't until he gulped for air in the darkened room that he realized he hadn't been breathing. He hit the light switch and the office sprang into existence around him, familiar and used, strewn with his belongings, his projects, his posters, his notes on the bulletin board. Right now the very familiarity of it was bizarre, like something out of a fever dream.

Krycek glanced around. =That's right, he was never down here. I guess if it wasn't part of my goddamned sex life, the alien didn't give it to him.= Alex nodded toward what looked like a long supply closet, open at both ends. "Does that go anywhere?"

"There used to be a room for messengers, back when they kept the copier here. Now the hall's a supply closet. They put a restroom in at the other end."

"Is there another exit there?"

"Yeah, but nobody uses it."

Alex nudged Sadowski with the gun. "This way."

And the three of them walked down the hall. For Mulder it was one of those unreal moments he'd been experiencing ever since Krycek showed up on the scene. Here they were, passing rack upon rack of paperclips, binders, copy paper. Boxes of Christmas decorations. ("You don't mind if we store them here, do you, Mulder? They'll be out of the way, down there in the basement with you.") Green plastic garlands, gold tinsel, stacks of old forty-fives with Irving Berlin tunes and even an ancient phonograph to play them. There was the forty-five of "Rudolph" he'd left on the floor in the hope that someone would step on it on the way to the bathroom. But no; Mulder had cracked more often than that goddamned record had.

He couldn't seem to focus on what they were doing.

It was probably just as well, he thought, that Krycek hadn't shown up two months ago. Ordinarily Mulder would buy a Christmas present for someone he was sleeping with, but the etiquette in dealing with your father's killer was a little complicated. If he ever gave Alex a wallet or something, it was entirely possible a chorus of the Greek Furies would appear on his doorstep and demand an accounting.

Alex pushed open the bathroom door.

The sex, on the other hand, they might accept. The Greeks had seemed to understand that when lightning struck it was involuntary. Not that he'd planned on bringing a world-view from three thousand years ago into Washington, D.C., but he'd grasp for any defense he could.

"This should do. Mulder, could you get the light? And the handcuffs."

There was only one toilet, but the room was built to handicapped specs; there was plenty of space for three people. Sadowski took the seat. He looked up at them nervously.

Mulder said, "Hands behind your back." He moved to the side and behind their prisoner, and cuffed him with the same automatic movements he would have used on anybody else. Anybody else that he'd be reading their rights to... =If you would like a lawyer and cannot afford one, one will be provided for you...=

 =He was standing in a toilet helping Alex Krycek cuff a guy they'd just beaten up.=

He'd broken plenty of rules before; he'd just never broken them in cold blood like this. It was... alien.

Alex stood back and examined the scene before him like a landscape painter deciding whether to go for the sky or the water first. "All right. What's his first name?"

"Jim."

"Jim. Hello. I know you've had a busy night, so we'll try not to keep you." He leaned back against the wall, maintaining the Baretta on a direct line with the heart. "You've been hanging out with bad company, Jim."

Sadowski looked back at him warily, but said nothing.

Mulder had been worried that Krycek was going to start pummeling their guest again, but no; apparently what happened in the garage had been by way of introduction, an opening montage, like a filmmaker setting the tone for a movie; and Sadowski was both victim and audience.

Alex said, "Do you really think an FBI agent should be selling heroin, Jim? Not to mention the other stuff mixed with it."

"I don't know anything about what's in it," Sadowski said, shooting the words out as though they were a reflex. He took a deep breath, licked his lips, and added, "I've been undercover, trying to gather evidence. You've interrupted a very delicate, secret operation that's none of your business. I'm going to have you on report, Mulder, and as for your friend, I'm sure my A.D. will be glad to learn he's back in the Bureau. I don't think anybody's heard the news yet -- "

Alex hit him. He used the hand with the gun; he must have been putting the safety on while Sadowski talked. The effect of flesh, bone, and steel was vicious, and Mulder couldn't control a wince.

