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Precipitation I thru VII

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Dark and Stormy Night by Merri-Todd Webster

Dark and Stormy Night
by Merri-Todd Webster
(25 August 1999)


A crack of thunder woke Walter out of a deep sleep. Every muscle tensed as still-bright lightning seared his open eyes. Jesus! the storm must be right over the roof. His shoulders hit the mattress and the whole bed shook.

The bed was empty beside him, covers thrown back, pillow still dented. The sheets were cool. How long had Mulder been gone? Walter swung his legs around and got up, grabbing a discarded pair of shorts to put on. He didn't have Mulder's predilection for walking around the house naked, as at home in his skin as a cat in its fur.

He found his lover sitting by the big bay window in the living room, staring into the night. A dark and stormy night, no less. Mulder was wearing grey boxers and a dark blue t-shirt. He sat with his legs tucked up, arms around his knees, his body parallel with the windowpane and his face turned toward it.

There were no lights on, no computer, no television. There'd been many nights when Mulder, unable to sleep, had crashed on the couch for a few hours, falling asleep in front of the flickering tv as he used to when he lived alone. Usually he'd come back to bed before sunrise, curling up around Walter soundlessly, sometimes waking him to make love before they both drifted off to another hour or two of sleep.

Two weeks ago, the news had come from an unimpeachable source, namely Scully: Alex Krycek was dead. His body had been found in Alaska, of all places, in one of the last strongholds of the Consortium's scientists--a last victim of their gruesome experiments. Mulder and Scully had gone to Alaska together, to identify and to autopsy the body, respectively. Dana had told Walter, privately, that the autopsy left no doubt: It was Alex Krycek. Mulder had not slept through the night since. And he had spent his insomniac hours waiting, watching by the window as if waiting for someone to arrive.

"Fox."

At the sound of his name, Mulder's head turned. He gave Walter a weary smile. "I'm still here. I haven't left."

"I didn't think you would." Walter headed for the windowseat--stopped, startled, as another huge burst of lightning and thunder together illuminated the dark street with savage clarity--shook himself and went to join his lover.

"I can't shake the feeling," Mulder said quietly. He was looking out into the rain again. "The feeling that he's going to come. He's going to just show up at the door."

"Mulder." Walter paused, smoothed out his tone. "You ID'd the body yourself. And Scully did the autopsy. It was Krycek. The Consortium... the bastards turned on their own, they ate their own dead, if you like, when they couldn't get their hands on anyone else."

A few months ago, he might have added that it served Krycek right to be used as a lab rat by the organization he'd worked for. And Mulder would not have disagreed. But Walter knew better now. He'd had to face the fact that he was not Fox's first love and comfort himself with the thought that he would be the man's last love.

"I know." Mulder's voice sounded dreamy. "There's no reason for me to feel this way. But I do."

Walter reached out and touched Mulder's arm. "Come back to bed."

Mulder rubbed at his eye, half-smiling. "I'm not sleepy."

"Come back to bed."

In the bedroom, Mulder stood still as Walter pushed up the dark blue t-shirt and ran his hands over the younger man's chest. The flat brown nipples budded to hardness under his tongue. Mulder raised his arms so Walter could strip off the t-shirt. His hands came to rest on Walter's shoulders as the older man knelt, pulling down Mulder's boxers, leaving them around his ankles while he nuzzled the thickening cock and the trimly muscled thighs.

"Walt..." Mulder whispered, clutching at his lover. Walter licked his way knowingly, lovingly, over Mulder's cock, nuzzled his balls, flicked his tongue into the crease of Mulder's groin, then wrapped his hand around the hard flesh and suckled on the head. The thunder and lightning came and went as Walter's hands and mouth made love to the body he loved, to the man inside the body, to the drifting soul he had finally, somehow, grounded here, in his home, their home, in their bed.

Mulder lay down on the bed on his stomach and spread his thighs. "No... not like that." Walter got out lube and condoms from the nightstand and then lay down on his back, urging Mulder closer. Mulder's mouth was hot and wet on his cock, unbelievably supple, so tight and clinging, and he coaxed Mulder around so that he could start opening him up, stroking in the lube, getting Mulder ready to be fucked while Mulder sucked him.

It didn't take long. Mulder sank readily, gracefully, onto his cock, back arched, his belly taut and vulnerable, and Walter groaned. So good. So absolutely right. A micro-engineered fit, as perfect as the way their lives had come to fit together. Mulder moved, controlling the fuck, taking his pleasure, and Walter arched and let go, arched and let go beneath him in a slow, wavelike motion, in no more hurry than the tide.

Imperceptibly, the tide came in, and the rain drummed on the roof as Walter pounded into his lover, thrusting upward wildly while Mulder, hands braced on Walter's chest, thrust down in a rhythm as relentless as the rain. Walter came first, groaning, holding absolutely still for a few seconds as the pleasure crested, then, when he could think again, capturing Mulder's cock in both hands and wringing the younger man's climax out of him.

There was a long moment of silence when the rain seemed to have abated, the lightning was withheld, the thunder was silent, and their wild breathing slackened off. And then, pounding. Pounding at the front door.

Mulder raised himself off Walter's chest. They stared at each other. Disentangling at record speed, Mulder raced naked down the stairs, followed by Walter pulling on the discarded shorts.

Mulder opened the door. The rain blew in on him and sluiced off Alex Krycek's leather jacket.

"Don't believe everything you see, tovarishch," Krycek rasped. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"

***

 


 

In out of the Rain
(Precipitation, part two)
by Merri-Todd Webster
(29 August 1999)


"Aren't you going to invite me in?" Krycek asked.

The only thing which motivated Mulder to do so was the fact that the rain was lashing against his naked body. It was unexpectedly cool and raised goosebumps. He stumbled out of the way and waved, "come in," feeling as he did so that he was making himself a victim to the vampire--Dracula cannot enter unless he is invited. Krycek, soaked to the skin and dripping like a waterfall, took two steps into the house, just far enough for Mulder to close the door behind him, and found himself face to face with Walter Skinner.

"What the hell are you doing here, Krycek?"

Krycek slung sopping hair back from his forehead, hitting Skinner with cold droplets. "Coming in out of the rain, I hope." He took in the state of his hosts--one barely dressed, the other not at all--and flashed a teasing grin. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything, but I got here as soon as I could."

Mulder left the room without a word and returned, shortly, wearing the same shorts and a t-shirt he had recently discarded and carrying his bathrobe and a towel, both of which which he handed to Krycek.

"Thanks." Turning his back on the two men, Krycek unceremoniously began to strip. His briefs were still pretty dry, so he left those on as he towelled off. The robe was soft flannel and very comfortable.

"Wait a minute." Mulder went to Krycek and pulled the robe down off his left shoulder, pushed it back off the man's arm. "You have two arms." He ran a rough hand up and down the chilled skin.

"You noticed." Krycek shrugged the robe back up. "I'm glad--it might make my story more credible."

A few minutes later, the three men were sitting in the spacious, red-tiled kitchen of the house that Fox Mulder and Walter Skinner jointly owned, drinking coffee and eating Aunt Fanny's pecan twirls, one of Mulder's weaknesses where food was concerned. Skinner had gone upstairs to put on jeans and a shirt.

Krycek was not much concerned about being the least-dressed person at the table. He polished off three pecan twirls and half his mug of coffee in happy silence, ignoring the stares coming at him from right and left. Mulder looked wary and distrustful, Skinner black and potentially violent. Then he refreshed his coffee, deluged it with cream, and took a sip before wiping the cinnamon from his mouth.

"You're not going to believe me. I know you're not going to believe me. But I'm going to tell you anyway." He looked from Mulder to Skinner to Mulder, and decided to jump right in. "The Alex Krycek who was found dead in Alaska, the body you ID'd and Scully autopsied, was a clone. I'm the original Alex Krycek."

Silence for a moment. Then Skinner banged his coffee mug on the table and got up. "I don't have to listen to this bullshit--"

"Walt--" The dull quietness of Mulder's voice, the sudden blankness of his face, told Krycek that Mulder was listening, would eventually come round to believe him--Mulder always recognized the truth, no matter how bizarre its disguise.

Krycek leaned back in his chair, enjoying the cozy way it creaked under him. "A clone created when I was still a child. Maybe when I had that tonsillectomy at age seven." He sipped his coffee and gestured with the mug toward Mulder. "I'm a child of the Project, Mulder, just like you. Your father was one of the government people involved. My father, and my mother, were some of the scientists."

"You told me once your parents were Cold War immigrants," Mulder observed. Krycek shrugged.

"Well, that was half the truth. My father was second generation, my mother *was* a Cold War immigrant. He was a geneticist and she was a physicist; they met because of the Project. If it weren't for the fucking conspiracy, I might not be here."

"Another reason to hate the Consortium," Skinner muttered. Krycek ignored that.

"I was raised to be part of the conspiracy; I knew about it from the time I was about fourteen." He sipped more coffee, grabbed another pecan twirl. "I didn't know until later that being part of it meant there was a clone for back-up, just in case I got killed or defected--like you did."

A strange look flitted across Mulder's face, too quickly to be categorized, but not too quickly to be noticed. He's jumped ahead and reached the right conclusion--again, Krycek thought. Damn, he's quick. But that'll help. "Defected?" Mulder said.

"I guess if your sister's abduction hadn't torn apart your parents' marriage, you would have been told about the conspiracy in another year or so, found out the part you were supposed to play. That's what happened to me." He grinned sardonically. "All of us little crown princes, heirs to the throne, being groomed to take over the world--a Vichy government groomed from childhood to rule in partnership with the aliens."

"Complete with brood mares to breed the next generation of collaborators." Mulder's tone was thick with disgust.

Nobody objected when he reached for the last pecan twirl, so Krycek devoured it hungrily. It had been a long time since he'd had good junk food like this, the sort of thing you found in a happy kitchen, a happy household.

"A clone." Skinner still sounded more disbelieving than anything else. "So just when did this clone take over for you?"

Krycek looked at Mulder. "After the business in Hong Kong. When the alien oil took over my body, and I wound up locked in a missile silo with that thing and its ship. I figured I'd starve to death in there, or dehydrate, if I didn't lose my mind first."

Mulder nodded, and Krycek relaxed just a fraction. Even though he hadn't heard the whole story yet, it was beginning to make sense to Mulder.

