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Hors de Combat, Book One

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Hors de Combat, Book One

Hors de Combat, Book One

by Liz OBrien

Archive Date December 2, 2002

Hors de Combat, Book I
By Liz O'Brien

Disclaimer: I found them languishing on TNT, I figured they were fair game.

M/Sc, M/K

Seven months. It was winter when they brought him here and now the leaves have just begun to change. She stands at the window, looking out at the courtyard where a red-haired boy is eating Popsicles with his grandmother.

"He's the tallest kid in first grade, did I tell you? I knew he'd get your height, it would be too cruel to give him that nose and not compensate somehow." She laughs as the grandmother pulls a candy bar from her purse and hands it to the child, whose squeal of delight echoes softly up two stories to the room where his parents are. "And there goes Maggie Scully, who never once in my whole childhood would have just handed me chocolate for no good reason at all, spoiling our son's dinner. Like the Popsicle wasn't bad enough."

She turns from the window, crossing to the bed and sits in her chair. When he first came here, from the ICU downstairs, there was a green vinyl recliner next to his bed, a piece of landmark hospital furniture. After the sixth night she slept in it, she decided that no matter how long she would be coming here to visit him, she had to have something more comfortable to sit in, to hold William on her lap in and sometimes to sleep in. Now there was a plush Lazy-Boy that she sat in almost every day, sitting next to him, holding his papery hand, wiping his mouth if the afternoon nurse forgot to clean the oatmeal from between the still-lush lips. She looks at him, eyes sweeping him intently, scanning up and down the slack face, the sunken shoulders, the silent hands, willing him again to move something on purpose, to show some sign that the brilliance inside was still there, waiting to emerge. He blinks, he breathes, he pees in a bag and, when they come to measure his brain stem responses, it seems like he twitches his left hand a little. And that's all.

In October, it was time to move him, from the hospital in Georgetown to a post-acute facility, time to release him into the wilds of lifelong care. The words were spelled out for her - traumatic brain injury, Level II generalized response, akinetic mutism, blah, blah, blah...She met with social workers and therapists and sifted through brochures and evaluation records. It all boiled down to this...Mulder wasn't going to wake up and walk out of the hospital. She couldn't drag around the millstone of hope anymore. She picked a place nearer Johns Hopkins, nearer their home in Ten Hills. She began thinking of the visits as part of her daily routine, instead of telling herself, as she had during the grueling ride down to D.C. each day, that it was only for now, until he came back.

At Christmas time, she began reading A Tale of Two Cities to him, thinking the Mulder he used to be would enjoy the hysteria and paranoia of Madame DeFarge and the nobility of Sidney Carton. One day, instead of starting in on their book right away, she stared at him, at his head that lolled from side to side, at his beautiful eyes, once so changeful and now so dull, and she wondered where all the things that made him Mulder were now. A person's intellect, his ideas and beliefs, couldn't just evaporate, could they? Maybe all the fantastic theories and gruesome memories and sly innuendoes that used to be safely wrapped up in myelin and axons were leaking out of his decaying brain cells into the air around them, settling on the furniture and collecting in puffballs under the bed. Or maybe, when the brick that someone hit him with shook his brain loose, all those things came out of his ear with the blood that pooled around him on the sidewalk. She sighed and shook herself. Maybe philosophy wasn't something she wanted to indulge in anymore and she began to read. She got through two chapters before the light outside faded. Getting up rather stiffly, she reached for his hand, pressed it gently, then settled it on his chest. She spun the mobile that hung before the window, the one she and Will had made him for Christmas, with stars and snowflakes, trying not to think about how futile it was, and headed out the door.

"See you tomorrow, Babe. Love you."

It was early in May when they finished A Tale of Two Cities. One glorious afternoon, she decided to wheel him outside to sit in the sun for a while. The lilacs on the grounds were fully blooming and Mulder had always loved them. He said they smelled like either a very respectable whore or a very sexy mother. Will was spending the night with a soccer friend, so she needn't hurry through her visit. She'd had to do that a bit as she got ready for finals week and the wrap-up of the semester. A long visit today, she thought, and maybe she would spend the night, something she hadn't done since February.

They sat outside in the late afternoon's softening sunlight. Scully felt peaceful for a change, listening to birds and bugs and smelling the divine spring air. She held Mulder's hand and flipped through some of their memories and felt, for the first time, the warmth of remembrance instead of the sharp sting of loss. Maybe I'm coming out of mourning, she thought languidly. Maybe I'm coming back to life. She squeezed Mulder's hand, as if she could communicate some of her newfound calm to him and smiled at the now-familiar twitch in his left hand. The dinner bell rang, breaking the mood and Scully rose regretfully to wheel him back inside.

"Time to eat, Babe. Maybe applesauce today. Would that taste good?" She talked to him as they moved back into the dimness of the facility and into the elevator to his unit. Margaret was on duty this afternoon and was ready with Mulder's tray.

"Hi, Dr. Scully. Hi, Fox. Did you have a nice afternoon outside?"

"It was very nice. The lilacs are going crazy and Mulder always loved them. I'll feed him dinner, Margaret, all right? I'm planning on sticking around for the night."

"Sure, if you like. That'll be nice, won't it Fox, having Dana stay? We've missed you the last few weeks."

"I know. I've been really busy at work, end of the term and all that. Hey, Buddy, let's go eat, huh? It looks like Margaret did get you some applesauce. Come on." She wheeled him down the hall to his room and was soon spooning his food into him, massaging his throat to be sure he swallowed. While she fed him, she chatted on about her day at Hopkins, about Will's soccer team, about Bill and Tara's new baby. This is normal for me, she thought with a last flush of regret. This is what my life is going to be from now on. And for the first time, the idea didn't scare her or anger her. Maybe lots of Mulder was gone, but she could still love what was left and revel in the memory that, for a while, this once-exceptional man's world had revolved around her. Scully realized she no longer felt set apart from the rest of the world, a legendary FBI agent whose partner was horrifically attacked and left 'persistently unaware,' a stark figure of tragedy who wore the mantle of loss and loneliness around her shoulders every day. Now she was just a college professor who had a loved one in a coma. There were lots of people like her just in this modest hospital in Bethesda, never mind in the whole big wide world. She was part of a group, one of a crowd. It felt sane and regular.

So of course, she was that much more surprised when everything fell to shit.

She was dozing in the Lazy-Boy when Margaret came in. Looking at the clock, she realized it was close to 11:00, time for the shift to change.

"Hey, Margaret, time to move him?"

"Yes, Dr. Scully, but don't get up. Seth and I will do it." A husky orderly came in behind Margaret to help reposition Mulder, something that was done several times a day. After they had resettled him on his other side, Margaret got a blanket from the closet for Scully and wished her a good night. Scully curled up in the recliner again, wishing for the thousandth? millionth? time that she could squeeze in beside Mulder, wrap herself around him and feel his arms tighten around her again. She closed her eyes and let herself drift into some of their naughtier memories. She must have fallen asleep again, but she jerked awake when she realized someone was in the room with her. Another orderly hovered over Mulder's bed.

"He's already been moved, by the afternoon shift," she whispered.

"I know," the man whispered back. "I'm just checking his chart."

Something in the orderly's voice jarred her, stirring unpleasant memories and she sat upright, trying to distinguish his face in the moonlit room. He turned his face to her and a cold wave of fear and anger swept over her. For a moment she was certain a ghost stood before her. Then she jumped to her feet, but before she could make a sound, he had grabbed her arms with one hand and clapped his other over her mouth. His smooth voice was sibilant as he whispered right into her ear, his warm breath tickling the skin of her neck. She squirmed, trying to break away from him, but he shook her tightly.

"I need you to listen, all right? Just listen. You are about to blow any chance in hell Mulder has of coming out of this, do you understand that? Nod, okay?" She nodded briefly. "Okay, if I take my hand away, are you going to start screaming or are you going to listen to what I have to tell you?"

She shook her head, not sure if she was saying no, she wouldn't scream or no, she didn't want to listen to this man.

"I'm doing what I can to help him. I'm not going to hurt him, I'm not trying to screw with you, I honest to God want to make him better. Is that what you want?" She nodded again, wondering if there was anything near the truth in what this man was saying to her. When she remained quiet, he slowly stepped away from her, giving her room to turn around. She faced him with her eyes closed, not wanting to believe this particular nightmare could possibly be coming back. With a deep breath, she raised her face to his and opened her eyes.

Dark hair fell over a pair of dark green, deeply-lashed eyes. The broad shoulders were the same, except that one no longer ended in a prosthesis. The fluid voice was the same, the set, tight jaw was the same, she bet he even had the same gun he had the last time their paths had crossed. Alex Krycek. Not blown up, not shot through the head, not even missing an arm.

"What is it with you? Are you some kind of cat or something?" The thought slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it and, to her discomfort, Krycek threw his head back and laughed softly.

"Not exactly the greeting I expected, but certainly keeping in character. Hi ya, Scully, how's tricks?"

Before he could say anything else, she shoved against him with all her strength and ran into the hall, grabbing the handle of the nearest fire alarm. The cacophony sounded throughout the building and she knew the security guards would be on their way momentarily.

"You don't think maybe you're overreacting, do you?" a voice suddenly sounded in her ear as muscular arms surrounded her again. She found herself being tossed over his shoulder, then jarred mightily as he ran for the stairwell. He headed up two flights to the roof and, with a muffled click, locked the door, leaving them outside at the bottom of the stairwell leading up to the roof.

He set her down roughly and, with one strong arm, pinned her against the door. He leaned the other hand on his thigh and almost doubled over, panting, sweat pouring down his face and darkening the scrubs he wore.

"Been...been a while since the Academy, I guess," he gasped out.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Krycek?" she snarled against the metal door, trying to turn her head so she could see him.

"I told you, I'm trying to help Mulder."


"Listen, any second now the security dorks are going to try busting through that door. We don't have a lot of time for chat, so listen up." He spun her around, but didn't release his grip on her arms, only pulling them over her head instead of wrenching them behind her back. "I think I can help him. I know something that might work. If you're interested, you need to call off the dogs. I can't help him if I lose my job here or if you try to have me hauled off in cuffs." He lifted an eyebrow in a creepy mirror image of her trademark expression. "So, are you? Interested?"

Any answer she might have given was drowned out by the crashing of bodies against the door back into the building.

"You want me to get that?" He asked with a smirk. She wanted to slap him.

"I'll get it, you prick," she snarled. "Don't you fucking move." She unlocked the door and stepped aside as three security guards rushed through it with their guns drawn.

"Turn around," one of them shouted at Scully and Krycek. "Hands where I can see them!"

The former agents raised their arms above their heads and submitted to the indignity of a highly unprofessional frisking. She didn't miss the grin that skittered across his face, in fact she could almost hear him cataloguing the guards' procedural errors and highlighting how easily he could have gotten away, overpowered or kept a weapon hidden from these clowns.

"All clear. They're clean," one guard informed his cohorts. "All right, what's going on here? Which of you pulled that alarm?"

Krycek met Scully's eyes warily and she readied herself, wondering what insanity was creeping through her, then told the guards how she thought she had recognized Krycek from last night's America's Most Wanted.

"It freaked me out, I mean here's this guy who looks just like a murderer and he was leaning over Mulder like he was going to strangle him. I just...overreacted," she trailed off lamely. "I'm really sorry, I know how stupid this must look."

The guard looked at Krycek. "Is that what happened, Alex?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, I'm not a murderer or anything. I was just putting a new pillow under the guy and she jumped me. Scared the shit out of me and I panicked and ran. Then she ran after me and I lost my head and wound up here. You never know, sometimes the stress some of these folks are under, well, I thought maybe she might get kind of violent. She looked like the type," he ended maliciously. Scully swallowed her fury at the picture he was painting of her. Violent? She'd show the son of a bitch violent. But she remained silent, letting the guards harangue her about the illegality of setting off false fire alarms and unnecessarily arousing panic among the staff. Krycek's shoulders were squirming slightly in the effort to keep his laughter in check. Finally, the guards escorted them back into the building, dismissing Krycek as a nervous twit and Scully as an overwrought fan of cheesy TV. They stepped into the elevator together and, when she got off at Mulder's floor, he gave her a casual wave and mouthed "Later" to her.

She stayed with Mulder for another hour, soothing her nerves by making sure he was unharmed. The night nurse, Sophie, hurried to reassure her that Mulder was fine and that Alex had been a trustworthy and dedicated employee since March.

"He's really good with all our residents. He has so much patience and he's strong enough to maneuver someone like Fox easily, without a lot of tugging and jostling. He's very good at his job and we've never, ever had a single complaint about him."

"I'm sure he's wonderful," Scully said soothingly. "I just overreacted. I hope he doesn't take offense." She patted Mulder's arm in goodbye, then turned to walk out with the nurse. They continued talking as Sophie resumed her seat at the desk and opened a folder.

"Dr. Scully, I hope you'll understand, I have to write this up as a security incident. One of our policies."

"No, that's fine. I'm glad the staff took it seriously. Now I know what you'll do if anything ever does happen here." Scully paused for a moment, then began as gentle an interrogation as she could manage. "I really should apologize to that orderly again. I hope he doesn't quit or anything like that. Does he get mad easily, lose his temper or anything?"

"Oh, not Alex, he's not like that at all. He's a very good-natured person. I've seen him wipe up the most disgusting messes with a laugh and a joke."

"He sounds very nice," Scully said, trying hard to sound sincere.

"Well, he's quite popular with the residents and their families. Always willing to put in an extra effort to help out. And he's very good-looking, so of course he's pretty popular with us as well," she finished with a coy smile.

"Is he married?"

"Not that I know of. He's very friendly, but he doesn't talk much about his private life. No ring and somehow he doesn't seem the type. But he loves kids, always goes out of his way to chat with them when they come to visit and the ones that are here long-term, he can't do enough for them."

"Well, I'll have to make an extra-nice apology then, for startling him the way I did. Where do you think I might be able to find him right now?"

"It's almost 3:00, so he's probably getting ready to have his lunch. If you want to catch him, try waiting by the men's locker room in the basement. Check the desk first to see if he's signed out." Sophie handed Scully a form to sign, indicating her awareness, as Mulder's next-of-kin, of the incident.

She penned her name, then asked Sophie, "What was Alex's last name? I didn't catch it in all the confusion upstairs."

"It's Hale."

"Thanks. I'll see you again soon."

Scully stepped into the elevator again and pressed the button for the basement. At the second floor, however, the car stopped and Krycek got on. She scowled at him as he pressed the Stop Service switch and waited for him to start explaining. He only stood looking at her, his eyes flicking up and down as if trying to spot any differences in her from their last meeting years ago. At last, with a deep sigh, he spoke.

"You look good, Dr. Scully. Very trim and healthy. How's Will?"

"He's fine. Stop bullshitting around and tell me what the fuck you're doing here."

"You really suck at interpersonal communication, you know that?"

She didn't offer any answer and Krycek quickly tired of waiting for one.

"Okay, we need to talk but this is not the best place for it. Do you have any objection to hooking up at your place later?"

"Dare I assume that you know exactly where my place is?"

"Of course I do. I looked it up in the Yellow Pages." He smirked and Scully felt a wave of angry heat go through her at the thought that this man, who had made her so intimately acquainted with fear and loss, would laugh at her. She wasn't even aware of her hand lifting to strike his cheek until he reeled briefly from the blow.

"Still fast on the draw, I see," he said, rubbing his face. "Feel better now? Because pretty soon somebody's going to clue in to the fact that this elevator is no longer running and call Our Gang from security. You want to deal with that bunch again?"

"No," she snapped. "Fine, meet me at my house. Ten tonight and you do not come inside. I'll meet you in the yard. Now turn on the elevator so I can go home." She turned her back on him and he flipped the switch back on. The machine started and soon enough she was on her way home, thinking evil thoughts of extinguishing the light in those infuriating green eyes.

It was just on 10:00 when he appeared in the tidy yard. She was sitting at the picnic table, sipping a glass of wine and indulging in a rare cigarette from the pack she kept in the freezer. She heard the rattle of the fence near the alley and the soft thump of feet hitting grass. She said nothing, just looked at him the way he had looked at her in the elevator. He hadn't changed much. He was a little heavier around the middle, but still muscular. The arm exposed by a short-sleeved tee was just an arm, not plastic, not a hook. He watched as her eyes scanned it slowly.

"It's real. Skin, bone, muscle, nerves. Pretty cool, huh?"

"What do you want, Krycek?"

"How about a beer? I had a pretty rough day at work."

"How about some answers before I put this cigarette out in your left eye socket?"

"Ouch. Fine, I'll get it myself." He stepped over to the garage and, to Scully's horror, punched in the code and ducked under the opening door. He emerged with a bottle of beer and the carafe of Merlot she had poured earlier. "Want a refill?"

"Goddammit, Krycek, get out of here. Get away from me and my son and stay the hell away from Mulder." She threw the cigarette at him and marched to the back door.

"I thought you wanted answers," the smooth voice taunted.

Scully felt another wave of anger wash across her face. She clenched her fist on the doorknob and tried to breathe deeply, willing the cooling air to put out her smoldering anger. She wanted Mulder to be safe, she wanted to stay out of the crossfire that had followed them around the globe for ten years, she wanted to raise her son without jumping at every small noise she couldn't immediately identify. But more than anything else, she wanted him back and this fiery want kept her from throwing herself at the throat of the man behind her.

"Do you want me to come back after you're done debating with yourself?" he mocked again.

"You don't know when to shut up, do you?" She refused to face him but he must have seen a decision roll across her stony back and rigid shoulders because she heard him set the beer bottle on the wooden table, followed by the rough shifting noise of his jacket and the scrape and pop of one of her cigarettes being lit. She turned to see him sitting calmly at the table, smoking and drinking and waiting for her to move.

"Help yourself," she said roughly as she sat across from him. He pulled out another cigarette and lit it for her. She smoked it without saying anything, silently looking off through the darkness. It was close to the filter when she dropped it on the patio and ground it out. "Okay, I'm listening."

"Where should I start?" he asked seriously.

"I don't know. Why are you working at the hospital?"

"Because they hired me."

"Dammit, don't ..." she started hotly, but he cut her off.

"Sorry, force of habit. Okay, the condensed version of why I'm working at the hospital is that that's where Mulder is."

"That's not really an answer. Why do you care where he is? Or why does whoever you're working for care?"

"I'm working for me, Scully. I have been for a very long time, whether you believe that or not."

Dozens of answers to that statement ran through her head, but she fought off the temptation to antagonize him, at least until she figured out what the hell it was he wanted.

"That doesn't answer my question. What difference does it make to you where Mulder vegetates?"

"That's not a very sensitive thing to say, now, is it?"

"Just answer me, Krycek. With something real."

"If I say I'm doing research, will that satisfy you?"

"Research on what?"

"You. And Mulder. And how you two relate." He met her unbelieving stare calmly. "I mean it. If I can get a handle on how deep that fabled connection of yours goes, it may help bring Mulder out of this."

She let out a puff of laughter. "Okay. Enough. Somehow you've snowed your way into the hospital, I don't know why, but tomorrow I will tell the director every last incriminating thing I know about you and you can rot in prison for the rest of your unnatural life. Thanks for the smoke," and she got to her feet. He grabbed her arm to stop her and she jerked away, roughly scraping her wrist. "Dammit, Krycek, can't you act like a decent human being for once in your evil, ruthless life? Just go away and leave me and him and our son alone."

For a brief second, Scully thought she saw pain in Krycek's brilliant eyes. Just a flash and for just a moment it looked as though sorrow and defeat were there. Then the cold smirk was back and he said jovially, "You make me sound positively demonic, Scully. I don't know if I should be hurt or flattered." His voice became serious again. "I promise you, I will not hurt Mulder or you or Will. I don't care if you believe me or trust me, but I want to help him. To help all three of you have ...have what you should have had all along."

"That's big coming from you, you son of a bitch. You've done nothing for Mulder except hurt him and betray him and fuck with his head from the day you met him. Now you're back for more. Well, forget it. You can't hurt him anymore. You can't hurt me, either. And you can't hurt Will without bringing down the wrath of your old buddies in the Network. So you're out of chips, pal. You've got nothing to gain and we've got nothing to lose. Game's over." She was leaning right over him, snarling into his face.

He stood up, forcing her to back away, and towered over her. "I never wanted to hurt him. I had a job to do, same as you." He jabbed a finger into her chest for emphasis. "We were on opposite sides, but don't ever presume that you had all the moral high ground on yours. There was so much shit stacked so high against you two you'll never understand the miracle of your survival. You think they just liked you enough to let you go? You'd have been dead ten times over if it wasn't for me, Scully, I can promise you that."

"Well, thanks so much for taking such good care of me, Krycek. I suppose the cancer and Missy were consolation prizes for you, though, weren't they?"

He scrubbed a hand across his angry face and breathed deeply and Scully had a sudden revelation that she pissed off this man as much as he pissed off her.

"I didn't come here to hash over old times. I came here to see if you wanted him back. If you do, I think maybe I can help him. If you don't, say the word and I'm gone. I'll never darken your door again, he says villainously." He put both hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Your call, Scully."

She walked away from him, crossing the yard. She paced back and forth from the picnic table to the swing set three times before she spoke. "What do you mean, you think you can help him? Help him how?"

"Wake him up. Get that genius brain ticking over again."

"That's not going to happen, not now. There was too much damage, unless you can grow new brain tissue the way you grew that arm." She sat back down at the table and held out her hand. He looked puzzled until he realized she wanted to examine his arm. He let her take his hand, finding himself oddly shy as she ran her own over it, feeling the skin to see if it was real. With a wicked grin, she pulled hard on the hair on the back of the hand and he yelped, snatching away from her.

"Ow! Don't do that! God, some doctor you are." He rubbed the spot as she laughed.

"Just checking. So how did you do it?"

"I didn't and it's not part of this story anyway. I want to talk about Mulder." He pulled another cigarette out and lit it and, when she held out her hand again, gave one to her. "We're both going to be smoke hung over tomorrow," he said as he lit hers.

"Not if you talk faster. Come on, Krycek, how are you going to grow Mulder a new brain?"

"Fine. Cutting to the chase, how much do you know about Russian legends, folk tales, that kind of thing?"

"Next to nothing. Peter and the Wolf is about it."

"Have you ever heard of Stolnyenka?"

"No. Are you going to tell me a story, Uncle Alex?" He got up from the table and leaned against a tree.

"Very funny. Stolnyenka was a witch, but not a wicked witch. She was supposed to have healing powers. She could put that power into a charm or an amulet and if a person who was sick or hurt wore it all the time, their injury or illness would be cured."

She looked at him in incredulous amusement. "That's it? You're going to get a Russian witch to come in and give Mulder a rabbit's foot and he's just going to get better?"

"No, since Stolnyenka lived, if she ever did, in the 12th century."

"So, what's the point of all this?"

"I've seen this work, Scully. In Russia. About three years ago. A man had a stroke and his mother, she made him a ring and put it on him and three months later he was fine. He could walk and talk again, he was cured."

"You're kidding, right?" She had the strangest feeling of dj vu, as if Mulder stood before her spouting the gibberish that somehow always ended up being gospel truth.

"I swear it. The guy was riding horses and singing Cossack drinking songs when I left."

"So how does this tie in with Mulder? You're going to bring this woman instead of Stolakenya?"

"Stolnyenka. No. See, I think...I mean, I'm pretty sure...Shit, could you stop looking at me like that for a minute? Please? It bugs me."

"Like what?"

"Like you're humoring some idiot child with water on the brain." He took a deep breath and plunged in. "Okay, laugh all you want. The point of all this is that my family, my father's family, claimed they were descendants of Stolnyenka. That this...this power can pass down from generation to generation. Not all of us have it, but that woman in Russia, she was my father's great-aunt. And she knows I have it."

Scully stared at Krycek, trying to see some glimmer of malice or even dark humor in the bright green eyes. They were surprisingly clear and hopeful. She pondered what he'd just said and was about to dismiss it all as arrant nonsense when a little leftover Mulder voice in her head said, 'How is that story any stranger than other things you've seen? And what if it were true, that Krycek could bring him back to you?' She looked into the green eyes once more, swallowed hard and said, "Tell me more."

A smile split his face, not the cocky smirk she was used to, but a genuine smile of pleasure and excitement. He leaned across the table towards her and began to talk eagerly.

"All right, when I said I could do it, what it means is that I can help you do it. It has something to do with emotional connection, that the emotional feeling between two people creates a kind of energy. If there is an intense tie between a sick person and a healthy one, the energy of the healthy person can be channeled to the sick person through some physical conduit."

"Like a charm or a ring, right?"

"You heard this one already, huh?"

"I'm missing something here. It sounds like you're saying I give Mulder some kind of good-luck charm and think happy thoughts and he gets better. How do you come into it?"

"You are such a killjoy, you know that? Don't you have any imagination at all?"


"You want the scientific method? Fine. You can't just buy the agent. You need to make it. From pure materials, preferably gold, but copper might work too. It depends on the kind of injury or illness. Different materials for different problems. You with me?" She nodded, but by now her arms were across her chest and the skeptical look was firmly entrenched across her face. "Okay. You and I each make something he can wear all the time, like a ring or necklace. Yours will carry the energy and mine will open the conduit. Like piggybacking medication in an IV."

"And then Mulder wakes up and we live happily ever after?" she asked archly. "I think you're nuts, Krycek, you know that? You've finally gone around the bend."

"Why is this any more nuts than some of the other things you've seen?" His echo of her thoughts stabbed her heart. "Because it's me? Because you don't want to trust me?"

"Not just that, although I absolutely doubt your motives. What you're suggesting is improbable at the very least. And even if something like that could work in a man who was recently injured, Mulder's been like this for over a year. His entire body is atrophied, his internal organs are working at half-capacity. There's too much damage, it's not just the brain anymore."