 Krycek said, "You're in White-Collar Crime, but you're undercover with a drug ring. You don't know what's in it, but you wet your pants if you get any of it on you. Do you think a real undercover fed would do that, Jim? Do you think he'd get hysterical because his skin touched a little product? And just when did you join the DEA, anyway?" When Sadowski didn't answer, he said, "Try to keep within a few miles of reality when you lie, it's less annoying to the people asking you questions."

Sadowski's nose had started to bleed. In addition to the general fear and discomfort he was projecting, his expression took on the miserable look of someone who feels blood running down his face and can't do anything about it.

Mulder watched from several worlds away. =Voice of Reason? Are you out there?=

"Hand me a paper towel."

=Apparently not.=

He handed Krycek a paper towel, and Alex bent and wiped the blood from Sadowski's face. "There. We don't =want= to hurt you; you're only making things complicated. So just think about it, would you? You know that anybody can be broken, with feet and fists alone, in less than half an hour. It's not a matter of will, it's simple physical law. Now, why go through that? And if you do go through it, you know, everyone's going to assume you talked anyway." He wet the paper towel at the sink and wiped the last of the blood. Sadowski's nose was still running, but more slowly. "So why don't you just drop a few names? We don't want your bosses, we just want the heroin side of things. And nobody's ever going to know."

=It's just sex, Mulder, nobody's ever going to know.= Krycek was about six inches from Sadowski. His voice was reasonable and quiet.

"I don't have any names. Really!" he added, as he saw Alex's hand raised. "I just run errands. I pick up things, I deliver things, I watch Mulder when I can..."

Krycek looked up at Mulder. "Jeez, Mulder, babysitting you must be some kind of constantly open entry-level position. Like making fries at McDonalds." He turned back to the prisoner. "I don't believe you." He put the gun away, and now Mulder and Sadowski both knew what this was a prelude to.

"All right!" Sadowski looked at them both, then said, loudly -- as though volume would compensate for the fear under his voice --"You assholes. Well, why shouldn't I tell you? You think you're so damned smart? We've been watching you for two weeks now. Where did you learn surveillance, in the boy scouts? We were going to pick you up =tonight,= you poor dumb shits!" He turned to Mulder. "It's nearly five-thirty. They've probably already got Scully by now."

***********************************************************

Part 10

Mulder felt his stomach drop out. Sadowski said, "Don't make this any harder than it is. Let the operation go, let me go. If you make it clear you're not going to be a danger, she could still have a chance."

Krycek's voice was sharp and urgent. "He's lying, Mulder. No one spotted us. He knows it takes three people to run surveillance, he knows who your partner is. He's attacking you at your weak point. It's a lie."

"Yeah?" said Sadowski. "Why don't you call her? I bet she's not home."

Mulder looked at Alex, his heartbeat suddenly loud in his ears. He turned and walked back through the hall to his office. Behind him he heard the crack of a loud slap. "Say that again, you fucker, and you'll wish I did kill you."

Feeling dreamlike, he picked up the phone at Scully's desk and dialed her number. It rang three times, then the machine kicked in. "Scully? Are you home? Pick up, it's me. It's important, Scully, pick up." He waited in silence till the tape ran out, then hung up.

When he walked back into the restroom, Alex took one look at his eyes and said, "Mulder, it's a Friday night, on a holiday weekend. He figured odds were good that she wasn't home. I know the way these things work, Mulder, they would never take her in, not in a case like this. If they thought we were onto them, they'd scatter and regroup elsewhere. It would not be worth the attention. Mulder, you have to listen to me."

Alex was using his name the way you talk to people in trauma. Mulder's eyes moved slowly toward Krycek's face. What he was saying made sense. But Alex had made it clear that they couldn't let Sadowski go, not without making him talk, and especially not now that he knew Krycek was here.

And for Alex, his own survival had always been priority number one. He would work to convince Mulder to go along with him now, regardless of what he thought the truth was. He liked Mulder, he had nothing against Scully; but in a crisis, they went out the window with the rest of the baggage.