"I was groomed for a career in government--FBI, CIA, NSA, those were all possibilities. They picked FBI because that's where you'd gone, Mulder. I have the degrees, I have the training, I even got some field experience prior to working on the Augustus Cole case with you." He fixed his gaze on Mulder's eerily blank face. "But my assignment, from the beginning, was to make myself your partner. To replace Scully, gain your trust, and eventually persuade you to work for the Consortium, like a good little boy."

The coffee pot on the table was empty. Krycek held it out toward Mulder, hoping for more, but Mulder put the pot in the sink and wandered away. He came back with a tray on which were a bottle of Glenfiddich and three small glasses.

Krycek accepted the scotch with a small smile of appreciation. Too much bad vodka in his youth had ruined his taste for it; a good scotch, on the other hand, was a real pleasure, and rarer even than pecan twirls. He warmed the glass in his hand for a minute, tasted it, and then went on.

"I failed in my assignment. I didn't keep your trust, and you broke my cover. So I was busted down to flunky. I've always been a good shot, so they sent me out as a hit man." Skinner snorted. He met the older man's glare with a little necessary insolence. "I didn't come here to tell you I was innocent. I'm a good liar, but not that good. I *did* come here to tell you, among other things, that I didn't do everything you think I did."

Krycek turned to Mulder. "Yes, I killed your father. He was going to tell you everything, and he was going to do it in a way that would have ruined their chances of ever getting you on their side, so he had to be killed. And I was sent to kill Scully. If I'd gone alone, I *would* have killed her, when I caught up with her, but I wouldn't have shot the wrong woman like that idiot Cardinale.

"Still, they blamed me for that. They tried to kill me repeatedly, especially once I had my hands on the DAT tape." He looked at Skinner, wondering if the man would accept what he was about to say. "I owe you an apology for that. When I beat the shit out of you in that stairwell--"

"You had *help*," Skinner growled.

"--it wasn't you I was thumping. It was the smoking man and all those other old bastards who'd screwed up my life. I wasn't just doing my job, there. I was taking out my shit on you, and that was unfair. I'm sorry."

Skinner snorted. "That's touching, Krycek." He got up. "You beat me within an inch of my life, and ten years later, you come back and say you're sorry, you were taking out your frustrations on my gut, you shouldn't have done that. Would it have been okay if you'd just knocked me out and taken the tape?"

"From my point of view, yes," Krycek said coldly. "I was a professional. I wanted to do my job well. My feelings shouldn't have influenced my work--and if they hadn't, yeah, I would have just coldcocked you and taken the tape, and you'd have felt a lot less sore afterwards."

Skinner started to say something more, probably something even angrier, but Mulder put a hand on his arm and the older man subsided. Krycek shifted in his chair a little and once again addressed himself primarily to Mulder.

"You have only seen me, the real me, once since Hong Kong. I never went to Russia with you. I didn't get my arm lopped off. I did break into your apartment, right before the top men in the Consortium got fried, to tell you about the rebel faction. I know you followed up on that tip because I've been watching *you*. But everything else that has happened since Hong Kong has been the clone. That's the Alex Krycek you know."

He turned to Skinner, fingers tightening on the glass of scotch. "I did not have you infected with the nanocytes. I did not force you to tape Mulder's and Scully's visits to your office. I did, however, clean up the mess my clone had made by leaking the information that made it possible for Scully and the others to break down the nanocytes and flush them out of your system." He flashed a grin at Mulder. "Your hacker friends are good at following bread crumbs. I just threw down some tasty ones, and they followed the trail."

Skinner's face had taken on an expression not unlike that of a baffled bull in the ring, not sure whether or not to charge the flickering red cape. Mulder was almost smiling, sitting on the edge of his seat, the tumbler of scotch forgotten.

"So why are you here, Krycek?" Mulder asked in an exaggeratedly monotone drawl. "What haven't you told us yet?"

"That my clone is not the only one the Consortium made for backup." Krycek drained his scotch. "There's one of you."

***

end

 


 

Stormy Weather
Precipitation part three
by Merri-Todd Webster
(15 September 1999)


Skinner was certain that Krycek had collapsed when he did just to piss off his hosts. After dropping the bombshell that there was a clone of Mulder created by the Consortium, he had suddenly passed out over the empty tray of Aunt Fanny's Pecan Twirls, knocking his damned coffee cup to the floor. He looked completely out of it, a dead weight barely aware of himself or his surroundings. It had taken the both of them to get him installed in the guest bedroom, where he was presently sleeping the sleep of the unjust and snoring loud enough to be heard in the bathroom.

After putting Krycek to bed, Mulder had gone off to take another shower. Walter lay in bed, tense and unable to sleep, his muscles refusing to be soothed by the late-night jazz from his favorite station, until Fox returned, dressed only in shorts and towelling off his hair.

"You should use the blow dryer," Walter muttered. "My grandmother used to say you'd catch a cold if you went to bed with wet hair."

Mulder grinned, a phantom expression in the green glow from the clock radio. "Call Scully," he suggested. "She'll tell you that's--an old grandmother's tale."

Mulder sat down on the bed, and Walter sat up, propping his pillows behind his back. "Well," he said, not quite knowing what else to say.

"Well?"

"Do you believe him?" Walter blurted. He could only see his lover's long smooth back, one ear, and a glimpse of cheekbone.

"It's possible," Mulder said. Those words, delivered in that flat, distant tone, told Walter that yes, Mulder basically did believe Krycek's story. Walter, on the other hand, was disinclined to believe Krycek even when he affirmed that the sky was blue.

"Possible, yes," Walter said, grudgingly, "but what about probable?"

Mulder tossed the damp towel off into a dark corner where Walter would find it next week, slightly mildewed, and shimmied under the covers. He stretched out casually, ankles crossed and hands behind his head.

"Two weeks ago, I saw the dead body of Alex Krycek. A body whose left arm had been crudely hacked off and replaced with the most sophisticated prosthesis I've ever seen. Scully--Dana Scully--did the autopsy, verified the ID, agreed with me every step of the way." Mulder chuckled in the darkness. "Might be the first time that's happened." He sobered, uncrossing and re-crossing his legs. "Tonight, a very much alive Alex Krycek came in out of the rain, sat at our kitchen table, and told us the dead body was a clone." He paused for a moment; Walter could practically hear him thinking, a smooth hum indicating extreme rapidity. "Now, *one* of those two Kryceks *could* be a clone. If the dead Krycek had been a shapeshifter, the body wouldn't have been there to autopsy in Alaska. If this Krycek were a shapeshifter, he wouldn't have passed out on the table. We have weaknesses that they don't."

"He could have counterfeited it."

Mulder snorted. "Have you ever tried to fake a faint? I have. It's not easy. At least not once you hit puberty."

"Thanks for telling me." Walter turned away and stared out the bedroom window. From the sound of it, the storm was picking up again.

"He's not telling us the whole story." Mulder sounded oddly confident.

"Of course he's not! This is Krycek we're talking about!" Walter stared at the younger man through the dimness, trying to make out the look on his face, the tension of his posture. Mulder made a vaguely sleepy-sounding noise.

"He will. Sooner or later, he will."

Mulder said nothing else, and gradually his breathing deepened into snores. Walter lay still, feeling cold and stiff, feeling the warmth radiating off the other man--Mulder's body temperature rose with sleep--but unable to roll over and get close, to touch that warmth and absorb some of it into himself.

***

Krycek woke suddenly, unable to remember where he was. It wasn't a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder, or even an unexpected touch that woke him, but a car alarm. No, wait--not a car alarm, but a bird imitating a car alarm. A mockingbird. Damn clever mockers, they could imitate anything. His mother used to keep a bird feeder in the back yard.

He was at Mulder's and Skinner's house in a Baltimore suburb, in their guest bedroom. Okay. He let his head settle on the pillow again. He sort of remembered everything getting black last night, a weird humming noise gathering in his head. He must have passed out after delivering the news about the clone. Stretching, he grinned--he couldn't have done it better if he'd done it deliberately.

After a few minutes of listening to the pesky mockingbird, he rolled out of bed and went into the hall. He was still wearing his briefs and a t-shirt, so he was decent. The door next to his was open and led into a bathroom. Happily, Krycek emptied his bladder, washed his hands and his face, and looked at himself in the mirror. Unshaven and unkempt, but looking pretty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for someone who'd been on the run for almost two weeks. He'd slept well under his old enemies' roof, at least for a few hours.

The robe Mulder had given him last night was lying on the bedroom floor by the foot of the bed. Krycek shrugged it on and went downstairs, following the scent of dark-roasted coffee.

Skinner was sitting at the kitchen table, staring into space over a plate of toast. His glasses lay on the placemat beside the plate. A small clock radio on the counter played Miles Davis softly.

"Morning."

Skinner jumped, his head snapping around, then relaxed. Fractionally. "Morning."

He said nothing else. Krycek waited a moment, then asked, "Mind if I have some coffee?"

"Help yourself."

Krycek did so, hunting out milk and sugar. He actually preferred tea to coffee, but asking for tea would be pushing his luck. He was hungry, too, ravenous, in spite of the late-night pecan twirl binge, but he wasn't going to ask for food, either.

Skinner got up, dumped his toast in the garbage, re-filled his cup. He put down the cup with a thunk. "Why are you doing this, Krycek?"

Krycek remembered that tone of voice from tense visits to a certain office at the Hoover Building. It went with the measured stare that pierced him over the coffee cup rims. And the man could do it in a rumpled t-shirt, without benefit of starched collar or spectacles.

"To make an end of it." He put his own coffee down with a thunk. "To finish off what's left of the Consortium, to go into the bolt-holes and burn out the vermin."

"What do you care?" The sneer was evident. "You worked for them. You profited by their plans."

Krycek bared his teeth. "Number one, I *haven't* worked for them for some time now. I'll explain myself when Mulder's here--and where *is* Mulder? And number two, what makes you think working for them was such a picnic?" He drained the coffee and glared. "You took their money, Skinner. You know what it's like. Didn't you chafe under their harness? And you were just a part-time employee. They controlled my *life*."

The front door opening was clearly audible in the tense silence. Moments later, Mulder fairly bounced into the kitchen, sweaty in running shoes, carrying two paper grocery bags.