"Are you so sure of that that you won't even try?"

"And another thing, you talked about an emotional connection. Won't your bad vibes cancel out my good ones? I would think the enmity between you two would be likely to kill him, not cure him."

"I...I don't think that will happen," he stammered and for a moment, Scully thought he might be blushing. "Anyway, that's my idea, take it or leave it. I thought you might still be willing to look outside the borders of rationality, especially for him. Maybe I was wrong." He stood up. "I need to get to work. I'll be back at Townsend as usual. Let me know how you want to play this."

He tossed back the rest of his beer and set the empty bottle on the table, strolled through the yard to the fence and vaulted it with ease. She heard his soft steps fade away, then the sounds of a car starting and driving away. For a long time, she sat at the picnic table, playing idly with the empty bottle while she turned thoughts in and out of her mind. Mulder back, healthy again, here in this house, in her life, in her bed. Will with a Daddy instead of a strange assortment of uncles. And a warped thought that he would be proud of her if she pursued Krycek's bizarre theory, that he would be proud that she had stepped outside the boundaries of her medicine and science to find a way to bring him back.

She woke the next morning with a minor hangover and a major case of regret. She had no idea what Krycek was up to and the knowledge that he had free access to Mulder sat hard in her belly. She impulsively decided she would head down to D.C. and poke around. Krycek was wanted in half the continents on the planet and had been presumed dead more than once. He had to have passed the background check at the hospital without any flags going up. She knew the hospital often employed parolees as orderlies and maintenance staff, but a wanted murderer, one with a dozen Federal warrants out for his arrest and believed dead besides, was not going to pass muster. Somehow, he had purged his identity, fingerprints and all, from any felony databases. She decided it was time to renew a few old acquaintances in the Hoover Building.

The drive to DC was excruciating as always. It was 1:30 before she got to the Hoover, an hour later than she had planned to meet with Skinner. His new secretary (what had happened to Kimberly?) ushered her into a much plusher, bigger office. He was on the phone and he waved her into a chair near his desk as he finished the call. he hung up and reached across the desk to shake her hand.

"It's great to see you again, Scully. What's dragged you down to the bowels of the American government?"

She smiled at his gruff affection, then turned a sober eye to him. "I wanted to talk to you about some investments, sir."

His eyebrows went up almost to his non-existent hairline. The phrase she was using was ancient history, dating back to the presence of Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley in the basement offices. It meant "Let's get the hell out of here so I can spill some major beans," and Skinner smoothly rose from his seat and motioned for her to follow.

"Always glad to help you out, Scully. Is Mulder's annuity from the Bureau taking care of everything?" Read: is this about our favorite comatose genius?

"Absolutely, sir. But I do have a few questions about maintaining it. Why don't we have a late lunch and talk?"

They headed to the garage and picked up Scully's Corolla, but she let Skinner drive, not wanting to get back behind the wheel after her earlier marathon Beltway session. They talked quietly about Will and Maggie but steered clear of the issue of Mulder and his annuity until they reached a crowded and mercifully noisy restaurant near the Mall.

"We'll be okay here. We probably would have been okay back in my office, they sweep it every damn day, it seems like. Anyway, I don't think anybody's really listening anymore, are they? I mean, from the old crowd?"

"I'm not so sure about that." She paused as a waiter took their drink orders, then continued as quietly as she could. "What has two green eyes, a smart mouth and a surprisingly healthy heart for a dead guy?"

She watched the wheels spinning in the bald head and then, "Oh, crap. Please tell me you are not talking about..."

"No names."

"Vodka gimlet?"

"Bingo. Christ, this feels like a John LeCarre' novel." She rubbed her hands across her face briefly. "Okay, here's the deal without all the fifth column crap. He's working at Townsend. On the floor as an orderly. He's been there for a month and he swears he's not up to anything."

"A month?"

"That struck me, too. If he's going to do something, why wait? It's not like Mulder's going to fight back or anything."

"Assuming our friend is there for a hit."

"Why else? There's no way to pry information out of Mulder, he's not exactly a threat to anyone beyond his managed care provider. Nothing's been attempted, nothing out of the ordinary has ever happened there, I haven't been approached or threatened or anything."

"What about Will? Could this be about him?"

"Why? We sorted all that out years ago. Will is Will, he's nothing special anymore. The colony ended at El Rico, the soldiers were a total bust and Mulder is out of the game. There's nothing to go after. I just can't see what's in it for Krycek."

"No names, Dana."

"Sorry. I'm a little out of practice with my cloak and dagger." The waiter brought their drinks and took their lunch orders and then Scully continued. "I don't want to get sucked back into this mess. I tried to figure out what the hell he's up to, but, not surprisingly, I got a lot of nothing. He's still a pro at stringing people along. I even made a rather feeble attempt to appeal to his sense of decency, forgetting that the little prick doesn't have one."

"That must have amused him," was Skinner's laconic reply.

She paused again, remembering the brief flash of emotion she thought she had surprised in Krycek's eyes. "It didn't actually. I think I hit some kind of nerve, but I don't know which one."

"What, you think he means it, then?"

"Well, I'd never rush to put a lot of stock in anything that came out of that mouth. But, he was absolutely open about being at the hospital under an assumed name. I can get a copy of his personnel file at Townsend and I'd like to look into some of the stuff that's in it. And I thought maybe there might be something in his FBI record as well."

"And you need me to access the FBI records for you, right? You know he's probably been purged from the system by now?"

"His initial application to the Academy won't be. We found applications dating back to the inception of the Bureau during an X-File. There should be a hard copy somewhere in the archives at Quantico. I just need authorization to poke around."

"Authorization granted. Just don't get yourself into anything deep and messy. I like knowing you and Mulder and Will are safe. I want you to stay that way." Their food had arrived by now and their conversation cooled off, heading into more commonplace topics. When they had finished and were driving back to the Hoover, Skinner turned the conversation back to Krycek.

"It'd be interesting to hear from him how he survived that head shot. And regenerated the arm."

"The arm looked real. It was bizarre."

"Well, let's start where we can and see where it takes us. Are you heading back tonight?"

"No, I want to get out to Quantico as soon as possible. I'm staying with the guys."

Skinner frowned. "Would you like to stay with me instead? As much as I respect their technical skills, I'm not sure they can be trusted around an unchaperoned female."

She laughed aloud. "I'll be fine. Frohike is like a dog chasing a car. He wouldn't..."

"...know what to do with it if he caught it," her old boss finished, and they shared a companionable laugh as they pulled into the Hoover garage.

Scully sat on the unmade bed Frohike had gallantly given up for her, reading through a sheaf of papers she had brought back from her afternoon at the Quantico archives. She could hear the guys in the other room, arguing over a complicated program function, tossing esoteric epithets at each other and howling over arcane coding errors. She pulled her glasses off and lay back, trying to decode her own thoughts. She had six applications to the FBI Academy in front of her. Her own and Mulder's. Jeffrey Spender's and Diana Fowley's. Walter Skinner. And Alex Krycek. She also had, courtesy of Skinner, the corresponding Bureau personnel files for each. She had found a dozen inaccuracies between the application and Bureau file for Spender and over twenty-five in Fowley's. Mulder's application read like a recruiter's wet dream, but his personnel file had more red ink than even she had been aware of. Her own files were boring, except for the recommendation to partner her with Mulder. That order had apparently come down from the top tier of the Department of Justice. Interesting how high up the Consortium had climbed even that far back.

Krycek's personnel file was short and to the point - he had been relieved of duty after failing to report for an OPR hearing regarding the kidnapping of a Federal agent. There was one commendation in his file, from Mulder of all people.

His application was quite a different story, starting with his name. Aleksandr Mikhailevich Kryshenkov. Born in Cincinnati to Soviet migrs Ivana and Mikhail Kryshenkov, a music teacher and an acoustics engineer respectively. Scully huffed out a little laugh when she saw the birth date listed on the application. Alex Krycek, born on the Fourth of July, 1965. Family -- two sisters, Elena and Elisaveta, born in 1969 and 1972. Graduated from Oberlin College in 1985, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Summa Cum Laude with a minor in music performance. Master of Arts in International Relations, 1987, George Washington University. Recruited by the FBI in 1987. Served in the American Diplomatic Corps as a secretary to the West German attach in DC, 1987 to 1988. Applied to Quantico late in 1992. Graduated in April of 1993, first in his class.

So who are you, really, Aleksandr? she thought as she drove back to Bethesda the next day. Who taught you to betray your country? To lie so convincingly that those bright green eyes never blink or waver? She stewed over the information she had gathered. She firmly believed the bulk of the information in his Academy application was fabricated, either by Krycek himself or by the men he had worked for, but one key investigative skill Mulder had taught her was that every lie told you as much as the truth if you could figure out why the lie was there. Someone, maybe Krycek himself, had wanted the prospective agent to appear highly intelligent, well-educated and cultured. He or they either hadn't felt it was necessary to cover up his Russian/Soviet heritage or felt it might be a selling point at the Academy. Hell, maybe that was fake, too. If she could just figure out what the lies were and why they were there, maybe she could get a handle on whether Krycek's wild suggestion was even worth further investigation.

It was almost 10:00 when she pulled into the lot at Townsend. She scanned the cars parked in the employee lot and mentally kicked herself for not checking to see what Krycek had been driving last night. She stepped into the lobby and headed for the reception area, giving the security guard a friendly greeting. Luckily, it wasn't one of the crew from the night she and Krycek had renewed their acquaintance. As she signed in on the visitor's log, she glanced at the staff sign-in next to it. Alex Hale had signed in at 9:30. She raised her eyebrow, wondering if he was upstairs waiting for her.

Sure enough, he was sitting in her Lazy-Boy when she got up to the fifth floor. He was sitting in the darkened room, one foot propped on the window sill, his back to the door. He must have heard her walking down the hall, but he didn't turn around when she entered the room.

"Hey, Scully. Have a nice trip to DC? How's Skinner?"

She set her purse on the table by the door and reached for the light switch.

"Leave it off, would you? It's been dark in here for a while, I don't want the light to hurt his eyes."

"So you know I was in DC, huh? Spying on me still?"

"No, you're just very predictable. The first thing you do when presented with the unpredictable is to rush for some facts to screw around with." He threw a packet of papers on the table beside her purse. "Here, I thought I'd save you some trouble."

She picked the papers up and held them up to the light coming in from the hall. "Your personnel file. And employment application. And, interestingly enough, parole record. You've been a busy boy today." She reached into her purse and pulled out the copies of his FBI application and Bureau file and handed them to him. He reached into his shirt pocket for a pair of reading glasses and sheepishly slipped them on, ignoring her wry laugh.

"Gee, Old Man Time gets the best of everybody, doesn't he?" she jeered, watching his face as he read the old files. He grimaced once or twice and actually laughed out loud when he got to the commendation from Mulder.

"God, he was fun to work with, wasn't he?"

"Fun?" she snorted. "You weren't his partner during the whole Flukeman thing."

He put the papers back on the table and shifted his glasses to the top of his head. "So, this trip down memory lane, does it have a point?"

"How much of this is true? Any of it?"

"Would you believe, every word?" he asked in a creditable impression of Maxwell Smart. "At least," he reverted to his normal smooth voice, "every word on the Quantico application. Obviously, I've taken some liberties with the other stuff."

"Obviously. How about the prison record?"

"Accurate with the exception of the name."

"You got popped for grand theft auto? That's pretty small stuff for you, isn't it?"

"Would you do me a really big favor and reschedule this conversation? I'm supposed to start work in a few minutes and I have the feeling this isn't one of those breezy chats that can be rushed through."

"Fine. Meet me back here when your shift is over."

"I'd also like to relocate it, since you seem intent on delving into all my dark secrets. I need to keep a few...illusions in place while I'm working here."

She sighed with exasperation. "Fine. Where?"

"I'll meet you at the IHOP down the street at 7:30 tomorrow morning. We'll have bacon and eggs and soulful conversation, okay?"

She rolled her eyes. "Whatever. 7:30, IHOP. I'll be there."

He was there first, sitting in a booth in the farthest corner of the restaurant, cradling a coffee cup in his large, long-fingered hands. They caught Scully's eye and she remembered the music performance notation on his Quantico application. She sat down and, without a word, pulled a micro-recorder out of her pocket and set it ostentatiously on the table.

"Testing, one, two, three," he quipped. "You sure you don't want video as well?"

"Let's talk, Mr. Hale."

"Okay. Four score and seven years ago..." His eyes locked with hers as he reached over to shut the recorder off.

"Very funny, wiseass." She handed him the copy of his Quantico application again. "Fact or fiction, Krycek?" A frowzy waitress approached and took their order with bored grace. Alex waited to answer, making sure the waitress was out of hearing.

"First, how did you get this? I would have thought that everything on record at the Bureau would have been sanitized."

"I'm willing to bet not a lot of people are aware of the really amazing amount of paper the FBI keeps tucked away. This was just laying in the stack with the rest of your Academy classmates' apps."

"You trying to get me killed, Scully? Poking around with my name can lead to all sorts of...complications."

"Your name never came up, Mr. Hale," she chided gently. "I pulled the stack for that entire years' graduating classes as well as the prior and following years. I called it a demographic study and nobody blinked an eye. So," she repeated, "fact or fiction?"

"I told you last night, every single word on that application is true."

She considered him, looking for signs of deception or unease in his face, but found none. "Music performance? What instrument?"

"Piano and cello."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Okay, see, you're not going to believe me no matter what I tell you, so why are we doing this?" He sipped at his coffee to avoid her gaze.

"Why Political Science?"

"It was interesting."
"Can you still speak all those languages?"

"Which one would you like to hear?"

"Where are your sisters?"

Krycek didn't answer, just looked at her steadily. The quiet lengthened until Scully realized he wasn't taking time to formulate an answer, he was refusing to answer.

"Not going there, huh?"


Their orders arrived at this point and they ate quietly for a few minutes until, the worst of her hunger gone and her curiosity returning in full force, Scully wiped her mouth and asked another question.

"What the hell were you doing stealing cars in Newark?"

"Ah, I was wondering if that would catch your eye," he answered. He finished buttering his toast before going on. "I was being clever. I wanted to disappear for a while. I'd been laying low in Russia for a couple years and when I came back to the States, there were still enough fragments of the Network left for me to be concerned about my personal safety."

"That project died out years ago."

"The project died. Not everyone involved in the Network did. I got on the wrong side of quite a few people when I was working to take it out."

"Are you trying to tell me you were part of that? Destroying the soldiers? Exposing the project?"

"Is that so hard to believe?"

"Of course it is. Mulder almost died taking down that project. What the hell did you have to do with it?"

He looked down at his cooled coffee and swirled the cup. "They tried to make me one. After your pal Skinner shot me. It was easily the most horrible thing I've ever experienced in my life."

"Is that how your arm grew back?"

He looked down at the limb thoughtfully, flexing his hand. "Yeah. The irony hasn't been lost on me. They gave me the thing in the world I wanted the most. But I would have let them chew off the other one if it meant they'd have let me go."

"So what happened?"

"What happened? They underestimated me. People do it all the time. They figured I hated you and Mulder personally enough to take you out. And that I'd do anything to get some back from Skinner. So they trusted me. Let me call the shots and set up the plan for hitting both of you and taking Will. They never understood that I didn't have any personal animosity towards you two. So I saw my chance to get away from the Network and I hooked up with Mulder and we pooled our considerable resources."

"And Mulder just went along with this? You're full of shit," she said.

"He took a little convincing."

"I'll bet."

"Hey, he wanted to end it. He was tired of the whole romantic quest gig. All he wanted was to get back to you and Will. And believe me or don't, but I was repulsed, completely and thoroughly, by the objectives of the Network. I hated the fact that they existed. I managed to convince Mulder of my feelings and he just wanted the whole fucking mess to go away. So, in a warped way, we were on the same side. And we knew we were on the same side, which made all the difference in the world. Long story short, and you probably know most of it, good-bye, super soldiers, hello life on the run for me and home sweet home for you and Mulder."

"Why didn't we ever have any problems with the Network that was left?"

"They that doeth evil hateth the light of day. Or something like that. You and Mulder and Will were in the light, they weren't going to come near you. I was in the dark, I was an easy target. So Alex Krycek went to Russia and disappeared into the mists and Alex Hale, petty criminal, turned up in Newark."

"Stealing cars."

"If you wanted to hide from people who were beyond the reach of the law, where would you go?"

"Not Newark."

"Come on, Scully, exercise the little gray cells. Where would you go if you wanted to be certain you were safe from people who were never going to be arrested?"

"Ah. Prison. That is clever."

"Thank you. I thought so. Alex Hale embarked on a criminal career. A few minor offenses to get a nice record worked up and then he made the bonehead maneuver of hotwiring a BMW that belonged to a New York City Councilman."

"That's class, Krycek."

"I certainly thought so."

"So you went to jail. For how long?"

"Eighteen months. Easy time, minimum security. It's amazing what a clean cut look and a college degree will allow you to get away with."

"How did you get your ID out of all the systems? Your fingerprints are the same, even if your name isn't."

"Actually, they're not. I had a little cosmetic work done in Russia. New arm, new fingerprints, petty crimes instead of big wonking murders and Alex Krycek fades from the memory of the world. The last bits of the Network, according to some old friends of mine, are trying to worm their way into the good graces of the various criminal masterminds still floating around in the world. They wouldn't spend the effort to find me anymore even if they could. I just need to be cautious how I throw my DNA around, that's the only way left to hook me up with Alex-from-before." He waved to the waitress to bring her coffee pot and stopped talking while she refilled his cup. After she had walked away again, they continued eating in silence while she considered the answers he had given her in her mind's orderly fashion. Finally, she set her fork down, steepled her hands and rested her chin on them. She looked at him for a long moment, trying to read him somehow.

At last, she asked, "How did you come to work for the Consortium?"

After a brief pause, he answered, "Same as the Bureau, I was recruited."

"What, they had a booth on campus at George Washington?"

"Not quite. It's more of a talent scout arrangement."

When he didn't add to his answer, she went on.

"From my reading of all this, and assuming you're telling the truth, you had a very promising career in diplomacy or even public policy ahead of you when you applied to the Academy."

He still didn't respond and she raised her eyebrow in unspoken challenge. "Well?"

"I didn't know there was a question on the table. Was I on the fast track in American diplomacy? Absolutely. I coulda been...well, not exactly a contender but certainly a player. At least, what I thought a player was back then."

"You still haven't answered me."

"You still haven't asked me a question."

"Fine. In tiny words, then, how does someone like Aleksandr become someone like Krycek?"

"Aleksandr? I haven't heard that name in a long while." He paused as if calculating how she would respond to his answer. Shrugging, he said, "It happens a lot more easily than you might think." Another pause and then a cold grin crept across his face. "A certain amount of moral flexibility is involved." The grin vanished. "Have you ever seen The Shawshank Redemption?" At her nod, he said, "At the end, after Andy escapes, and Red says all it took was time and pressure? That's me. Time and pressure and here's where I ended up."

He tipped the coffee cup back to empty it and stood up. "Well, Dr. Scully, as much fun as being interrogated always is, I have someplace I need to be." He tossed a ten on the table, then regarded her rather intently. "I meant what I said about Mulder. My offer's still open." He slung his jacket onto his shoulder and walked away, leaving Scully in stormy contemplation. Finally, she mimicked Krycek, draining the last of her coffee and walking out.

She purposely avoided Townsend during Krycek's shift during the following days. She wore herself out each night cruising the 'Net for any sort of collaboration to his wild story, finding only a few vague references to a mythical Slavic healing woman who used talismans to cure illness. When she finally threw herself into bed later and later each night, she slept poorly, listening to her innate skepticism and her long-held hatred and distrust of Alex Krycek battle with her heavy, aching need for Mulder and some offshoot Catholic desire to find miracles. She went through her days mechanically and spent every moment she could spare at the hospital, sitting beside him and trying to decide. Finally, a day came when she snapped and she found herself debating the issue with him as if they were still tucked into a stuffy basement, pencils in the ceiling and sparks between the two of them.

"I know what you'd say," she said out loud to him. "You'd say that just because my contemporary science can't explain something like this doesn't mean old science or extraterrestrial science can't, right? But what about believing Alex Krycek? How can you expect me to do that, after everything he's done to us? I know, he says he worked with you back then, and that he helped us out before. But, trust no one, right? Or did you change the motto again without sending me the memo?" She smiled at the far-off memory of a passionate oddball who stood spinning fancies in the face of an infuriatingly passionless spouter of facts. "Jesus, Mulder, how did we not kill each other back then?" She picked up his limp hand, willing him to send her a sign of his opinion, but none came and she pulled her hand away with a sigh. "Well, I guess it's time to see how well you trained me in those leaps of faith you always pulled off. Wish me luck, Babe." She walked out of the room, down the hall and into the elevator. She punched the button, not to the ground floor but to the basement, to the staff locker rooms. She knew Krycek was signed in, that he would just be getting ready to start his shift. The traffic in and out of the men's locker room was heavy as one shift ended and the other began. She sat in a chair just outside the door and waited for him to come out, finally spying him dressed in scrubs and wearing his reading glasses as he looked over some papers. She stood up and called him aside.

"Well, Dr. Scully. This is a pleasant surprise," he said nonchalantly.

"Hi, Mr. Hale," she answered. "Do you have a few minutes? I'd like to talk to you about some of that stuff you suggested last week."

He stopped walking and faced her with a raised eyebrow. She nodded almost imperceptibly. "I can't really talk right now, not for the time we should take with this. Do you want to meet for breakfast again?"

"Sure," she answered. "IHOP at 7:30?"

"Actually, I'd prefer someplace less public, if that's okay." He smiled gently as mistrust flared in her blue eyes. "If you don't mind, of course."

"No, no, that'll be fine," she replied coldly.

"Okay." He tore a corner of one of his papers and scrawled on it. "Here's my address. Meet me there at about 8:00. I'll have breakfast waiting." He turned away from her and stepped into the full elevator, leaving her to catch the next one.

She got home by 11:30 and was met at the door by Maggie.

"Thanks for sitting for me, Mom. I didn't think I'd be this late tonight."

"Is Fox okay, Dana? You've been spending a lot of time there lately."

"He's fine, Mom. I'm just...I'm making sure everything is being done for him that can be. I want to make sure I've explored every option we have. And sometimes that means putting in a lot of hours. Sorry, I know I've asked you to watch Will quite a bit lately."

"Like I mind," she smiled. "That's not what I meant. You look exhausted, Dana. If I know you, you're eating a cup of yogurt a day and maybe having a cup of tea at bedtime and that's it." Scully walked down the hall towards Will's room, cracking the door to peek in and Maggie followed. "He went to bed around 9:00. He was pretty whipped, he played with that boy from school..."


"That's the one, and then Melvin and Langly came by with a video game they wanted him to try out."

"Oh, God, it wasn't too horrible, was it?"

"No, not at all, it was actually pretty funny. It was something about saving the circus. Clowns racing cars and elephants shooting cannon balls at aliens. No blood or guts, just lots of cartoon action. Will loved it." They went into the kitchen where Maggie had water boiling in the tea kettle. Scully made herself a cup, then, at her mother's pointed look, got some graham crackers from the pantry to snack on. "You know, Will missed you quite a bit tonight," Maggie said in what she obviously wanted to be a casual tone. "He wanted to stay up till you got home."

Scully glanced at her mother over the rim of her cup, not answering, knowing more was coming. Maggie didn't disappoint her.

"Dana, I know how much you miss Fox. I miss him, too, I loved him like he was family. But I'm going to say something to you that may sound heartless and unkind to him, as much as I love him." She reached across the table for Scully's hand and went on. "He doesn't need you anymore, Dana, not the way Will needs you. I think you've been absolutely heroic through this whole ordeal but I think maybe it's time to let go a little. You don't need to go over every single day and you don't need to stay until this late every night. Will needs you home, he doesn't need to see you at his father's bedside constantly or to not see you at all." There were tears in Maggie's eyes as she spoke and Scully wiped them away.

"I know, Mom, it's hard on Will. It's hard on everybody. But I can't just turn my back on Mulder." Maggie got up and went to stand behind Dana, wrapping her arms around her to soften what she was saying.

"I'm not saying you should walk away from him. But I do think you could spend a little less time hovering over him. There's been no change at all, Dana, not since the day they took him off the respirator. I'm sure Fox knows, in some way, that you're there and that you still love him. But I think that in that same way, he knows that Will needs you more than he does."

"He might," Dana replied. "I appreciate your concern, Mom, for all of us. I'll think about it."

"And I'm sorry if I upset you. I love you and Will and Fox dearly, but I don't want to see the two of you spend the rest of your lives sitting next to his hospital bed." Scully held her mother's arms against her own for a moment, then stood up as well.

"Thanks, Mom, I love you, too. And thanks for the motherly advice, even if I don't take it." She smiled impishly at her mother and escorted her to the front door, locking it behind Maggie and heading back into the kitchen to finish her tea and plan what she would say to Krycek in the morning.

She found her way to his home easily enough, after dropping Will off at Maggie's. Krycek lived only a mile or so from the hospital, in a neighborhood of small, well-maintained houses and duplexes. She knocked on the weathered door and it opened quickly, carrying a heady smell of bacon.

"You weren't kidding about the breakfast, then?" she asked with a quirked brow.

He ushered her in with exaggerated gallantry, then followed her as she made her way to the bright kitchen at the rear of the house. Coffee was brewing in a Braun unit and the pans that were hanging from a pot rack over the sink were Calphalon and Creuset. She couldn't help looking around in some amazement. The well-stocked kitchen included an eclectic spice rack sharing counter space with a high-end food processor. The picture of a domesticated Krycek caused her eyebrow to work overtime-she had assumed that Krycek would be typically bacheloresque as far as meals and kitchenware were concerned.