It made sense, though. It made sense. It made sense.

"If she's in any danger..." Mulder's voice trailed off.

"Then what?"

He felt as though he were about to step off a cliff, and couldn't stop himself, and didn't care. "Then I'll kill you, you son of a bitch."

Alex regarded him without expression. "How quickly we revert to type, when it comes to Scully." Then he turned to the prisoner, and with businesslike efficiency, struck him twice, left and right. Sadowski's head dangled loosely from his neck and his eyes fluttered. Alex stepped back and took a deep breath in the silence.

There was a sound outside the restroom. The door to the office, opening and closing.

They looked at each other and froze.

More sounds from outside. Someone moving around. Finally, a voice. "Agent Mulder?"

Krycek was right behind Mulder now, pressed against his back as though they were in bed. "Skinner," he said, his voice breathy in Mulder's ear. "You know something? I don't think we're gonna let him play in our little reindeer games."

He moved back to position himself beside Sadowski, who was slumped over the toilet, barely conscious, blood dripping again from his nose and mouth. Mulder watched as Krycek took out a knife and held it against Sadowski's throat, in cold anticipation of any noise. And waited.

Mulder stared at this tableau, frozen. On the other side of the door, the sound of footsteps formed out of the background noise. Coming closer.

Pausing at the door. Another minute. Then a knock.

Krycek looked up at him. Alex didn't have to say anything. Obviously Skinner couldn't hear =his= voice coming from the room, and Sadowski was in no shape to answer.

"Are you all right in there?"

There was no choice. But he couldn't quite bring himself to --

The doorknob rattled. "I'm okay!" Mulder called. "I'm gonna be a few minutes."

"You sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine, I just need a few minutes." He forced some humor into his voice. "Come on, don't make me go into detail."

"Okay, sorry." Footsteps walking away. Mulder felt sick to his stomach. He'd never lied to Skinner quite so irrevocably before.

Krycek put his lips against Mulder's ear and whispered, the way he did in bed when he was telling Mulder what he was going to do to him. "Go deal with your life, Mulder. And get rid of him."

"How the hell am I going to do that?"

"I don't care if you offer to fuck him in his office, just get him out of here."

Mulder started for the door. Alex reached over and pulled Mulder's shirt out of his jeans as he left. Mulder closed the door and walked back through the supply hall; he could see Skinner sitting in the chair at Scully's desk.

"Toilet's backed up," he said, tucking in his shirt as he walked in. "I'll have to call after nine o'clock."

Skinner glanced toward the hall briefly, and for a second Mulder feared that damned take-charge attitude was going to get the better of him, and he'd actually pick up a plunger or something and check it out; but fortunately the moment passed. "I figured it was you," Skinner said. "I called Scully's number to leave a message, and the phone only rang once, the way it does when someone's using the line."

"And you assumed it was me?"

"At five-thirty on a Saturday morning? Who else would it be? You were here all night, weren't you?"

Mulder forced a sheepish look. He hoped his smile wasn't as weak as it felt. "Yeah. You know how it goes. Um, is there something I can help you with, sir?"

Skinner, however, did not leave the subject alone. "I didn't think the Donleavy case interested you this much, Mulder. I had the impression from your reports that you were putting in the absolutely necessary effort on this, and no more. That it had not engaged your attention."

"Oh, no, sir. It engaged my attention immediately. I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression."

Skinner regarded him silently. "You stated in your original memo that you considered it inappropriate for the X-files."

"I changed my mind." =But please, please don't ask me why.=

"I see."

Desperate for another change of subject, Mulder said, "You're in a little early yourself, sir."

"Yes. I stopped on my way to the gym to get a file off my computer. I also have reports to write, Agent Mulder, and the Cady one is due on Tuesday." He paused. "In fact, that's why I came down. I realize it's Saturday, and you'd probably like to go home, but since Scully isn't here, I wonder if you could answer a few questions about the final report she turned in."