"Morning, Walter. Morning, Krycek. Nice trick you did last night, passing out like that." Mulder glanced slyly from Krycek to Skinner.

Krycek got up to refill his cup. "I've been on the run for almost two weeks, Mulder, trying to get to you. I guess I hit my limit, despite the caffeine and carbohydrates you provided."

Mulder began unloading the grocery bags. "Well, you can re-fuel on what I bought this morning." He waved a package of bacon in the air. "Bacon, eggs, potatoes--" he drew out another item with a flourish--"and more pecan twirls!"

Skinner was silent, sipping at black coffee, while Mulder bopped around the kitchen like Little Susie Homemaker, whipping up a big breakfast. Krycek watched this tableau in disbelief. Mulder was scrambling eggs and frying bacon and hash browns for the three of them? He even got out a cinnamon-red teapot and some Irish Breakfast teabags and put water in the kettle when Krycek ventured to ask about tea.

Skinner remained silent when Mulder piled the plates, the coffee pot, the teapot, and the little extras on the table. By this time Krycek had figured out what was going on, why Mulder was so cheery. Judging by the house, and by the financial and other records Krycek had perused before coming to visit, Mulder and Skinner were happy and comfortable together. But maybe they were a little too comfortable. Maybe Mulder was bored. Mulder the bloodhound needed a new fugitive to sniff after; Mulder the hunter needed new quarry to chase. Krycek was in luck: Mulder needed excitement, and Krycek had some to provide.

Skinner began shoveling in his food in silence, eating rapidly and mindlessly. Krycek tucked in and savored every bite. Dammit, Mulder could cook. The bacon was crisp, the potatoes were nicely seasoned, and the eggs were scrambled just as he liked them, not too firm and not too soft. Pity the man was spoken for already--not that Walter seemed to appreciate what he had. At any rate, he wasn't kissing the cook or anything.

***

"Okay, Krycek," Mulder said amiably over the second or third cup of caffeinated beverage, "I'll bite. Spill the rest of the story."

Krycek dumped one last spoonful of sugar into his tea and stirred it in, slowly and thoroughly. His face took on an inward, composed expression Mulder had never seen on the man. "When you tracked me down in Hong Kong," he began, still stirring, "I was hosting the oil alien. It wanted something--to get back to its point of origin, or as close as possible--the alien ship that had brought that particular batch of the oil to Earth. The oil's need to get back to the ship governed everything I said, everything I did. I felt like...." He was silent for a moment. "Like I was in a dream, watching my dream-self do things. You know, how you're in the dream but you're also watching yourself. Afterwards, I didn't remember much more about that time than if it *had* been a dream, a really vivid one." He gulped at the strong tea.

"Okay." Mulder got up and grabbed the tray of pecan twirls and brought it to the table. He ripped it open, snagged one, and offered them around. Walter let them pass with a stone cold stare; Krycek took one, took a small bite, put it down.

"Thanks to our mutual unfriend Spender the smoking man, I wound up locked in a missile silo with the ship, barfing up the alien." He took another gulp of tea and then got up, wandered around the kitchen, stopping to look out the little window over the sink, with its Cape Cod curtains. Mulder could see the stiffness in Krycek's back. "It was bad enough going through something that felt like two weeks of stomach flu in two hours, but after that, I was locked in this dark room, no food, no water, no way to get out. And knowing that that... thing was only a few feet away, inside the ship. Waiting." Krycek turned around; the dark green eyes looked at Mulder and through him. "It wasn't dying that scared me, so much. I'd faced dying before. It was losing my mind."

Walter stirred, and Mulder glanced at him. Yes, that stare had gotten to Walter. It was the stare of someone who's walked out of hell and is trying to be casual about it. "So how did you get out?" Walter asked.

Krycek leaned against the refrigerator, arms crossed over his chest. His eyes were still somewhere else, somewhere very cold and dark. "Spender's plan was to leave me to die of starvation or dehydration, whichever came first, and replace me with the clone. I hadn't been as effective an operative as they'd hoped." He laughed drily, a sound like rusty hinges forced open. "The clone had been growing for years; it only required a little forced aging to catch up with me, and then a little fine-tuning to give it as much of my memories as they thought would be useful. Exit Alex Krycek #1, the original, enter Alex Krycek #2, the duplicate. It was the duplicate that went to Russia with you, Mulder, that was handcuffed on your balcony," he nodded at Skinner, "that lost its arm to an overzealous bunch of Russian peasants, that found fun new things to do with a palm pilot." He came back to the table and snatched up the half-eaten pastry, stuffing it in his mouth. Mulder could see the shivers running through him, see that he was trying to suppress them. "In the meantime, while Alex #2 was out wreaking havoc and I was in the silo losing my mind, there was another factor at work the Consortium hadn't counted on."

"The rebel aliens," Mulder guessed. Krycek nodded.

"At that time, the Consortium had no idea that there was another faction of aliens interested in this planet." He laughed again. "How little they know about what really goes on out there." He picked up his mug of tea and starting pacing again, sipping at the hot beverage as he went. "What I've been calling the rebel aliens is a different race from the greys or the shapeshifters; they're not really rebels against the greys, but more of an independent peacekeeping force, a galactic U.N. Their goal is to... curb the greys' expansionistic tendencies a bit."

"A bit." Walter raised his eyebrows at Mulder. Krycek approached them, then stepped back.

"They're not human." An almost desperate tone had come into his voice. "They don't have our feelings or our morals. If it's expedient to kill some members of a subject race in order to keep the rest of that race from being dominated by the greys and the 'shifters, then that's what they'll do."

"Learned your morality from them, did you, Krycek?"

"Dammit, Skinner, listen to what I'm telling you!" Krycek slammed his fist down on the table. Coffee slopped over into the saucers. "Nobody else knows what I know about this--nobody!"

Mulder reached out and took hold of Krycek's wrist. His left wrist, lean, warm, human. "Let him talk, Walt," as all he said.

Krycek looked down at Mulder's fingers curled around his wrist. He didn't move until Mulder let go; then he backed away, running his hands through his hair, and slumped against the cabinets again. Walter slumped over his coffee, watching and waiting. "I don't know exactly how long I was in the silo." He sounded calm again, dry and composed. "But I was pretty close to dehydration when the rebel aliens, the peacekeepers, broke me out of there. They took me someplace.... It might have been a ship, but if it was, it was grounded someplace here on earth." He swallowed hard, wrapping his arms around his chest again. Two good arms, Mulder thought. Two good arms. "I woke up screaming one day, naked and cold and hooked up to a million fucking tubes and wires." One of Krycek's hands drifted up to brush across his mouth, then the base of his throat. Mulder swallowed hard in empathy, gulped cold coffee to cover it. "Then one of the peacekeepers came in." Krycek's eyes darted to Mulder's. "They're more like us than the greys or the shifters, you know--they actually look pretty human. Sort of like department store mannikins, no hair, no gender, plastic-looking skin, but human. And like the others, they can learn our language, or--use some kind of telepathy."

Krycek was silent for a long moment, staring into space. Mulder caught a glance from Walter; their old nemesis was perfectly still, as if paralysed. After a minute, Mulder got up, went to Krycek, touched his arm. Krycek recoiled, stepping back and banging his tailbone on the edge of the sink. Then he blinked a few times and continued his narrative as if there'd been no interruption. "They told me I was going to be all right. I was just on life support. When I explained I was... cold, they warmed up the room and got me a sheet and a blanket. They weren't unkind. After a couple of days they took out the tubes, let me eat and drink. They explained who they were and what they wanted--to keep the coalition of the greys and the shapeshifters from taking over this planet." This time his rusty laugh sent chills down Mulder's spine. "I was never quite sure *why* it wasn't okay for the greys to take over here. The peacekeepers made it clear that they, and the greys, had visited here ages ago, before there was anything that could be called genus Homo. But they talked about the greys the way you might talk about rats--it was okay if they were in an abandoned building, but you didn't want them to get into somebody's house."

Krycek fell silent. Mulder felt a strange, irrational urge to put his arms around the man, smooth down the glossy black hair that stood up over his forehead. Wonder how Walt would take that. As if he felt Mulder's thought, Walter drained his coffee cup, put it down, and looked directly at Krycek for the first time since the younger man had started talking.

"So what do you want us to do?" he asked. Krycek jumped as if startled, and then his mouth spread into a feral grin.

"I want you to help me get rid of the last remaining clones."

***

end

 


 

Eye of the Storm
Precipitation part four
by Merri-Todd Webster
(29 October 1999)


"I don't know how I let you talk me into these things."

Mulder's reply was immediate and smug. "Yes, you do."

"Shut up." There was no emotion in Krycek's voice, only tension.

After a moment, Krycek moved forward, one step at a time, followed by Mulder, Skinner, and Scully. This was the fifth installation they had hit, in as many months, but the first time all four of them had gone out. Mulder and Krycek had gone on the first mission, Skinner and Krycek on the second; two others had required only a brief visit by Krycek and the long-distance help of the Lone Gunmen, hackers extraordinaire. Krycek had requested Scully's help as well as the Gunmen's to take out this last, largest installation; the Gunmen were at the deserted base camp which camouflaged the underground installation. Scully had hesitated only a moment before nodding assent, even though it meant going back to Antarctica.

Antarctica in spring. No surprise, perhaps, that the largest clone lab would be located there. Scully had smiled with a grim joy as the tiny plane headed in over the featureless grey landscape--happy to be resolving a piece of the past? or, more than that, to be taking revenge for past violations? Skinner didn't know. He had wanted only to get it over with from the moment it all started.

A sickly green glow washed over Krycek's black hair, jacket, pistol. The same unearthly glow was everywhere, making Skinner feel vaguely queasy. Mulder followed Krycek and Scully followed Mulder; Skinner brought up the rear, feeling like there was someone else behind him. It was as if the four of them were teenagers in a bad horror film, drunk on cheap beer and singing old rock songs as they walked, heedless, into the embrace of the monster lurking right around the corner.... Not for the first time, he thought he was following Fox Mulder into a place where they might not get out.