"Nice hardware," she commented as he lifted the bacon onto a plate.

"Just because I'm a cold-blooded criminal doesn't mean I'm a complete savage, Dr. Scully. And shame on you for your gender stereotyping. I'm a pretty good cook."

"It smells like it. I happen to be a shitty cook."

"I've heard." He met her startled glance evenly, daring her to ask more.

I will not give you the satisfaction, she thought vindictively. "Okay, Martha Stewart, dish up, I'm starving."

They sat at a battered table, dishes full and coffee poured. Neither seemed inclined to start right in on their discussion. She broke the lengthy silence by complimenting his cooking toward the end of the meal and he acknowledged her with a nod. Finally, they finished and picked up their coffee mugs, heading outside to sit on the weather-beaten deck.

"I don't have any smokes, by the way," he said, "so if you want them, go to the 7-11 on the corner."

"No, I'm okay. That was extremely rare for me."

"Pathetic how easy it is to just pick them up again, isn't it?"

"Pathetic. So," she continued after a moment's pause, "let's talk."


"This theory of yours. The miracle Alex Krycek cure. What does the miracle worker get out of it?"

"The satisfaction of a job well-done?" He grinned at the way she immediately bristled up. "Sorry. It's just so much fun to set you off."

"Listen, I don't trust you, Krycek and, quite frankly, I don't want to waste our time while you try to convince me I should. I want to know how much your help is going to cost me and if the end result is going to be worth the price."

"You're a terribly cynical person, aren't you?"

"Aren't you?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you? When, all this time, I'm actually quite a sentimentalist. You and Mulder managed to survive all the shit in the world being thrown at you and you managed to keep your integrity and your sugary ideals mostly intact. You did good work that needed to be done despite the costs to both of you. Then you fell stupidly, dangerously in love with each other and somehow managed to create Will, who, aside from the sheer miracle of his existence, happens to be a pretty great kid. I like to think all that hard work and dedication should be rewarded with something more than a pension from the Bureau and a bag full of piss that needs dumping twice a day."

"Gee, yeah, that's really sentimental, all right. Are Mulder and I the only good deeds on your to do list?"

"Well, I may try save a kitten or two, but, yeah, you guys are pretty much it."

"You don't want to use your powers for good? Cure kids with cancer, heal the lame, cast out a few demons?"

"Even if I wanted to, it doesn't work that way. I told you that."

She sighed heavily and stood up to pace around the deck. "Come on, Krycek," she said. "Don't draw this out, okay? I want him back. I'll give you anything I can, if I can give it to you without selling my soul. You want me to beg? Fine, I'm begging. Prove you can do what you say you can and I'll beg till my knees bleed. You want money? All I've got is a couple grand in the bank and a pitiful IRA, but it's all yours. You want my pull in the Bureau, I'll do what I can. If you want something from me, just tell me. But the last thing I need right now is for you to fuck with me. It's too much." She struggled to keep her voice steady, hating the idea of showing Krycek any weakness at all. "The only thing I can't do is bring Will into it. If that's what you're after, forget it. He's off limits."

"I don't want Will. This is a freebie, okay?" he said very gently.

"I can't accept that, not from you. You don't do freebies, you've always got some angle to play or some hidden agenda. I don't want to get it in the ass the minute I agree to this."

"We can't work together like that, Scully. You don't have to like me, but you have to trust me." Frustration replaced the gentle tone and he scowled at her.

She stood before him and fixed him with icy eyes. They looked at each other intently, one trying to convince, the other wanting to believe. Finally, she broke away from his stare and sat beside him.

"Okay, then, show me something solid. Let me talk to the guy you say your aunt cured. I need proof if I'm going to even try to believe you." She expected him to refuse outright and that would convince her she couldn't trust him. She half-hoped he might come up with some bullshit excuse why he couldn't and that would be another brick to stack against him and the temptation he was dangling in front of her.

"Russia's an 18 hour flight away. When can you be ready to leave?"

Her mouth dropped open and she stammered without really answering him.

"What? You want proof, proof's in Russia. That's what it's going to take, isn't it? For you to see it for yourself. It's going to take the whole Doubting Thomas act. So, come on. Grab your toothbrush and let's go. The longer we screw around debating the issue, the more damage Mulder racks up." He got up and headed for the kitchen door.

"I am not going to Russia with you."

"You won't believe me any other way, Scully. I know it even if you don't. So go home, call your mom and set it up. I'll book us a flight."

"You're crazy. This is crazy. I am not going to Russia," she repeated.

He walked back to her, grabbed her elbow and dragged her into the house, through the kitchen and to the front door. Tossing her purse to her, he said "I'll call you later. I have to set some other stuff up."

"Like what?"

"If you decide you want to do this, we'll need to get materials. And I want to talk to Anna, to run the whole thing by her."

"Is that your aunt?"

"Yes, actually."

Scully smiled a bit hesitantly. "You know, it would almost be worth a trip to Russia to see Alex Krycek, the dutiful nephew, paying a visit to his auntie."

"Fine, whatever it takes." And he shoved her out the door.

"So, I thought about what you said last night." Scully and Maggie were sitting in lawn chairs in Maggie's voluminous garden, watching Will dig in the little patch his grandmother had set aside for his own garden.

"Which part? I said quite a bit last night," Maggie said with a bit of chagrin.

"It's okay, Mom. You were right to tell me about Will missing me. But I was referring to spending a little less time holding Mulder's hand. I've lost sight of things a little lately and I need to try to get back a little perspective."

"That sounds like a good idea," Maggie said with a smile. "Any particular plans for that?"

"Actually," she went on more seriously, "I'm thinking about taking a little trip."

"Really?" Maggie sounded delighted. "By yourself?"

"Well, yes, I think that would be best. I want to spend a little time by myself, away from the hospital and away from my day-to-day life. I need to think about my future and Will's and what we both need."

"I think that would be wonderful for you, Dana. Where are you thinking about going?"

"I was considering somewhere overseas, really. Not for long, a week at the most." "
Overseas? Overseas where?"

Here we go, Scully thought, taking a deep breath. "Russia, actually. I'm thinking of doing some research over there, combining business with pleasure."

A look of suspicion settled onto Maggie's face. "Russia? What put that idea in your head? It's not something FBI, is it? You've got to consider Will, Dana, before you do anything."

"I know, Mom. It's nothing to do with the FBI. That's ancient history, you know that."

"Well, sometimes I think you miss it a little. The excitement and the challenge."

"And the bullets and the freaks and the, Mom, I do not miss the FBI."

"Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, what's in Russia that you want to research?"

"Just some medical stuff, alternative therapies, some interesting folklore. More out of curiosity than anything else."

"So nothing to do with brain injuries?" Maggie asked with an arched eyebrow.

"I didn't say that."

"Dana, do you think that's a good idea? What do you think you're going to find in Russia that you haven't found here?"

"Not everything I do is wrapped up in Mulder, Mom."

"Bullshit," Maggie barked and Scully burst into laughter. "Dana, you've never insulted my intelligence by lying to me. If you're going to Russia to check on something that you think might help Fox, then do it, but don't lie to me and don't lie to yourself."

"Can't we just leave it at research without going into a lot of nitpicky detail?"

"Fine. I can handle Will for a week, but a week at the most, okay? I don't want you getting obsessive in Russia. It's bad enough when you do it here."

"Thanks a lot, Mom. This means a lot to me." She gathered their things together and called Will.

"Come on, Farmer Mulder, it's time to go home."

"I want to stay at Grandma's for lunch."

"Not today, Hot Shot. We need to get home, Mom has some work to take care of. But, pretty soon, Grandma's going to come and stay at our house for a whole week. How's that sound?"

"Yea! She can come to all my games, right?"

"She wouldn't miss them."

An endless flight into Kiev and a half-day's drive through a vast rural stretch of the Ukraine drained Scully's energy so completely that she had almost forgotten who she was traveling with until their rented car slowed and turned off a country road onto a rutted gravel lane. She startled out of a doze at the first jolt, not recognizing her surroundings momentarily.

"It's okay. We're almost there," Krycek soothed.

"Mmmm, good." She yawned heavily and checked her watch, which was still registering Eastern Standard Time. "What time is it here?"

"Add eight hours. It's about four in the afternoon."

"What day is it?"

He laughed. "Thursday. Look, over there, that's my aunt's house." He pointed to their left, at a farmhouse framed by a stone wall and flanked by two other buildings.

"Is this still a farm? Or does she heal for a living?"

"Very funny. This is a wheat farm now, but it was a collective in the bad old days. She and my father's cousin bought it a few years ago."

"Is your father's cousin the one who had the stroke?"

"Yeah," he answered, his eyes intent on the winding track that seemed to be a major throughway for chickens. "I hate driving around here. Animals everywhere. And it's really bad karma to hit one."

They finally reached the turn into the front drive of the house. It wound around the side of the house and Scully found herself gaping at a newly washed, late model Ford pick-up truck parked next to a dark blue Mercedes sedan.

"Is there a lot of money in wheat farming these days? Or does your aunt share your...what did you call it? Moral flexibility?"

"You know, you can really be a bitch sometimes."

"Especially when I'm tired and in the Russian back woods with convicted felons."

The bickering would have continued but a shout from the south barn intervened. Krycek shouted back in Russian as he pulled into place beside the Mercedes and jumped out of the car to throw his arms around an older man with sparse white hair and still-dazzling green eyes.

"Dmitri Ayeshenkov, this is Dana Scully, the doctor I told you about," he said in English.

"I am happy to see you, Doctor. Aleksandr tell to me that you are teaching in America about head sickness, yes?" The man shook her hand heartily, then spoke to Krycek in Russian again. Scully looked at them pointedly and Krycek translated.

"He says Anna will be back from town very soon and her English is much better." Dmitri shook Scully's hand again, then herded both of them towards the house, he and Krycek conversing animatedly as they walked along. They entered the house through a door leading directly into a modernized kitchen. The smell of coffee and bread spoke directly to Scully's stomach and she realized she couldn't clearly recall when she'd last eaten. Dmitri bustled around setting out cups and plates for them, filling the cups and placing sliced bread and butter on the table. Scully sat down heavily and a grunting sigh escaped her. Krycek followed, lazily stretching his legs before him as he took a sip of the steaming, strong coffee. They ate well, finishing the first plate of bread and the second pile Dmitri offered.

Scully had just refilled her cup when they heard a car pull up outside the door. Krycek leapt up from his chair and hurried outside, Scully following more slowly. An elderly woman was lifting net bags full of produce out of the trunk of an ancient Austin-Morris, handing them to Krycek as they spoke in swift Russian. Scully estimated the woman's age to be eighty-five to ninety from her facial appearance alone. Her mobility didn't appear to be limited in any way and there were no signs of the skeletal or muscular deterioration Scully expected to see in someone that advanced in age.

Krycek and the woman went into the kitchen and he waved at Scully to come in as well. After setting down the various bags, the woman turned to Scully and looked her over appraisingly.

"So this is the American doctor you brought to see my son, is it, Alex?" the woman asked in English. "She does not believe you, so she had to come all this way to look at a farmer?"

"She doesn't believe easily, Aunt."

"She doesn't believe you, that's clear. I'm a stranger to you, Dr. Scully, and Alex you know. Why would you believe me if you don't believe him?"

Scully looked at Krycek, wondering how much of their story he had shared with the woman. He returned her look blandly, clearly not caring what she said or how many of his secrets she let out.

"Krycek...Alex and I have some bad history between us. We don't believe in the same things or have the same values. It makes me cautious about trusting him."

"But you came halfway around the world with him. Why do that if you don't trust him?"

"He says he can make my...friend better, that he can cure him of his injuries. I would travel more than halfway around the world for that. If you can prove to me that he is telling the truth, I'll believe him and ask him to help me."

"What will prove it to you? Here is Dmitri, alive and walking and talking. Does that prove anything to you?"

"Krycek tells me Dmitri had a stroke several years ago, that he was paralyzed and couldn't speak. He tells me that you healed him, with a ring. I don't see how that can be possible, but I've seen many inexplicable things in my life. I want to believe that this can be true and that my friend can be healed."

"I cannot promise that it will happen. What Alex wants to do doesn't always work. There are many barriers between people and it is hard to break through them all." She waved her hand suddenly as if clearing the air. "Bah, I'm tired. It's the end of the day, I want to have my tea and sit for a while. We can talk more later. You should rest, Alex, Dr. Scully. Dmitri," she said, suddenly switching to Russian, "take them to their rooms."

Anna sat down at the kitchen table, filling another cup with tea and picking up a slice of bread. Scully and Krycek followed Dmitri up a dark, steep staircase and into a long, dimly lit hallway. The walls of the hall were lined with photos and Scully paused frequently to look at the faces. Many of them carried obvious resemblances to Krycek, the dark, wavy hair and bright green eyes repeated over and over. She stopped in front of one photo that showed a group of young men, five in all, and two who were identical twins to Krycek.

"My father and his brother, Stefan," Krycek offered. "And their cousins, Dmitri, Aleksandr and Josef."

"Quite a family."

Dmitri stopped in front of one room and indicated that this was for Scully. He said something in Russian to Krycek, who laughed, then turned to Scully to translate.

"He says he's putting you farthest from the stairs so all the men from the pub will have to fight through him and me to get at you. They don't get a lot of redheads around here and he says rumours are flying around town about you."

"Tell him I said thanks," she said dryly and stepped into the room. She put her head out again immediately, before she lost track of Krycek. "When do you think your aunt will be ready to talk again?"

"I don't know. Get some rest and I'll come get you when it's time for supper. We can talk more then." He broke off with a yawn and Scully realized that he looked exhausted. It forced her to consider how she must look as well.

"Okay. You rest, too. You look like shit."

He laughed aloud again and translated for Dmitri this time, who broke into laughter himself. Krycek stepped into a room on opposite to and one closer to the stairs then Scully's and closed the door. Dmitri gave Scully an energetic slap on the shoulder, then walked back down the hall to the stairs. She listened to his steps briefly, then heard a conversation start up in Russian from the kitchen below. With a mighty yawn, she turned into her room, lay down on the bed without glancing at her surroundings and was asleep in two minutes.

A gentle tap on her door woke her two hours later. She rolled off the bed and opened the door.

"Anna is ready to talk and dinner will be ready soon," Krycek said. He had showered and shaved and she grimaced, thinking how grubby she must look. He must have followed her thoughts because he came into the room and crossed to a bulky armoire near the window. He rummaged through it, pulling out a washcloth and several heavy towels.

"Here, get yourself cleaned up. You'll feel better. Shower's the second door on the right of the stairs." He tossed the towels on the bed and walked out the door.

"Wait a minute," she called. "Where are my bags? I'm going to want clean clothes pretty soon."

"I'll bring them up. Go ahead, I'll leave them by the shower door." He walked away again and she heard him going down the stairs. She picked up the towels and found the shower, which Krycek hadn't told her was a shower and nothing more. No toilet, no sink, just a room with a tile-enclosed shower, an old wooden bench and a cupboard made of darker wood. She smiled to herself, enjoying the old thrill of discovery she remembered feeling as the Scullys had moved around the world. She figured out the taps and got the water to her liking, letting the stiffness and grime of heavy travel soak away. When she heard a soft thump outside the door, she wrapped one of the towels around her and peered out into the hallway. Her carry-on bag and duffel were stacked there and she stepped into the hall to search out her toiletry kit and a change of clothes.

Twenty minutes later, she appeared in the kitchen downstairs, wearing worn jeans and a weathered sweatshirt Krycek recognized as Mulder's, her damp and waving hair clipped back. The kitchen had acquired a tantalizing collection of smells since she'd gone upstairs and the table was set for a meal. Anna and Dmitri rose when she came in and, at a sharp word from the old woman, Krycek got lazily to his feet as well.

"Apparently you merit guest status and I don't anymore," he said as he sat back down. "You hungry or do you want to talk first?"

"Both, if we can. I'm starving," she answered as she took her own seat, followed by Anna and then Dmitri.

"You should eat or talk," the old woman said chidingly. "You can't do right by either one if you mix them up." She rang a small bell by her plate and a young woman who looked to be in her late teens appeared at the table with a platter of roasted meat. She went back and forth to the cooking area bringing dish after dish until the long, planked table was practically covered with an enticing multitude of foods. When the girl had finished, she gave an abbreviated curtsey and then sat in the chair at the end of the table nearest the cooking area. "Thank you, Fyenna," Anna said, then introduced Scully to the young woman who served as cook and server to the family and farm employees. Anna poured strong tea for each of them and smiled when Scully exclaimed over the lovely fragility of the porcelain cups. "They are very old, 18th century Cevres. I found them in a shop in Paris after the war."

"World War Two?" Scully asked.

"Of course, Dr. I am quite old but I'm not as old as all that."

Scully blushed and threw a glare at Krycek's laughing face. "My apologies, Mrs. Ayeshenkov."

"You may call me Anna, Dr. Scully, if you like." Anna and Scully conversed throughout the meal in English about the different places they had visited while Krycek and Dmitri fell into a Russian discussion about what had to be a sport of some kind, given the animated gestures and passionate voices of the two men. Scully found herself watching this unfamiliar Krycek, who was quick to laugh boyishly and whose smile lacked the chill of his trademark smirk.

"This is a new Aleksandr to you, yes, Dr. Scully?" Anna asked at one point.

Scully turned away from watching Krycek and Dmitri to meet Anna's gaze. "I don't think I've ever seen him at ease before," she answered in a muted voice, hoping Krycek wasn't listening. "I've never seen him in his own environment. He looks...comfortable."

"He should be comfortable here, this is his home."

"I didn't know he had any place he called home."

Anna stood up abruptly. "Come outside with me, Dr. I want you to see our farm with the trees in their blossoms. It's not like something you will see in America."

Scully arched her eyebrow, but rose and followed. Krycek and Dmitri stood up, surprised at their sudden move.

"Sit, sit. I want to show Dr. Scully the orchard. Finish eating and playing the World Cup over again on my dinner table."

They walked about a quarter mile to the rear of the house and Scully gasped as they crested a slight hill. She had seen the DC cherry trees in blossom for years and had always thought the sight had to be the loveliest thing on the planet, but the Ayeshenkov apple orchard was dazzling beyond anything she had ever experienced. Anna led her to a bench set just off the path that wound through the banks of trees, bride-like in their white and pink flowers and bewitching in their heady fragrance. They sat for long minutes while Scully looked and smelled and tried to etch the aching loveliness of the scene into her memory. Finally, Anna broke the stillness, sighing as she did.

"You said that you didn't know Aleksandr had a place to call home, yes? You know him that well?"

Scully thought over Anna's question. Did she know Krycek well? She felt like she didn't know him at all. "I only know what Krycek...Alex wants me to know, I think. He has never told me anything about his life here."

"Alex never knew he had a home here. I don't know all about his life in America, I don't think I want to know much about it."

Scully smiled bitterly. "You probably don't."

"Alex has told me some of it. I know he has hurt you in the past. He has hurt many people, I think, either in their bodies or in their souls. It's the way of people, when we are hurt, we want to hurt others, too. And Alex hurt very much for a very long time."

"You can't excuse some of the things he's done, Anna."

"It's not for me to excuse Alex. He has his own conscience to answer to, he doesn't need to answer to me as well. No, I only need to know if it's possible for you to come to trust him. It's easy for anyone to see that you don't. And what he wants to do for your friend, it won't work without trust between you and Alex."

"What does he want to do? Can you explain that to me?"

"Will it make it easier for you to trust Alex if I tell you?"

"I don't know. It might. I don't understand what he wants to do and I don't know why he wants to do it. The Alex Krycek that I knew many years ago would never have helped Mulder..."

"Mulder? Is Mulder your friend that Alex wants to heal?"

"Yes, he's...much more than my friend. He's..."

"Stop. I know what he is to you. It's on your face, you have one of those Irish faces that can't hide anything."

"I know," Scully said ruefully.

"This Mulder, his name is Fox?"

Scully gave Anna a peculiar look. "Yes, it is. How do you know that?"

"He worked with Alex in America."

"Alex says he did. I don't know about that. Mulder and I were apart when Alex claims they were working together."

"You can believe Alex about that. I know a few things about Fox Mulder that Alex told me. I know they were partners for some little time, working to stop a group of men who would have done much evil in the world." Anna looked gravely at Scully. It looked as though the older woman was carefully considering what her next words should be.

Scully's impatience took over before Anna could go on. "Anna, can Alex cure Mulder? Can he do what he says he can do?"

Anna took several moments to answer. "I only know that he should be able to. He has never used this gift, but I'm sure he has it."

"Will it hurt Mulder if we try it and it doesn't work?"

"No, but it will hurt you if you hope for him to get well and he doesn't."

"Tell me what we would have to do. Alex said we needed to make something that Mulder can wear, that can carry whatever needs to go to him."

"Yes, that's part of it. Come back inside now, it's getting too dark to see the trees anymore and we can still smell them from the house." They rose from the bench.

When they got back to the house, they found the table cleared of their dishes. Anna left the room and came back quickly with a stack of papers.

"These are Dmitri's medical records, from when he was ill. I had Aleksandr translate them for you," she explained to Scully. "You can look them over while I talk to my nephew for a minute or two."

She caught Alex's eye from where he stood at the sink washing dishes and he immediately began drying his hands. They left the room together, leaving Scully to read until she heard heated voices. Dmitri had been sitting at the table reading a newspaper while Scully studied his records, but on hearing the growing argument, he rose, left the kitchen and joined Anna and Alex in the next room. With the door now open, Scully could hear more clearly and began to pick up on words that were being repeated. After several attempts at soothing the other two, Dmitri spoke loudly over Anna's sharp voice and Krycek's fiery tenor. The room was awkwardly quiet for a moment, then Krycek's voice burst out in English.

"Enough! Lisa never knew about it for a damned good reason. And it doesn't matter anymore."

Anna's voice, much softer, broke in and Scully could hear the name Lisa among the Russian words.

"No, I won't have her told. We'll do it this way. It will work."

Scully, realizing she was shamelessly eavesdropping, put her nose back into the medical papers still strewn across the table and was pointedly studying them when Anna and Dmitri came back into the kitchen.

"Leave those for now," Anna said. "We should talk before we sleep."

Alex came in then, his face freshly washed and his hair damp again, and took a seat across from Scully and next to Anna. Dmitri sat beside Scully. Nothing was said about the vocal exchange that had just taken place.

"So, Dr. Scully. You want to know about this gift we Kryshenkovs have," Anna began. She reached across to Dmitri and pulled a thin gold chain out of his shirt. It held a gold ring with a small red stone set in it. Dmitri made to pull it off his neck, but Anna stopped him.

"No, keep it on, Dmitri. You know better." This was said in Russian, then Anna switched to English for Scully's benefit. "This ring, I made it three years ago, when Dmitri had his stroke. It took me five weeks to find the material and do the work."

Scully held the ring in her hand, admiring its simple and graceful beauty. "What is the red stone?"

"It's called carnelian. It's a form of chalcedony, quartz. I put this ring on Dmitri's finger two months after his stroke. He couldn't walk and his speech was unintelligible. And he got better."

"How long did it take to correct the damage from the stroke?"

"He was better in one month. He was completely healed in six."

"How does this healing work? Does it reverse damage or renew injured tissue?"

"I don't know. I only know that Dmitri's brain is no longer damaged and that his blood vessels are no longer blocked."

"Alex said there is an emotional component involved in the process. How does that work?"

"Dr. Scully, this is not medicine. I cannot give you the organic make-up of my love for my son and explain how it made the dead cells come back to life. There are not chemicals in your feeling for Mulder that will mix with electricity from Alex. The only thing I can tell you is that if your tie to Fox Mulder is as strong as Alex thinks it is, you and he should be able to heal him."

"Alex, will the past ... the animosity you had for each other for so long, will it keep this from working?"

Anna began to speak, but Krycek, with a brutal gesture, silenced her. Scully looked across the table at him, shocked by his intensity, but he was looking at his aunt with a fierce scowl. They spoke together in heated Russian for a minute, but neither translated for Scully when they finished. Anna looked angry, Alex determined and Dmitri unhappy.

"Fine," Anna said. "Dr. Scully, do you want to try this? I can't promise it will work, but Mulder will be no worse off than he was before if it doesn't. And Alex's feelings for Mulder will be of no consequence." She said this last rather brittlely and shot a dirty look at Krycek.

"I have a few more questions and then I'd like to go to bed and sleep on it," Scully said quietly. She resented not being told what had passed between them.

"Ask your questions, then," said Anna.

"What type of materials do we need and where do we get them? And what is the exact nature of the procedure?"

"Gold is universal in healing-- all the times I've seen the healing done, gold has been the base material. Sometimes gold is enough, other times there is another problem or a second injury that blocks the healing and another material is used to strengthen the gold and send the healing where it is needed."

"I don't understand that. How can things like the stone in Dmitri's ring operate that way?"

Anna considered her answer to Scully's question for a short time. "If a patient of yours is sick with pneumonia, you give antibiotics, yes? But not the same kind of antibiotics you give to a patient with an infected ear. The ear and the lungs are different, and the bacteria making the sickness is different. So the patients, they need different medicines. So with the healing. Where it goes and what it needs to do tells us what kind of material to use."

"What does the carnelian do, then?"

"We say it purifies the blood, washes away those things that make blood thicken and the vessels weak."

"Would gold be enough for Mulder?"

"Alex should answer that question," Anna replied with a slight challenge in her voice. "I want to be sure he understands what needs to be done."

"Hang on a minute, I need some things from upstairs," Krycek said. When he returned, he was carrying papers tucked into a manila folder. He was also wearing his glasses again and Anna commented on them, saying he hadn't needed them during his last visit.