"Of course, sir." He'd been too busy to look at Scully's report; he'd simply added his acknowledgements and sent it upstairs.

"It's in my office. Would you mind coming back up with me?"

It was phrased as a request, but it was an order, and Mulder thanked god for it. "Yes, sir." He followed Skinner to the door, wondering just what he was leaving behind in the bathroom. Whatever it was, it felt like as much of a monster as anything he'd ever had to deal with.

Skinner conversed with him politely in the hall as they headed for the elevators, and Mulder answered him back, still with that sense of distance, of operating through cotton wool, that he'd been under for the last hour. He could lie to Skinner because the man trusted him. It gave him a creepy feeling. Was this how Krycek felt when he'd -- no, he doubted this was how Krycek had ever felt. He seemed to think this kind of thing was what life was all about and you were an idiot to expect it to be otherwise.

Jesus. He tried not to think about what was happening to Sadowski.

                         #

Twenty-five minutes later, he returned to the office. Nobody. He walked to the door of the restroom. "It's me," he said uncertainly.

"It's open."

Mulder pushed on the door. The toilet was unoccupied and he found Krycek cleaning a spot from the floor with a wet paper towel. The room was pristine.

"Hey, Mulder." The voice was perfectly calm and friendly.

"What did you do with Sadowski?"

"I slapped him till he woke up, cleaned off his face, and sent him on his way. It's not as though he'll be telling anybody."

Mulder was silent. If Alex =had= cut the man's throat, he'd wasted no time cleaning up the spillage. "I'm not going to move a file cabinet or something and have him tumble out, am I?"

"Don't be silly," Krycek said, "I wouldn't have killed him. And leave the body in your toilet?"

"You're so considerate of me," said Mulder, not moving.

Alex flushed the paper towel and wiped his wet hands on his jeans. "Anybody on the stairs when you came down? Or did you take the elevator?"

"No. There was no one on the stairs."

Krycek headed out through the office, into the main corridor, as easily as if he were still working here and leaving for the evening. Mulder followed. Halfway down the hall, the unreality of it all caught up to him again. He stopped.

Alex glanced at him and gave a brief, sideways smile. "Look what I got from him." He held out the empty plastic bag from Sadowski's pocket. It was tagged with a logo in blue ink -- an asteroid on fire, hurtling through a starry sky. "It's the logo for Blue Comet heroin."

Mulder looked at him. "You know the current logos for the brands of heroin being sold in DC?"

"I =was= in the FBI, Mulder."

Mulder could have disputed that, but simply said, "Not the DEA. And you were never on any drug-related case; I checked your record."

Krycek smiled; a wide, charming smile that made him look like a fourteen-year-old considering a game of stickball after school. "I read a lot," he said.

The hell with this. Mulder was in no mood to deal with the Cryptogram That Was Alex Krycek. He started walking away, quickly, leaving him behind. "Fuck you," he said. If Alex wanted to talk to him again, Alex could meet up with him at home. Or in another life.

He heard a chuckle over his shoulder. "Profanity? Mulder, I'm shocked. You're picking up all my bad habits."

He pushed open the door to the stairwell and continued down toward the garage. A muffled voice came from above: "They say people who sleep together start looking like each other, too."

                         #

He was home by six-thirty. Alex came in an hour later. Neither of them spoke; Alex carried a bag of bagels into the kitchen, along with two cups of coffee, and ate while reading the paper. Mulder ignored the food.

At quarter after eight, the phone rang. He picked it up.

"Mulder? I just got your message. What's the emergency?"

He let out a long breath. "Where have you been? Are you okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be okay? And why do I have to tell you where I've been? If I got lucky last night, should I have called in to report?"

"Look, I didn't -- "

"As it happens, I am at my mother's for the weekend. What the hell is going on, Mulder? Why the urgency?"