Krycek led them deeper and deeper into the complex, through one identical corridor after another. He had a floorplan provided by Langly, who had coaxed the information out of the mainframe after over eight hours of courtship; otherwise, they would have been as lost as the Theban youths sent into the labyrinth. Skinner grunted softly at the turn his thoughts were taking: Teenagers in a horror movie; sacrifices thrown into the labyrinth. He moved his flashlight from side to side, scanning the territory; the most horrible thing about it, at the moment, was its sterile plainness. Yes, it would be so easy to get lost here....

He shook his head and willed the hair at the back of his neck to lie down. His hands were so clammy he had to shift the Sig to his left hand and wipe his sweaty palm on his thigh. Clones. He had seen the clones. Lots and lots of clones, of lots and lots of people. He had wanted never to dream again so as to escape his nightmares about the clones--the faces he knew on the bodies in the vats, not dead, not living, the primal horror, something that caressed his animal brain and made him want to run screaming. The red-haired men that Mulder called "Kurt Crawfords," formed partly from Dana Scully's DNA. The curly-haired Samanthas, faintly pathetic frowns on their waxen faces, a pleading expression. Mulder had looked at them with cold indifference. A clone of poor Agent Pendrell, its body warped, deformed, but its face identical to the dead man's, with even a trace of his habitual sweet shyness. Mulder had gone into a corner and vomited after seeing the clone of Pendrell. "I used to tease Scully that he was in love with her," was all he said. Krycek had looked at the red-haired, white-faced simulacrum of the young agent/scientist, with a brooding tenderness that made Skinner wonder, and then smashed the vat himself with a feral fury that recalled his long-ago attack on Skinner in a Hoover building stairwell.

Around a corner, through a door, down the steps. Down, down, down. He started to feel dizzy as they spiralled down and downward. Virgil and Dante, spiralling to the bottom of hell--an icy marsh not unlike the plain they had crossed to get here. Would they ever come up again to see the stars? Clones of the smoker, of his son, Jeffrey--a good agent, he would have been a great agent someday--the smoker's wife, Cassandra. Clones of people Skinner didn't know and never would--he only hoped they would rest in peace. But so far, they had not found the Mulder clone which Krycek had told them about, the clone that was their reason for wiping out all these hidden laboratories. That clone had to be here.

Krycek pointed with his gun. "Up ahead." He sounded even hoarser than usual. "That's the entrance."

Mulder nodded and whispered into his headset. Somewhere out in the Antarctic wilderness, Langly, Frohike, and Byers heard and responded. Electronic signals raced; Skinner listened to the rough, irregular breathing of four primates high on adrenalin and to the wild thumping of his own heart.

Into that harsh silence came a tiny click. The door up ahead, barely visible in the subdued greenish lighting, withdrew into the wall like the door of an elevator.

Mulder sprang forward like a hound released from the leash, but Krycek put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "No. Let me go first."

Krycek looked ten years older in the green glow; Skinner could see every line in the younger man's face, imagine how it would deepen and spread with age. He realized that he was seeing fear on the face of Alex Krycek, and that he had never seen that particular emotion before. It was not the wild fear he had seen on the face of the Krycek clone who had crouched on his balcony, handcuffed to the rail; it was not fear for himself. For Mulder, then? Not for the first time, Skinner thought of all that Krycek might not have told them, and ground his teeth. If anything went wrong, he was ready to use his gun.

Krycek walked toward the open door like a man walking toward his own funeral. Mulder followed, then Scully, then Skinner still at the rear. Ahead of them the green glow was brighter, and Skinner's nostrils filled with the sickly odor he remembered from the other missions. It reminded him, suddenly, of 'Nam, of the smell of wounds going bad under mildewing bandages, the smell of slow death. Against his will, he gagged sharply.

***

Scully turned around and looked up at her former supervisor. Skinner looked green, and it wasn't just the light. She swallowed hard herself and steeled her face to a calm visor that betrayed nothing. She'd almost forgotten how to do that, in her time away from the Bureau; amazing how easy it was to forget the knack of something she'd once done every day, and in every circumstance. But it wasn't necessary, no, it was a liability, as a pediatrician. Doctoring children had taught her how to smile again.

She wondered if she would remember how to smile once this mission was over.

Scully went into the room but saw nothing until the two tall men ahead of her moved aside to left and to right. Then she saw the vats. Rows upon rows of vats.

They looked to her like nothing so much as fish tanks--very large, very dirty fish tanks, filled with cloudy greenish water. So many aquariums that hadn't been cleaned in years... each one containing a potential human being. Could she do this? Could she carry out this mass abortion? Scully searched her heart and found there the keen edge of a surgeon's blade. These were the distorted products of rape and violation; they were not innocent human lives but illicit copies of persons whose DNA had been used without their consent. She would make an end of it. Finally, an end.

The first row of vats she came to contained bodies with her own face.

"Jesus God in heaven!"

Scully dropped her gun and cringed away, hands shaking. Yet she mastered herself before Krycek could complete his movement to pick up the gun and hand it to her. She retrieved it herself, her glance crossing Krycek's. For the first time that she could recall, there was nothing mocking in the dark green eyes.

"I know," was all he said.

She walked up and down the row, driven by a compulsion to look. To see it all. Herself, repeated over and over. Here a group of three tanks which, oh Lord, held duplicates of Missy. Missy, dead so many years.... And there, clones of Emily, oh, God, Emily. Some of the clones like Snow White, whole and perfect, floating peacefully; some of them deformed, like thalidomide babies, their faces as grotesquely twisted as their bodies.

She made it to the corner before throwing up. The familiar touch on her back, supporting her, was Mulder's.

"We never knew it was this bad, did we?" He wasn't smiling.

She pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her mouth. "No." She looked at the gun, still clutched in her hand. "Things would have been different if we had."

She walked back to where Krycek stood. "Now what do we do?"

He licked his lips. "In the other installations, we smashed the individual tanks, but there are too many of them here. That's why we brought explosives. Radio-controlled. We plant 'em, get out, and then the Gunmen blow them."

"Not yet." Mulder was walking forward, between the rows of vats. "I want to see. I want to be sure that my clone is here. That's why we're here, right, Krycek?"

"Mulder, wait--" Krycek began, but it was obviously hopeless. Like a child's toy that has been wound up, Mulder stalked off into the distance, into the darkness between the rows of vats.

Scully drew close to Krycek. "What is it? What is it you don't want him to see?"

He looked down at her and licked his lips again. "You don't want to know." He stared after Mulder. "But if he does see it... he's going to need you."

Krycek set off after Mulder, and Scully followed them, feeling her stomach gather into a knot. Krycek was afraid, and that made *her* afraid--to try to imagine what it was Krycek feared. The man had many faults, but she did not think cowardice had ever been one of them; he took too many risks. Krycek had said Mulder would need her, but thank God Walter was here; his heavy footsteps behind her were the only comfort she had at the moment.

***

Mulder strode through the rows of vats as if he knew where he was going. He felt like he did know, like some sort of homing device was pulling him toward resolution. It was going to end here--the quest for his sister, the tortured history of his family, the long entanglement with the Consortium. Somehow, he knew it was all going to end here, at the bottom of the world.

He stopped at a row of vats that caught his eye. Alex Krycek. Clones of Alex Krycek. Scully had run tests that proved the man behind him was *not* a clone; his DNA showed none of the alien markers incorporated into the clones, nor any of the errors that had crept in, a deviation of one molecule here or there. And here, in these tanks, were more clones of the original. Some of them children, some of them adolescents, and one of them ancient as Einstein, with the same wild grey-white hair. They all had the same eyelashes, long and black and feathery against their pallid cheekbones.

Mulder wanted nothing so much as to smash the vats and feel the green liquid run out over his feet. It was disgustingly warm, like blood, like amniotic fluid, like tears. That was what they had done in the other installations. A dozen clones here, a half dozen there; only once had there been anybody manning the lab. Krycek had killed the man, a Kurt Crawford, before Mulder could speak in his defense. But there were too many here; there was no time. He felt a hand brush his shoulder, but without looking, he pressed forward.

The rows thinned out and the light grew dimmer as he pressed deeper into the room. He passed tank after tank containing nameless bodies that would never know life; he felt only satisfaction that they would be released into a real death, a purifying death by fire like a Viking chieftain on his ship.

Without noticing how he'd gotten there, Mulder saw he had come to the back of the room. There was another barely visible door in the wall.

"Mulder, wait," he heard Krycek say, but it was too late. Mulder touched the door, seeking a knob or a button or a keypad, and it opened under his hand, withdrawing into the wall like the outer door.

***

"Oh, shit."

For the first time it occurred to Alex Krycek that he had had a Bad Idea. It was a new thought for him. It occurred to him that he didn't know Mulder well enough to predict his reactions; it occurred to him that he could, perhaps, have foreseen the horror that awaited them and what Mulder's reaction would be. One wrong move, and Mulder might just eat that gun he was carrying. That had always been Krycek's weakness, and he knew it: an inability to see more than a few steps down the road. He'd always been sure of his next move and always able to improvise when the next move led to a really lousy long-term plan.

He turned around to see Scully and Skinner right behind him, both staring at Mulder. Mulder was inside the back room and the three of them were still outside it. Krycek muttered to Skinner, "Be prepared to grab him, okay? I'm not sure how he's gonna take this."

"You should have thought of that sooner," Skinner growled.

"Yes, I should have," he murmured, and turned around and walked into the room where Mulder was. But at least he'll know, he thought stubbornly. At least he'll finally know the truth. Isn't that what he's always wanted?

***

The two tanks in the little back room that had opened to Mulder's handprint were not the dirty fish tanks that had held the other clones. They were cryogenic units, Mulder realized, freezers, not unlike the units he had seen in the ship in Antarctica where Scully was held--not identical, but very similar. Less alien, he thought, more like standard human technology.

In one unit was a boy of about twelve, a lanky boy with dark brown hair, his bones just beginning to show through the baby fat. He was going to have a big nose someday. He wasn't naked, unlike the clones in the dirty fish tanks; he was wearing ripped jeans and a shirt with blue and white horizontal stripes. There was a smear of mud on one knee, dark brown stains that might have been mud or perhaps blood on the shirt, and the mark of a blow on his forehead, a bloody-looking cut in the midst of a bruise.

A purple bruise. Red blood. Dark, wet-looking mud stains.

