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End Of The Cold War, The

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The End of the Cold War by Kadru

Section One

Title: The End of the Cold War
Show: The X-Files
Author: Kadru
Rating: NC-17
Pairings: Mulder/Krycek
Status: NEW
Date: July 30, 2000
Archive: YES
Series/Sequel: No
Author website: http://www.mindspring.com/~kadru/
Author addy:

Disclaimer: Fox Mulder, Alex Krycek and Dana Scully all belong to Chris Carter and 1013. I make no claims to owning them. No profit was harmed in the making of this story.

Notes: This story is dedicated to my dear friend, Rie Natalenko. She sent me a note while I was resting from surgery to say that her home had been robbed, and the cretins had stolen her computer which housed her collection of . . . entertainment. So I sat down . . . okay, lay down, and wrote this XF slash for her because I know she loves our boy Alex.

This is my first XF slash ever, and I've never posted to RatB before, so I do hope I'm doing this right. If not, I'm so so sorry! And to all of my list and IRC compatriots, I'm terribly sorry I've been so incommunicado lately. I've been dealing with a job search, surgery and boys tangled in my hair to really be a part of the group. I hope this makes up for it! (And yes, I should be working on my Project series and I am, but the darn thing's stuck in a breech position -- I needed a break.)

This is also in no way shape or form beta'd. All bads are solely my responsibility.

A special thanks to Blue, Louise Wu and Lissa for the Russian Translation.

Spoilers: takes place four years after the 2000 season finale, so spoilers for everything.

Summary: In the year 2004, a spy comes in from the cold.

Warnings: Graphic sex between two men. Lots and lots of schmoop. Look Ma, no angst!!


=========

The End of the Cold War

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pinetrees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-- Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"

=========

Riggs Place Northwest
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, January 15, 2004. 7:00 p.m.

Krycek shuddered in the darkness before pulling the tattered wet coat tighter around his hunched shoulders. His fingertips burned as he clenched the rough cloth, oily with age and grime. He had taken it off a dead man some time ago, and even though his sinuses had long since closed, he could still smell the stink of it. He was savvy enough to know that the rotting smell was imaginary, at least to his senses. If anything, his own acidic foulness probably masked the odor of decay for everyone else. At least the cruel smell worked to keep strangers at bay. Stinging sleet coated his hair with a layer of ice, and the long strands clicked against his face like a curtain of clear beads. Krycek knew he needed to get into a corner, out of the freezing wind, but he just didn't have the strength. Already, his bones were so chilled they ached. He knew underneath these layers of clothes that he was sweating, and that meant a fever. His sinuses were so swollen that his head ached miserably.

Despite surviving for days in an underground missile silo, despite enduring the brutal loss of his arm by Russian peasants, the rogue knew he was going to die tonight as the temperatures plunged and the storm grew more intense.

But not yet. He might die tonight, but he knew one thing for certain. His death would happen while Krycek still clawed at life. On shaky feet, he hauled himself up, balancing his weight against the wet brick wall. The man knew this neighborhood only too well, but tonight, everything seemed hazy. For more than a year, he had lived in its shadows, watching. He could see lights burning in the windows across the street. Lights meant an occupied building, and an occupied building meant there would be some heat bleeding through the walls to the outside. As he rose, he grew light-headed. Nausea swept up from his stomach, threatening to curl him back down, but Krycek fought to remain steady.

His initial steps came blocky and awkward, and the first image in his dizzy mind was that of Frankenstein's monster stalking out of the castle with a lightning bolt flashing overhead. He started to laugh before he felt the back of his throat gag. Krycek knew it was just dry heaves. He hadn't eaten in days. He forced his legs to work. Tonight, if he was going to die, he was at least going to die warm, or rather . . . warmer. Besides, he would be warm enough once he was in hell.

In the middle of the street, away from the shelter of the other buildings, Krycek noticed something floating just in front of his nose, almost like a tiny white butterfly. He paused and looked up at the sky cast orange by the halogen street lamps. All around him fell white petals of snow. He smiled in spite of his sickness, thinking back to spring days when he had lingered to enjoy the blooming cherry trees jostled by the breezes off the Potomac. /Happier times./ His numb fingers reached out as if to catch them, and a drunken laugh escaped his lips.