"I... I made a mistake. It wasn't urgent after all. Sorry to bother you. Give my regards to your mother." He hung up quickly, knowing he would have to pay for this on Monday. He would be very happy to pay for it on Monday.

He looked up from the phone and saw Alex standing in the doorway. =He knows who that was,= Mulder thought. He felt that familiar gray tide of guilt sweeping over him, getting ready to choke his thought processes -- =but no,= he thought, a little desperately, =this time it's not my fault!=

"Dammit," he said, hitting the table with the palm of his hand. "How =can= I believe you? How can I ever know?"

He stood up, faced him, and waited. For an answer, for Alex to light into him.

"You can't," Alex said quietly.

=But I *want* to believe. Say anything you need to. Come on, Alex, you're good at that -- *make* me believe you. Lie to me if you have to.=

He couldn't ask to be lied to, not out loud. If he ever uttered heretical words like that, they would strangle him and he'd die on the spot.

 Alex was looking at him with something strangely like compassion. He repeated, softly, "You can't. You can't." He walked over to Mulder, kissed his throat, his cheek, his eyes. Alex's voice was hoarse. "You can't. I'm sorry, you can't."

He didn't say it like an apology; he said it like a refusal. =I'm sorry, Mulder, I can't give you this.= He put his arms around Mulder and held him tightly. And it was funny, considering what Alex had just told him, but just at that moment Mulder needed him desperately, and was incapable of letting him go.

They were very gentle with each other that morning, as though the physical act could somehow offer comfort for the fact no comfort was possible. Mulder =had= stepped off a cliff when he'd said what he'd said; he'd stepped off into a terrible void, and it was the void where Alex Krycek lived.

 And all he could think of while Alex gave him what pleasure he could, was: =How can you stand it?=

***********************************************************

Part 11 (Final)

Later, lying on the bed with the sun coming through the window, Alex said, "Mulder, listen. I know what's bothering you. Let's make a new deal."

"A new deal?"

"Yeah. I know in the back of your mind you're wondering if the junkie population of DC is going to start turning into green reptiles or something. Let me give you a trade that'll make your anxiety level worthwhile."

Mulder was lying on his back, his head resting on Alex's arm. He looked at the ceiling. Finally he said, "What?"

"What about the inoculation files? I heard about them, Mulder. That would affect a lot more people than this experiment would, if you want to be humanitarian about it. And then there are the other things you want to know that are... closer to your heart."

He didn't want to talk about this stuff with Krycek. "You don't have that information." =Do you?=

"Not now. But I'm easing myself back into play. If I'm successful, I'll be in a much better position than you are to find these things out."

=Easing myself back into play.= That was the way Alex lived. In filthy rooms where people got hurt. In airports and bathrooms and interrogation cells and cheap hotels. Places where the people you hunted with one day tried to blow you up the next.

"Mulder?" he said.

"I'll think about it."

                         #

It was a quiet day. Unnaturally quiet, like the aftermath of a hurricane. Neither of them left the apartment. Mulder finally dozed off sometime after midnight, only to wake at four AM, cold and sweating, with what felt like a virus. Careful not to wake Alex, he padded into the bathroom and sat down on the old black-and-white tiles, waiting to throw up.

=Is this a metaphor for your life, or are you just an overly analytical son of a bitch incapable of not dwelling on every bad thing that happens to you?=

He couldn't even hear Alex breathing in the next room. Not really a surprise; Alex didn't make noise when he slept, or when he walked, or when he ate. When he pulled a bunch of keys out of his pocket he held them still with his other hand so they didn't jangle as he inserted one into the lock. All in all, Alex seemed to feel there was some universal radar in the sky that would zero in and torpedo you if you showed up on its screen.

=What am I going to tell him? We can't stay in limbo forever.=

Hell, here it came. He got on his knees and started to convulse, again and again and again, but they were just dry heaves, as though he were trying to expel something that wasn't there.

Finally he fell back against the wall and sat there, knees bent, sweating and spent.