In the other unit was a girl of about eight, a slender girl with long dark brown hair. It lay in two smooth braids over her chest, over a denim jumper with a long-sleeved pink shirt under it. There were no signs of injury on her, but her pretty face was knotted up with emotion--pain? fear? anger? Idiotically, Mulder recalled something his mother had used to say, something all mothers said: Don't make such a face, what if it freezes that way? The little girl's face had frozen, permanently, in the last emotions she'd felt before she died.

Long dark braids. A pretty face. A pink shirt. Why couldn't he remember?

"She was my best friend." Krycek's hoarse voice echoed hollowly in the tiny room. He moved slowly toward Mulder, as if he feared Mulder might bolt, or might attack. "We roamed the neighborhood together and lent each other books. I read _Harriet the Spy_ and _A Wrinkle in Time_ because she lent them to me. I gave her _Have Space Suit, Will Travel_ one Christmas. She was so pretty and so smart, and she stood up to the other kids who made fun of me because I had a foreign name and my parents talked funny. Samantha Mulder was the best friend little Alexander Protopopov ever had."

Mulder stared at the little girl in the cryo unit. No, it couldn't be. Please God, if there was a god, surely God wouldn't let it be this way. Her soft, full mouth, the lower lip a little bit fuller than the upper, just like his own.

Krycek came closer, Scully and Skinner behind him, and laid his hand, for a moment, on the icy surface of the cryogenic unit. "My name is Alexander Protopopov. Krycek is my father's mother's maiden name; we used it as an alias. Samantha Mulder called me Sascha, the way my parents did, not Alex, like everybody else. Her brother called me Sascha, too, but I didn't like the way he said it. From around my second birthday until the year I turned eight, my parents and I lived across the street from Bill and Tina Mulder and their two children, Fox and Samantha."

Mulder shook his head. "I don't remember. Why don't I remember?"

Krycek swallowed, hard, licked his lips. His eyes rolled like a frightened horse's, glowing agate-green in the green light. "Because you weren't there. Because, in a way, you're not Fox Mulder."

Krycek came a little closer--Skinner and Scully hung back, whispering to each other--and Mulder backed away. On Krycek's face was an emotion Mulder had never seen there: sadness. The tracks of tears glittered silver on his cheeks. The younger man pointed to the cryogenic tank containing the teenaged boy. He didn't touch it.

"That thing there, that's Fox Mulder. The Fox Mulder Bill Mulder fathered and Tina Mulder gave birth to." Krycek's lips lifted away from his teeth in what might have been a snarl. "Fox Mulder, son of one of the highest-placed men in the American branch of the Consortium, heir to the throne--and a precocious little psychopath."

Mulder backed away, until his shoulders hit the wall. Krycek was staring down at the boy in the freezer, his lips still curled in disgust. "It's ironic, you know. Every rotten thing you've thought about me, that I'm a killer, a sadist, I get off on hurting people--all that was true of him. I've hurt people for a living--and a lot of them deserved it, believe me--but he did it for fun. As a kid. He hurt animals, too, the little bastard."

Mulder forced a whisper through his sandpapered throat. "Krycek, who am I?"

Krycek looked up, and the hatred, the disgust, dropped away from his face, leaving only the sadness behind. "Okay, I lied," he said simply. He gestured to the frozen boy. "He isn't the clone--you are."

Mulder was not aware that he was dizzy until his ass hit the floor. He had slid down the wall, apparently, and now Scully was hovering over him, saying his name and doing doctorly kinds of things involving his eyes, his pulse.

"You idiot," was Skinner talking to him? "how could you do this to him? what are you trying to do, kill him?"

"I'm trying to give him the truth." Huge green eyes swam into Mulder's view, angry and sad and electric; he tried to focus on them. A long hand gripped his shoulder. "For as long as you can remember, you've felt responsible for Sam's disappearance. You've searched for her. They dangled clones in front of you and snatched them away. In trying to find her, you ripped the cheap fabric of your own artificial memories and exposed the web of lies underneath. *But what happened to Sam was never your fault.*"

"How... why...?" Nothing else would come out of his numb mouth.

"You are the clone, Mulder. You are a genetically enhanced clone, brought to life to replace the original Fox Mulder when he raped and killed his little sister."

***

end

 


 

Fallout
Precipitation part five
by Merri-Todd Webster
(1 November 1999)


Mulder's life passed before his eyes in a slow white storm, and it all made sense, now, in a cold and white sort of way. The sense of unreality that had hung over his life. The feelings of disconnection, dissociation. The nagging truth that his parents did not love him, and he couldn't figure out why. Now he knew why: He was a simulacrum. He wasn't their son. He wasn't anybody's son. He wasn't Fox Mulder. He wasn't anybody. He wasn't real.

Something fierce and blue cut through the vast silence: Scully's voice. "How do you know this, Krycek?"

"Because I was there. I was there the night Samantha Mulder died."

Something pricked Mulder's arm, and presently his muscles began to relax, his vision to return. The whiteness of the universe contracting around him was replaced by Scully, Skinner, and Krycek crouching around him on the chilly floor of the little green-lit room, all watching him closely. Krycek started talking, speaking to Mulder as if it were just the two of them there. The words came slowly, one at a time, his voice scratching over each one.

"I told you I lived across the street from you, and that Sam was my best friend. The night that Sam--died, my parents had people from the Project coming over. I was eight years old, and all that meant to me then was boring science talk, talk about politics, and that nasty man who smoked all the time and gave me dirty looks." A sardonic smile cracked Krycek's face, for an instant. "When I asked my mother if I could go play at the Mulders', she said okay. She gave me a batch of cookies to take over and didn't even bother to call the Mulders first--it wasn't the first time I'd come over like that, and Sam used to come over and hang out with me the same way."

Krycek bowed his head. His hands were curled into fists on top of his knees. "I went around to the back door, which was usually open until everybody went to bed. I went into the kitchen and I heard screaming, Sam screaming. I dropped the bag of cookies on the floor and ran into the living room." His breath hitched, and he rocked back and forth for a moment, eyes squeezed shut; then with a visible effort, he was still, an adult once again.

"They were lying on the floor, and Fox was on top of her, holding her down. She was screaming. Sam was screaming, really high, really shrill screaming. I don't think I understood, then, that he was trying to rape her; I only knew he was hurting her, the way I knew he'd hurt animals, stray dogs, a neighbor's cat, dead birds, there were always dead birds lying on the street, on people's lawns. Nobody knew it was him that did that, but I knew. Sam didn't see me, I don't think, but Fox did. He turned his head and smiled at me, and it was the most frightening thing I'd ever seen. When I was locked in that fucking silo, losing my mind, that's what I kept seeing--Fox Mulder coming to me out of the darkness, the little murderer with that smile on his face."

Krycek stretched out his hands. "I picked up a book, a big book--I think it was an official Scrabble dictionary. And I hit him with it, I conked him on the forehead as hard as I could." Mulder blinked, remembering the bloody bruise on the forehead of the boy. "It wasn't much, but it made him stop for a moment. He got up from off of Sam, and I could see her jumper was up around her hips, and she didn't have any panties on--" His voice broke, and he sobbed, twice, a little boy trying not to cry. Once again he got control of himself under Mulder's gaze, and went on, breathlessly. "I ran out of the house, back to my house, to my parents. I ran into the middle of all those old men screaming hysterically. I can't remember what I said. But my mother grabbed me and held on to me while my father and some of the other men, including the smoker, went to the Mulder house."

Krycek said nothing for a long time. His chest rose and fell heavily, tiny clouds of breath streaming from his nostrils in the chill air. Finally he sighed. "Later that night, my father came to me. He said that he knew I had tried to help, but that Sam was dead. Her brother had killed her. In order to protect me, we would move, tomorrow; we would change our names; we would get away from all this, and I must never, never talk about it. Never. But maybe, someday, I would have my revenge." He raised his head and looked at Mulder, green eyes into hazel. Mulder said nothing, but looked back. There were pools of blackness he couldn't fathom in Alex Krycek's eyes. He wanted to get lost in there and never come out.

"And is this your revenge?" Skinner's voice was huge with outrage. "To destroy the man you admit isn't even responsible?"

"No!" Clumsily, Krycek got up, turned to face Skinner. Mulder stared blindly up at Krycek's well-shaped ass, while Krycek's voice rained down on him, an acid rain. "When I first met Mulder as an adult, I thought he was the killer. What else could I have thought? My father told me Sam was dead--he didn't say anything about Fox. It was easy to carry out my assignment, to partner him and then turn on him, maybe get him killed, even though I was supposed to win him back to the Consortium. But something was wrong--he wasn't anything like the Fox Mulder I remembered, he didn't remember me, he didn't *scare* me, and he was obsessed with finding Samantha, as if he didn't already know where she was. He didn't even go by Fox, and that was wrong, too. So I dug, and I dug. I called in favors, blackmailed people, risked my life to find out what had really happened."

"And what was that?" Scully's voice cracked like a whip.

"They froze Fox Mulder and replaced him with a clone." Krycek turned and looked down at Mulder, sadness turning down the corners of his mouth. "A clone they had fixed, carefully. Who had memories of Sam, but not real memories, accurate memories. Who wasn't the psychopath the original had been. They tampered with the genome, and they did it successfully--they took out the cruelty but left the intelligence, the insight into the other person's mind."

Krycek paced away through the green glow, came back and squatted near Mulder again. Mulder felt like a quadriplegic, completely unable to move. "Your parents weren't supposed to split up, without telling you what your place in the Consortium was. You weren't supposed to undergo hypnosis to try to fill in the gaps in your memory, which forced your mind to invent the scenario of Sam's abduction. You weren't supposed to embark on a quest that would pit you against the Consortium and might ultimately lead to their exposure. But they've never been able to control you, Mulder." A crooked grin spread across Krycek's face. "It's something in the genes that they didn't--or couldn't--take out."

Of its own volition, Mulder's arm flashed out and lashed across that crooked grin. Krycek went sprawling backwards, striking his head on the base of the cryo tank. Mulder felt no sense of motion as he landed on top of Krycek, no sense of impact as his fists thudded into Krycek's face and chest. He felt nothing because he *was* nothing, after all--merely a copy of a deeply flawed original. What did it matter what he did?

***

Mulder moved too fast for anyone to prevent it. His arm flew out, a rigid extension of a limp, helpless body, and then he was on top of Krycek, pummeling the man with both fists. Krycek made no move to defend himself, simply lay there half under the cryo tank that held the original Mulder and let himself be beaten as if he felt he deserved it. His blood was pooling on the floor beneath his head.