"What can I say, it sucks to get old," he said with a warm smile for his aged relative. "How about you fix my eyes for me like you fixed Dmitri?"

"That won't work and you know it, 'Sandr. Now what are these papers you are squinting over?"

"Copies of Mulder's medical records, the ones from the hospital where he was first treated and from the hospital he's in now." Krycek sat down and spread the papers on the table so that Anna and Scully could see them, Dmitri having excused himself from the discussion and retiring to his room.

"I need Scully to explain some of it to me first. I want to be sure I understand all of it." Scully picked up the initial neurology reports from the day Mulder had been injured and walked Alex and Anna through the descriptions of the initial damage, with Alex translating if Anna felt the English version wasn't as clear as she wanted. Scully went into details about the subsequent treatments and further potential for damage caused by prolonged unconsciousness and ended by giving a minute description of Mulder's current state.

"So, now, Mulder, his brain is not receiving signals from his body at all or only a little bit?" Anna asked when Scully had finished and Alex had done the last translation.

"Not as far as we can tell. Mulder has no voluntary control over any part of his body. He blinks sporadically, but we have to put drops in his eyes and tape them sometimes to keep them moist. He doesn't swallow mechanically, so we sort of massage his throat to stimulate the response and we can get a fairly soft diet in him that way. It keeps us from having to insert a feeding tube and dealing with all the complications that causes, although as his systems deteriorate, we'll probably have to put one in."

"But he isn't being kept alive, is he? No breathing help?"

"No, he breathes independently."

Alex studied the notes he had taken during Scully's dissertation and he and Anna spoke together for a few minutes. At length, he took off his glasses and leaned back in his chair, rolling his neck from side to side to ease the tension that had built up during the evening.

"Okay, Anna will tell me if I'm wrong, but here's my spin on this. The right type of gold should be able to restore the damaged brain tissue, whether it's regeneration or recovery. The sole deficit he has, the one that's keeping him in the coma, is the head injury from the blunt trauma, right?" he asked Scully.

"Right, we checked him very thoroughly for any other problems, given his medical history," she answered with a tight smile.

"I need to know absolutely. There's nothing held over from when he was sick, back in '99? Or chronic problems from the Network fiasco?"

"No, he's fine. He was fine. The system deterioration hasn't really become pervasive yet. There's some damage to his kidneys from the constant catheterization. The muscular atrophy can be addressed with therapy after he's awake."

"If he wakes up," Anna interjected gently. "Remember that, Dr. Scully."

"I know," she replied sharply. "Go ahead, Alex."

He gave her a quizzical look, but continued. "I think the gold will be sufficient if there are no other problems that need to be dealt with. I want to acquire it here, where I can be sure the purity is what it needs to be and Anna can back me up. And I think we should pick up a couple of tag-alongs, just in case anything else comes up."

"Tag-alongs?" Scully and Anna asked simultaneously.

Krycek said, "That's my term, in English, for something like the stone in Dmitri's ring. A secondary material, to treat any contingent problems. Like a piece of limestone to aid the kidney function or calcite to strengthen the muscle tissue."

"Very good, Alex, you were paying attention all that time, eh?" Anna said approvingly.

"A true wise man never stops learning, to paraphrase Michelangelo," he said glibly and gave Scully a wink when she choked on her tea.

"So, Dr., you want to sleep on it. I want to sleep as well, so I will bid you goodnight. Alex, please lock up the house before you go to bed." Anna rose smoothly and walked to the door, pausing before she left the room. "You and Alex finish talking. Have another cup of tea or there is stronger to drink in the cupboard over the stove. Goodnight, Dr. Scully, goodnight, 'Sandr." She stood beside Krycek for a moment, murmuring in his ear in Russian, then patted his broad shoulder and left the kitchen. They heard her footsteps on the stairs immediately, then the creak of the hallway floor above their heads and the soft click of a door opening and closing. Alex went straight to the cupboard Anna had mentioned and pulled down a bottle of whiskey.

"You want one?" he offered as he pulled open another cupboard to search for a glass.

"Sure, why not?"

He poured two healthy glasses of the liquor and Scully poured both of them more tea. They sat silently, Scully sipping alternately at the burning alcohol and the soothing, honey-laden tea. She tried to focus on all she had learned that evening about the treatment Alex had described, but found her mind returning relentlessly back to the argument between Alex and Anna.

Krycek, meanwhile, ignored the tea entirely and was staring moodily into his glass of whiskey when he wasn't gulping it down. He finished his drink before Scully had taken a quarter of hers and went back to the cupboard for another. She watched him walk across the expansive kitchen and felt certain that something besides fatigue was wearing heavily on him, stooping his shoulders and slowing his step. He came back with his drink and was about to sit down when he muttered, "Fuck it," and went back to bring the bottle to the table.

"Well, Dr. Scully, if you've got any more questions for me tonight, you better get 'em in quick. I plan on being completely shit-faced in about ten minutes."

She watched him toss back half the glass and wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. He got up from the table again and left the room, coming back in with his jacket and a cigarette pack.

"I thought you didn't really smoke?"

"Only when I'm getting drunk," he smiled in the familiar cold way. "I like to lump all my vices together." He offered the pack to her, but she shook her head.

"I'm not getting drunk tonight," she said bluntly.

"Good, then you can put me to bed after I pass out." He lit the cigarette, then headed over to the door that led out to the yard. He leaned against the jamb, smoking silently and Scully felt she had become invisible and irrelevant. He lit a second cigarette from the ember of the first, and she decided not to wait to continue their discussion.

"Alex," she began, but his bark of laughter cut her off. "What?"

"You, calling me 'Alex'. It just sounds so damn funny. It sounds like we're buddies now, Daaana." He drawled the 'day' sound out mockingly and it grated against her.

"I wouldn't say we were buddies, so if you prefer 'Kryyycek', I'll be happy to oblige," she retorted as snottily as if she were twelve.

He snorted in laughter again. "Be useful for a minute and get me my glass, would you?" he asked.

"Fine, Souse." She got it from the table and handed it over, thinking a few more drinks would probably get her answers to some long-standing questions. He must have followed her thoughts, because he shot down the rest of the liquid and handed it to her with a crooked smile.

"Could I get a refill? And, in case you were wondering, booze doesn't make me get all cozy and confessional. I just get quiet and mean."

It was her turn to snort, but she took the glass anyway and filled it from the bottle on the table. She handed it to him and he took a long swallow, holding the glass with the same hand that held his cigarette. His other hand, the one that had been cut off, was held limply at his side. He saw that she was looking there and flushed.

"I know, it's a habit. Sometimes I really don't remember that it's there. It's like the opposite of phantom pain." He laughed lightly, almost a giggle. "Maybe I'll call it Phantom Stump Syndrome. You can write about it in one of your brainiac journals."

Scully bit her lip to keep from smiling at his almost-slurring voice. A drunk Alex Krycek should be quite interesting, she thought.

He tossed the second cigarette stub into the yard and headed back to the table. His gait was steady, but she could tell by the glassy look to his eyes that the liquor was settling in nicely. He poured his fourth drink and knocked back half of it, using his hand as a napkin again.

"So is now a good time to ask you questions, Aaalex?" she teased.

He met her gaze a bit blearily and smiled sloppily. "Not about anything requiring a lot of thought."

"Well, then, I guess my first question is, how much thought does Lisa require?"

He froze with his glass at his mouth and met her eyes over the rim. He broke the gaze and said in a dark tone, "You don't want to go asking questions about Lisa, Scully, I promise you that." Sparks of rage replaced the glassy look in his eyes, but she refused to let him intimidate her.

"Touchy subject, I can tell, but what does she have to do with Mulder?"

He looked stunned for a moment, then laughed loud and long and soon there were tears streaming down his cheeks. When he was able, he said "That is just fucking priceless. What does Lisa have to do with Mulder? Lisa and Mulder...well, fuck me, that is the perfect question."

"God dammit, Krycek, answer me. Who is she?"

"'Who is she?' the good doctor asks innocently. Well, I guess you could say Lisa is...Lisa is the bane of my existence. Lisa has sent me to heaven and hell and back again more times than I can count. And Lisa is nothing to Mulder."

"Was she someone you love?"

Another burst of laughter and Krycek nodded. "Yes, that's what Lisa is. Someone I love. Who, unfortunately for me, doesn't exist anymore."

Scully hesitated before asking the obvious question. "Is she dead?"

"Is Lisa dead? Lisa is dead to everyone in the world except me. But that's probably because Lisa only existed for me. And now there is no Lisa. And the only other person who knew the Lisa I knew would deny that there ever was a Lisa."

"Christ, Alex, how drunk are you?" Scully asked indignantly. "You're talking gibberish."

"I'm pretty well ripped. And I'm going to get drunker before the night is over. Care to join me, Daaana? I'd like to see you drunk once, just to see if anything can shake you loose."

"You never answered my question."

"About Lisa? Sure I did. Lisa is nothing to Mulder. And nothing for you to worry your pretty head about."

"You're being incredibly obnoxious."

"I know. I'm trying to piss you off."

"It's working," and she poured a little more whiskey into her own glass. "Why do you want to piss me off, Kryyyycek?"

"God, why wouldn't I? You're so smooth and unruffled. You're passionless and practical." He looked at her appraisingly, then, with a wicked grin, asked "I'll bet you've never come in your life, have you?"

After a moment's shocked speechlessness, she screeched, "You son-of-a-bitch..."

"That's better. See how fun it is to feel passionate about something, Agent Scully?"

"What the hell is the matter with you?"

"You're the matter with me," he snarled, suddenly leaning across the table to glare into her face. "You're everything that's the matter with me." He slammed the now-empty glass down and it shattered on the table, cutting his hand. "You talk about the damage done to Mulder, to that beautiful, dazzling mind of his, so calmly and rationally, like it wasn't worth the breath in your body to bring him back. You look at me like I'm filth because of things I've done but I've never betrayed anyone I loved the way you did. And you never had to pay for that the way I've had to pay for my sins. And that pisses me off beyond belief." He slammed his still-bleeding hand on the table in front of her and she jumped back, sure his next strike would be at her. Instead, he pushed back from the table, knocking the chair over as he stalked to the door again, slinging his jacket on and slamming the door as he walked out.

Scully was awakened the next morning by Anna calling gently through the door. She tossed on her robe and called the older woman in.

"Dr. Scully, I'm sorry to wake you , but do you know where Aleksandr is?"

"No, Anna, I'm sorry, I don't."

"Did he go somewhere last night? His bed is not slept in."

Scully looked down as memories of Krycek's anger came back. "He left the house around midnight. I don't know if he came back or not."

"He left? Where did he go?"

"I don't know. He...he was angry and he'd been drinking quite a bit. Are the cars all here?"

"I haven't checked yet," Anna replied and she moved to the door.

"Wait, I'll get dressed and go with you." Scully grabbed her sweats from the night before and pulled them over her pajamas. Then she and Anna went down to the kitchen and out the door to the yard. The cars and pick-up were in their same spots but a pair of feet in Reeboks hung off the bed of the truck. Anna frowned and she and Scully stepped over to peer in. Krycek lay sprawled, sleeping heavily and snoring loudly. Scully bit back a giggle as Anna gently shook him. He jerked awake immediately and sat up, then groaned and fell back. Anna spoke to him briefly, then said to Scully, "He'll go back to sleep once he's in a proper bed. Help me with him."

They each grabbed one of his hands and pulled Krycek back to sitting. He yanked free of them and buried his head in his lap, wrapping his hands around the back of his neck and groaning again.

"Come, Alex," Anna coaxed. "You go to bed inside. You'll fell better in your own bed."

He pulled his head up and scooted off the truck, grunting painfully when his feet jarred onto the ground. He took about a dozen steps, then suddenly turned away from the two women and vomited into a convenient flower bed.

"Well, that was charming," Scully commented when he was done.

"Fuck off," he croaked without looking at her.

When they got into the kitchen he stepped to the sink and drank greedily from the tap, then cupped water in his hands and scrubbed at his stubbled, pasty face. Without a word, he left the kitchen and climbed the stairs. Anna and Scully stayed behind, listening to Alex's door close then his shoes hitting the floor.

"We'll let him sleep till lunch time. He should feel better by then," Anna said as she began setting breakfast items on the table.

"Sit, Dr. Scully. Would you like tea or coffee?"

"Tea, please, Anna, but let me help," and Scully moved to the cooking area, filling the kettle while Anna pulled cups and saucers from a shelf.

"Where is Fyenna today?" she asked.

"She comes at 10:00, after breakfast. We get our own usually. With a guest in the house, I make a little more special then for just Dmitri and I."

"I don't really eat much at breakfast," Scully interjected. "Just make what Alex will eat later. And if there's any bread left from yesterday, I'll have toast."

Anna finished making tea and she and Scully sat down at the table. They sipped in a comfortable quiet for some minutes until Anna spoke up.

"So, Aleksandr was drinking last night, yes? Whiskey?"

"Yes, lots of whiskey."

"I thought maybe you and he might talk a little more. About Mulder and the healing."

"No, he started right after you left us."

"Was he still angry after I left?"

Scully thought for a moment, then answered, "Not at first. I think he was unhappy or upset about...well, about whatever you and he were discussing last night."

"Yes, he was unhappy about that."

"May I ask an impertinent question, Anna?"

The old woman nodded and Scully plunged in.

"Who is Lisa? Alex wouldn't tell me much, but I can see she has something to do with Mulder and Alex. And I need to know what."

Anna's eyes widened in surprise and she set her cup down abruptly. "What did Aleksandr say about Lisa?"

"Nothing I could understand. He said he had loved her but that she was gone and that she had nothing to do with Mulder."

"You can believe what Alex tells you about...about Lisa. He would never lie about that."

Scully set her tea down and rose form her chair, pacing the length of the kitchen. "I don't know what to think about Alex anymore, Anna. The man I see here, with you, is vastly different from the ruthless, brutal man I've known for so long. Alex Krycek was vicious and cruel. He killed people, Anna, and..."

"Stop," Anna barked sharply. "Dr. Scully, it is for Alex to tell me or not about his past, not you." She fixed Scully with a stern gaze, then continued. "I know he was different when you first knew him. But he is also different now. The Aleksandr that came to me five years ago, that man was not vicious or ruthless. He was broken and in pain and he needed to be healed as much as your friend Mulder, maybe even more than that."

"His arm..."

"Pah, not his body, Dr. Scully. The heart and the mind and the soul can suffer, you know that. Alex was hurt in them all. He had lost...he had lost everything that kept him sane. I think he came here, to his family's home, to die. I know he wanted no more of this world when Dmitri and I found him."

"Because of Lisa? Did she die? Or did she hurt him?"

"Lisa is only part of what happened to Alex. I don't know all of it, each person knows his own story best, but I can tell some of Alex's, and you should know some of it." Anna said. "Please, sit down. I think it will help in understanding Alex and that may help in trusting."

Scully returned to her seat at the table and Anna freshened both cups of tea before she began telling the story. "You know Alex was born in America, yes?"

"Yes, in Ohio."

"Yes. His father, Mikhail, was my nephew. After he married Ivana, Alex's mother, they left to live in Czechoslovakia. Mikhail wanted to get out from under the Soviets, but they were pushing into Czechoslovakia soon after they got there and so he and Ivana slipped away, first to France and then to the States. And Aleksandr was born soon after. Mikhail kept in touch some, but it wasn't very safe to write many letters back then. He told us, though, when each baby was born and he told me, in particular, if any of them showed signs of the healing gift. He didn't see it in Aleksandr - I'm sorry to say Mikhail was not very observant or terribly bright. But he said both girls, Elena and Elisaveta, were promising. So we went on like that, letters here and there. I have one from Ivana, with a picture of Aleksandr graduating from high school. She was so proud of him, of his brains and his music. I started getting fewer and fewer letters the next years. I knew Elena, the older daughter, was giving Ivana and Mikhail worry, with boys and drugs. I didn't know how bad things were until 1987, when the first terrible thing happened." Anna drank deeply from her cooling tea and nodded when Scully offered to warm it.

"I got a phone call from Ivana, the first ever. She said that Elisaveta was dead and that Elena had killed her and then tried to kill herself. Elena was in the hospital, not just for her injuries but because she was so unstable. No one ever figured out what happened to her, why she went so crazy. Ivana thought it was the drugs. And I know that many of those with the power to give life don't have the same hesitation about taking life as others." Anna paused with a weary sigh, then went on.

"So, Aleksandr went back to work in Washington and Elena, after her wounds healed, was sent away to a prison for mental patients. But then, 6 months after Elisaveta's death, we got news that Mikhail was dead, that he had been murdered horribly. Alex quit his job in Washington, then. I think he tried to find Mikhail's killer. After that, we didn't hear anymore from America. I sent a few letters to Ivana, but she never answered them and then the letters came back. We lost all track of them, Ivana and Alex and Elena until about four years ago."

"2004," Scully put in. "When Alex says he came here."

"Yes. He came to Russia, whether to hide or to see his family's home, I don't know. I only know one day there was a man asleep in the woods by the far field who looked like the ghost of Stefan and Mikhail. He was covered in bruises and dry blood and Dmitri half-carried him up to the house. He said he'd been in a bar fight, over a game of darts."

"That sounds like the Alex I know," Scully said.

Anna gave a small smile, then went on. "He didn't tell us much about himself. I learned that Ivana was dead, too. She killed herself not long after Mikhail's death. So Aleksandr was quite alone. Elena is still in the prison, but he never sees her. He said that he wanted to go somewhere quiet and away from too many people. So he stayed here. He farmed with Dmitri and played darts in the pub in town and eventually he told me about Lisa."

"What about her?"

"I can't tell you much, Alex wouldn't want that. But I can tell you that he loved Lisa and I'm certain Lisa loved him. But Lisa left him to go back to someone else. And that took the last bit of peace out of Aleksandr's soul. He came to us broken, Dr. Scully."

"And you made him whole? You healed him?"

Anna looked at Scully in surprise. "I couldn't heal him, Dr. Scully. I love him dearly, but the healing doesn't go to the heart or the mind. Aleksandr's heart, I think, is still broken from losing so many parts of him. His sisters, he loved them dearly and both are gone even if both aren't dead. Ivana and Mikhail, maybe he didn't love them the way he did Elena and Elisaveta, but they were family and he is ...I call it clannish, the tie to people of your blood that goes past your like or dislike of them. And losing Lisa, that blow to Aleksandr was probably the worst because he wasn't expecting to find that with anyone. Even his career, he worked so hard and did so well, and then he left it behind. I don't know why, he's never told me, but I can hear the longing for good work in his voice when we talk about the days he was in Washington."

"Anna, why are you telling me this? I may not know Alex terribly well, but I know he doesn't want my pity. And he knows my pity won't earn my trust."

"I am not telling you so you will pity Alex. You think he is cruel but he is merely numb. From all the pain he felt for so long. Like the arm-yes, he told me about Tunguska-the stump goes numb after a while. Under that, he is the same man he was before he lost so much. He is not perfect, he never was. But a base material will always show its quality. And Alex is not cruel. He does not take pleasure from another's pain. He does not hurt people out of hatred or anger."

"I'm sorry, Anna, but you are telling me something I cannot believe. Alex Krycek hurt me terribly and he hurt Mulder almost beyond what he could bear. I don't know if I can set those things aside in order to trust him and work with him."

"Then Mulder will not heal, no matter what Alex does." Anna rose from the table, turning to leave the room and froze at the sight of Alex leaning casually against the door. He had changed from his sleep-rumpled clothes into sweatpants and a tee and his feet were bare. He spoke briefly to Anna, then mockingly bowed to her. She bit out an answer and left the room. Scully stayed in her seat and, when he turned back to her, met his cold gaze calmly.

He walked into the kitchen and poured himself tea from the pot on the stove, then sat down across from Scully and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on another chair. He regarded her, drinking her tea and still meeting his eyes, for some time before he spoke.

"So, you were supposed to put me to bed last night," he said lightly. When she didn't answer, he went on. "Anna's been a bit indiscreet this morning, hasn't she?"

Scully nodded over her cup, but she still didn't answer and the silence between them soon grew awkward. Alex finally said, "Listen, I didn't want Anna to tell you that, about my family." He looked into his cup sullenly as he went on. "My family was fucked up and I didn't realize it until too late. But I'm not playing the 'screwed up childhood' card. I am what I've made myself and nobody else had anything to do with it. It's always been there, I've always had it in me to be..."

"Krycek," she said bluntly, "instead of Aleksandr."

"To be ruthless and ...resourceful. If things had been different, if Mikhail and Ivana had been different, my resourcefulness might not have gone beyond some serious politicking at the State Department to score good assignments. As things turned out, my talents were...directed otherwise."

"Like killing Bill Mulder? Duane Barry? Melissa?"

"I didn't kill Melissa, you know that."

"You were there," she spat at him. "And you killed Mulder's father."

"I did-that was just about the best day's work I ever did." He made a chopping motion across his chest. "I'm not wasting time defending myself to you. You know what I've done, what I'm capable of. You have to ask yourself if it matters now, if your moral standards are so high that they matter more than Mulder and getting him well."

"You're asking me to ignore the fact that you kill people for a living."

"I don't kill people for a living. I'm an orderly in a hospital."

"But you were something else entirely before..."

"I've been a lot of things before. Now I'm the person who can help Mulder."

"How can I believe you? You could get resourceful and ruthless on me and leave me chasing a trail of bodies again."

"Before...before I was Krycek, when I was still Aleksandr, I had to make a choice. I chose to solve a problem and I accepted the consequences of that choice. It's led me down some damn scary alleys and into more circles of hell than your pure ideals and virtuous ways can even conceive of. But I did the right thing and I'd do it again if I had to. Now I'm choosing to make Mulder well. I want to do that, to give him back what he wanted so badly, what...what he deserves. And you can work with me or walk away from me, but you've got to choose. I killed people, so have you. You made that choice when you signed on with the Hoover family. I don't kill people anymore and neither do you. So choose. Believe me and work with me or keep thinking I'm a psycho who kills for kicks and leave Mulder to mold away. Up to you." He got up and put his cup in the sink, then walked to the door. "Let me know what you decide."

She sat at the table alone, her mind whirling miserably. Trust Alex Krycek, self-confessed breaker of knee-caps and destroyer of souls. Who was gentle and kind to injured people and respected and liked by some of the best medical personnel in the country. Join his bloody hand to hers and try to enact a fairy tale to bring Mulder back to her. Leave Russia, go back to Maryland and sit by his bed week after week, watching him wither and decay until the day came when his heart gave up trying and he was more gone than he was now. Tell Will there was nothing they could do to help his father and choke on the lie or tell him that she had tried everything, even tossing in her lot with his father's mortal enemy in order to bring Mulder home. Go to bed each night with an aching belly and memories of ecstasy that were already dimming or step down into the muck of Krycek's world in one last, absurd effort to revive the hands and lips and cock that had made her mad with pleasure so many times. She stood up and roamed the kitchen restlessly, but she already knew what her decision was. She just needed to know how much of her soul it would cost her to join forces with him.

She found him sitting on the bench she and Anna had shared the night before. He had a notebook open on his lap, but his eyes were focused on the distant fields where the farm men were working. She sat beside him wordlessly and he finally spoke.

"Can you imagine what a life like that must be? You go to work, you sweat in the same field day after day, you trudge home and have dinner at the same table every night. Couple nights a week you go into town, to the pub and play darts with your buddies. You go home, fuck the same woman, go to sleep, wake up and do it all over again."

"Is this wistful Alex I'm meeting? With a craving for domesticity?"

"Hell, no, I wouldn't last a week. But it's completely different from what I know. Those men, they might as well be Fiji islanders for all I have in common with them."

"Listen, Alex, I'm trying to understand you..."

He snorted rudely. "You, my dear Dr. Scully, will never understand me. You're a little too white-bread, All-American Catholic do-good weenie to understand me."

"Try me, you arrogant little shit," she retorted.

"Yeah, sure thing, sister." He pulled a cigarette pack from his jacket and lit up. "You know, you're already causing me trouble. I've been off these damn things since I got out of jail. Now you've got me hooked again."

"Don't change the subject. Tell me what it took for you to throw away your career, your education, your whole future to be a hatchet boy for the worst traitors in the world."

"Like you're going to believe me?"

She stood up and held out her hand. "Okay, I will suspend my judgment...and my disbelief...for one hour. Is that enough time? I will take everything you say to me at face value. I won't instantly discount or doubt what you tell me. I just need to know if what turned you into Krycek is going to come back to bite Mulder in the ass if I let you near him." He still stared at her outstretched hand until, suddenly, she spit into and extended it again. He laughed riotously, spit into his own and shook hers.

"Deal, Scully. One hour of truth, coming up. But," and the joking tone left his voice, "you won't like it. You'll probably dislike me even more when I'm done, but you don't have to like me to work with me."

"One hour, Alex. Let's go."

"Okay. The first thing you should know is...umm, I love my sisters very much."

"That's a good thing."

"Yes, it is. My childhood was a good thing. Nice house, parents didn't beat me, cute dog..."

"Really? What was his name?:

"She. Her name was Laika. We named her after the dog the Soviets sent into space."

"Okay, keep going."

"Umm, my parents were kind to me, but not very attentive. It was like living in an orphanage, really, until my sister came along. No psychologizing, please," he said, putting up his hand as she opened her mouth. "I'm not a sociopath because my dad never played catch with me. My parents, I figured out eventually, were so crazy horny for each other that we three kids were more like background noise than anything else. We just didn't register when the two of them were in the same room, which was practically all the time." He grinned ruefully. "Once, when I was about five or six, I had wet my bed...shut up...and I went into their bedroom. They were fucking like there was no tomorrow, but I didn't know that. I told them what had happened and you know what? They never even stopped moving. Just kept banging away while I stood there in my cold jammies waiting for them to finish."