/That does it,/ he thought. /I'm insane now. Might as well be. I'm nothing like I used to be. No one wants me any more./

He didn't hear the car behind him, nor did he see the change in shadows due to the oncoming headlights. Instead, he studied the sky, and he noted somewhere in the back of his mind how the buildings seemed to be getting taller suddenly. When he felt the hard punch of the ground at his back, Krycek couldn't even understand that he had fallen.

=========

Fox Mulder drove as slowly as he could back from the bureau headquarters. The weather reports had been getting increasingly worse, although from his abysmal desk in the basement, he couldn't tell. The dry heat made his skin itch. But there was always coffee. And there was always paper work. When the radio on his desk began announcing road closings, he realized it was time to leave, even if he was still behind on his reports. Funny how the mysterious disappearance of the Consortium and the death of that cigarette smoking man hadn't really changed his life much. He still found himself in danger from things that his old partner Scully had trouble explaining. There were times he missed the gathering of old men who had made his life more difficult, dredging up awful memories. The cigarette smoking bastard was gone, found dead at the foot of his stairs. Mulder wished he had been there to see it. The other demons were gone, too. So were the shape-shifting creatures with their toxic blood. Sometimes he wondered where Alex Krycek had gone. He hadn't seen or heard from the rogue agent in almost three years, not since Mulder had been returned from his own brush with abduction.

As the windshield wipers beat a metronomic pulse, he thought back to the last time he had seen the man. He had looked good, for a rat bastard, walking into his office behind Skinner and the others. That much Mulder remembered. It had pained him some. No one, not even Scully, knew just how close Mulder had gotten to the green agent when he was fawning over Mulder that first year together. It was only a day after meeting him that Mulder realized the new agent had a crush on him. He recalled how much that annoyed him. The last thing he needed was a twenty-something partner with an immature infatuation. Even so, the guy knew what he was doing and he seemed pretty sharp. He was certainly earnest in demonstrating his willingness to believe. Sharing a hotel room with him while they were out in the field was awkward, but the guy had a way of growing on him.

Mulder never forgot that schoolboy smile of his, nor his goofy sense of humor. That constant expression of bewilderment.

He never should have slept with him. Even as he had watched the agent stripping off his clothes that night in their shared hotel room, Mulder knew that moving closer to him, hand outstretched to touch his shoulder, that this was going to be the biggest fucking mistake in his life. Seeing that lithe young body, all of Mulder's common sense faded away. And Krycek literally devoured him, his hunger pleasing to Mulder's self-esteem. Later, he didn't want to hurt the young guy's feelings. Sure, Mulder fooled around and planned to do it as often as he could get away with it, but he didn't want the rookie falling in love with him. Mulder trusted no one. He took every step, said every warning, and for months afterwards, he was so afraid of hurting his young partner.

How ludicrous that all sounded now.

When everything fell apart between them, that's what stung the most. Yes, the bastard had tried to set him up for the murder of his own father. And worse, he had helped to kill Scully's sister in an attempt to silence Scully. He had poisoned Skinner's body with nanotechnology, and had thwarted Mulder at every turn, even allowing the Russians to use him as a test subject for their black cancer vaccine. All that had been nothing compared to the epiphany that Krycek was using his body only to get closer to him, to convince him to drop his guard. Mulder had been so concerned with hurting the younger agent because of his own lack of emotion, overcompensating for that by allowing the agent to get even closer to him, all the while never realizing that Krycek was the last to get hurt.

Mulder knew the map of the human heart, but only theoretically. Feeling and living with the actual pain and emotional angst were something entirely different, and Oxford's books and lectures did little to prepare him for the loss and confusion. He struggled for years afterwards to understand why he ached so when he never really invested any emotions to begin with. He only saw it as sex, not love, barely even affection. Why did that hurt him so much? He chocked it up to damaged pride.

Seeing Krycek that last time, before Mulder was abducted, hurt even more. The man was so cold, so distant, and yet, at the same time, so well put together. He thought quickly, planned sharply. He was another brilliant man sent to battle the skies, and Mulder was just another body he had so unemotionally stepped over to fulfill his objectives. They could have been wonderful partners together and at the same time, Mulder wanted to see the man ruined. He wanted to see him be nothing. He didn't deserve all this good fortune. What he deserved was to be shucked into that silo, or to have his arm hacked off by ignorant peasants. He didn't deserve to be so much in charge of himself.