He looked up and saw Alex in the doorway. Well, naturally he hadn't heard any footsteps. Alex fetched the washcloth and wiped the sweat off Mulder's forehead with cool water, then handed him a towel, all without a word. Mulder dried himself, replaced the towel on the rack, and followed him back into the bedroom.

He lay on the bed, exhausted, and finally started to drop off again. Somewhere in the distance he thought he heard Alex's voice say calmly, "Eventually, you know, it won't even bother you."

                         #

Mulder woke up on Sunday to find Alex gone. His knapsack was still there, but the Baretta was missing. Mulder cut open one of the bagels Alex had bought yesterday, made some coffee, retrieved his paper from the hallway. When Alex still hadn't shown up by noon, he switched on the computer and started working through his backlog of e-mail.

Shortly after one o'clock he heard the door open and close.

Wait a minute. Mulder looked up from the computer, startled; Alex had made =noise= closing that door. For him it was the equivalent of slamming things and breaking windows. Then he saw Alex's face, his movements as he turned.

He was angry. His body was taut with it; you could practically see it like some white-hot aura, all around him. Mulder stared at him. "What happened?"

"What happened?" Alex repeated, in a voice of utter calm reason. If you didn't know him, you might almost think he meant it. "Put on fucking CNN."

Mulder picked up the remote and powered on the set. CNN was talking about eastern Europe. Mulder glanced back to Krycek; somehow he had a feeling Alex's concern wasn't for world peace. Alex threw himself onto the couch. "I don't believe it. I don't fucking believe it." His gaze went to Mulder. "I visited an old friend. Sort of an old friend. Someone who could tell me who's handling distribution for Blue Comet."

"Yeah?" Mulder said, cautiously, so as not to interrupt the flow of information.

"There =is= no Blue Comet, as of nine AM today. Last night the feds helicoptered into the Columbian production center like they were taking Saigon. The American distributors are under arrest -- well, supposedly they're under arrest -- I'm sure somebody's been arrested, anyway. But Blue Comet is no more."

"Sadowski?"

Alex let out a long breath. His voice became more even. "No. No, I don't believe that." A pause. "At least, I don't believe that he talked."

"Someone spotted us, then."

"I don't know. ...No, I think it may have been Sadowski, but not the way we were thinking. Imagine this, Mulder: You're heading for FBI Headquarters with a brick of heroin in your pocket. You start to wonder if you're being followed. And if you're a total schmuck who doesn't care what impression you make on your boss, then rather than getting the license and losing them -- "

"You pick up your cellphone."

"Bingo."

Mulder thought it over. "They might not have had time to get someone there, to figure out who we were, but they'd know someone was watching."

"Oh, there's no way they'd have time. Sadowski must have called practically as he was turning into the garage; otherwise they'd have told him to go somewhere else."

"Of course," said Mulder, after a minute, "we have no way of knowing that's what happened."

"No." Alex's voice was heavy with bitterness. "We have no fucking way of knowing =anything.=" He was bent over, elbows on his knees, hands supporting his forehead, like someone who's been hit by the pitcher in a few too many games. He looked up at Mulder. "Why did it tell me this shit? Why couldn't it just spell out what was going on? When I think of all the time we wasted -- "

=The alien.= Alex went on, "Was this its idea of a joke? Its personal set of ethics? What? If it didn't want to give me information from a previous host, why give me =any= of it? Did it think that would make the game *fair*?"

Mulder had wondered about that, himself. He'd thought a lot about it.

"So I'm still up for grabs. Still marked. What the hell use can I be to anybody like this?"

He said, quietly, "Life doesn't always depend on being useful, you know."

"Yeah, Mulder?" Alex looked back at him tiredly. "Would you be helping me if I weren't fucking you?"

Mulder had no answer to that question. Up till now he'd only been thinking of this relationship as Krycek using =him=; here was a unique perspective.