"Well, afterwards, my mom got up, put on her robe, changed my sheets and PJs and went back to bed."

"That's bizarre."

"Well, that was Ivana and Mikhail. Everything else just faded into the background. When Elena came along, I was thrilled, I had somebody to play with all the time. By the time Lizzie was born, I had a whole life going on that had nothing to do with my parents. My sisters thought I was the greatest thing on the planet, they came to all my recitals and sports things..."

"What sports?"

"Is that important?"

"I'm curious. Humour me."

"Fine. Lacrosse and soccer, okay?"

"Was your family well-off?"

"I guess so. We had a series of nannies to drive us around, to school and sports and music lessons. I never thought about it much." He shrugged, then continued. "So that was my childhood. Not traumatic..."

"Except that you were a bed wetter."

"I said shut up. I had a good childhood, and then, when I was 16, I graduated high school and went to Oberlin."

"Because you're a genius."

"Right. My IQ, in case you missed it on my Quantico application, is 148."

"Oooh. Oh course, Mulder's is 163."

"Show off. Anyway, I went to Oberlin when Elena was 12 and Lizzie was 9. They were both bright and pretty and Liz was a very talented pianist. They each wrote to me every week of my Freshman year, because I was still Alex the wonderful. I came home for the summer in '83, the last time I was ever happy with my family. Elly was growing up, she was getting gorgeous and I remember being really surprised the first time I saw her, she looked so different from the little rat sister I had left in the Fall. Lizzie was still little, she still adored me. She always did." He looked at the ground and Scully knew better than to say anything.

"So, I went back to school in the Fall and got busier and busier. I wanted to graduate early, some kind of overachiever gene I seem to have, and it kept me from going home much for weekends or even writing and calling as much as I had the year before. But about halfway through the year, after I'd been home for Christmas, I started getting news from Ivana and Lizzie that Elly was getting in trouble, causing trouble in school and stuff. Ivana said she was getting boy-crazy, that's all it was and so I dismissed all of it, too. I got a few notes from Elly that semester, saying she wished I would come home, she missed me. I blew it off. All of it. I was wrapped up in school, I had my first girlfriend, I wasn't terribly interested in what was going on back in Cinci."

"In other words, you were a typical college student."

"Whatever you say, Dr. I decided not to go home that summer, I was offered an internship in Cleveland. I got a phone call from Elly soon after I told Ivana and Mikhail I was staying there for the summer. She was really upset, told me I was selfish and that I should come home. And I blew it off again. It was just my sister, right? Being bratty and adolescent and I remember thinking I was glad I didn't have to deal with Elly and her teenage angst all summer. So, fast forward, Elly is 17 and a holy terror. Staying out all night, arrested for shoplifting, then for drugs. She dropped out of school, she tried to run away. Ivana was at her wit's end, Mikhail seemed bewildered and I didn't really want to hear about it. I was getting ready to graduate, I'd been accepted to George Washington for grad school, I had my path all set-do you see a bit of the ruthless in here?-so when I went home for the summer, in '86, and my mom asked me to talk to her, try to straighten her out, I was fairly blunt and completely unsympathetic. I thought there must be a guy or two in the whole mess somewhere, and I told her she needed to get her shit together. I told her about AIDS and STDs and that she was going to end up pregnant and on welfare if she didn't watch out."

Alex gave a bitter chuckle and Scully asked gently, "What did she say to you?"

"She laughed. She said she'd kill herself if she ever got pregnant. And she'd kill the bastard that knocked her up. And I told her to grow up, told my mom Elly needed a good smack in the head. And I went to DC and started grad school." He hung his head and his hands were clasped tightly between his knees. "Yep, I was having a ball in DC. Best time of my life. I didn't know how bad things were getting with Elly. I was interning with the German embassy, ready to take on the whole fucking world, and some screwed up little girl wasn't going to distract me from that. Every now and again I'd get a call from Ivana, asking me what she should do and I told her to send the little punk to military school. Mikhail vetoed that idea and things just kept going downhill." Scully knew there were tears in Krycek's eyes but he either didn't notice them or didn't care enough to wipe them as he kept talking, his hands still clenched and his voice cracking now and then.

"So, March 15, 1987. I get a call from my dad, Lizzie's dead and Ivana and Elly are in the hospital and I need to get on the next flight to Cinci. I get home and find out that Elly had stabbed Lizzie to death while she was asleep. That Elly tried to stab my mother, who got away and ran to a neighbor's to call the cops. That Elly took the knife to her stomach and cut it open, then cut herself from wrist to elbow in both arms."

Scully's hand covered her mouth to quiet the shocked gasp that flew from her. She grabbed Alex's nearest hand with hers as he went on.

"Elly survived somehow and I realized that Mikhail was furious with her. He kept saying she'd betrayed him and betrayed the family. Which made no sense to me at the time but I was completely whacked out, I felt so guilty and angry and I missed Lizzie so much. No one could understand what had made Elly go after Liz, she loved her, even at her wildest, she always loved Liz. Elly trying to kill herself made much more sense, especially when I found out she was pregnant."


"Yes. She was about twenty weeks along. She miscarried after the suicide attempt."

"God, Alex, I'm so sorry." She squeezed his hand and he pulled away from her.

"It gets better, Scully," he said with a contorted smirk. "She said she'd kill herself and the bastard that knocked her up. I tried to get out of her who it was, but she was catatonic, unresponsive. So I got resourceful. I bullied Elly's doctor into doing a DNA test on the fetus, to see if I could figure out who had fathered it." He broke off and Scully saw that his jaw was working angrily. "And then I'd go after the bastard for her."

"Alex, you don't have to tell me this," she said softly and reached for his clenched fist again. He shook her off roughly and stood up.

"No, Scully, I'm actually kind of enjoying this. Especially since I know how you're going to be looking at me in about three minutes." He stepped behind the bench and knelt down so his voice was close in her ear. "The DNA test came back a little screwy. Oddly similar to Elly's DNA, in fact. You following me, pathology doctor? It was like the DNA of the baby's father was an awful lot like the DNA of Elly's father. My father."

He felt the sudden shudder that rocked her body and laughed coldly.

"I thought that might get rather a strong reaction from you, Dana, Daddy's little girl that you were. Imagine that, your father shagging you for years, and finally getting you pregnant. I went to him, while Ivana was still in the hospital. And he admitted it. Said Elly had a gift and that a child of his and hers would be great, would rule the world. Sound like anybody we know? Playing God? Mikhail figured it was okay to rape his daughter if it meant he'd get the world's greatest healer out of her. Only Elly didn't quite see it that way. She fought him off, told Ivana, I know she wanted to tell me. My mother didn't believe Elly, didn't want to think her beloved Mikhail could do something so grotesque. So Elly was on her own. And then I think this happened, that Lizzie was getting older and Mikhail started eyeing her. Elly found out she was pregnant and she probably knew once Mikhail found out, he'd be after Lizzie in no time. She was so fucked up by then, she probably figured she was protecting Lizzie the best she could, by sticking a knife through her throat." Alex came around and sat beside her again. "No comment, Dr. Scully?" he asked.

"No, Alex," she answered softly. "If you want to stop, though, I'll understand."

"No, I'm not going to have it said that your stomach was stronger for this crap than mine was." He lit another cigarette, his third since beginning his story and Scully wrinkled her nose at the smell. "So there I was, with my dead sister and my crazy sister and my twice-damned pedophile father. Elly went into a psych hospital, where she still is. My mom, after I showed her the DNA test and explained the whole sordid story to her, packed up and left Mikhail. And then I had to decide what I was going to do about it. Let Mikhail get away with it? Go back to DC and have a life? Or make him pay for killing Liz, for ruining Elly and pay whatever the price ended up being? And you know what? It was a very easy choice to make. I loved my sisters, far more than I'd ever loved Mikhail or Ivana. I'm not sure I ever really did love them. But Liz and Elly, they were the most important people in my life. I always sympathized with Mulder in that respect, that inability to let his sister go, to let her fade from his life. I'd let them both down, Liz by not helping Elly and Elly, God, how didn't I let Elle down?"

"Alex..." Scully began, but he cut her off with a gesture like the one he'd given Anna the night before.

"So I was already resourceful and now, getting ruthless, I killed the fucker."

Scully's shock was obvious as she gaped at him for a full minute. "You killed your father?"

"Yes," he said, locking eyes with her without hesitation.

"Alex, God, how could you?"

"I cut off his balls and then I cut his femoral artery and I watched him bleed to death, " he said evenly.

Scully still stared at him in dismayed astonishment.

"You wanted one hour of truth, Scully," he said with ice in his voice. "I told you you wouldn't like it. Still want the other fifteen minutes?"

"No. I think I've heard enough." She got up from the bench and walked away from him. He leaned back on the bench, smoking again and watching the small figure head toward the house.

Alex came into the kitchen after he knew Fyenna would have cleaned up from lunch and the men would be back in the fields. The room was empty and he was grateful for the solitude-his head still throbbed from his binge the night before and he hated the idea of sitting with anyone. He got a can of soda from the fridge and took some aspirin from Anna's bottle. Sitting at the table, he thought over the morning's episodes, feeling certain she would never be able to get past what he'd told her and knowing that there was no hope of healing Mulder without her help. He was still there when she came in an hour later. He stood up when she walked through the door, ready to leave, but she put her hand on his arm to stop him.

"No, stay, Alex," she said and he sat back down. "I want to ask you a few more questions."

"Your hour was up a while ago, Scully."

"Be generous."

"Fine, what do you want to know?"

"Your father, was he the first person you killed?"


"Did you get away with it?"


She paused for a moment, as if her stride was broken, then asked her next question. "Did you kill your mother?"

"No, she killed herself. About six months after Mikhail died."

"Is that how you caught Spender's eye, killing your father?"

"I guess so. The Bureau recruited me in'87, right out of grad school. I turned them down. Then, in '89, about three months after Mikhail... well, I got a visit from a guy who said he represented a division of the Bureau that dealt in international crime. He fed me a bunch of crap about my talents being an important national asset, but he also made a few cryptic remarks that told me he had a pretty good idea what had happened to Mikhail. I finally told him to drop the bullshit, that if he had some kind of deal in mind to give it to me without all the dancing around. He was amused and impressed. Said moral flexibility was an unusual and important quality in an agent. And he offered to make sure the murder investigation went away. I think I would have gotten away with it no matter what, but ...well, killing Mikhail sort of blunted my desire for smooth diplomatic work. I was pissed off at the whole damn world and so I said if he'd give me a straight story about what type of work we were really talking about, I'd consider it."

"And that's it? You just started doing his wet work for him?"

"Not just the wet stuff. Anything that needed a certain amount of resourcefulness and..."

"And ruthlessness, I know. That never bothered you?"

"It did for a while. A short while. The first job I did was a Russian courier. Greased him at Dulles in the men's room and threw up in my car on the way home."

Scully shivered a little and asked, "How can you talk about killing people that way? You just 'greased' some guy? How can you be casual about that?"

"Come on, Scully. Do you burst into tears whenever you think about Donnie Pfaster? Eugene Tooms? I've never killed casually. I've killed people who were dangerous to the Project and I've killed people who I believed deserved to die. And I haven't worked for Spender since he sent out the hit on you."

"How many people have you killed? Do you even know?"

"Yes," he sniped, piqued at her sneering tone. "I've kept a fairly accurate account. Seventeen."


"What, more than you expected or less?"

"I don't know. It's a lot."

"Yeah, I suppose it is." He looked at her without expression as she softly voiced her next question.

"Are you ever sorry?"

"About one or two, maybe. Not all of them," he said, still in the same calm voice.

She stared at him, looking deeply at him as though she could decipher his innermost mind and find all her answers there. At last she said, in the same soft voice, "I want Mulder back, Alex, so badly I don't even have words for it. I believe you want to help him, but I'm afraid of you. Of your ruthless resourcefulness and your moral flexibility."

"You don't need to be, Dana. I'll swear to you, on anything you ask, I won't hurt him. Or you. That part of my life is over."

"And afterwards, what will you do? Off to the highest bidder again?"

"No. I'm coming back here. Dmitri will teach me the farm and I'll buy a grand piano and I'll hide from the world."

She stared at him still, feeling herself approach a Rubicon. He sat patiently across from her, waiting for her answer.

"All right, Aleksandr, I'll do it." She rose from her seat and left the room without another word.

Scully woke late on Saturday. When she came down to the kitchen, Dmitri was there, alone with his paper. She greeted him in halting Russian and he smiled broadly at her effort.

"Good morning, Dr. Scully," he said in English and jumped up to get her a cup of tea.

"Where is Alex?" she asked as she sat down.

"Ah, here is for you," Dmitri answered and handed her an envelope addressed in Alex's writing. She opened it and read the enclosed letter while Dmitri set bread and jam in front of her.

'Hey, ScullyAnna
and I went mining. Actually, we went to visit a guy who mines. We'll pick up the gold and other stuff we'll need and be back Sunday morning. I left some books in my room, my notes from when Anna was teaching me. Read them and we'll talk when I get back tomorrow. If you and Dmitri can't understand each other, Fyenna's English is passable. See you later.

Scully folded the unsigned note back into its envelope and set it aside. She and Dmitri finished their meal silently, then she went upstairs to shower and dress before she went into Alex's room. It was smaller than hers but very tidy. Alex's suitcase was on the neatly-made double bed. The desk was cluttered with Mulder's and Dmitri's records, Alex's passport, a toilet kit and a stack of three leather bound journals. She picked up the passport and looked through it, but it was innocuous, only showing his entry into the States three years ago and his return to Kiev Thursday. She set it back down and took the journals, sitting on Alex's bed to read. The first one seemed to be entirely written in Cyrillic, so she set it back down. The next two contained page after page of details about the healing process Alex and Anna had sketchily described to her. Exquisitely detailed drawings accompanied Alex's hand-written notes and she wondered if he'd done them as well. Meticulously detailed information about metallurgy, jewelry, gemology and geology, anatomy-Scully was fascinated and she lost track of how long she'd been perched on Alex's bed, voraciously soaking in all the data. She suddenly became aware of the fading light, realizing it was becoming difficult to read. She straightened up from her scrunched arrangement and cringed as she felt her neck muscles move from their stiffened position.

She stood up to stretch and, as she shifted her legs to the floor, knocked Alex's journals off the bed. One fell open, showing pages in Cyrillic again, but, as she picked it up, another page flipped open and she found herself looking at a startlingly life-like pencil sketch of Mulder. She picked it up and took it to the window, studying it closely in the dimming sunlight. Mulder was sitting on the steps of a porch, leaning against the house roughed in behind him. He wore an easy smile, the delicious grin she remembered so well. There was a date in the lower right corner - 8-03. She turned the page and found a note on the back of the drawing in Mulder's sweeping script-'You could have made the nose a little smaller!'

Scully turned back to the drawing, feeling a flutter in her stomach at the sight of his beloved face. She ran her fingers over it, swallowing back the lump in her throat, lost in him for several minutes. Then she heard footsteps in the hall and she shut the book and tossed it back on Alex's desk. Dmitri's voice accompanied a loud knock at the door, saying "Dr. Scully, we will eat dinner now, okay?"

"Sure, yes, da, Dmitri, I'll be right down," she replied. She looked over at the clock and realized it was after 4:00. She'd spent almost three hours reading up here. She grabbed the other two volumes off the floor and went down the stairs to join Dmitri and Fyenna.

She had finished reading both of Alex's notebooks by the time he and Anna returned Sunday morning. She'd made notes of her own, listing questions that occurred to her or information that wasn't clear. Alex found her in the living room, her glasses on and papers strewn over the desk she sat at.

"I'll bet that's exactly how you looked in medical school," said a deep voice from the door behind her. She jumped and several pages fell to the floor.

"Boo," he said with a grin as he stepped into the room to help her pick them up. He looked them over and said, "You read through my notes, then?"

"Yes, I did. This is a lot more involved than I first thought. It's actually quite scientifically sound, once you accept the absurd premises." She sat back down at the desk and he sat in a chair near her. "So, did you and Anna get what we need?"

He nodded, pulling a small linen bag from his jacket pocket.

"You ever see raw ore before?" He opened the bag and pulled out five lumps of dingy metal, each roughly the size of a small apple.

"That's it, huh?" she asked as she picked one of the lumps from his hand and held it up.

"That's it. It's got impurities that we need to burn out and replace, but we'll be able to refine it and get the couple ounces of pure gold we need."

He took the rock back and put all the metal into the bag, then picked up the notebook she'd been writing in.

"So, these are your questions, huh?"

"Yeah. I've got quite a few and I'm pretty weak on the jewelry-making side of things." She piled her papers neatly on one corner of the des, then pulled the journals towards her. She opened the top volume to a page full of sketches of various rings and pendants, some with elaborate filigree work, some simple bands.

"Did you do these drawings?" she asked.

He picked up the book and studied the images.

"I did some of them. This one," he pointed to an imperfect copy of Dmitri's ring, "is mine, one of my first tries. And I did these." He flipped to another page that showed three intricate pendants. "I designed them and Anna made them."

"Who were they for? Or what?"

"Nothing, those weren't made for a healing. They were practice, I think Anna ended up selling them to a jeweler in Kiev."

"You draw very well," she said dryly. "I didn't know that." She watched for his reaction, but all he said, giving her a villainous leer, was "I have many hidden talents, Dr. Scully. Come on, Anna wants to talk to us."

The next two days were frenzied as Scully and Alex worked nonstop to map out, with Anna's supervision, the work they would do when they returned to Maryland. The night before they were scheduled to leave, Scully found herself unable to sleep, her mind endlessly looping through all the new information, all the plans and work that lay ahead of her. Finally, she gave up tossing and got up, deciding to get a glass of milk from the kitchen. When she reached the stairs, she heard a sweet, homely melody drifting up from the kitchen and stood motionless for a moment, listening. She edged her way down the stairs as silently as she could manage, aware that if Alex knew she was coming-and she was certain it was Alex playing that simple and evocative song-he would stop and slap on the sneering veneer he always wore. She had been wondering quite a bit what Aleksandr was like, instead of Krycek, and the strains coming from the cello were her first glimpse of what he used to be. She stood outside the kitchen door, listening as the lilting folk song changed into a less delicate, more complex composition. She opened the door enough to peer in and saw Alex, alone, with a glossy instrument between his knees, his fingers and the bow dancing across the strings and his face stern, immersed in the sound he pulled from the cello. She watched and listened as he moved effortlessly through several more pieces until he abruptly let the bow fall from his hand into his lap and said something in fierce Russian. He wiped his damp forehead on his sleeve and, setting the cello gently against his chair, went to the sink and drank from the tap. While his back was turned, Scully let the door slip shut and crept back up the stairs to her room. She climbed into bed, sleepy and relaxed from the soothing music and fell asleep promptly.

Anna seemed reassured at the smoother interaction between Scully and Krycek as she stood by their car, Alex loading their bags and Scully asking one or two final questions.

"So far, good," she said. You both are doing well. Dr. Scully, you listen to Alex, yes? And remember, it's most important, when you go to making the ring, to keep your thoughts on Mulder and your feeling for him."

"I remember, Anna. You tell me every day," Scully said with a warm smile.

"It's what will do the hardest work. You think only of Mulder and what he is to you, whenever you touch the gold, even touching the tools you use to work it. And Alex, he will think only of healing, of making Mulder well. Nah, Alex? That is your job," she said in a gently admonishing voice. He nodded and spoke a few words Scully couldn't understand and Anna gathered his broad frame to her tiny one. His arms circled her completely, yet, to Scully, it seemed that the diminutive woman was somehow trying to comfort the tall man. Final whispered words were exchanged and Alex placed a kiss on Anna's head, then got into the driver's seat and they pulled away.

Alex was silent as they drove through the spring-rich country, responding minimally to Scully's exclamations at the unfolding beauty they passed. The better part of the four-hour drive passed quietly. Scully knew Alex was far away, and she preferred going over his journals and her additions to their contents to trying to engage him in casual conversation.

Traffic picked up steadily as they drew closer to the outlying suburbs of Kiev and Alex's eyes lost their distance as he had to concentrate more and more on negotiating the congested roads. With matching tired sighs, they climbed out of the car at the Hertz drop-off at the Kiev airport. While he settled the bill, she collected the leather books and her stacks of notes, bundling them neatly into her carry-on bag. She held back the last journal, however, the one that contained the drawing of Mulder. A porter loaded their bags into what looked like an old electric golf cart and gestured to them to take seats behind him. As they moved slowly toward the terminal, Scully handed the book to Alex. He took it with a raised eyebrow.

"What's this?"

"It's yours, isn't it?" she asked in return.

"Yes, but why do you have it?"

"It was with the others, on your desk. I couldn't read the writing, but one or two drawings caught my eye."

He turned through the pages, quickly settling on the drawing of Mulder.

"Like this one, for instance?"

"Like that one." She looked at him steadily, then said, "When did you do this? On the date in the corner?"

"Yeah, August, 2003."

"Why did you do it?"

"Why not? I was bored, he was sitting there like a big lump, so I sketched him."

"And he knew you were doing it? He just sat there while you drew him?"

"He was practically asleep while I did it."

"Is this when you two were working together? When he and I...."

"Yeah, we were working together here. I drew this just before the worst of the Network action."

"Where were you?"

"What, in the picture? The house?"

"Yes, I don't know it."

"We were in a dumpy neighborhood in Burbank, in California."

They had arrived at their terminal and moved into the check-in line. It crawled along and she was silent, lost in thoughts and questions, unhappy at the thought of Krycek knowing a place Mulder had lived that she didn't. After they had moved ahead a few feet, she asked, "Was he unhappy when he was working with you, Krycek? Because of Will and me and what happened?"

He didn't meet her eyes as he answered. "I don't know. Sometimes he was angry enough to spit nails. Sometimes he wasn't. I don't know if happy or unhappy ever came into it."

"Did he tell you about it? About Will?"

"Yeah, he did." He didn't elaborate and she didn't ask and they passed the rest of their wait in silence.

It was late Thursday afternoon when they left BWI, fighting the last surge of rush hour traffic to Scully's place in Ten Hills. The ride was as quiet as their whole trip had been and Scully wondered if it was just fatigue now or if Alex was still off in his head somewhere. They pulled up to her house and, seeing Will's eager face at the front bay window, Alex said, "Go on, get your welcome back. I'll get the bags."

She smiled gratefully at him and jumped from the car, running up the driveway as Will came pelting out of the house to meet her. He leaped into her arms, throwing his sturdy arms around her neck and she forgot how tired she was.

"Hey, Hot Shot! It's so good to see you! I missed you!" she exclaimed.

He answered he with a loud kiss on her cheek and began recounting his week. "I scored two goals at soccer practice. Grandma took pictures of my game, but we lost, four to one. Mr. Skinner came to see me play, too. And he took us for ice cream after. And Sunday we went to Grandma's church and Uncle Charlie and Aunt Yvonne were there and I played with Daniel and Colleen. Who's that?" he broke off as Krycek came up the drive with Scully's luggage.

"That's Mr. Hale, Will." She put him down and he stepped up to Alex. Scully bit her lip to keep from laughing as Mulder's son extended his hand to Krycek.

"Hi, Mr. Hale. I'm Will Mulder."

Alex met Scully's eyes and she saw he was holding in his own mirth. He looked back down at the boy and, remembering his childhood desire to be taken seriously, put the luggage down and gravely shook the offered hand.

"It's nice to meet you, Will," he said solemnly. "You're a very polite gentleman."

"I know," was Will's smug answer. "My mom says manners don't cost."

Scully, Alex and Maggie, waiting inside the screen door, all burst into laughter.

"Come on, Mr. Manners," Scully said as she pulled his ear in mock discipline. "I'm hungry. Alex, you feel like something to eat before you head home?"

His surprised look told her he hadn't expected her invitation.

"No, thanks, Scully. I think I'll just get going. I'm whipped," and he set her bags down in the entryway and turned to go.

"Hang on, I'll walk you out," she said.

"Me, too," piped Will.

They stood at Alex's car making final plans for the upcoming week, when they would start the preliminary work on the metal. Scully could see Alex's distraction as Will bounced around the burgundy Saab, peering in each window and sharing his comments with them.

"Will, kiddo, could you go up to the house, please? I need to talk to Mr. Hale."

Will started to comply, but Alex cut in.

"No, he's okay. You want to sit in the car, Will?"

"Sure! Is it a stick?"

Alex laughed again. "Yes, it is." He opened the driver's door and, as Will climbed in, leaved over him to stage-whisper, "Want to know how fast it can go?"

"A hundred miles an hour?" Will whispered back.

"A hundred and forty miles an hour."

Will's blue eyes widened in admiration and he plopped behind the steering wheel, making the universal male driving noise. Alex looked at him for a moment, then set the parking brake and stood back up to resume his conversation with Scully.

"That kid sure as hell looks like Mulder," he said.

"I know. It's not just for me that I want him back."

"All right. Monday, okay? I'm back on at Townsend at 11:00. We should be able to make a start, figure out how to set up the lab and everything."

"Okay. I'll be home around 2:00, Will gets home at 3:30. Come by around 5:00."

"5:00 it is. I'll see you then." He pulled open the door and Will climbed out.

"I like your car, Mr. Hale, it's awesome."

"Thanks, Will. Maybe I'll take you for a ride in it someday." Alex climbed in and started the engine. He revved it loudly for Will's benefit, then pulled away, waving out the window. Will waved back heartily and watched the car until it turned the corner.