Mulder hadn't seen him in years, though. None of his sources seemed to know anything, and even his own work dried up around him. It was as if the entire conspiracy had been killed, even though he suspected that many of the players had just crawled into the woodwork to retire and die of old age. But what happened to Krycek? He was young. He was crafty. Where did he go?

Mulder liked to imagine that he was now some mafia boss in St. Petersburg, drinking chilled vodka and selling whores.

The weather changed from freezing rain to snow half-way home, and Mulder had even more trouble driving. Washington D.C. was such a strange mix to him --northern enough for it to snow, but still southern enough that no one really had snow tires and the salt trucks and snow plows were always too slow to really make a dent. "Northern grace and southern efficiency," he grumbled to himself. Many of the residents knew to stay out of the weather, and the tight streets were mostly deserted. Mulder had some trouble reaching his apartment in Dupont Circle, skidding several times on the ice. Even though this new apartment was closer to the Bureau, the tight streets and hills in this neighborhood made it more difficult to drive. He might have made it home quicker to his old apartment in Alexandria by taking the expressways. But too much had happened in that place. Too many bad memories. Now that everything had so strangely . . . settled . . . he felt it was time to move on.

He turned into his home's street, inching past the cars on both sides, hunting for a vacant parking space. Mulder used his wool muffler to wipe away the mist from his windshield to see better, and as he did, he thought he saw a hazy silhouette standing in the middle of the road, reaching up to grab the snow as it fell. The agent started to laugh, thinking he was seeing a homeless man dancing in the snow like a happy child -- to see such joy in the face of bitter hardship. It warmed his heart for just a few seconds before he saw the man stagger, his knees buckling as he fell backwards onto the asphalt.

Mulder ducked into a tight parking space, knocking bumpers with both the car in front and the one behind him. He didn't care; there was no time for considerate parking. He snatched open the door and rushed towards the homeless man. Mulder grabbed the stranger's shoulders and lifted him up slightly.

The first thing he noticed was that the man had only one arm.

Then he saw the shape of his face, the angle of his nose, and the curve of his eyebrow. Those unmistakable eyes.

He dropped Krycek, his fingers squeezing into a fist.

When Krycek's head hit the asphalt, his eyes fluttered open. He saw the dark figure standing over him, arm reared back as if to punch, and he began to laugh. "Mulder," he hissed with weak breath. "Mulder."

Mulder grabbed Krycek by the scruff of his sweater, his own breath steaming in the frigid air. He held his arm back again, ready to punch, when he felt the fever burning from Krycek's skin. He saw the beads of sweat on the man's forehead. That caused him to pause, and in doing so, he noticed the change in his enemy. His hair hung in long strings. A scraggly beard covered his face. His clothes were miserably filthy. For once, he could see Krycek at his worst, most dismal shape, and rather than feeling glee at witnessing his granted wishes, the sight stirred something else inside him.

Fox Mulder groaned. His fist unclenched. He sat on his knees as the first flakes of snow settled on Krycek's face, melting on contact. His rival had already fainted, and he looked on the verge of death. Mulder stared at him, unsure of what to do and more, of what to think. His first instinct was to beat the hell out of him, then haul his ass into custody. But a small misery from a time long ago tugged at his sympathy. With Krycek unconscious, Mulder cautiously reached out to touch the man's forehead. The heat tingled his fingertips. Then Mulder sighed. /He still has answers,/ he rationalized. He took several deep breaths, shaking his head at his own vulnerability. Rolling his eyes one last time, Mulder grabbed Krycek first by the sweater, then his flanks, as he rolled the limp man over his shoulder.

=========

Krycek woke to bright light. He squinted his eyes, covering them with his right hand. Over the sound of running water, he heard a voice say, "Come on, Krycek. Help me get these clothes off."

"No," he protested. "No."

"Stop fighting me."

Slowly coming to, Krycek found himself lying on a tile floor. He hadn't felt heat in so long, and now it suddenly crushed him oppressively. He found it hard to breathe, and he gasped for air. His stomach roiled into his throat, and he curled onto his side. He felt Mulder's cold hand on his forehead.

"Krycek, you're burning up. We need to get you to a hospital."

"No! No hospital!"

"You're going to die if you don't."