Skinner just stood there. Furious, Scully threw herself at Mulder and tried to haul him off of Krycek. "Mulder! Mulder, stop! You're not like that--you don't have to be like him!"

Skinner moved in then and hauled Mulder away. Once Skinner had a grip on him, Mulder did not try to get away; instead, he sagged in the older man's grasp, like a baby dangling from its parent's hands. Mulder's eyes were so dilated that they were moss-green rings around fathomless pits of black, and there was a strange, distended smile on his lips that made Scully's scalp crawl. That was the smile little Sascha had seen, the smile of a murderer whose first victim was his own sister.

Scully turned to Krycek, who was struggling to sit up. "Are you all right?" she asked, offering him her hand. Bruises were already starting to form on his face; his mouth was swollen, and his eyes were as mad as Mulder's, lunatic green rings around a depthless core.

He lurched to his feet, took one look at Mulder, and heaved all over as though he were about to vomit. "Jesus mercy, Mulder--that's the first time I've seen you look like *him*." He tried to raise his gun, but Scully twisted it out of his grasp with little effort. Blood was still streaming down the back of Krycek's head, was smeared on the foot of the cryo tank.

Mulder withdrew from Skinner's grasp, and Skinner let him, with obvious reluctance. Wobbling like an infant, Mulder walked to the cryo tank which held Samantha. He looked into it, the terrible smile dissolving into a boyishly wistful expression, then glanced up at Krycek.

"She's really dead, not just... in suspension?"

Krycek nodded. Scully popped open her medical kit and swabbed with some gauze at the back of his skull; he didn't react. In shock, obviously, deep shock.

Mulder looked down at the side of the tank and frowned at it thoughtfully. After a moment, he laid his palms on the sides of it, just so--and with a frigid hiss, the lid of the cryo tank popped up like the trunk of a car popping open.

Mulder lifted the lid until it was all the way open. Scully moved closer, not sure what Mulder was going to do next, and so did the other two men. Mulder reached into the tank, and with one long, sensitive hand--Scully remembered how tender that touch could be--cradled the cheek of the little girl who'd been frozen for over twenty years. He ran his thumb lightly over her lips as though to smooth away her distressed frown.

"I've never touched her before, have I?"

"No," Krycek answered. He came over, hesitantly, reached out, and when, Mulder didn't stop him, stroked Sam's hair, running his fingers down one dark braid and taking hold of the end of it. That hand was trembling.

"I never even... knew her?" Mulder's voice cracked.

"No." Krycek's face was the face of the little boy, the boy who *had* known Samantha Mulder, and loved her, who called her his best friend.

"Yet all this time, I've been looking for her."

"You were looking for somebody to love you." Tears dropped from Krycek's pointed chin onto the face of the dead girl.

Mulder nodded, and with that nod, he slumped over, his head coming to rest on Samantha's breast, his hand still cupping her face, and his shoulders quaking with noisy, unpracticed sobs.

Krycek laid a hand on Mulder's hair, and Scully moved in to wrap her arms around Mulder, to hold him as she had so many times before. Krycek had known, somehow, he had known that this would be necessary, that Mulder would need her comfort. "You're free now, Mulder," Krycek whispered, stroking Mulder's hair. "Don't you see that? That was what I wanted to give you-- the truth that it was never your fault, what happened to Samantha. You never even knew her, but you loved her better than her brother did."

Scully held her partner and crooned to him, everything else forgotten in his need for comfort and her need to give it. In the back of her mind she wondered why Walter wasn't part of this also, why he was keeping his distance. Presently Mulder straightened up, wiped his face with his hands, accepted a handkerchief from her with a hint of a smile, and blew his nose. Then he moved to the other cryo tank, the one containing the original Fox Mulder, and opened it in the same way.

Behind Mulder, Skinner moved in closer now. Scully breathed a prayer of thanks--Mulder was vibrating with emotion, no telling what he would do--he was never more excited than when he looked blankly calm, as he did now. For a second she feared the worst as Mulder pulled his gun out of his pocket--Skinner and Krycek tensed also, all of them poised to intervene. But Mulder reversed the Glock, grasped it in both hands, raised it over his head, and brought the butt of it down with all his strength onto the face of the twelve-year-old Fox Mulder.

None of them moved as Mulder smashed the boy's face, over and over, the long-frozen flesh breaking and splintering under his hands. The dead face was unrecognizable by the time Mulder tossed the gun away, not looking where it fell.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

It didn't take them long to set the explosives. Scully worked as speedily as she could, wanting desperately to get away from this place, to get Mulder out of here. It still took too long for her comfort before they headed for the surface again. She saw Mulder go back to the room where Samantha was, with Krycek, but didn't follow them. Neither did Skinner.

In some ways the journey back up to the surface was the hardest part of the whole experience. They climbed the stairs and the sloping corridors with ever increasing speed; nobody said anything like, "We'd better hurry," but they kept picking up the pace until she was trotting behind the longer-legged men like little Queequeg behind some big dogs, panting with exertion and wishing her daily run hadn't been neglected in the past few months.

Gasping a little, she tried to look at Mulder, to gauge his emotions from the set of his shoulders. Once she could have done that from her first glimpse of him in the morning; she had known when there was a new case, what it would be like, how he felt about it. Now, however, she didn't know him; that was a stranger jogging ahead of her, his shoulders unreadable. Had this changed him so much, so fast? Could he ever recover? She was still frowning at Mulder as Skinner dropped back beside her.

"You okay?" he murmured.

"I'm fine. What about you?"

"It'll be all right." Skinner looked away, toward Mulder.

"You don't sound totally convinced."

Skinner shrugged. "I'll be right behind you." She nodded and picked up her pace a little more, and Skinner dropped back further to bring up the rear.

Not until they were slogging across soggy ground that was stained blood-red by the sunset did Mulder contact the Gunmen. The little plane was visible as a black hump against the setting sun, and Scully focused her eyes on it. There, there's the way out, the way home. She didn't hear Mulder speak into his headset, telling the Gunmen that they were clear; she only heard the muffled boom of the first explosion, felt the rush of hot air behind her.

"Come on!" Krycek called out, and broke into a full-out run. Her lungs were burning as she called on her last reserves and imitated him. Despite her efforts, Skinner soon passed her, speeding towards the plane. All that was left behind her was the booming of the explosions, and the rush of heat, and the fallout.

Feeling like Lot's wife, Scully slowed down, stopped, turned. Black smoke and red fire swirled about the ruins of the installation, consuming clones and computers, DNA samples and software programs, false memories and half-truths. A sudden gust of wind brought hot ash into her face, hot ash and debris from the explosions falling down from the sky. Fallout--another kind of precipitation.

"Scully, come on!"

Mulder was calling her. She took a deep breath of the burning air--no, she hadn't turned to salt--and jogged toward the waiting plane.

***

end

 


 

Archive: Yes to the Basement and All Things Rat, others please ask--I rarely say no.
Title: Winter, Fire, and Snow I: Precipitation, part six
Author: Merri-Todd Webster
Series/Fandom: XF
Pairing: M/K, M/Sk
Rating: PG-13
Feedback to:
URL: http://lonchura.tripod.com/
Warnings & Spoilers: Christmasy schmoop warning.
Comments & Thank-yous: No, this isn't finished yet. No, I don't know when it will be. "Winter, Fire, and Snow" is going to be a long one, so you're getting it in parts. Sorry--complain to my Museboy. Quiet guy, looks a lot like Krycek with a perm. Thanks to JiM, as always.


Winter, Fire, and Snow I:
Precipitation part six
by Merri-Todd Webster
(5 January 2000)

Alex Krycek woke with a start, as though someone had run cold fingers over his bare belly. His hand slithered at once to the gun tucked under the corner of his pillow; tensed, he waited for some sign, some repetition of what had waked him. Nothing. There was a deep silence, a white silence that seemed strange for the city, or even the 'burbs. It made him think of the winter he had spent at the family dacha, ages ago, when he was, what, three? four? and of the deep, deep snow there, at the edge of the forest.

Taking the gun, he got out of bed and walked silently through the silence, not putting on his robe, though goosebumps rose on his bare arms and back, not stopping in the bathroom, though he was aware now that his bladder was full. He passed down the hallway like a ghost or a drift of fog, checking the bathroom and Mulder's room and finding them empty. Avoiding the creaky spots on the stairs with the precision of habit, he went downstairs into the living room, knowing what he would find.

It *was* snowing. He found Mulder sitting by the big bay window in the living room, staring into the night. Mulder was wearing thick socks and a plaid flannel bathrobe. He sat with his legs tucked up, arms around his knees, his body parallel with the windowpane and his face turned toward it. Outside the glass, a single streetlamp between naked trees showed a steady fall of soft white flakes, already covering the ground so that lawn and sidewalk were indistinguishable.

There were no lights on in the room, except for the Christmas lights: tiny white lights on the tree and around the window and the top part of the door. Mulder had insisted on decorating, insisted on the lights, insisted on a real tree that nearly brushed the ceiling with its tip. Krycek had helped him, glad to see the man rouse from his depression a little. There'd been many nights over the past three weeks when Mulder, unable to sleep, had crashed on the couch for a few hours, falling asleep in front of some old late-night Christmas movie, his face bathed in the delicate glow of the tiny lights. Krycek would hear him get up, find him there on the couch, then go back to his own bed and lie awake until he heard Mulder come back upstairs some time before sunrise. The man wept so quietly Krycek wouldn't have heard it unless he'd been listening for that sound.

Three months ago, Walter Skinner had walked out. Disappeared, really. Krycek had done his damnedest to find him--despite Mulder's refusal to do so--and had finally concluded that the man had to be alive and well because no dead person could hide so expertly from his investigators. Krycek had been there when Mulder found the handwritten note on the refrigerator: "You don't need me any more, Fox. Be well. --W." Damn the bastard. Had he really thought Mulder didn't need him? Or had he just been jealous of Mulder's growing friendship with Krycek, and unable to cope?