The house Scully and Will lived in was a trim ranch she and Mulder had bought in the summer of 2004. She had accepted a tantalizingly mundane offer from Johns Hopkins teaching forensic pathology and so they moved in together, sharing a roof and a bed day in and day out for the first time. Mulder played house-husband and wrote sporadically and Scully came home early enough each day to play with Will and make love to Mulder. Idyllic and peaceful for almost three years, the interlude of normalcy had almost wiped away the ashy taste of fear that Scully had been swallowing down since she learned she was carrying Will. Since the attack on Mulder, she had thought one or twice about selling the small house, taking on a condo or even going back to an apartment, but, ultimately, she couldn't face the thought of leaving the only place she and Mulder had made a life together, the only place they'd been a family. Mulder had spent the first six months in the house fixing up the basement into a game room and a cozy library for the two of them. He and the Gunmen had spent the better part of a week assembling and leveling a pool table they'd picked up God knows where and it had been his favorite toy the whole time he'd lived there. She hadn't touched it since he'd been hurt.

Will was thrilled when Alex arrived Monday evening just in time for dinner. After they ate, the boy begged Alex for a ride in the Saab and, after getting Scully's reluctant permission, they circled the neighborhood a dozen times. Alex alleviated Will's disappointment in their speed by letting him shift. Now Will was tucked in bed, reading Harry Potter and Alex and Scully were sitting in the basement library discussing how to set up the equipment and materials they would need.

"I'd like to avoid trashing the basement if we can. Mulder worked his ass off down here and I'd hate for this to work and have him pissed off when he realizes what we did."

"What, Mulder did all this down here?" Alex asked incredulously.

"Pretty much. This was a basic poured-concrete basement when we bought it. He did the framing for this room and the utility and work rooms and the electrical and plumbing for the game room."

"You're kidding, right? Mulder with a hammer, that's really scary."

"Seriously. Some friends of ours helped out with acquiring and setting up the pool table, but otherwise it was Mulder." She felt a bit defensive at Alex's continued skeptical look. "You know, Mulder's not stupid. He read a few books, figured out what needed to be done and he did it."

"I know, it's just, that's not the picture I have of him. He never struck me as the hands-on, sweaty type."

She opened her mouth to defend him again, but Alex held up his hands in surrender.

"Pax, Scully. Mulder equals Bob Vila, I concede your point. So, without trashing the place and without going into the work and utility rooms which have no ventilation, where do you want to put the furnace?"

They spent another hour discussing logistics and finally the conversation turned to beginning the work. They were leaning against the pool table and Krycek pulled two of the billiard balls out of the pocket nearest him, playing with them while they talked until he asked Scully if she wanted a game.

"What? Umm, no, I...don't play pool."

"Why, Dr. Scully, you're lying to me," he stated in feigned shock. "After all your blather about trust, you're going to lie about something as stupid as playing pool?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said in an angry voice.

"I know you're actually quite good at pool. Or you used to be. Mulder told me."

"He did?"

"He did. He and I actually played quite a bit while we were working together. I could usually beat him and it pissed him off. One night he said you could probably take me. So," he leered comically, "show me your stuff, girly. Or are you chicken?"

"Lay off, Krycek. I don't want to play."

"Come on, Daaana. Bawwk, bawwk..."

"Oh, shut up. You're acting like one of my brothers."

"Fine, chicken. Mind if I rack 'em while we talk?" And he started pulling the other balls out of the pockets before she could answer.

He played well, she saw at once, reading the table easily and pulling off one or two really outstanding shots. She felt an old, little-sister fizz of competition surge up in her as she watched Alex clear the table, then grabbed a cue, ignoring the cobwebs that trailed from it.

"You in, Scully?" he asked with his wicked grin.

"How much, Punk?" she shot back.

"Five bucks a ball too rich for you?"

"Chump change," and she chalked up eagerly.

She was very good, even after her year-long absence from the table and Alex found his own competitive streak revving up. They were well-matched and by the third game, they had stopped bantering and were as tense and focused as if the fate of the planet rode on each crack and thump of the balls. After the fifth game, she called it quits and wiped sweat from the back of her neck.

"I'm done," she said wearily. "It's late and I'm tired..."

"And you're up ten bucks," Alex cut in.

"That too." She disappeared up the stairs, calling over her shoulder, "I'm getting a soda, you want one?"

"Yeah, thanks," he replied as he racked the balls one last time. He cracked the balls and played the table and let his memory slide back to a night years ago in a dingy bar in L.A. Of he and Mulder, broke and close to hungry, hustling the bar's rough clientele and, when the rowdies figured out the clean-cut pair were having them on, running like hell with two hundred bucks crammed in their pockets, laughing together and enjoying an adventure that didn't threaten all of humanity. He was leaning on his cue, lost in his memories, when Scully broke into his reverie.

"Alex? You awake?" she asked. He looked up and took the Coke she held out to him, popping the top and swallowing a good bit. She fished in the pocket of her jeans and tossed something on the felted table in front of him-it was a penny and it took Krycek a moment to figure out she was asking what was on his mind. He almost smiled as he picked up the coin and handed it back to her.

"Sorry, not for sale. Besides, I owe you, don't I?" He pulled out his wallet and gave Scully a ten dollar bill. She accepted the money, but kept her gaze fixed on him. There was a brooding tension in his face as he set the soda, half-empty, on a small table near the stair.

"I'm going to take off. Thanks for the whupping. I'll get you next time." He walked up the stairs and Scully followed him, through the kitchen to the front door.

"See you Friday, right? We'll get started?"

He answered without turning.

"Yeah, Friday. I'll be by around 8:00."

"Hey, Alex? Are you all right?"

He flashed a weak copy of his wicked grin again. "I'm great for a big guy who just got beat by a little girl. I'll see you Friday."

"It smells disgusting down here. Are you sure you don't want to move this outside?"

Scully stood at the counter that had been Mulder's tool bench and was now rigged up as a makeshift refinery. She was swirling a glass bowl filled with sodium cyanide and a gritty, sludgy solution-ground ore bearing particulate gold. Alex had just come down the stairs, ready to begin the evening's work. Scully set the bowl down and went to the nearby sink to wash her hands as she answered him.

"It's too hot outside. I'm sweaty enough with the air on." She removed the protective eyewear and the surgical mask she wore and splashed water on her face.

It was almost July and the Eastern states had been smothered by muggy, steaming weather throughout June. The basement was transformed, the counter covered in bottles and beakers and the various paraphernalia used to process and refine the gold. The south wall of the game room was taken over by something that looked like a camp stove, a small anvil and cases of metal-working materials-buffing wheels, torches, grinding stones. The only remnant of the basement's former persona was the pool table. Scully had suggested moving it out of their way but Alex convinced her to leave it, claiming they would want the distraction as the work progressed and that moving it would be "a class-A pain in the ass."

They were going to cast the gold tonight, refining the bullion left after the processing stage. This meant using the small furnace to melt the bullion and then introducing chlorine to the molten material, creating a reaction that would cause any dross left in the bullion to form bubbles of chloride. They would skim off the chloridated metals, leaving only the purified gold that would be cast into small bars. Scully found the intricate chemistries fascinating, her inherently curious mind feasting on all the new knowledge. Alex, for his part, discovered an unknown talent for teaching in himself as he helped Scully master the increasingly complicated steps of processing and refining the precious metal. They had gone through the process without using the final piece of gold in the healing process, in order to be absolutely clear on how to proceed. Now, with her confidence in her own skill and in Alex's knowledge founded on experience, she was eager to move on to the healing.

"How much bullion did you get out of that piece?" he asked as he put on his own lab glasses.

"About point eight, more than I expected, actually." She put her gear back on and joined him at the work table. He poked an ungloved hand gingerly into the bowl.

"Point eight, huh? Maybe we won't need the other two ore pieces just yet."

They worked silently for a while, Scully's thoughts focused on Mulder, as Anna had drilled into her, keeping her mind fixed on the images she had of their future if she and Alex pulled this off. Alex poured off some of the material into a second bowl and set it aside, holding it for Scully's ring. They had decided to make his ring first, so Scully would have one final opportunity to observe the complex procedures. He carried the bowl to the furnace area and set it down, seating himself on the ground beside the burning appliance.

"Think happy thoughts, Alex," Scully said half-jokingly.

"Shhh, I'm healing," he whispered to her with a smirk. Then he closed his eyes and sat still and silent for several minutes. Once, he shook his head and pursed up his mouth, then his features relaxed and he picked up the bowl, opened his eyes and began to drag two fingers through the thickened, cooled liquid. After ten quiet minutes, he took his hand from the bowl and rubbed his fingers and thumb together, working the goo off until only a thin, dry residue remained. He put his fingers to his mouth and licked the film off, then spit into the bowl. Scully held back her instinctive grimace and tried not to think of herself repeating Alex's actions. He swirled the liquid in the bowl until his saliva had blended into it, then sat up, opened the furnace and slipped the bowl in.

"I can talk now if you want to ask me anything," he said as he adjusted the oven's settings.

"Do I have to do the lick and spit thing?"

He laughed shortly. "No, that delightful bit is reserved for us power-mongers. Although you're more than welcome to if you'd like."

"No, thanks anyway."

He peered into the furnace, gauging the state of the bullion.

"Get me the chlorine, would you? I don't want to get up, I'll get distracted."

She retrieved the bottle from the table and handed it to him, saying warningly, "Don't expect this kind of service all the time."

"What, no peeled grapes?" he quipped as he carefully added the chlorine to the molten material.

By the evening's end, he had produced four small blocks of pure gold, enough for his ring and a start of hers. Scully had been listening without comment to his stomach growl the whole evening and, while he cleaned up the work area, she went upstairs and ordered pizza. He was sitting on the sofa when she came back down, staring at the four tiny bars laid out on the coffee table. His hair was damp and waving from sweat and his face was smeared with dust. She went to the fridge and grabbed a water, then sat beside him and handed it to him.

"You look like hell," she remarked.

"Thanks. I'm flattered," he said, then drank half the water without stopping and wiped the bottle across his face.

"I ordered pizza."

"Remind me to kiss your feet next time I can bend over."

"Why don't you go shower before it gets here? You'll feel better."

"Nah, that's okay, I don't want to wake up Will."

"Not to be rude, but you'll smell better, too."

He made a show of smelling himself. "A little too manly for you?"

"Hmm, a little. Towels are in the closet left of the bathroom door."

He got up from the sofa with a grunt and headed upstairs, then poked his head back down.

"Scully, don't touch the gold, okay? Bad karma."


He came back down the stairs, sniffing loudly at the aroma of hot pizza that had displaced the harsh chemical smells from before. Scully had almost finished her first piece as he sat on the couch and helped himself.

"Damn, I needed this," he growled through a full mouth.

"Feel better?"

"Absolutely. I never got a chance to eat dinner tonight." He slid a second piece onto his plate, then went to the fridge.

"You want a beer? Soda?"

"No, I'm good."

They finished eating and Alex leaned his head against the back of the couch, sighing wearily.

"Are you working tonight?" she asked.

"No, I'm off till Sunday. And I'm going to switch to days next week, so we can work better hours as we move further into the process."

"That's good." She leaned her head back as well as the day's toll washed over her.

"So, did you go to see him today?"

"Yeah, Will and I went over this afternoon."

She yawned as she ended her sentence and Alex said, "Why don't you sack out? I can lock the door behind me."

"Aren't you done for tonight?"

"No, I want to rework my design sketches a bit. I thought of one or two changes I want to make."

"I'm okay. I can stay up with you."

"You don't have to. I'm not going to snoop in the medicine chest or steal the liquor."

"That's not what I meant. I'll just keep you company if you want."

"I don't need company. Look, I'll just go. We can start again tomorrow."

"Alex, I'm trying to be nice. Let me, all right?"

He made an impatient noise and said, "Fine, stay and watch me draw. Suit yourself."

She picked up the plates and empty bottles and went upstairs while he dug out his sketch book and an old tattered notebook that had belonged to Anna. He heard the clatter of Scully taking care of the dishes, then the sound of water running in the shower. He flipped to the page with his drawings of the ring he wanted to make, looked them over briefly, then leaned back again to picture the design changes he had thought of earlier.

That was how Scully found him, fast asleep, when she came back down half an hour later. He slept with a frown creasing his face and one hand, the one she thought of as his 'old' hand, clutching the sketchbook tightly. She watched him for a moment, then pulled the blanket off the back of the sofa and draped it over him gently. She turned off the lights and went upstairs to bed.

He was sitting at the table drawing when she came into the kitchen early Sunday morning. He didn't look up when she sat down, merely muttered "morning" as he kept working.

"Sleep well?" she asked as she started the coffee maker.

"Yeah, thanks," he answered, still looking at his sketches. "I was pretty wiped out. Too much concentrating."

"It's okay. How's your sketch coming?"

He handed her the book with a sigh and a non-committal noise, waving his hand in a so-so gesture. She looked over the page at the different rings.

"Why the changes? I mean, what's the significance?"

"I want to simplify some of the engraving. It's hard to explain-the more detailed work you have to do, the harder it is to maintain the right focus. If this was a regular healing, that would help, you would engrave personally meaningful images in the metal and that helps. I only want to focus on the healing energy, not on Mulder personally."

"What are the engravings on the other designs?"

He pulled the notebook back across the table. "This one has an intertwining motif, like the nervous system." He pointed to each sketch in turn. "This one would be striated, it would focus energy on the muscular system. And this one is the most detailed," and he showed her a sketch of an intricate pendant instead of a ring. It had an abstracted figure of a fox encircled by a repeated pattern of different leaves.

"The leaves have different symbolism. Maple for language, oak for strength, holly for health...I know, it sounds ridiculously superstitious..."

She shrugged as he trailed off and said, "Well, most superstitions have at least some basis in fact. Anyway, in for a penny, in for a pound. If I'm going to buy into this fairy tale, I might as well buy in wholeheartedly."

"That's the spirit," he replied with a grin. He shut the notebook and stood up.

"I better get going. Will's going to be up soon."

"You don't want to work today?" she asked.

Alex looked at her in mild surprise. They had limited their time working to when Will was either in bed or out of the house.

"Really, Krycek, stick around. I'm getting anxious to get done."

"Are you sure? I mean, with Will around?"

"I'll keep him out of your way."

"That's not what I meant, Scully. I just thought you'd want to keep some distance between me and Will."

"Only to avoid confusing him. But I really want to move forward with this. I'm not a patient person..."

"Gee, really?" he smirked and she gave an exasperated huff.

"I'll handle Will. You go work."

"Yes, Boss." He poured himself coffee, then headed to the basement.

By late Sunday afternoon, Alex had finished rough forming the ring. He found Scully sitting outside on the deck, watching Will and a friend play basketball and showed her the rough circle, laughing at the disappointment that flickered in her eyes.

"It's not anywhere near done yet, Scully. It'll look fine, I promise."

"Why is it so raspy and discolored?" she asked as she reached for the ring to look at it more closely.

"Don't touch it," he said sharply.

"Oh, right. Bad karma," she mimicked.

"I haven't done anything to finish it. This is right off the mold. Now I need to rough polish it before I do the engraving."

"I thought you weren't going to do any engraving?"

He was bent over the ring, examining the cooled metal for fine cracks, as he answered her. "I have to do some. Read my notes. Right now it's a closed circle. No flow from it. I need to work it for a bit and then break the circle and I do that by engraving it. That opens up the flow. I'll wear it while we work on your ring, then we'll put them on him at the same time."

"How long will it take, do you think? If it works, I mean."

"I don't know. Dmitri was showing improvement after a little less than a week. Anna says it depends on the extent of the injury and Mulder's pretty screwed up." She bit her lip at his words and he continued.

"Scully, you know, better than I do, how much work we have to do, right? We've got the hell of a job ahead of us. And what did Anna say would do the most work?"

"Thinking of Mulder. The right focus. And you think about the healing."

"Right. So let's do what we're supposed to do. You think about Mulder and I'll think about brain cells and we'll make it work. You've got to be strong minded for any healing. And I know that's one thing you've always been. So keep it up, okay? We'll do this."

She nodded and blinked tears from her eyes.

"Right. Strength of mind. I can do that." She smiled shakily, then tried to lighten the intensity of the moment. "So, you wanna try to win some of your money back?"

"Rack 'em up, Sucker."

Over the next week, Krycek was at the house everyday, working the ring. He had polished off the rough spurs, smoothing, rounding and buffing the now-shining metal. He started the engraving on Thursday, spending an hour bent over the ring, squinting even with his glasses on. He showed Scully the work he'd done before he left for his shift at Townsend.

"God, Alex, it's beautiful. I can hardly believe what it looked like before."

"I know. It's amazing, from a hunk of ore, what you end up with." He put the ring in a linen bag and then put it into the safe they used for the gold. "I'll see you later. Hopefully, I can finish this weekend and then we can start on yours, okay?"

"Great. I'll see you tomorrow."

Alex signed in at Townsend with a light-hearted wave for the security staff. He was feeling optimistic tonight, a nice change from the heavy, lonely gloom that had been in his heart since he had decided on this course of action. The ring was almost done and he'd been able to keep his focus precisely the way Anna had instructed, locking away the part of him that wasn't impartial or detached about the person he was healing.

Strength of mind, he thought, whistling as he changed into his scrubs. Gets you there every time.

He was early for his shift, so he headed for Mulder's room on the fifth floor, glad for a chance to visit with him when he knew Scully wouldn't be coming in.

The afternoon nurse was in the room when he got there, looking harassed as she bustled around Mulder's bed ineffectively.

"Oh, thank goodness you're here," she exclaimed in a frazzled voice. "I really need another pair of hands."

Alex wrinkled his nose at the smell that came from the bed. "What happened?" he asked as he moved to help the woman roll Mulder off the wet sheets.

"Guy down the hall checked out about half an hour ago. He coded three times before they called it and in all the commotion, no one remembered to dump this guy's bag. It backed up, flooded out the catheter and left a damn big mess," the nurse-Carrie, her tag read-explained in a rush. "He needs a bath and fresh linen and I've got to get out of here by 11:00 to pick up my daughter. Here," and she handed Alex the damp linens and let Mulder settle back on his side.

"Where's the orderly on shift?"

"Cleaning up the mess down the hall. The guy who died, his bowel let loose when he went. It's been nuts up here for the last half-hour."

"Okay, did you get his catheter back in?"

"Yeah, I just need-"

"It's all right. Help me with the sheets and I'll...I'll clean him up."

Carrie gave him a glowing smile of gratitude. "Thank you so much, Alex," she said, reading his badge in turn. "I'd do it myself but my daughter-she's at school and I don't want her hanging around too long after class ends."

"No problem, Carrie. I'll take care of him."

They slipped a bath mat under Mulder with detached experience and Carrie shucked off the sopping, smelly pajama pants and T-shirt he wore, then got the bath tray for Alex before she left, giving him another grateful smile. Alex's good-natured expression evaporated when Carrie was gone. He eyed Mulder, who lay naked, curled on his side, his dull hazel eyes rolled to the ceiling, and swallowed apprehensively. He stepped up to the bed and gently straightened the wasted body.

"Okay, bud, here's the deal," Alex said softly as he lay a towel across Mulder's pelvis. "I'm going to give you a bath and that's all it is. Don't go getting any wild ideas."

He rolled another towel under Mulder's body, then turned to the tray of bath supplies and picked up a soapy cloth. He gently washed the bony shoulders and thin, sunken chest, then resoaped the cloth before moving down to Mulder's belly. He bit his lower lip as he pulled the towel down, fully exposing Mulder's groin. Alex looked at the other man's shriveled testicles and flaccid member, clenching his jaw angrily at the sight of the catheter's tubing trailing between the wasted legs to the bag hanging off the bed rail.

"God, Mulder, I'm so sorry," he said in a hoarse, hushed voice and he ran a gentle finger across the blank face. Alex clenched his jaw again and continued washing Mulder's groin and thighs, but when he began on the skeletal legs, the lingering anger overwhelmed him as he saw, in his sorrow-filled memory, images of Mulder, strong and healthy, his long legs outrunning Alex on their morning run, Mulder tossing rude taunts of 'pussy' and 'girly' over his shoulder at Alex. He swiftly finished bathing Mulder, then dressed the wasted body in fresh clothes and made the bed around him, blinking angry tears out of his eyes all the while.

Godammit, he thought, just once, just one damned time in his life, couldn't You give him a fucking break? Alex bowed his head on the bed rail for a moment, then pushed his anger and sorrow back down, regaining his rarely-lost control. He stroked the hair that the hospital kept close-shaven, and fought down further memories of Mulder's hair, longer and shaggier and feathering between Alex's thighs.

"See what you do to me, Lisa? You make me a wuss. You always did. Christ, I'd sell my soul to bring you back, love." He picked up one of the limp hands and squeezed it, kissed it and set it back across the emaciated chest. He stood up resolutely and cleared away the damp mats and bath things, tucked Mulder beneath a blanket and walked out of the room, down the hall to the elevator and into the shift supervisor's office.

"Hey, Tim," he said in a controlled voice. "Listen, I need to take tonight off. I have to take care of some personal stuff."

"Hey, Alex. Everything okay?"

"Yeah, I just need to help out an old friend with something."

"Sure, go ahead. We'll be okay. See you tomorrow night?"

"Yeah, I should be done by tomorrow." He walked out of the office and left the building without bothering to change.

Scully heard a gentle scratching at the kitchen door and looked up from her laptop in time to see Alex jimmy the lock and walk in.

"I would have opened it," she said.

"Couldn't wait."

"Why aren't you at work?" A flicker of fear crossed her face and she jumped up. "Is he okay? Did anything happen?"

"No, no, he's fine, everything's fine. I just decided to take tonight off and finish the ring." He tried a stiff smile and said, "Your enthusiasm is contagious."

Scully looked at him levelly before she spoke. "You were a much better liar before you gave up the traitor business."

"What? Nothing's wrong, I just want to get going, finish up here and get back to my farm and my vodka."

"So that's why you're here in your scrubs? What happened, Alex?"

He blew out a ragged sigh. "Okay, fine. Mulder's fine, he just...his bag backed up and blew the catheter and he was a mess when I went to see him." Alex rubbed his eyes tiredly as Scully continued eyeing him.

"Mulder wetting the bed, that made big, tough Alex Krycek cry?"

"Jesus, you're a snotty bitch sometimes," he growled moodily. "Listen, a guy on the floor died tonight. His heart gave out and he's dead and I'd like to make sure that doesn't happen to Mulder." He flung open the basement door and was out of sight before Scully had recovered from the shock of hearing Mulder's despised given name out of Krycek's mouth.

She stayed upstairs, listening to the barely audible whining and burring of the polishing wheel and engraving tools. She didn't feel like dealing with Alex's ugly mood tonight, having seen it before if he got impatient with the pace of the work or its quality. She had learned quickly that he was like her in one respect - isolation was his best coping mechanism when he was angry or frustrated and she sensed he was both tonight. So she left the basement door open in case he needed something and went back to the syllabus she was preparing for the upcoming semester. An hour and more had passed when she heard a sharp curse from downstairs, followed by the loud clank of a metal tool hitting the stainless steel top of the work table. She stopped working to listen, then got up and walked to the door.

"You okay down there? Still got ten fingers?" There was no reply for a moment, then a loud crash erupted from below. She jumped, wildly startled, then ran down the stairs. Smaller, continual sounds of wreckage greeted her as she entered the work area and she stopped dead at the sight of the table toppled on its side and Alex flinging and kicking the metal tool cases across the basement.

"What the hell are you doing?" she yelled. He turned to look at her and she felt a flutter of fear in her stomach at the sight of the old, brutal Alex Krycek that faced her. His cloudy green eyes were blazing in anger as he walked slowly toward her. He stepped right up to her and put his hands roughly on her shoulders, then spun her around so she faced away from him, toward the stairs. He pushed her away and she tripped closer to the stairs.

"You. Get the fuck out of here. Get out!" he bellowed.

She turned to face him again, but backed away a step or two at the fury tensing his body and his face.

"Alex, what's wrong? What happened?"

"I said GET OUT!"

"Alex, calm down," she said softly, hoping he didn't notice the unsteadiness in her voice. He turned away from her this time and for a moment she thought he was going to listen to her. But he kept going, straight to the wall and put first one, then the other fist through the drywall, connecting with the masonry behind it. He choked out vile, ugly curses in Russian and English as he battered his bleeding hands again and again into the concrete. Scully wavered between concern for his well-being and care for her own safety. Finally, she walked toward him, mentally reviewing arrest and submission strategies from her days at the Academy. He turned away from the wall before she reached him and she froze.

"I fucked up the god damned ring," he spat out. "It's no good. It's completely fucked up." He pushed past her to the table and righted it, then knelt among the wreckage of tools and shattered glass. He sifted through the detritus for a few minutes, then viciously swept the clutter across the room.

"Son of a bitch!" he yelled as a rough glass shard embedded itself in the heel of his hand.

Scully set her jaw and stepped through the mess to reach him. He jerked his hand away when she moved to take it, but she grabbed it back and gave him a threatening glare.

"Don't make it worse than it already is," she said, cold and business-like. She maneuvered the sliver out of the skin without tearing it further, then turned the hand palm-down to examine the mangled flesh.

"It looks like you broke a metacarpal, Rambo. Nice going." She dropped the first hand and brought the second up for scrutiny. "Make that two, possibly three. Upstairs. Now."

"I want to find my ring," he snapped, pulling his hand away from her and walking along the wall that the small furnace sat against, eyes sweeping the area as he looked for the tiny piece among the debris.

"Come on, Alex. I need to take care of your hands before you screw them up worse."

"Leave me alone." He continued his search and, with a dramatic roll of her eyes, she joined him.

"We find it, you let me set and wrap the fingers, got it?"

He grunted in what she took for assent, then moved into another area of the room to hunt.