"Die," he whispered after some silence. "I . . . I think I'm ready to die."

Mulder almost spit out, "Oh no you don't," before he realized that the only reason he had kept this man alive in the past was because of the knowledge he held. That knowledge was worthless now. At this point, Mulder probably knew more about the old conspiracy than Krycek did, except where everyone had gone. Considering Krycek's condition, he doubted the operative knew that answer either. But he remembered his earlier, contradicting rationalization, and the faulty logic reinforced a deeper, unnamable curiosity to keep the man in his home. Mulder sighed out loud, then clamped his lips tightly with determination. "Come on," he said, lifting Krycek onto his lap. "At least let me get you into this tub to drop the fever some." Slipping the soiled, heavy coat off the remainder of his left arm was easy, but the right arm proved more difficult. Krycek's attempts to struggle free were more annoying than anything else, making Mulder doubly question why he was even doing this. Eventually, Krycek lost the energy to fight, and Mulder was able to shuck the coat away. The man lay back on the floor, staring up at the ceiling with reddened eyes. Mulder assumed it was the fever, but Krycek's well-practiced mask hid from the other man the sudden humiliation he was feeling. His sweater came off easily, and the flannel shirt he wore simply unbuttoned down the front. Mulder stripped off his boots, then his socks. He paused for a moment at his pants, as memories of doing this almost ten years ago flashed into his mind.

/It was just sex./

/If it was just sex, why did it hurt so bad?/

Shaking the thoughts from his mind, he forced the zipper to work on Krycek's wool pants.

Feeling Mulder's strong fingers so close to him, Krycek's chest nearly collapsed in on itself with pain, the horrible degradation too much to bear. The man groaned with his eyes clenched tight as Mulder tugged the pants below his hips, then down his ankles.

The smell was unbearable, a mix of rancid sweat and the sharp tang of ammonia from urine. Trying not to think about it, Mulder slipped one arm under Krycek's knees and another arm under his shoulders. The heat of his fever scalded Mulder's skin. With a grunt, he hefted him up. Krycek came to suddenly and started to wiggle free, but he had so little strength left that he couldn't fight as Mulder lifted him up and over the side of the tub.

The tepid water made him gasp. It wasn't cold, at least, but it was cool enough to help with his fever, and to give him some comfort from the dry gas heat of Mulder's apartment. Mulder's hand clamped onto Krycek's forehead. "You've got a bad fever."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"Don't move."

Krycek swallowed hard. He didn't want to be here. God, he didn't want to be here. He couldn't bear to have Mulder see him like this.

Mulder quickly crossed the small bathroom to the medicine cabinet, returning with a small black plastic strip that he pressed against Krycek's forehead. "Hold still while I take your temperature." Krycek did as he was told, taking the chance to stare at old partner. The man seemed unchanged, and that made Krycek all the more uncomfortable, seeing by comparison just how far he had fallen from grace. Yes, there were crows-feet at the corners of his hazel eyes, three wrinkles creased his forehead, two lines down the sides of his cheeks, around his lips. Yes, there was age. But those eyes were still the same. Dark. Vulnerable even at his most defensive. As though he were lost and needed help.

Krycek tried to turn away, but Mulder's hand held his forehead firmly in place. Instead, he had to avert his eyes. That lost, vulnerable look on Mulder's face had always been his undoing. How would Krycek's life have turned out differently if at that moment on Skyland Mountain he had just left the tram turned off, only to watch Mulder try to scale the wire to the top of the line and perhaps fall to his death. He couldn't do it then, just has he couldn't do it at any time afterwards. The man was his weakness. Every time pain became too intense, like those days and nights in the silo, or those days in Siberia as he waited for his arm to heal, he would close his eyes and remember the nights when he and Mulder had slept together.

"You're only at 102," Mulder said softly.

"I've had worse. I got to 104 when they cut my arm off."

"Was that Celsius?"

"What?"

"Was that Celsius? I mean, you were in Russia when that happened, weren't you? Are you saying they had Fahrenheit thermometers in Siberia?"

"Jesus, Mulder."

"How did you know you had 104? Did you do some sort of instant metric conversion when it happened?"

"Forget it. I guess some things don't change." Krycek wrapped his arm around his stomach, rolling on to his side away from Mulder. He couldn't to bear look any more.