The television was saying, "Authorities today reported the shut-down of one of the largest drug operations in the United States. Speaking for the DEA -- " Mulder hit the remote and made the voice and pictures go away. Then he touched Alex's cheek gently and left him on the couch. Mulder remained in the living room with him, but there wasn't a lot to say.

                              #

Darkness filled the room. Alex stayed in his position on the couch, wishing he could claim that he was doing his usual tapdance, examining the possibilties, choosing options. The truth was, there was a general fog in his brain. Maybe if he sat here long enough it would start to lift, and he could begin to make out objects.

He became aware that Mulder was standing beside the couch. He sat down next to Alex, kissed him, and said, "I know it's small consolation, but we can still have cheap thrills."

Alex allowed himself a brief smile.

"You're no worse off than you were before you came," Mulder continued. "And look at the bright side -- you've still managed to corrupt an FBI agent. I know you like thinking about that." He unbuttoned Alex's collar and kissed the nape of his neck. "I mean, consider it. Here we have somebody with every reason to blow your head off, and you've been staying in his apartment, putting take-out on his credit card, and using him for evil sexual purposes. How can that not be a plus?"

"Mulder, you're very sweet, " he began, hearing the awakening of arousal in his voice. "But -- "

Mulder placed a finger over Alex's lips, a trick he had apparently borrowed from the Alex Krycek school of sexual technique. He moved around to Alex's front, kissed those lips, then sank slowly down to his knees and unzipped Alex's jeans.

"Come on," he said, "you can watch me do a lousy job of this, and laugh at me." He looked up at Alex with darkened eyes, and Alex felt a choking sound in his throat.

Mulder reached in and released Alex's cock from its prison. He stroked it gently, then leaned over, and with great seriousness, kissed it, and ran his tongue once down the length.

He looked up. "I keep visualizing an ice cream cone, you know."

Alex's laugh came out with that choked sound. His chest felt strangely heavy.

Mulder's hand palmed his balls for a moment and he traced a finger around them, all with a thoughtful look, as though figuring his next move. Then he gave the attention of his lips and tongue back to the member in question, which was already responding mindlessly to the effort.

How could he not respond? Alex thought. It felt good, it felt damned good, so why did he have this feeling, lingering underneath everything like gas in a coal mine, that it was a bad idea? That he didn't want this to happen after all? That it was, god knew why, =dangerous=?

Mulder was nowhere as bad as he thought he was. What he lacked in technique he made up in sheer generosity of effort. He didn't want to miss anything that might give Alex pleasure; he watched for every sign of preference, and licked and teased and tongued before he finally worked his way up to taking the more-than-ready object into his mouth and sucking, twirling, and generally making it impossible not to come.

Alex felt himself thrusting into that warmth, his eyes closed, darkness and pleasure everywhere. But his chest felt as though it would explode. He heard a soft sound come from his lips, almost like a whimper, and it seemed to relieve the pressure somewhat; he had to force himself not to do it again.

Then it was over. Alex didn't know what etiquette Mulder followed for handling come; Alex's eyes were still closed, and his head was resting back on the couch. He could feel moisture on his face.

=Fuck.=

He heard Mulder getting to his feet. =Don't wipe away tears. It only calls attention to them.=

Then Mulder was sitting beside him on the couch, his voice concerned: "Alex?"

=Fuck, fuck, fuck.=

"Alex? What's wrong? I want to help."

It was that terrible, damning note of concern and affection, that was totally lethal. He felt another whimper break out, and then he was crying in earnest, his chest heaving. He leaned forward and put his face in his hands.

He felt Mulder's hand on his shoulder, and it was amazing how much information could be transmitted in a touch. Alex thrust him away angrily. That fucking, blind, innocent idiot; he was only making it worse.

  Even through the sobs, he knew what was happening. He recognized the phenomenon. He'd seen it. It was one of the oldest tricks around: You took someone who was under prolonged pressure, in psychological or physical pain (one usually led to the other anyway), someone who'd learned to brace themselves for the next series of blows life was about to deliver -- and then you treated them with kindness. The right words, the right tone, and they'd fall apart.