It was almost fifteen minutes later when Scully spied the flash of gold nearly hidden under the sofa. She let out a small cry of triumph and reached for it, but a shout from Alex stopped her.

"Goddammit, don't touch it!"

She stood up quickly and frowned at him. "What difference does it make? You said it was ruined."

"I don't want you touching it."

Scully heard the slight, unconscious stress he placed on 'you' and her frown deepened. "Do I have cooties?"

"Fuck off." He slipped the ring on his little finger, wincing as it rubbed against the torn skin of his battered knuckle. "I'm out of here."

"Whoa, whoa, where do you think you're going? Your hands..."

"They're fine. I'll have someone at the hospital take care of them." He was at the stairs when he felt her pull his shirt to keep him from going up. He whirled to face her.

"Back off, Scully," he hissed.

"Get back here. You aren't walking out of here like this."

"Watch me," and he shoved her away and headed up the stairs.

"Damn you, Krycek, you said you'd help me. Did you lie? Again?"

He stopped halfway up the stairs and turned to her again, giving her a cold and ugly look. "I said I'd help him, not you." The emphasis was clear and deliberate this time. "I don't give a damn what happens to you. But Mulder loves you and needs you, God knows why, so I'm doing what I can to help him come back to you. But don't fucking push me right now, got it?"

"If you hate me so much, Krycek, why bother with all this? Why not let me spend the rest of his life watching him waste away?"

He walked up the stairs, saying "He doesn't deserve that. No matter how much I dislike you, I still have to work with you. So get away from me so I can get my shit back together and we can finish this and I never have to deal with your cold-hearted ass again."

He had reached the kitchen with Scully close behind.

"You don't like me?" she asked with a sharp laugh. "Are we back on the playground or something?"

He whirled on her furiously. "You don't know, do you, what kind of a mess you made of him? You don't know how close to killing him you came. After the most powerful people in and out of the world couldn't kill him, you almost did it without trying. But you don't even know that, do you? You just picked up where you left off, you had your son back , you had Mulder, what did you care about how it almost did for him?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Will, Scully, about how you ripped Mulder's heart out of his chest when you gave his son away without a word to him. How could you have done that to him, when you say you love him?" Alex's voice grew harsher. "Do you have any idea how close he came? I had to pull a gun out of his mouth because of you."

Scully's face was ashy, the freckles she always tried to hide punctuating the whitened skin. "I did what I had to, Krycek. To save Will's life."

"Bullshit. You could have told Mulder before you did it. You could have given Will to Mulder, he would have kept him safe. There was no excuse for the way you betrayed him."

"I couldn't tell Mulder. He would have talked me out of it, talked me into sending Will to him and then I would have lost them both." Scully suddenly felt all the old terrors coursing through her, the thought of Will or Mulder gone from her life sending the bile into her throat and the chill of fear through her blood. "You don't know what it was like," she cried bitterly. "Knowing that everywhere you went, people were watching and waiting to take your child or kill him. And that the man you loved had to stay away or they'd kill him, too. That if you made one mistake, took one wrong step, you'd lose everything that mattered to you. I couldn't let Will grow up in that fear."

"Mulder didn't see it that way," Alex retorted. "You knew how he loved you, would have done anything for you. And for Will. And you, you didn't want his child anymore, you didn't trust him to come back to you, to keep fighting and to keep you both safe."

"That's not true and he knows it."

"He didn't know shit, Scully," Alex hollered in her face. He stood so close to her that he towered above her. "You had everything. You had a person who loved you, beyond reason and beyond life and he gave you a child, a fucking miracle. And you, you stupid, selfish bitch, you threw it all away with both hands. And he came back to you!" Alex's voice rose in an angry roar. "He brought your son back to you and he gave you back his heart and his trust and you didn't fucking deserve any of it. He should...". Alex's words were knocked away by Scully's small fists pounding at his chest and throat. She had launched herself at him as he hovered threateningly over her.

"Damn you, you bastard, you were part of it! You were there! You wanted to kill Will!" she screamed at him as her fists continued to pummel whatever part of his body she could reach. "I hate you. I hate everything about you."

Krycek clapped his hand over her mouth as a faint, frightened voice rose over their argument, calling for his mother.

She shook his hand off her mouth and brushed her flushed and tear-streaked face as she left the kitchen to comfort Will. Krycek listened for a moment to the muted, soothing sounds, then opened the kitchen door and walked into the cool night air.

Scully spent the rest of the night in and out of light sleep, alternately lying on the basement sofa and pacing around the wreck of their lab, hearing Krycek's voice, bitter and passionate, calling her stupid and selfish and saying she didn't deserve Mulder's love. She'd heard almost the same words ring in her own mind for a year and a half, first in her own voice and then, after one heart-shattering evening, in Mulder's. She knew, as soon as she returned to DC from Iowa, that he would never forgive her, even if he was somehow able to come back to her. She knew she should call him, track him down and tell him what she'd done and beg him to understand. She'd cried bitterly as she explained to Maggie and had sobbed on Skinner's broad shoulders when she told him. But telling Mulder-there weren't words to describe the tears and pain and self-hatred that had inundated her as she told him, on Christmas Eve, that Will was gone.

He'd come out from hiding, defying those who still feared and hated him to be with them on a holiday that meant little to him. He had stolen into her apartment while she slept and had planned to sneak into her bed after peeping into the crib. Instead, finding the second bedroom empty except for the dismantled crib and a stack of boxes, he had burst through her bedroom door, flipping on the light and calling to her in a husky, panicky voice.

"Scully, God, Dana, where's Will? Where's the baby?" He pulled her blankets off and shook her, mindlessly rough in his fear. She woke in an instant and grabbed him, pulled him into an iron embrace. But he pushed back up and put his hands on either side of her face.

"Dana, where's Will?"

"Mulder-oh, God, Mulder, you're here, you're back!" She kissed his hands and arms over and over.

"Dana! Answer me!" And he moved his heavy hands to her shoulders and shook her again.

She opened her wet eyes and reached for him again.

"Mulder, please, come here. Come to me."

He sat gingerly on the bed, his hands shaking in hers and tears in his own eyes.

"Mulder, you-I have to tell you, but, oh, God, Baby, I don't want to."

He hung his head and, in a whispered choke, said, "He's dead, isn't he?"

"No! God, no, Baby, he's not dead. He's alive, he's fine."


"Mulder, he's-gone. He's with, with another family. He's safe and no one can find him."

"What are you saying? He's with who?"

"Mulder, listen to me. I had to do this. I had to. It was too much. I couldn't let him live like this anymore."

"What...Scully, what's going on? You're scaring me. Tell me where Will is, I want to see him."

"I don't know where he is, just that he's somewhere out safe. That's how it needs to be, Mulder." She held his hands tightly as she saw comprehension, then fury settle on his face. He pulled his hands from hers and stood up.

"You got rid of him. Is that what you're telling me? That you got rid of my son?"

"I gave him to a family who will keep him safe and make him happy."

"You gave him away!" he bellowed.

"I had to, Babe, please, please believe me, I didn't want to, but it was right, I know it hurts but it was the right thing to do."

"How could you do something so fucked up to me?" he shouted and slammed his fist onto her dresser, spilling her jewelry box to the floor and kicking it across the room. "What right did you have? Huh? What gives you the right to hand off my child like a goddamned stray kitten?"

"They would have killed him!"

"Then he would have died with me where he belongs. You think I've been shacked up on a beach for six months? That I haven't been killing myself and selling my soul trying to keep you both safe? And make sure you stay that way? What the hell, Scully? This is the faith you have in me? The undying love you said was mine? Well, fuck you!" he screamed into her face, then shoved her to the floor. "I've been screwed over by some of the best, sweetheart, but you beat them all." His eyes were black and vicious, mirroring the vile words that streamed from his mouth. "I believed you. I believed every word you ever said to me, every fucking word. Does that amuse you?" he spat at her. "You were the last person I thought would betray me, Scully. I always thought, no matter how much bullshit there was in the world, how many Kryceks and Spenders and all the rest, there would always be you. The one person I could trust. Well, goddamn your lying soul to hell."

He threw the door open and walked out. She leapt from the bed to follow him, unaware of her attire and bursting into renewed tears when she came into the room where he had stacked presents under her small tree. He was in the kitchen, pulling bread and peanut butter out of the pantry.

"Mulder, please, let me make you something, some coffee or...or we could get pizza and we'll talk, okay? What do you want?"

"I want my son," he bit out as he threw the sandwich into a bag and, opening the refrigerator, pulled out a milk carton. "Tell me what you know about the strangers you gave him to."

"I will, I'll tell you everything, only please don't go, please stay."

"Like hell. Get me all the stuff you have."

She crossed to the desk in the other room and dug out a file folder and an assortment of papers. She felt a breeze against her legs and realized suddenly she was only wearing an old T-shirt of his. She blushed as she returned to the kitchen and handed the papers to him, noticing his still black eyes focusing on the points of her hard nipples. He raised his eyes to her face and smirked and she blushed even more and crossed her arms.

"Nice try," he sneered.

He flipped through the papers, processing the meager information, then stuffed everything into the folder and picked up his jacket where it lay across a kitchen chair. He slipped it on and walked to the door.

"Mulder, no, don't go," she cried to him, but he didn't stop, didn't look up and didn't say a word. The door closed behind him and she slumped to the ground, spending the whole night there in tears.

It was Sunday when Scully heard from Krycek. She took Will to a birthday party and returned home to find the Saab in the driveway and Alex in the yard, sitting and smoking at the picnic table. She looked at him for a moment, then opened the back door and held it open for him. His hands were still mangled and swollen and he still wore the ring he'd made.

They sat across from each other at the table again, neither speaking for a few awkward moments.

"So," she finally said. "Do we have anything to talk about?"

"We do. I still want to work with you, to try this. I screwed up, my focus was shot to hell. The ring I made is worthless and I have to start over."

"What happened, Krycek?"

"I told you. My focus was off."

"That's not what I'm asking. Why were you so angry with me? Why was it personal?"

"It wasn't personal. I'm's tiring, keeping your mind focused for so long. I wiped out and lost my concentration and it showed up in the ring. And I took it out on you. I'm...well, I'm sorry."

She laughed outright. "Alex Krycek, apologizing. Well, I can die happy now, I've seen everything."

"I'm trying, okay?"

She picked up his hand and examined the still raw skin and the fractured joints.

"You were supposed to get this looked at."

"Yeah, well, it slipped my mind."

"Come on, in the bathroom. If the bones aren't set right, you won't need that grand piano when we're done."

They didn't talk while Scully worked. She cleaned the torn skin, then had Alex work the ring off carefully before she set the three small fractures. He grunted with each pull and, by the time she was done, had gone a shade or two paler than usual. Finally, she splinted the two fingers on the left hand and the one on the right and led him into the kitchen. He sat at the table while she fixed two ice packs, thanking her when she placed them on the swollen fingers. She leaned against a counter, watching him steadily and making him uncomfortable.

"What? What do you want me to say? I apologized and it'll never happen again. That do you?"

"No, because it doesn't answer my question. Why were you so angry with me? And don't hand me any crap about how tired you were."

"Scully, it's not important. I lost it and I'm sorry. This is a whole new project for me, I'm winging this and it's got me on edge."

"It's damned important to me. You brought up some of the ugliest, most painful days of my life the other night. You said you were there, you talked like you knew what was going on in Mulder's head when he found out about Will."

He didn't answer and he didn't look up from the ring he now held in his hand.

"Were you with him then, when I gave up Will?"

He sighed heavily. "This is not a conversation I want to have right now. I'm begging here, Scully. Just leave it alone." He got up from the table with the ice still on his fingers and opened the screen door with his hip.

"Don't you walk out on me again!" she cried.

"I'm not! I just want a cigarette." He held the door for her as she followed him outside. He clumsily pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and lit up, then, eyebrow raised, placed another one in Scully's outstretched hand.

"Those things'll stunt your growth, you know," he said, trying to be lighthearted and redirect her attention.

"Too late," she retorted as she inhaled deeply. "So, tell me, Alex. Were you with Mulder when I ripped his heart out of his chest?"

He smoked on, not responding, eyes fixed on a distant point. She grew impatient with his refusal and pulled the ice pack off his left hand.

"I fixed this, I can break it again," she threatened.

"Yeah, right. First do no harm...OW! Fuck! I can't believe you just did that!" he gasped as she pulled gently on the ring finger, not enough to upset the fracture again but to let him know she meant business.

"Talk, Alex, or I'll put my medical education to use in a way that flatly contradicts the Hippocratic oath."

"It's not something to make jokes about, Scully. You're asking me to tell you something that will upset you and probably ruin any chance for us to work together. And I meant what I said, I still want to do this. Don't you?" There was a pleading tone to Alex's usually cold voice that surprised her greatly, even as she answered him.

"Still playing that card, Alex? The ultimate blackmail, you can give me Mulder back if I do everything your way. I want him back, but you're lying to me, you're keeping things from me and I can't work like this. You ruined that ring you're hanging on to because you lost your focus. My focus won't be any better if I'm thinking about the bad old days, when he hated me."

"He never hated you."

"Tell me."

"Christ," he muttered, leaning against a tree with his eyes shut. "He never stopped loving you, he forgave you everything. Isn't that enough? Can't you just let it go? No, obviously not, we're dealing with the famous Dana Scully stubborn streak."

He lit another cigarette and sat down at the picnic table. "I feel like I should burn my initials into this table with my lighter."

"Alex," she prodded.

"I think you're making a huge mistake, Scully. Just back off and let me take my secrets to the grave."

"You're gonna be in that grave pretty damn soon if you don't start talking."

"Fine, but you are going to be so sorry you asked for this." He smoked pensively as he collected his thoughts and prepared to open the Pandora's box that passed for his memory.

"Mulder never hated you. At least he never said he did. I need to go back a way, before Will and Christmas and everything."

"Go ahead."

"Okay, August, 2001. I went underground after I ditched the Network when I was supposed to be setting up a hit on you and getting Will for them."

She shuddered at his words and he grimaced in sympathy.

"I know. They wanted you guys gone and Will...I still don't know what their plans for him were, but you can bet they were nasty. Anyway, I bluffed my way out, but I had to hide pretty deep. Around the end of August, I realized somebody was poking around the Network like I was and I thought it might be Mulder. So I tracked him down and kept an eye on him for a while to make sure the Network hadn't gotten to him again. and I realized we were trying to do the same thing-find a way to take the buggers out. Whatever else I may have thought of your partner, I always admired his work and his brains. I figured we could do a lot more damage if we combined our respective talents..."

"Like your moral flexibility?"

"Right. So after some heavy duty bargaining and a lot of blather about trust, we came to two conclusions. Mine was 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' and his was 'better the devil you know than the devil you don't.' So we worked together. And we brought the bastards down."


"Not for a while. We had a few setbacks."

"Like what?"

"Like Christmas Eve, 2001. When Mulder, against my express orders and knee-deep in stupid, went back to DC to see you and Will for Christmas. I panicked the whole time he was gone. I kept thinking of all the dumb fuck ways he could expose us, could get us all killed, but he insisted. Gotta see Will on his first Christmas, gotta see Scully, get a little Santa nookie," he said in a sarcastic falsetto.

"Stop it," she said hoarsely.

"Hey, you begged me to tell you, I'm telling you. You want me to stop?" he asked angrily.

"Just stop twisting the knife, okay?"

"Fine. So, while I'm in New York freaking out, he's back here getting the shit kicked out of him by the love of his life. I went to sunrise service at this little hole-in-the-wall church, figuring it was probably my last chance to make peace with my maker before he tipped somebody off and the shit hit. I remember, I got coffee from this dive in the Bronx and just kind of meandered for a while, still worried sick that I was going to get killed before the day was over. I finally went back to the dump and checked the security twitches and they'd all been tripped. I was ready to run when I heard him inside. Bawling like a baby." He fixed his green eyes on her maliciously. "So I pulled my gun and went in as quietly as I could. I thought he'd be in there with a Network puke, getting his balls ripped off or something. I didn't think I'd walk in and find him crying with his Sig in his hand, just flipping the safety off and putting it to his mouth..."

She sobbed at that, the picture so clear in her mind, the cold thought of him pulling the trigger, because of her, because of her stupidity and weakness.

Alex kept watching her impassively, never thinking to offer her sympathy or consolation. "I didn't even think, I just snuck up on him and grabbed the gun and threw it across the room. Of course it went off, put a nice bullet through my living room wall, but better that than through the Mulder-brain. I think I slapped him, then, or maybe I just pulled his ass off the couch and he went ballistic. Beat the crap out of me, put a few more holes in the wall and I still didn't know what the hell was going on. My first thought was that they'd gotten to you and to Will and that would have been bad enough. But through all his screaming and ranting, I finally figured out that you'd done something that was killing him. So my second thought was he found you with another guy, which would still have been pretty bad from his point of view. But when I tried to offer him a little perspective, you know, 'she's just lonely, it's probably nothing, blah, blah,' I got my jaw socked good and the whole ugly mess came out. We sat on the floor of my crappy kitchen for an hour, probably more than that, actually, him crying like a baby for his son and me keeping him away from guns and sharp objects."

He lit another cigarette and she waited for him to continue. When he didn't, she raised her eyebrow and said, "What happened then?"

Alex didn't answer, because he knew when he told her what happened next, she would either not believe him or she would hate him and neither option was going to get them back on track. He smoked the whole cigarette, lost in the memory of his most carefully hidden and huddled-over secret. He gave another deep sigh and wondered how to tell Scully about the thing that happened next, about how, after the crying had slowed down, Alex realized he was cradling Mulder's head against his chest, soothing and shushing him, stroking the sweat-dampened hair out of the tear-swollen eyes. How, with an embarrassed grunt, he had tried to stand up and how Mulder had gripped his neck so fiercely he couldn't breathe, let alone pull away. How Mulder had clung to Alex, saying in his raw voice, "Don't leave me alone. Not today." How Alex, throwing years of silence and caution to the wind, had kissed the sweaty head softly and whispered, "I'm right here. I won't go." And had kissed his head again and his face and his funny nose and finally, meeting the hazel eyes and seeing pain and sorrow but no denial, had carefully pressed his own lips against Mulder's, again and again until Mulder opened his mouth under Alex's, welcoming the smooth, soothing tongue that stroked against his own. How suddenly they were rolling on the sticky floor of a tenement apartment, kissing furiously, pulling at each other's shirts and jeans and socks and briefs until they were naked and straining against each other, how Mulder lay on top of him, teasing Alex's lips with a throbbing cock and finally sinking up to the balls in Alex's greedy throat. How Alex had suckled him and swallowed him and tongued him and bit him until Mulder bellowed in release. How Mulder's bare chest had rubbed against Alex's burning dick while Mulder kissed and licked his way up and down Alex's chest and belly, finally sliding his mouth around the fiery, taut skin and cool, tight balls. How Alex had cried out in a desperate, needy wail as he spilled into Mulder's searing mouth, and how they had fallen asleep together, naked and sated on the floor that was even stickier.

She couldn't wait in the silence anymore and spoke sharply to him. "Alex, answer me. I need to know. He's never told me about you and the Network and the time you spent working together. I didn't know where he was for over a year, he just showed up in Georgetown with Will one day. I don't even know how he found Will. And I want to know, I need to."

"Scully, it's not all my story to tell. A lot of it is Mulder's and I don't think I can tell you what you want to know in a way that you'll understand."

"Did he kill people the way you did?"

"We both killed people, you knew that. And I know Mulder told you about it, he still had all that great integrity going for him. It's just that, you have to know, too, that he was so angry and frightened by what you'd done-and I'm not saying this to twist any knife into you-he may have done some things that were totally out of character for him. Things he would never have done if he hadn't felt so betrayed and alone."

"There's never been any way to tell what was or wasn't in character for Mulder. Nothing you can say will surprise me, I promise."

He laughed outright at this, picturing again the scene that played out on the kitchen floor in New York. "I think I can safely say I will surprise you." He regarded her for a moment, trying to put together the words that would explain and excuse and smooth over what he knew he was going to tell her, what he had promised himself he would never tell anyone besides Anna.

"Let me ask you an unpleasant question. Did you question Mulder's fidelity while he was gone?"

"I didn't need to," she said slowly. "I hated to think he had found someone to help soothe the pain I caused him, or just found someone to throw in my face to hurt me back, but I figured if that was the worst he did, it was less than I deserved."

"So, if I tell you he was involved with someone, it won't destroy your trust in him? It won't change the way you feel about him?"

"Alex, I know there was someone in the picture while he was gone. If that's the big secret, you can relax. No surprise, see?"

"Oh, I'm not so sure about that. Remember, I told you that he never stopped loving you, right? So, whatever happened between him and this other person, he still always loved you. That never changed."

"Is this where Lisa comes in?" she asked with another raised brow.

He sighed shakily and said, "Yes, this is sort of where Lisa comes in."

"Did you and Mulder fight over a girl, Alex?"

He laughed again, and shook his head.

"Not even close. I told you I loved Lisa and I did. I'd been in love with Lisa for years but there was a lot of bad blood between us, a lot of old history that made it very difficult for Lisa and I to connect."

"Did Lisa love Mulder?"

"Not all the time. There were days when Lisa hated Mulder, when Lisa wanted Mulder dead."

"But she and Mulder, they were together? She was the person he was involved with while he was with you?"

"No, Scully, Lisa was never involved with Mulder. Shit, I'm getting this all wrong. Okay, you want to know why I'm doing this? Why I'm putting up with all your crap, hoping we can make him better?"

"No, I want to know what it is you're not telling me about the time he was with you."

"It's the same damn thing, Scully," Alex said in a thick, hoarse voice. "Why I want to bring him back, what happened before."

He got up and went into the kitchen and she heard him walk down the basement stairs. He cam back up quickly, carrying the leather journal that was filled with Cyrillic writing and a paperback book, a Russian-English dictionary that she'd been using to familiarize herself with the foreign characters and pronunciations that came up during the work. He opened the journal to the drawing of Mulder and pointed to a cluster of four Russian characters in the upper right corner. She frowned as she tried to decipher the unfamiliar word, until Alex opened the dictionary and pointed to an entry.

"Read that," he commanded shortly.

"Lisa - fox. What? What are you saying?"

He watched it become clear in her head and met her eyes squarely.

"I'm saying that Mulder was yours, Scully, but Lisa was mine. That's what I called him. I loved him then and I love him still and I want to bring him back every bit as badly as you do."

She stared at him for long moments as words like 'absurd' and 'impossible' careened around in her head. That Krycek loved Mulder, that there had ever been love between them, that Mulder...

"No, you're lying to me. You're screwing with me," she said vehemently.

"I'm not, Scully, I swear to you. This is one thing in my life I've never lied to anyone about. I love him, I have for years. He's the best thing that ever happened to me and I can't stand to lose him, even if bringing him back means handing him over to you."

"Mulder could never love you..." she started hotly and almost regretted the words as she saw Krycek pale and tears well up in the green eyes.

"I know that, Scully," he said in the same thick voice.

"Do you think I don't know that? I knew it the whole time, that no matter how much I loved him I would lose him to you. I told you, he never stopped loving you. He denied it the first few weeks we were together, but I knew it. And he finally admitted it, even while we were still together. I tried not to care. I had a year with him, with someone I loved dearly and some people never get that much." He wiped his moist eyes and lit another cigarette. "You wanted to know about Lisa, you wanted to know why I was helping him, now you know. Surprised yet?"

"I don't believe you, Krycek. Even if you're not lying about loving him, he would never become involved with... I would have known if Mulder leaned that way."

"What way? If he got off on guys, you mean?"

"Yes! Don't you think, of all people, I would have known if Mulder was gay?"

"Jesus, Scully, who said he was? Mulder was no queer, that was obvious. But most people, given the right motivation, can disregard gender in their sexual pursuits. There's a pretty girl out there somewhere who could put even your icy panties in a twist, you just haven't met her yet."

"You're a cruel man, Krycek and you're making me sick. Mulder would never have let you lay one hand on him that way."

The sneer in her voice pushed him too far and he grabbed her chin, pulling her to face him and taunted her, saying, "My hand wasn't the only thing I laid on him, Sunshine."

She jerked away from his face and cried out, "Shut up! You're lying! I know you're lying! He would never have done that, never lied to me about it..."

"Did you ever ask him?"

"Ask him what? So, Mulder, fuck Alex Krycek lately?"

"Do you want me to prove it to you, Scully?" he asked harshly. "I can if you want to hear it."

"I don't want to hear any more of your bullshit, Krycek. Get out of here." She stood up, shaking angrily, but he pulled her down to the table roughly, his eyes burning and dark as he spoke to her in a soft, savage voice.

"Did you remember to stroke his balls with your tongue while you sucked him off, Scully? Remember how it made his toes curl?"

He saw her eyes widen and her mouth fall open in dismay and shock as he went further, the long held bitterness he had carried boiling over until all he wanted was to hurt her. She tried to jerk her arm from his grasp, but he held it tight, his fingers digging into her wrist even more tightly.

"Did he like it when you sucked his nipples, Scully? He loved that, used to ask me to do it. I bit them, too, I almost drew blood one time and it made him scream. My name, Scully," he said in a hateful, silky voice. "Alex, he'd whisper while he fucked me. Alex, he'd yell when he came in my hand with my dick in his ass. What did he call you when he fucked you? Scully? Dana? He was noisy, you know that. In bed and out, you couldn't shut him up. He'd whisper dirty words while I went down on him, tell me what a great cocksucker I was, pull on my hair and grip my hands hard when he came. Did he do that with you, Scully?" He pulled on her arm for emphasis, ignoring her painful grimace. "Did you make him cry and moan and jerk into your mouth until he fell over, the way I did? Huh? Is that the Mulder you knew, too?"