Mulder remained silent for a while, studying the black strip in his hand, watching the photoreactive colors drain away. He hadn't seen the man in three years. All of Mulder's old enemies were gone -- either dead or so far underground that he never expected to see them again. The old war was over. At least a new war had begun, one not so organized, more episodic than anything else. And all of this time, Mulder had assumed Krycek was dead.

What he had to think about though, was why that bothered him. Why had he sat in the bed in the next room every night, staring up at the ceiling, *missing* him? How many times had he thought about the man and hoped that something bad was happening to him? How many times had he run across the man in his past, only to see that he was still very healthy and very alive and so much closer to the truth than Mulder would ever be, and then feel angry that the man didn't deserve it? He had so much hate in him, so much anger, but even when Mulder thought of the deaths of his father and his friends, he knew there was something else that fueled the hate, as if all of Krycek's double-crossing villainy were only flying buttresses to the main structure of his loathing.

Mulder looked down at the wraith in his bathtub, shivering from fever, his hair down to the middle of his back, beard touching his chest. His body was nothing as Mulder had remembered. Very little muscle, but what he had lay hardened around his bones. His skin was so pale, pocked with scars, bruises and bites along his legs and arm. Mulder sighed out loud, pinching the bridge of his nose. He finally asked, "How do you feel?"

"Huh?"

Mulder realized that he had fallen asleep. "Krycek?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't go to sleep in here. Let me get you in the bed."

The man must have really been sick, because he didn't argue with Mulder. He only muttered a half-hearted, "Okay." He awkwardly reached his right arm to push himself out of the tub, but the combination of illness, malnutrition and a slick surface caused his hand to slip and he clumsily fell back into the water. While Mulder leapt back to avoid the splash, Krycek's hand flailed out to grip the edge of the tub again so that his head wouldn't sink beneath the water. Unable to stop himself, Mulder broke into laughter, pulling his wet shirt away from his chest. The rippling laughter echoed off the tile walls and clawed into Krycek's shattered pride. When Mulder looked back at him, the other man was pressing his fingers against the tear ducts in his eyes.

"You okay there, Krycek?" His voice was rich with mocking tones.

The other man didn't answer.

"Krycek?"

His words came out weak and raspy. "Leave me alone, Mulder."

"What's this?" There was still a light-hearted tone to his voice, and Krycek instantly felt the barb.

"Just . . . why didn't you leave me to die?"

"Maybe I'd like some closure in my life. Maybe I'd like to see at least one rat bastard go down for all the crimes done to all those people."

"Like who, Mulder?" He sounded exhausted.

An unexpected temper flamed inside the agent. Mulder stood up quickly, his confused compassion unable to suppress his deep-seated anger any longer. "My father, for one!"

"What proof do you have that I killed your father?"

Mulder began to pace. "Melissa Scully."

"Luis Cardinal killed Melissa Scully. You already know that."

"Duane Barry."

"You killed Duane Barry."

Mulder exploded. "That's a lie!"

"What do you want, Mulder?"

"I want you to suffer, damnit! I want you to pay for your crimes!"

"Look at me, Mulder!" Krycek finally snapped, the humiliation of lying sick, naked and exposed to the man to whom he was already vulnerable proved too much to endure. Suddenly the man in the tub raged at Mulder, his stringy hair falling in his face, his eyes webbed by red. "Look at me!" He waved his left stump in the air. "They cut off my fucking arm! I have no money! I have no job! I don't even have a fucking identity! All I can do is haunt this city like a ghost, eating trash and wondering if just one day, just one day I'll be able to have a decent place to shit! Everyone I know is dead and no one in this world even wants me!" He started panting, his lips quivering. "Don't you think I've suffered enough? Huh? What more can you do to me?" Krycek slid further into the tub, covering his face with his one hand as he clamped down on his emotions, refusing to feed this man's gloating any further with his misery.

Mulder paced slower in the bathroom until he finally stopped, his hands on his hips as he stared at the shell of a man in his tub. He was a trained psychologist. One of the best in the bureau. Couldn't he recognize a shattered man when he saw one? Even if he did put this man on trial, what jury would convict him? He would just be sentenced to a mental institution. He needed help. After a while, Mulder said, "I'm sorry." When Krycek didn't seem to respond, Mulder knelt down on the floor and touched his shoulder. "Krycek? Stop crying, all right?"

