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A storm threatened in the distance, but Mulder didn't care. He was safe and warm, relaxing in the sunshine on the greenest grass he'd ever seen. Rich, clean morning light suffused everything. A fluffy white bunny sat peacefully under his stroking hand, its soft fur caressing his fingers. Then the storm clouds streamed toward him at frightening speed, darkening the sky. The bunny turned its head to reveal teeth like razors just before it leapt at his throat--

"Mulder!"

Mulder awoke, shaking, and searched for the source of the voice that had rescued him from death-by-bunny. //Any Monty Python jokes about killer bunnies are right out. For now, anyway.//

He felt awful: weak, achy, completely wrung and dried out. He needed to know who he had to try to protect himself from, not that he figured he would succeed in his current condition.

Krycek glanced at him while driving one-handed. "You awake?"

It wasn't as stupid a question as it might have seemed. Krycek knew from their days as partners that Mulder could do an excellent impression of an awake person while still asleep. Hell, the little bastard had occasionally taken advantage of Mulder's sleepwalking and sleeptalking tendencies for practical jokes.

"I could be asleep and still answer yes," Mulder said, even as he felt a twinge of horror at how groggy he sounded. It almost matched how he felt.

"It's a chance I'll have to take." His look was almost fond.

"Krycek--"

"I know your first question: 'How did I get here?' Some of the variety of enemies you have knocked you out while you were jogging. Then they took you to their secret hideaway and drugged you up for questioning."

"What did I tell them?" Mulder felt that he'd done an excellent job of keeping the panic from his voice, especially considering he was suffering from what felt like a Grade A hangover.

Krycek grinned. "Nothing. Their hideaway wasn't as secret as they thought."

//So I owe my freedom to him. Supposedly. Assuming he didn't help them somehow. Assuming he didn't interrogate me himself.// "What now?"

"I take you home."

"What? Why?"

"It's not like I can keep you on a shelf as a trophy."

//Oh, great. He's fucking with my head again, and, as usual, I'm in no condition to protect myself. He's having a battle of the wits with an unarmed man.//

"Here you go, Mulder, curbside service."

The thought of home beckoned like the light at the end of the tunnel. Home promised order, stasis, privacy to lick his wounds in peace. Home never involved Alex Krycek saving his ass.

Mulder opened the door and climbed up and out of the small car in a rush. The world blurred... He came to on his knees with his head spinning, his hand clenched on the door handle.

Krycek crouched beside him. "Back with us, Mulder?"

"Shit. I was..." Krycek helped him slowly stand, then led him to the door. "This isn't--"

"I didn't go to all this trouble to lose you now."

Mulder spent more of the trip to his apartment leaning on Krycek than he wanted to admit. He had a moment of anxiety at the door but had to laugh at himself. Krycek had broken in more than once; letting him in didn't make all that much difference, no matter what the vampire legends said. He'd seen it all already. //This is my life.//

Krycek gently pushed Mulder down on the couch and settled himself into the chair at the desk. "What are you doing?" Mulder asked.

"I don't have anywhere to go. I'll sit watch while you're down."

"That isn't necessary." //That really isn't necessary.// But he already felt himself being dragged under again...

"I've heard it's best to sleep it off," was the last thing Mulder heard.

He awoke feeling wrung out. //So much for sleep helping.// His mouth was so dry his swollen tongue had stuck to his teeth, while his throat burned. When he ran his hand through his hair, he got pain buzzes even from his scalp.

Darkness had fallen, and Krycek had turned on the desk lamp so he could read. He sat with one leg tucked under and the hardcover book, Dead Souls by Gogol, pinned to his knee by his prosthesis. He read with the same focused, almost predatory, concentration he used for so many other things. He looked like he could throw the book down and spring at any second.

Somehow, Mulder got the feeling that Krycek had known the moment he'd come to, even without looking up from the novel. Scary and oddly reassuring all at once.

When Mulder started to get up, Krycek asked, "What the hell are you doing?" It sounded almost affectionate.

"I'm parched. I need a drink." His voice sounded scratchy and long unused.

"I can get it."

"The bottled water. For some reason, I don't trust the tap anymore."

"Wonder why?" Krycek smirked before he walked to the kitchen.

Mulder felt under the couch cushions until he found the remote. He caught the end of a talk show and wondered why guests usually looked worse after they were made over. In this case, it might have helped that all these women had been given the same haircut without any regard to whether they'd all look good with a straightened, razor-cut bob. And did the stylist deliberately make their hair look dirty? He just didn't understand junkie chic.

When the news came on, Mulder saw the date and felt his throat close up. He'd been missing for two days, and he remembered nothing. //What must Scully be thinking? I have to give her a call as soon as--// He snapped the TV off half a second before Krycek returned.

Tiny beads of blessed moisture dewed the glass Krycek handed him. When their fingers brushed, Mulder told himself that he snatched his back from the shock of cold he felt from his former partner's skin. Krycek just smirked as he watched Mulder try not to gulp the water down too quickly.

Rehydrated, Mulder felt much steadier. "I'll be fine from now on, Krycek."

"That's a big promise to make, especially considering your life."

Caring, concerned Krycek scared the hell out of Mulder. It gave him an unwanted warm feeling and made him want to check his pockets all at once. "How about: I think I'm through the worst of the drugs' aftereffects?"

"Better."

"Thanks... for staying to keep watch over me, Krycek." //Though I'd love to know what you did with me.//

"No problem. And call me 'Alex.'"

When Krycek leaned forward to kiss his cheek, Mulder couldn't help surrendering to the warmth and tenderness of it. Couldn't help turning his head into it, letting it brush his lips... It left him torn between feeling pathetic and thinking this was what he should have done last time. He could only stare wordlessly when his former partner grinned, stepped back, waved, and walked out.

Mulder slumped back into his couch cushions and thought uneasily //eagerly// of next times.

 

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