Alex gritted the words out while he locked her eyes with his, never releasing his harsh grip on her wrist. Her white face showed her anger and she still shook her head violently to deny him, but Alex saw the black pupils where cold blue usually was and knew he'd hit his mark. His voice was sparking memories in her that matched the images evoked by his intimate words. She didn't want to, but she believed him

"Why? Why you, of all the people he could have turned to, why was it you?" she whispered at last as tears flooded her dilated eyes.

"Because I was there and I loved him and I believed in him." He finally released her arm and stood up. "I'm going. You need to pick up Will pretty soon. Let me know if you can live with what you wanted to know so bad."

He walked out the gate and a moment later she heard the Saab's engine roar. She stayed in the yard, lost in the memories Alex had stirred in her, of passionate kisses between her legs and dirty words whispered into her own ears and the feel of Mulder's body on top of hers, driving into her, sending her screaming into ecstasy. And Alex knew about it, had seen it and felt it all. She hated him for having memories of Mulder's body in common with her, but she also felt bewildered as she realized she was incredibly aroused by the pictures that flooded her mind of Alex and Mulder, their mouths moving urgently on each other and their bodies entangled and pumping together. She pulled herself up from the table heavily and headed out to the garage to get in her own car and pick up Will, trying to banish the images in her mind and the insistent ache between her legs.

Scully's mind circled endlessly around Alex's revelations through Sunday night and the next day and the next night. By Tuesday afternoon, she'd had enough. She couldn't process the mire of emotions Alex's story had stirred in her without knowing more. She wasn't sure if she could stomach another girl-talk with Alex Krycek, but she had to ease her mind and find some peace from the thousands of questions and worries saturating her brain. She picked up Will from day camp and, as he climbed into the car, she told him they were going to the hospital to see Daddy.

"Will Mr. Hale be there?" he asked guilelessly.

Scully felt her face burning as she said, "Probably not. He works at night, you know that."

"Too bad. I like him, he's funny."

"Yeah, he's a real crack-up," she sniped under her breath as they headed for Townsend.

She automatically checked the staff sign-in when she signed the visitor's log and was surprised and a little dismayed to find Alex's name on the list. He'd signed in at 7:00 am, on the morning shift which was going to be ending in about ten minutes. She had planned to leave a note for him in his locker downstairs, asking him to give her a call so they could talk, but she wasn't ready to face him yet. She led Will to the elevator and then to Mulder's room and Alex was there when they arrived. She blushed brightly again at the sight of him, trying again to banish the erotic pictures he'd managed to completely embed in her mind's eye. He looked at her gravely and then shook Will's hand.

"Hey, Will. How are you?"

"I'm good, Mr. Hale. I thought you worked at night?"

"I did till yesterday. I asked my boss to move me to the morning shift so I could work on another project in the evening."

"What is it?" the boy asked.

"It's nothing. I think I'm probably done with it, anyway. It didn't work out." He met Scully's eyes again as he spoke, his cold gaze telling her he was quitting. She hadn't gotten to the point yet where she could even think about whether they could keep working together, but the icy despair in Alex's eyes made her speak.

"Are you sure you want to give it up, Mr. Hale? Maybe you just haven't given it enough time," she said softly.

"What makes you say that, Scully?" he asked in his usual sneer, although confusion and surprise were in his face.

"I think you should talk about it with your co-worker. If the project means as much to you as I think it does, you owe her that, to talk about what you told her."

Alex pulled his eyes from Scully's and said, "Hey, Will, would you do me a big favor? Would you take your dad's chart out to the nurse's station and give it to Nurse Carrie for me?"

"Sure, Mr. Hale," and he took it and left the room.

Alex turned back to Scully. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Frankly, Mr. Hale, I'm not sure about anything right now. That's why I have to talk to you. I'm going crazy trying to figure it all out and I just need to know...I guess I need more, I need to know what he was doing and thinking and why he did what he did."

He looked at her closely, trying to read her, but the complexity of her emotions clouded her usually expressive face.

"All right. Do you want to meet at your place later?"

"No. I'll get a sitter for Will and come to your place. I don't want him to hear any of this."

Will returned to the room just as Alex opened his mouth to say more and she briefly shook her head at him to stop him.

"I'll see you later, Alex," she said pointedly and Alex, taking the hint, left the room.

She and Will sat with Mulder until dinner time, talking about Will's day at camp and Scully's day at home. Will sat on the edge of the bed, telling Mulder about a frog he'd seen in the camp bathroom that day and Scully watched the animated face near the frozen one. Will looked remarkably like Mulder, except for his Scully coloring, and it made Scully's heart ache sometimes to see the expressions and little mannerisms of Mulder reflected in miniature in their son. She thought again that she couldn't deny Will any chance, even a remote and absurd one, to have his father back. She leaned back in her chair, trying to sift through the morass Alex had stirred up in her mind, to make sense of what he'd said to her, to understand and accept and keep going.

She got to Krycek's at 9:00 that night, having stayed home to have dinner with her mother and to put Will to bed. She was sitting in her car, reminding herself to hold on to her temper, when Alex opened the door and, seeing her there, stepped out to the porch. She took a deep breath, got out and walked up to him. Alex stepped back into the house and held the screen door open for her. She walked straight back to the kitchen and looked at the table that he had set with coffee cups, a bottle of whiskey and a pack of Marlboros. She smiled thinly at his attempt to put them both at ease and sat down, not looking at him as he joined her.

"So, come here often?" she joked feebly, lacing and unlacing her fingers nervously.

He actually laughed as he poured himself a whiskey, but it wasn't the laugh she'd heard in Anna's kitchen.

"Alex, I'm ...I have so many questions I need to ask you. I don't even know where to start. Help me out here."

He lit a cigarette for her and one for himself before he spoke.

"I don't know about this, Scully. I'm not sure we can get it back now."

He looked at her so solemnly, she felt the same expression settle on her face.

"I want to try, Alex, I still want to bring him back so badly. I need to understand what happened while he was gone, what happened between you two. I can't think clearly about it yet because I have so many questions clogging up my mind. Please, talk to me and help me understand and maybe we can find a way to finish the work. Okay?" she asked in a pleading voice he'd never heard from her before.

He rolled the whiskey glass between his hands while he answered her slowly. "I don't know, Scully. There are a lot of barriers between people, remember Anna saying that? And you and I, we just keep adding more layers, more bricks in the wall." He swallowed some of the whiskey before going on. "When I first learned he'd been hurt and was at Townsend, I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to waltz in with my little gold ring and slap it on him and he'd wake right up. That me loving him, that would be enough. But it isn't, I know that, and I can't not think about the way I feel for him when I'm working. I can't shut it out anymore. And it won't help him heal. It'll probably fuck it up."

"Do you know that for sure?" she asked.

"I know what Anna taught me, that there has to be a tie between the people and I don't have that with him. I can love him till I'm blue in the face, it won't make a damn bit of difference, because, as much as I wish otherwise, he doesn't have that feeling for me. He has it for you, it's always been for you. I wish to God I could just fork over every last bit of whatever screwy thing I have in me that makes this shit work. I'd dump the whole project on you and I could get the hell out of here and never have to see him again."

"Alex, can't you try? If I can try to get over you and Mulder, can't you try to get over him and me?"

"Your grammar is atrocious, Dr. Scully," he said with another half-hearted laugh. "And I've been over you and Mulder for a long time."

"It doesn't seem like it to me. I've wondered all along why you seemed so pissed at me sometimes. Now I know. You're a jealous bitch, right?"

His laugh was closer this time and she joined in briefly before sobering back up. They regarded each other silently until finally Scully said, "Come on, Krycek, help me knock down a few bricks. We got this far, didn't we? You in?" She extended her hand and he looked at for a long moment, then grabbed it, saying, "Don't spit in it, that was really gross last time."

They moved into Alex's small family room with their drinks and cigarettes and sat next to each other on the sofa. He kicked off his sneakers and put his feet on the coffee table and, when she tried to do the same and found herself an inch or two short, gave an aborted snort of laughter and pulled the table closer.

"No short jokes, please," she requested icily.

"I won't, but I have to tell you, I've always wondered how the hell you and Mulder managed to fit Tab A into Slot B."

"Well, that was a nice segue, at any rate," she said, lighting up again. "And, by the way, I'm hooked on these damn things again, too, thank you very much."

"My pleasure. So, Dr. Scully, now that we're all cozy, whatever shall we talk about?"

"Very funny, Mr. Krycek. I don't know where to start, Alex, that's half my problem."

"Well, why don't I start? I have some questions for you, too."

"About what?"

"Well, I wondered, while I was with him, when he called you, when you first heard from him after Christmas."

"Like I said, jealous bitch. I first heard from him again in February, he called and wanted my travel records from when I took Will out to Iowa."

"Was that it? You didn't talk about anything?"

"No. I asked how he was doing and he said he was better and then he hung up."

"He could be a cold prick sometimes."

"Yes, he could. Not that I didn't have it coming. Anyway, the next time, he called me at work one day, in August. He said he was going to be in DC and he needed to talk to me about Will. And he made it very clear that that's all he was interested in. I got the hint that there was somebody else in the picture. It never occurred to me that it might be you." She paused and looked at Alex for a moment, then went on. "I met him in a dive in Arlington. He looked so different, his hair was longer than I'd ever seen it and he was thinner than he'd been at Christmas. He'd asked me to bring Will's medical records, he said the records would have information that would help him get at the Network. I gave him the records and we sat there looking at each other like a pair of idiots and then he left." She didn't go further, didn't tell Alex how her heart dripped blood every second from that day till the day Mulder came back to her.

"August, huh?"

"Yes, why? What happened in August?"

"Lots of bad shit. The worst of the takedown, lots of bodies flying around, lots of running and hiding. He got shot, did he tell you that?"

"Yes, when I saw the scar. Across the left thigh? That one?"

"Yeah, that's the one. I almost lost him, I couldn't take him to a hospital and God knows I'm no Dana Scully, ace field medic. I'll tell you, I was about a millimeter away from calling you, swallowing my pride for the first time in my life and asking you to meet us in LA and help him."

"Why didn't you, if it was that bad?"

Alex looked away from her, then hung his head and fidgeted with his cigarette pack. Finally, he said, shamefaced, "I didn't want him to see you. I wanted him to stay with me. I was a mess," he laughed for a moment. "I mean, those were my choices? Watch him die from a gunshot or watch you save his life and take him away from me? I spent a very long night like that, changing the dressing, pumping anti-biotics down his throat and finally I caved in and was about to call you when he came out of his fog. I told him what I was going to do and he went nuts, told me he'd kill me if I called you."

She looked at her lap the way Alex was staring at his and swallowed heavily.

"So then what happened? He obviously didn't die and I never got any phone call."

"He told me how to fix his leg, how to dig the slug out and clean out the entry wound and tie it off. So I did. And he got better. Eventually."

"He's damn lucky he didn't die, you know that?"

"He's always been damned lucky. About dying, anyway. So, we lost track of your story, Scully, and wandered into mine. When was the next contact?"

"The end of November. He called at the Bureau again and I asked him what he wanted and he said he wanted to talk to me. So I met him again and this time he was nice. Well, he wasn't actually nice, but a little less blatantly hostile. And he asked why I'd done what I'd done, if it was because I stopped loving him or Will."

"What did you tell him?" Alex asked with his head hanging again.

She answered softly, knowing he hated what she was saying. "I said no. I said I loved Will too much to let him spend every minute of his life afraid and away from his father. That I loved Mulder too much to watch him die. I loved them both so much, Alex, I know that hurts you, but it's the truth." She reached out to touch his arm, but he shook her off impatiently.

"I only wanted him to do what would make him happy. And when he spent a lot of time in DC around Christmas, I knew things between us were starting to wind down. He told me the night before he went, that he was going back to you. The next morning, he thanked me very much for all my kind assistance, packed up his shit and was gone."

Scully reached over and wiped the unnoticed tears from Alex's face. "I'm sorry I hurt you, Alex," she said simply.

"Me, too," he said in a broken voice. "I hated you for a while, Dana Scully, more than I've ever hated anyone, and that's saying a lot. Sometimes, even now, I can remember what that felt like, to hate someone so much it burned your stomach. I thought ... well, never mind. Go on, tell me the rest."

"What were you going to say, Alex?"

He gave a jarring laugh. "You really want to know? I thought about killing you, Scully. I went a little crazy after he left. I thought if I got rid of you, the first thing he'd do would be to come back to me. And then I realized the first thing he'd do would be to slice the heart out of the person who killed you. And I realized that you made him happy, you and Will, and that I loved him enough to want him to stay happy. So I split, I went to Russia, found my way to Anna's."

"Then what?"

"That's not the story you want to hear, is it? I thought you had more interesting questions for me."

"I do, but are you ready to answer them?"

"Sure, this is very cathartic, actually. Good for the soul."

"You know, I never knew you had a sense of humour. It surprises me sometimes."

"Yeah, well, I'm full of surprises, aren't I?"

"I'll say," she said with a wry smile. "Okay, first question's easy. You and Mulder were intimate, right? Physically, I mean?"

"Do you really want to know, Scully?"

"I think I already do. I think you were, that you were as intimate as people can get. I don't know much about the mechanics involved, but I guess I don't need to. Your face is giving away quite a bit."

He didn't answer, just shrugged in silent assent.

"Knowing Mulder and the way he looks for physical release when he's emotionally screwed up, I'm guessing something happened between you two after he got back from DC at Christmas that first year." She paused for his answer but he didn't give one. "Am I right or did he take one of his famous twelve mile runs instead?"

"You are quite right."

She waited for him to continue, then said, "Well? What happened?"

"Scully," he said in a falsely demure voice, "are you looking for details about the best blow job I've ever had?" He laughed again at the expressions that flashed across her face, dismay and shock and curiosity and a flush of something he couldn't quite define.

Then she shook her head and threw a plaintive question at him. "So you really had sex with him?"

"Scully, you don't want to do this, do you?" he asked with a more gentle laugh. "It's obviously making you damned uncomfortable and, frankly, it's not doing much for my comfort either."

"Why should it make you uncomfortable?"

"Guy mechanics, Scully. I'm trying not to be obvious about rearranging here, but I'm going to have to run off to the little boys room in a minute if we don't change the subject."

She turned crimson as his meaning hit her and they both exploded with laughter. When they stopped to catch their breath, she wiped her eyes again and said, "You're right, this is cathartic. Laughing and crying in the same five minutes, I don't think I've done that before."

"Okay, have you got your answer now? Yes, mechanically speaking, we had sex. What else?"

"I don't know, just...just tell me about it, about the two of you."

"What, about having sex with him? All the gory details?"

"No, not that, God, I mean, how did you come to be..." Alex's laughter bubbled again at her unintended pun and she smacked his leg. "Stop it. We're supposed to be serious here, aren't we? Stay focused and all that crap?"

"I'm sorry," he gasped. "It's just so absurd, I'm sitting here with you laughing like a maniac about fucking the love of your life. It's bizarre. It's surreal."

"Fine, Franz Kafka. Can we move on? Just tell me...tell me what happened after Christmas. After the...the blow job." She smacked him again when he laughed at her bright red face.

"All right. Oh, God, my sides hurt," he said, rubbing his ribs and still laughing sporadically. He settled down at last and said, "Okay, blow job, right. Well, we fell asleep after everybody was happy, and when I woke up he was still there, sound asleep on the floor next to me. I must have woken him up when I moved because he jumped about a foot in the air and took a swing at me. Which, to be honest, was pretty much what I had expected his response to be. Act One, Mulder loses his mind and does something stupid and desperate, Act Two, Alex gets the shit kicked out of him for playing along." He tried to speak in a light tone, but Scully could hear the hurt in his voice even after the passage of years.

"What then?"

"Well, I don't take kindly to people swinging at me, it rubs me the wrong way. So I swung back. And he grabbed my arm to stop me from connecting. And...we're about to move into some fairly intimate detail here. Are you sure you're up for it?" he asked with a quirky smile.

She wrinkled her nose and forehead in apprehension, but nodded.

"Okay. He pulled me against him, and he kissed me, just a little." Alex went a little red himself and Scully was quick to pay him back for mocking her earlier embarrassment.

"Ohhh, you're blushing, that is just too cute," and she reached over to pinch his cheek.

"Stop it," he said and swatted her hand away. "So, he kissed me and then he pulled away from me and said he hadn't meant to swing at me, he always woke up jumpy and that it was just some kind of spontaneous response, he always did it, etc. And I said I liked his other spontaneous response a lot better. So he grabbed me again and kissed the shit out of me this time." Alex paused in his story, then gave her another goofy smile. "Did I mention we were both nekkid as babies? I figured any second now, he was going to come back to his senses and I'd get the aforementioned ass-kicking, but he just kept going. I mean, kissing-wise. There was no...mechanical stuff involved, not yet."

"Good, so he wasn't a total slut for you," she said a bit sniffily.

"Not totally, no, but the longer things went on and the more...intimate things were getting, the more I felt like...I don't know, some latent nobility gene kicked in or something and I finally pulled his head up..."

"Too much information, there, Alex."

"Sorry. Anyway, I stopped him before we got to the really good part. I told him I didn't think it was a good idea, in his current mental state, to pursue anything too intense, too complicated, not when we still had to work together. And I didn't want him to tell himself later that I took advantage of him when he was screwed up over the mess with you and losing Will." He leaned forward to pick up his drink and when he leaned back, Scully had curled her legs under her and turned to face him. He looked at her, searching for the anger and disgust he had felt sure would be lurking somewhere in her eyes or the set of her mouth, but found only interest, lingering amusement and more of the mental attention he couldn't quite put his finger on. He shook his head bemusedly before speaking again.

"This really is bizarre. I mean, you're not getting pissed off, hearing all this?"

"I always knew there was somebody, Alex, I told you that. I think my anger is mainly at finding out it was you and not the faceless stranger I'd imagined for years. At finding out that, not only did Mulder not hate you completely, he had an emotional connection with you that I didn't know anything about." She frowned as her thoughts came more clearly into focus. "I think maybe I'm jealous more than anything else."

A burst of laughter came out of Alex at her words and his eyes widened. "You're jealous? Of me?"

"Yeah, I think I am. I've always believed I knew him better than anyone else, that no one could ever have a more intimate understanding of him than me. And now I'm learning that you helped him when he was hurting more than he ever had before. You kept him from pulling that trigger, Alex, and I'll always be grateful to you for that. But that means you knew him at his lowest point and you brought him back from it. It was you he shared all the pain I caused him with, wasn't it? He told you about Will and what I'd done? He shared his anger with you and his fear, right?"

Alex nodded, missing the gentle repartee they'd been enjoying.

"Do you know, after he and I talked in November, later when he brought Will to me, we never discussed it again. He didn't ask me any more questions about why I'd done it, he told me he would never leave Will again and that was the end of it. You know more about those thoughts and feelings of Mulder's than I do. And I'm jealous of that." She smiled wistfully at him and said, "I think I should be glad, though, that he didn't have to run to a stranger, that he had someone with him who could understand what he needed. I mean, whatever history you and Mulder had before all this, you knew his story, how much pain there was just under the surface. You must have given him what he needed to move on, to cope with what I'd done."

"I gave him what I could," Alex said with another shrug that tried to pass as indifference, but there was a hint of sadness in his voice.

"Tell me more. Tell me about how you two got together."

"I just did. The whole kitchen floor blow job story. Weren't you listening?"

"Come on, Alex, I'm talking about later, when you two were...I don't know, going steady or whatever you called it."

He roared with laughter at that. "Going steady? How very 1965 Catholic of you, Scully!"

She laughed as well and the weight of their earlier exchange dissipated.

"Let me ask you something first," he said. "I thought you'd be a little more weirded out about all this, especially since you seem not to have picked up on his bisexual blips. You don't seem to mind so much that it was a guy he was with as that it was me, personally. In fact," he leaned a little closer to her and whispered conspiratorially, "I'm getting a funky, almost turned-on vibe here. Or am I imagining it?"

She only turned pink this time and laughed in slight embarrassment as she nodded.

"I think you're right. It's such an exotic, intriguing idea to me. I mean, I never noticed him so much as look at another man and the thought of him with you..."

Alex flashed her the wickedest grin she'd yet witnessed since their reunion. "The thought of me and him, specifically? Does that mean you're intrigued by the idea of me as well, Scully?" he asked with a comic leer.

"Are you looking at me lustfully, Krycek? Won't they kick you out of the gay boys' club for that?"

"Tut, tut, Dr. Scully, such an erroneous assumption. I'm as gay as Mulder. Which is to say, not too much."

Her eyebrow shot up and she opened her mouth to say something, but he cut her off.

"Not that Mulder was the first guy I'd ever been mechanical with, staying with tonight's euphemism of choice, but there weren't many and he was the only person, let alone male, that I'd ever had such strong feelings for."

"Was Mulder...I mean, were you...?"

"Was I Mulder's first boyfriend?" She nodded and he said "I was the first man he'd had an extended relationship with, yes. I wasn't the first mechanic to tune him up, so to speak..."

"Okay, I hate this metaphor now."

"How about, I wasn't the first fireman to ring his bell?"


They laughed together again, but she sobered quickly. "I wonder why he never told me about any of that."

"Even occasional experimentation will get you canned if you piss people off the way Mulder did. He probably didn't want to give anyone at the Bureau any more ammunition. And I got the idea that most of those particular oats got sowed in England and Europe, when he was in his moody, rebellious student epoch. And he sure wasn't going to tell you about me when he came back."

"I need to ask you something else and I don't want you to take it the wrong way."

He nodded and she asked, "Are you clean? I mean, Mulder was, he got tested all the time, after all the crap he's been exposed to..."


"No, I don't mean from you, just from everything else."

"I'm clean, Scully. I've always been careful and I got tested regularly back when I had anything resembling a sex life. I'll give you my records if it'll set your mind at ease, although, after all this time, I think you're okay."

She nodded gratefully. "You're probably right. I just needed to ask. We seem to have gone off track again, though."

"We seem to be doing that a lot tonight. I think it's this catharsis thing. We have a little crying jag and then we make sick jokes and then it's back to the crying."

"Well, it's time for some more sick jokes, so let's hear about Mulder asking you out on a date or whatever led up to whatever you guys had."

"A date?" he said with a chuckle. "Are you asking me about the first time we mechanized each other or the first time he admitted there was something there besides an angry bout of impersonal sex?"

"Both, I guess. You said you backed off first. Then what?"

Alex leaned his head back again and looked up at the ceiling as he began.

"I backed off partly because I didn't want to screw up the work we were doing. We were working really well together by then and we'd made some decent inroads into the Network. We knew we couldn't put down what they were doing on our own, but we could make it damned awkward for them with the right publicity at the right time, so that was what we focused on. Exposing money that was being routed to the Project, tracking their personnel, taking out a few key people when the need arose... it had to be done, Scully, Mulder agreed with me on that one," he said without apology. "Anyway, we managed, for about five weeks, to pretend the mutual blow jobs hadn't happened. We moved from New York to LA, and Mulder was starting to look for Will and there were enough distractions that I was able to stay detached and professional about the whole thing. And then, we had a bit of a setback. We were deep underground in LA, Mulder hadn't even told those geek friends of his where we were. We were in the middle of some extremely sensitive surveillance and we had to stay good and lost. Anyway, we got held up in LA one night. How stupid is that? We'd been at a Network facility in San Mateo and had just gotten back in town and we hadn't slept or eaten in about thirty hours and we were just stupid. A couple guys shoved a gun in Mulder's face and grabbed me from behind and got both our wallets and my gun. We couldn't exactly go to the cops and say somebody took our fake ID's and bogus credit cards, not to mention an unregistered and illegal sidearm. We debated calling the geek patrol for replacements but decided it wasn't worth breaking off the surveillance. We were almost done, we only needed another couple of days before we could move on, so we decided to be resourceful ..."

"And ruthless?"

"No, actually, not ruthless at all. We went into a couple bars that night and hustled pool."

She looked shocked at his innocuous conclusion. "That's it? You hustled pool? You didn't kill anybody or...or rob a bank?"

"Why? We just needed a couple hundred bucks to get us fed and gas up the Camaro we hotwired. Why risk the exposure of a big job when a little one will do just as well?"

"I guess that makes a certain amount of morally flexible sense," she said with a snide smile. "So then what?"

"So, we pulled in, I think, five hundred bucks at the first two bars and then we got made at the third and had to run. And it was just fun, you know? It was fun and exciting enough to get your adrenaline up a little but no one was going to get killed and Mulder and I weren't going to come home scraping blood and cordite out from under our nails. When we got back to our fleapit, we were still pumped and, I don't know, I just grabbed him and planted one on him and he looked startled for about two seconds and then he grabbed me back." He looked down at his hands fidgeting in his lap. "And after a few minutes of intense necking, I froze up. I pulled away from him and asked him if he planned on punching me in the face again when the afterglow had worn off."

Alex closed his eyes, not ready yet to tell Scully about Mulder's convincing words and strokes, the way he'd told Alex aloud and silently that he wanted what they were doing as badly as Alex did. "So," he continued after his pause, "he told me not to be a moron or something equally romantic and know, fade out as the music swells."

"Ah, mechanics again," Scully supplied.

"Yeah, mechanics," he said and hung his head in surprising shyness.

She studied his face for a moment, stunned at how badly she wanted to know the details that were putting such a softened, dreamy look on such a hard, cold person's face. She spoke before she had a very clear idea what she'd planned to say.

"Was he good? For you? To you?"

"God, Scully, how can you ask me that?"

"I want to know. I want to know if he was to you what he was to me," and it was her turn to look away shyly.

"He was ...," Alex hesitated before answering her softly. "He was so good, it would break your heart."

"Yeah," she whispered in agreement.



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