Since coming back from Antarctica, Mulder had rebuilt himself. Brick by brick, moment by moment, a man building a house while living in it, he had constructed a new identity, using inner resources nobody could have guessed he had. He was no longer Fox William Mulder, who had lost his beloved sister at age twelve when she was abducted by aliens. He was Fox Mulder, a clone of the original Mulder, and an improvement on the original--the champion of the X-Files, friend of Scully, lover of Skinner, and a man with his own life, a life in which he was loved. A large part of that rebuilding had been done with Alex's help--with his memories of Samantha Mulder, his childhood best friend, the sister Mulder loved but had never really known. They'd spent hours talking about Sam, playing the games she used to play--Stratego and chinese checkers--reading the books she'd loved--_Harriet the Spy_ and _Winnie the Pooh_. Alex had just been glad to finally do something for Fox Mulder, something that didn't look like it was going to kill him, and glad, too, to finally be able to talk about Sam, and his parents, and all the things he'd made himself forget. He hadn't really noticed the way Skinner slowly receded from his lover's life, until the man was gone. Then he had tried, clumsily, to compensate for Skinner's absence as much as he could, even if it only meant cooking dinner once in a while, or suggesting a Christmas shoppping trip, or sitting on the bed in the hour before dawn while Mulder shook with sobs.

"Mulder."

At the sound of his name, Mulder's head turned. His eyes were large in the eerie white glow produced by the mingling of snowfall and Christmas lights. "I'm okay."

Leaving the gun on the newell post, Krycek went to Mulder and sat down on the edge of the windowseat. Mulder pulled back his feet an inch to make room. "No, you're not. You're waiting for him, aren't you?"

Sighing, Mulder dropped his head, covered himself with his arms for a moment. "I can't shake the feeling." He looked out into the snow again. "The feeling that he's going to come back. He's going to just show up at the door, at any minute." He grinned wryly. "In the middle of the night, probably, like you did."

A few months ago, Alex Krycek would have said that no one ever comes back, that the puppy you lost never shows up at the door, that the lover who walked out on you will certainly not show up at Christmas during a snowstorm, like something in a fucking Frank Capra movie. Now, he was not so sure. All the clones were dead, and the shadows of the world were no longer quite so full of people who wanted to kill him. And Fox Mulder no longer hated him. Alex Krycek had become Fox Mulder's friend.

Maybe offering some hope was allowed, when you felt some hope yourself.

Hesitantly, Alex reached out and cupped his hand around Mulder's shoulder. The man was surprisingly warm--there was a draft coming through the window that Walt would have fixed the day after he noticed it. Mulder ignored things like that. "Mulder. Stop torturing yourself. If--" he stumbled-- "*when* Walter comes back, he won't show up in the middle of the night like a stray dog." Or a stray Krycek, he did not say. "He'll let himself in in the daytime, like the normal, sensible person that he is."

Mulder nodded, slowly, then swung his legs past Alex and got up. Stretched, with a noisy yawn. He padded over to the tree. A small heap of presents had been placed under the fragrant boughs. Krycek had avoided looking at them. Mulder bent, rummaged around for a moment, then pulled out a package and turned to the other man. "Merry Christmas, Alex."

Alex shook himself after a moment, realizing he'd been staring open-mouthed at the small package wrapped in shimmery green and gold paper. His fingers were shaking a little as he began to open it.

It was a set of keys on a very plain keyring. He recognized them as the keys to this house.

Even before Skinner left, Alex had been spending a lot of time at the house, hanging out with Mulder. After Skinner left, he had more or less moved in, but he had not asked for a key, nor had Mulder offered him one. He had simply contrived to get home only when he knew Mulder was there, and to break in, when necessary, in a way that left no traces. But he had not left Mulder alone. He had slept with one ear tuned to the man's grief. He had taken him Christmas shopping and helped him decorate the house, Mulder's and Skinner's house. And he had ground his teeth, silently, in envy of what he would never have, even as he hoped that Skinner would come back, for Mulder's sake.

"You shouldn't have to break in," Mulder said in his expressive monotone.

"Mulder, I... I don't know what to say." He looked up at the other man, frowning in confusion.

Mulder reached down and tugged Krycek to his feet. "Say, 'Merry Christmas, Mulder'."

Krycek started to obey, but the words were smothered by Mulder's mouth.

In the few times Alex had allowed himself to imagine what kissing Mulder would be like, he had not envisioned anything like this. If he ever got such attention from Fox Mulder, it would undoubtedly be hard, rough, demanding, a struggle for dominance in which he would probably give in, as he always did, because any love is good love and it was give in or shoot the bastard.

This kiss was nothing like that. It was as quiet and slow and peaceful as the snowfall outside the big bay window; it was... tender. It was a kiss between two friends who were just beginning to consider that there might be more than friendship between them.

It was the thought of that friendship, and all it had come to mean to him, that made Alex draw back, gently. He didn't want Mulder to think that he didn't want the kiss; on the other hand, he didn't think he wanted this to go any further. Well, he did, but now was not the time.

He looked into Mulder's eyes, aware that his own guard was completely down, that Mulder could see how much he wanted him, wanted Mulder to need him, wanted to be more than friends. And Mulder nodded, once, let go of Alex's arms, and went back to sitting in the windowseat, his eyes on Alex. After a moment, Krycek joined him there.

"It is Christmas, you know," Alex observed. His voice was husky in his own ears. "It's after midnight."

"Yeah, it is." Mulder looked out the window as a single grey car crept past.

Alex shuddered. It was nothing--it was just a sudden draft of cold through that gap that Walter would have fixed. "Jesus, let me put some clothes on--"

He padded back upstairs, taking the gun with him and putting it away. When he returned, wearing a borrowed sweatsuit and his socks, Mulder had turned on the radio and disappeared. Not sure what to do, Krycek settled in the armchair, then moved to the couch. Vaguely familiar strains of Baroque music filled the quiet room, something he knew was Christmasy although he couldn't name it.

The announcer was saying they had just played the Christmas Concerto of Arcangelo Corelli when Mulder reappeared, from the kitchen, bearing hot chocolate on a tray. Grinning like a kid, Alex helped himself to a cup of the cocoa and a couple of Aunt Fanny's Pecan Twirls. Mulder's cupboards were never without those things.

Mulder put the tray on the coffee table and sat down at the other end of the couch. He stuffed a whole pecan twirl into his mouth and followed it up with a big swallow of cocoa. The radio station, feeling eclectic at the holiday season, perhaps, began playing the jazzy version of "O Tannenbaum" from _A Charlie Brown Christmas_.

When it grew light, they were still sitting there, talking of Christmases past--of winter in Russia, and the gifts left by the Three Kings; of visits with the Scully family, and Mrs. Scully's warmth. Scully had promised to come over in the afternoon, along with some other folks; Mulder had been persuaded to get a ready-cooked spiral-cut ham, and Alex had promised to help with the cooking of a green bean casserole.

They were so busy talking about plans for the afternoon that they didn't notice a car which might have been familiar. It drove by once, twice, three times, perhaps searching for a parking space, perhaps unsure whether to stop. Mulder had taken the empty cups and the tray back out to the kitchen when the car pulled into the driveway.

Krycek froze, hearing the car pull to a stop. He wanted to get up and look out the window, to see if it was Skinner, but all his self-protective instincts told him not to. Why had he taken the damned gun back upstairs?

Mulder came back and stopped dead in his tracks, jaw dropping, as Skinner got out of the car and crossed before the bay window, in plain view.

And knocked.

Mulder looked at Krycek. Krycek looked at Mulder. "Let him in, Mulder," Alex said hoarsely.

Mulder went to the door.

 


 

Archive: Yes to the Basement, All Things Rat; others please ask.
Title: Winter, Fire, and Snow II: Precipitation part seven
Author: Merri-Todd Webster
Series/Fandom: XF
Pairing: M/Sk
Rating: NC-17 for smut!
Feedback to:
URL: http://lonchura.tripod.com/
Warnings & Spoilers: Teensy SR-819 spoiler. Comments & Thank-yous: I don't know when you'll see the rest of this segment! But heartfelt thanks to JiM, as ever.


Winter, Fire, and Snow II:
Precipitation part seven
by Merri-Todd Webster
(5 January 2000)

Walter Skinner was cold, and tired, and a little hungry, and scared, although he refused to articulate his fear to himself. Scared of what he was going to come back to; scared enough that he wasn't going to try his key in the lock, he was going to knock on the door of a house of which he was half-owner and hope they let him in.

He knocked.

There was a pause; then, Mulder opened the door.

He was dressed in his bathrobe and had a serious case of bedhead, but he must have been downstairs. He didn't look like a man who's just been tumbled out of bed, interrupted in the midst of sleep or sex, by an unexpected knock on the door; he looked awake, and frightened, and happy. And beautiful.

Mulder stared at Skinner. Skinner stared at Mulder. "May I come in?" Skinner asked, after a moment.

Mulder stepped back, not saying anything but making a big gesture with the hand that wasn't still on the doorknob. Skinner stepped inside, saw Krycek sitting on the couch, dressed in sweats, and then was hit by a whirlwind of Mulder.

Arms that hugged him, chest and hips and thighs pressed to his, heat thawing his cold, and Mulder's hand clutching the back of his neck, Mulder's lips roaming the side of his face and his throat and whispering unintelligible syllables of joy. Walter wrapped his arms around Mulder and held on tight, his face buried against his lover's shoulder, breathing in the scent he had missed for so long.

The embrace was broken by a solid thudding noise--the sound of Alex Krycek shutting the door against the cold. Mulder had left the door hanging open while he grabbed Walter. Mulder grinned foolishly, probably realizing what he'd done. Skinner stared challengingly at the younger man who'd probably replaced him in his own home.

A few tense breaths passed. Then Krycek held out his hand, palm open. "Welcome home, Walter."

Skinner looked down at the open hand held out, and up to the sober green eyes of his rival, moss-green eyes fringed with thick black lashes. He looked down at the hand again and reminded himself that this man had two hands, not just one; that he had not infected Skinner with nanocytes and held the power of life and death over him; that he had given Mulder his truth, his past, his sister. All this in the blink of an eye, and then he shook Alex Krycek's hand.

"Thanks."

Skinner let Mulder take his coat and hang it up on the coat tree, trailed into the kitchen with the other two men so Mulder could make coffee and tea and cocoa and God knows what else. In these peaceful days, moments of crisis seemed to bring out the Susie Homemaker side of Mulder; if the world is coming to an end, well, at least we can have something to eat and drink. It was oddly reassuring to see an empty tray of pecan twirls sitting on the counter, waiting to be thrown away.