"I'm not crying," he snapped back.

Taking a deep breath, Mulder tried again, "Look, I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"I'm not a child."

"Of course you're not."

"Then stop talking to me like I am."

Mulder took another deep breath. "I know you have a fever. How do you feel?" Krycek just removed his hand long enough to shoot daggers at Mulder with his red-rimmed eyes. "Okay, I guess I know the answer to that. How about your lungs? Does it hurt to breathe? Do you think you have pneumonia?"

"No. Not yet."

"Any nausea?"

Krycek nodded.

"When was the last time you ate?"

"I don't remember. I think yesterday."

"If I make you some soup, do you think you can keep it down?"

"I . . . I don't know."

Mulder turned around to stare at his reflection in the mirror, as if to ask himself, 'Just what the hell do you think you're doing, making the son of a bitch soup?' He glanced back at the tub. "Krycek, what were you doing in front of my apartment?"

"I . . ." Krycek started to answer, but then he looked away.

"Well?"

"I . . . I'm always there."

"You're what?"

"I usually . . . live around here. In the alleys. The dumpsters."

"For how long?"

"A year . . . I think . . . this is the second winter."

"You mean all this time you've been living right under my nose?" Mulder made several turns before shouting back, "Why?!"

"I . . ."

"Answer me!"

"I couldn't stop watching you."

"You . . . you what?!"

"For years I was ordered to watch you, and protect you. What was I supposed to do? Stop? And then . . . everyone just sort of . . . vanished. I had nothing to do. I had no where else to go, so I . . . just wanted to see you. I . . . I wanted something to . . . to stay the same."

Mulder slumped down on the floor, his back against the cold porcelain tub. He didn't know what to say, or how to react. He wasn't sure how long he remained in this state of shock until he heard Krycek's soft, miserable, "I didn't mean for you to find me. I was just trying to cross the street when I got . . . distracted."

After a while, Mulder asked, "You aren't lying to me, are you?"

"Why would I lie? . . . Who - who would I have to protect? Everyone's gone."

Mulder turned around. He touched Krycek's shoulder and felt the fever again. "Do you . . . do you want to take a bath or do you want to lie down?"

Krycek considered at his body for a while, and he noticed how the water had already taken a slight tint of gray. "I guess I smell pretty bad, huh?"

"Those clothes sure do," Mulder said, pointing to the pile in the corner.

"I don't remember the last time I had a bath."

"Do you feel okay? Do you need any help?"

"I don't think so."

"Look, I'll get rid of these clothes and make you some soup. You take a bath . . . "

Mulder left, moving from the bathroom, down the hall, past the living room and into the kitchen. He opened the cabinet door beneath the sink and pulled out a plastic garbage bag. When he returned to the bathroom, Krycek had removed the plug and turned on the hot water to refill the bath tub. Mulder stuffed the old clothes into the bag, his throat gagging from the smell. Just as he sealed the bag, he turned to see Krycek lying back into the tub, his eyes closed but his face clenched.

"You okay?"

Krycek shook his head. "I can't sit up."

"Just lay there, all right?" Mulder carted the bag of clothes out of the bathroom. He thought about leaving them in the outside hallway but he knew his neighbors would complain. He really didn't feel comfortable leaving the apartment to take the bag out to the street. He looked around for a moment before he stalked over to the living room window. A metal fire escape led from there. Mulder unlocked the window, opened it, then tossed the bag out onto the fire escape. Already a thin layer of snow covered it. The weather reports predicted much more over the weekend.

Standing in the living room, he realized that he was still wearing his white shirt and tie. Mulder stepped into his bedroom to change into a pair of sweat pants and a tee shirt before returning to Krycek.

The man was half asleep. Not wanting to harass him, Mulder picked up a bar of soap and a rag. The water was much warmer than before. He lifted Krycek's arm, and the assassin stirred. "Huh?"

"Just relax. I'll have you cleaned up in a minute." Mulder started with his right hand, and as he did, his mind began to drift. He and Krycek had only had sex for a few months together. The last time had been the day before he had discovered those damn cigarettes in the ashtray of Krycek's car. His hands looked so different now. Before, they seemed so young, so supple. Now they were thin, callused, skeletal. His nails were still short though, bitten to the quick. Mulder scrubbed, trying to return the skin to a healthy color, but the grime was difficult to wash away.