It didn't make any sense in his case. He wasn't under prolonged pressure, he wasn't in pain; he was just living his life. Yes, this failure had been a disappointment. It wasn't as though it were the first disappointment he'd ever had. And why should he care if Mulder --

Why did Mulder have to be so fucking =sincere,= anyway?

=It's what you liked about him.=

Time passed. Finally the sobs eased off. He could still feel tears, but the fit was letting him go. He could hear Mulder moving around on the periphery, pretending to do something else, trying to give him space.

Alex hadn't cried for a good ten years. =Maybe it was okay; maybe there's just some quota of tears that gets stored up and has to come out, and this was just his time. It didn't have to mean anything. Everything could go back to the way it was.=

And through the drained emptiness, for some reason, he thought: =You know something, Alex? Solitaire is a game for people who don't have anybody else to play with.=

                         #

Eventually Alex looked up at Mulder. "Sorry about that," he said, and from his voice you would never have known what happened. His delicate, perfect face was flushed and ravaged-looking, but his expression was that of someone absolutely back in control.

"You know something?" Mulder said. "That first night? You mentioned Cuervo Gold? I bought some. I think we could both use a shot." And he fetched a couple of glasses and opened the cabinet. "I never had it before," he added. "I wanted to know what the fuck it had to do with the taste of my nipples."

A faint snort from Alex at that. Good.

It took him a minute to wrestle the top off, which was also good, because it gave him a chance to figure out how to put his theory to Alex. The fact of the matter was, he didn't believe that negotiating a deal with Cancerman had been the reason the alien gave Krycek a project that would ensure his coming to Washington and encourage them both to work together for several weeks. =I think it did try to give us what we want or need. It's just, you know, Alex, you're too damned focused on day-to-day survival to see what you need.=

But motivations like that never occurred to Alex; he was beautiful and sharp and knew every trick that would get him past the rough spots -- but he had no real clue about life.

=There were ninety-year-old ladies in European villages who would have figured this one out a long time ago. But I guess the matchmaking tradition is intergalactic.=

Mulder sighed. He poured a shot of the Cuervo, and said, "Alex, don't you see -- it =did= leave you a gift -- "

He turned. Alex was gone.

                         #

Four hours later he was on a flight out of Dulles, crossing over West Virginia. The few passengers on board were asleep, or trying to be; the window seat next to him was empty, and he could crane his head and see a scattering of lights on the darkly carpeted world beneath. There would be a plane change in St. Louis, and one in LA, and one in Honolulu. It was a good thing, he thought, that he didn't carry a lot of baggage through life. When you traveled the way he did, it was bound to get screwed up somewhere along the way.

The flight was courtesy of Mulder's credit card. He knew Mulder wouldn't mind. Well, he wouldn't mind the money, anyway. And Mulder would be able to trace him through the card, but only as far as his gateway city, and that wouldn't tell him nearly enough. Alex had money sources overseas that he could tap to repay Mulder for the flight; but maybe he shouldn't concern himself with that. Mulder had never said it out loud, but it was clear he liked it when Alex spent his money -- he liked the decadence of it, he took a childlike enjoyment in being corrupted. Not that he had any idea of what that really meant. Sex was the most innocent thing on earth.

Alex knew he couldn't take the Baretta through Customs, so he left that for Mulder. He'd paid for it, after all, and a guy who lost his weapons as often as Mulder did could never have too many.

=Mulder.= It was time to stop thinking about Mulder, and Washington, and Alex's parody of a life there.

=Business mode,= he ordered silently. But this time the carnival of thoughts and images did not pack up obediently and put themselves away; he could hear them skittering noisily through his brain, ignoring him.

Fuck it, he told himself, after wrestling with them for an unprecedented half hour.

=One more thing to get used to.=

He settled down into his seat and closed his eyes, and let the hum of the engine guide him through the darkness.

END