Alex drank one cup of tea with them and then excused himself, saying he needed to wash up and then go run some errands. He promised to be back in the afternoon for the get-together.

"Get-together?"

"Scully's coming over, with Michael. And the Gunmen, and a few other folks. Potluck dinner. I've got a ham, and Alex says he can make a green bean casserole."

Skinner tried to wrap his mind around the idea of Alex Krycek, conspirator and assassin--if not torturer armed with nanocytes--making green bean casserole with french-fried onions on top. It wasn't easy. He sipped his coffee. He could hear the shower running, upstairs. Mulder sipped his cocoa. Walter could tell he hadn't been sleeping well. He looked hollowed out, tired, thin. Yet he looked good to Skinner's eyes simply because his happiness at seeing Skinner was plain on his face, and because Walter hadn't seen him at all in so long.

Walter jumped when Krycek stuck his head in the kitchen. "I'm outta here. You all need anything?"

"We're low on cranberry juice...." Mulder glanced at Walter; Walter was the cranberry juice fiend.

"Will do." Skinner heard Krycek walk to the front door, jingling his keys, and then the sound of the door being opened and closed. Mulder eyeballed him thoughtfully.

"Why don't you go upstairs and change? Put on something comfortable?"

Skinner looked down at his traveling clothes--wool pants, a heavy sweater over a button-down shirt, loafers. Not the clothes of a man who was planning to stay. Not the clothes of a man who was sitting at the kitchen table in his own house. "I... if..."

"You're home, Walt." Mulder's voice was plaintive. "Take off your coat and stay awhile." He offered a smile, a real smile, not a grin, and Walter's heart nearly broke. It had been so long since he'd seen that smile....

Not trusting himself to speak, Walter nodded and went upstairs. He stopped in at the bathroom and noticed his own abandoned toiletries still on the sink, the top of the commode, and in the cabinet, as before. There were a few unfamiliar items amid his own and Mulder's things, but not so many. The damp towel and cloth Krycek must have just used were neatly hung up on the rack.

Hating himself for it, but feeling compelled, he went down the hall to the guest bedroom. The bed was unmade, and a familiar leather jacket was slung across the armchair in the corner. A hairbrush and some other things were spread out on the dresser. There were glossy black hairs--and one shockingly white one--wound in the bristles of the hairbrush.

In his own and Mulder's room, nothing appeared to have changed. The bed was unmade yet strangely unwrinkled--had Mulder only lain there a little while before going downstairs to the couch? Everything he had left, his clothes, his briefcase, his dress shoes, his rarely-worn ties, everything was in its place. The pillows on Mulder's side were dented, but not his own pillows.

The old sweatpants and the paint-stained t-shirt he put on felt good against his skin. In the kitchen, Mulder was frying bacon, and a chorus from _Messiah_ blasted from the radio, which buzzed against the counter, overcome by its own loudness. Walter turned down the volume, and Mulder threw him a glance over his shoulder. "You want some potatoes?"

"Sure."

Mulder pulled frozen potatoes out of the freezer, dumped a big hunk onto a plate, and started thawing them in the microwave. The bacon sizzled, and Walter settled at the table again, taking off his glasses and watching--slightly blurred--the play of muscles on his lover's back and shoulders as he turned bacon strips, stirred up the potatoes. Bacon and onion and coffee and cocoa smells, and Mulder cooking with that intense concentration of his, and it felt so right, so normal.

When Mulder started pulling the bacon strips out of the frying pan and putting them on a plate with a paper towel on it, to drain, Walter got up and set the table. There was a very little bit of cranberry blend juice in the fridge, and he poured himself a glass of that as well as fresh cups of coffee for both of them.

Their plates were almost empty, and a third helping seemed impossible, when Mulder raised his head and asked quietly, "Why did you leave, Walt?"

Skinner sighed, wiped his mouth clean, and tossed aside the crumpled napkin. "You didn't need me any more. You had the truth. You had--Alex."

"Bullshit." Mulder still spoke quietly. "I did still need you, and besides which, needing isn't what it's all about. I wanted you here. I still do."

Walter was silent for a long time, thinking. "I needed to be needed. And it really didn't look like you needed me."

After a moment, Mulder got up and took the empty plates to the sink. Skinner joined him in clearing off the table. It took no longer than before... before Alex, before Antarctica.

Mulder leaned in the doorway of the kitchen. "Why'd you come back, Walter?"

The answer was easy, but it was harder to say the words than he'd expected. He came over to his lover, touched the man's chest, swallowed.

"I realized I needed you."

Mulder's arms slithered around his waist, and Mulder's mouth claimed his, Mulder's tongue sliding past resistless lips, needy, hungry, clever. He tasted of bacon and cinnamon. Walter sighed into the kiss and slid back against the other side of the doorframe, drawing Mulder toward him, against him.

The kiss went on and on, wet, fevered. Walter began to think about taking his clothes off right then and there. Long fingers raised his thin t-shirt, scratched over his ribs, kneaded the muscles of his back. He could feel the pre-cum from his cock starting to soak into the front of his sweatpants.

Mulder finally let him go. "Jesus, Fox...."

"Come on."

They practically ran upstairs. Mulder dived into the unwrinkled bed, dropping his flannel robe somewhere between takeoff and landing. Walter sprawled over him, clumsy with desire, wanting only to feel skin on skin, Mulder's leaner, barer chest against his own.

He took charge of the kiss this time, practically fucking Mulder's mouth with his tongue, licking his cheek and throat like a salt-starved deer, and Mulder's hands were making his clothes go away as if by magic. So sweet. Suddenly a firm hand curled around his cock, and he bit deep into Mulder's neck without meaning to.

Mulder cried out, but it wasn't pain, exactly. Walter licked the bite, sucked on it, thrust his cock into Mulder's hot, knowing grasp. A wet whisper filled his ear: "Fuck me, Walter. God, I want you to fuck me--it's been so long...."

Skinner heard himself growling as he bit the other side of his lover's neck. Mulder had lost it, lost it all at once with that unexpected bite, and Skinner was losing it himself now. He yanked open the night-table drawer so hard it flew out and fell on the floor, spilling condoms and Cruex and God knows what else. Mulder didn't even laugh; he just moaned as Walter shifted on top of him, their cocks rubbing together like two sticks about to make a fire.

The first touch of his slick fingers to Mulder's asshole made Walter gentle. His hands were too large to be careless of this touch, no matter how often he did it... and it had been a while. Mulder, on the other hand, was wild with impatience, whimpering and trying to shove himself onto the thick fingers that eased their way into his body.

"Easy... easy... I'm gonna fuck you... it's all right...." Walter whispered, mindlessly, his eyes fixed on the younger man's face. He decided to forego being careful of his fingers in favor of being careful with his cock.

A condom, a lot of lube, more lube still, and he dragged Mulder into position so that he could hold the man's hips, not let him thrust up, take it in too fast, and hurt himself. Mulder was whimpering more loudly, more demandingly, just like always; when he bottomed, he really bottomed, surrendering all inhibition, all control. With slow, delicate shifts of his weight, Walter moved forward, and down, and in, into his lover's body.

"Jesus."

One word, ground out between clenched teeth. Mulder was tighter than ever, and so hot, he had forgotten what a furnace his lover's body was, the sweat glistened on Mulder's belly and chest, his eyes glittered between his lashes... so good. This was home: not the house, not the kitchen, not the bedroom or even the bed, but Mulder. Mulder was home. And if God was good, he was still home to Mulder, as well.

All the way in. Walter's grip on his lover's hips relaxed just a little bit, and Mulder, feeling it, took advantage of it. Walter, drowned in heat, felt the younger man withdraw, and then thrust up hard. Mulder's groan of pain/pleasure vibrated through him like a blow, and there was no holding back any more; he fucked Mulder hard, savagely, fusing their bodies with a passion that was anger and grief and doubt as well as desire, not even thinking to touch Mulder's cock--though that didn't stop Mulder from coming.

The silence between them, afterwards, was deep and cool and white like the snow outside. Walter felt chilly, thought about turning the heat up but didn't want to leave the bed. Thought about holding Mulder, but was afraid to try.

Mulder had turned over, facing away, when Walter pulled out of him. Walter was surprised when he turned back and wormed his way up under the older man's arm, pillowing his head on Walter's chest. One hand wandered up and down from shoulder to thigh.

"Go ahead, Walt. Ask me."

Walter took a deep whiff of Mulder's scent. The tang of his hair, the sweat of their two bodies, the grassy odor of Mulder's come. "Have you been sleeping with him?"

"No." Hazel eyes rolled up and fastened on his face. "Not even in the literal sense. Alex has been living here since you left, more or left. We haven't had sex."

"Why not?"

Mulder's fist thumped into the bed just inches away from Walter's body. "Because I'm married to you, dammit!" He sat up, throwing aside the covers with wild clumsy gestures like a little boy having a tantrum. "Or does this mean something different to you? We live together, we co-own this house, we come home to each other every night--that's what we had for months, years, before Krycek showed up! Isn't that marriage? whether or not it's got a legal back-up?"

Walter could say nothing. He simply looked at Mulder, Mulder furious now and scornful, hiding his hurt behind the scorn, and laid a hand on his knee. "I came back," he said at last. "Because I needed you. I need you. Does that count?"

Tears were glimmering in the hot hazel eyes. "You left me. What does that say? Did you leave because you found out I wasn't--real?"

Appalled, Walter realized he'd missed the point entirely. He'd never thought of how it would look--idiot that he was, he figured Mulder would take his note at face value, knowing he might not be good with words but would tell the truth as best he could. He sat up and wrestled his lover close, fighting Mulder's resistance with sheer brute strength and tenacity.

"No. Never that. I meant what I said, Fox--I left because I thought you didn't need me. That's all it was. It was--my weakness, not yours. Not you, never you."

He felt Mulder sobbing noiselessly against his chest and rocked him back and forth, wishing he himself could cry so easily. Wishing the grief and guilt he felt didn't make him close up even more than normal, shut his throat on the words of comfort that needed to be said. Until the front door opened, and a familiar raspy voice called out, "Mulder? Skinner? I'm back."

***

end