"Out, out, damned spot," Krycek mumbled.

"Shut up, Krycek." Mulder quickly washed his arm, then his shoulders and chest. He paused at the stump. Had he never really seen the damage? The end was a wrinkled mass of scars, with two large stitch marks rising up to his shoulder. "What happened to the prosthesis?"

"Huh? . . . Oh, that. I don't know. Lost it a long time ago."

Mulder worked on his legs. These legs were once the sexiest part of the man -- long and muscular. Mulder remembered how perfect his ass used to be as well. Finally, he gave the cloth to Krycek to wash the rest of his body. While the man weakly scrubbed, Mulder asked, "Do you want me to wash your hair?"

"I guess."

"Think you'll be able to sit up?"

Very slowly, Krycek leaned forward, and Mulder reached out to support his back. When he did, he felt the knobs of his spine along with his exposed ribs. /Such a waste./ Mulder grabbed the cup from the basin that he used when brushing his teeth so that he could pour water over the man's head. It took him a long while to lather all that hair. So much of it was tangled. Mulder had to resort to using his conditioner to untangle most of it. As he poured the water over his head to rinse away the conditioner, he noticed Krycek's lungs beginning to heave. Mulder held him steady as he retched nothing but air, then eased him back down.

"You okay?"

He nodded. "Don't know why the body does that. I don't have anything on my stomach."

Mulder noticed the water on Krycek's beard. If the man was going to be throwing up for the next couple of days, Mulder didn't want to have to see it. He reached for a pair of scissors in the drawer to the right of the sink.

"What are you doing?"

"Anyone ever tell you you look like Charles Manson?"

Krycek laughed weakly. "Used to be my favorite disguise. Except then it was all fake." Mulder grabbed his beard and again Krycek asked, "What are you doing?"

"Sit still. I'm going to cut off this beard." With the edge of the scissors close to Krycek's skin, Mulder snipped away the length. Then very carefully, he cut away most of his mustache that hung over his lips. "There." He wiped away the hair with the wet cloth. Krycek leaned back and closed his eyes. "Oh, no you don't. Don't fall asleep in here. Come on. Let's get you out."

Again, Krycek didn't argue. This time, Mulder wrapped his arm around Krycek's shoulder to steady him as he stood up. He helped lift each leg over the edge, then assisted him to the toilet.

"Do you need a minute?"

Krycek shook his head, shivering uncontrollably. Mulder began to work fast, toweling the man dry before pulling him off the toilet.

"This way. Bedroom's back here." Krycek was too weak to talk. As he carried him, Mulder couldn't help but remark on how little he weighed. With one arm still supporting him, Mulder used his free arm to strip away the sheet and blankets before depositing the sick man on his bed. Krycek was asleep before Mulder could even cover him, but he hadn't yet stopped shaking. This new apartment held heat much better than the old one, but Mulder still knew that this weekend was going to be especially cold. He stepped over to the closet to pull down his quilts. He draped one over Krycek, reserving the other to use tonight when he slept on the couch.

Mulder sat down on the bed, watching him. So his worst enemy had been living in the alleys around his house. Had he seen Mulder move? How had he tracked him down? The man had proven himself to be a capable actor, but was he capable of faking this kind of illness, as well as this kind of wretchedness? Mulder ran his fingers along the side of Krycek's face. He should have done a better job of drying his hair. Very carefully, he tried to wipe Krycek's hair dry with the towel they had carried with them from the bathroom. The man continued to sleep. Even with the conditioner, all this hair was becoming a tangled mass. Mulder left for a moment to grab a comb from his bathroom. He then climbed into the empty space on the bed beside the man and started to comb out his long hair.

He had only been able to draw the comb through the hair twice before Krycek rolled over onto his stomach, his head pressed against Mulder's chest and his right arm draped across Mulder's frame. The agent rolled his eyes and sighed with discomfort, but the memories rose up in his mind.

Every time they had slept together, Krycek had pulled Mulder close to him. Even before they had slept together, Mulder had pegged him for a cuddler. But those nights came back to him -- how uncomfortable he felt simply from the unholy knowledge of just how *comfortable* he felt. Whenever Krycek had held him close, his breathing and his steady heartbeat lulling him to sleep, Mulder had felt as though he were on the edge of a precipice, ready to fall to his doom at any moment. He wanted that man, wanted him so badly that he remembered aching every minute during the three months they were together. He liked to think back on those feelings with hindsight as if they were a premonition, but he knew the mind too well to make that mistake. His heart had liked it, and his heart never forgave Krycek for breaking it.

Tonight, though, with Krycek materializing suddenly out of nowhere, lying across his chest, burning with fever, the romance did not return. The man looked horrible, and Mulder knew he probably felt horrible. Combing out his long hair gave Mulder a chance to think. He could probably call the hospital, and then start the proceedings to have the man institutionalized. He knew Scully would be more than happy to use her physician's prerogative and sign away the man's freedom. But was he really crazy? /Living in your own filth for a year is healthy?/ Even so, he had spoken reasonably with Mulder. /Then if he's reasonable, he should be in prison./

Suddenly, Krycek moaned.

"What is it?" Mulder asked.

"Hurts . . ."

"What hurts?"

"Everything."

"You must have the flu," Mulder whispered. "I'll go get you some aspirin." He slipped out from underneath Krycek.

Once he was gone, Krycek stared out the window. Snow fell heavily, wisping around the edges of the window. He would surely have died in that tonight if he hadn't allowed himself to be discovered. Would Mulder have even known then, when the body was found, that Alex Krycek had been living in the corners of his neighborhood?

When Mulder returned, Krycek had fallen into an uneasy sleep, haunted by dreams. Mulder set a steaming bowl of soup down on the bedside table before leaving again. The next time he returned, he came back with a glass of juice and a handful of pills. The agent slid his hand underneath Krycek's shoulder. "Krycek?"

"Huh?"

"Sit up for a second."

"Don't . . . makes me sick . . ."

Mulder grabbed the second pillow and shoved it between Krycek and the headboard. "Lay back like this. How does that feel?"

"Make the room stop spinning and we'll talk."

"Take these."

"What are they?"

"Just over-the-counter cold pills. They should help with some of the symptoms. Get your fever down."

Krycek took them without further argument, then he winced after he swallowed.

"Throat hurt?"

"God yes."

"Try some soup." Mulder held out the bowl of soup for him, and when Krycek saw the contents, he started to laugh. "What?"

"This. You. Me. A bowl of chicken noodle soup."

"I think we've both seen weirder things."

Krycek looked around awkwardly. "Uhm, have you . . . have you got something you can set it on?"

"What?"

"Mulder, I can't hold it," Krycek snapped.

"Oh." Mulder looked around before saying, "Here, I'll hold it for now, and I'll go find something later."

Krycek lifted the spoon, then gave the soup a taste. His stomach protested after the first spoonful, but Krycek wasn't sure if it was because of sickness or because he hadn't really eaten in a while. He closed his eyes, pressing his head back into the pillows, waiting for the rolling sensation to pass. He then tried a second spoonful.

Mulder watched him swallow a spoonful of soup, grimace, lie back and pant, the beads of sweat popping across his forehead before like a true soldier he forced another spoonful down. Eventually, Krycek laid the spoon in the bowl and whispered, "I'd better not push my luck." Mulder set the bowl on the bedside table. Krycek nestled down into the bed again, pulling the quilt up to his neck and shivering. Concerned, Mulder touched his forehead. The skin felt even hotter.

He left Krycek to grab a bowl of warm water and a cloth. Once back in the bedroom, he pulled an ottoman from his wing chair that he kept by the window, over to the edge of the bed. Very tenderly, he wiped Krycek's face with the warm cloth. Despite the hardship, underneath the long hair and the remains of his beard, his face still resembled an angel's -- so perfectly formed -- those huge eyes -- round like a child gazing at the sea -- that point of a nose. Mulder stopped when he noticed Krycek's chin wrinkled and his eyes clenched shut.

"Krycek? What is it?"

"What a . . . what a perfect little hell."

Mulder sat back on the ottoman.

"I hope I die soon. This is . . . this is all I want to remember of this life."

Mulder leaned close.

"You," Krycek added, "being *nice* to me. That's . . . that's all I ever wanted."

No longer able to look at him, Mulder studied the wet cloth in his hand.

=========

Mulder spent most of the night lying on the sofa, watching movies on television. All these cable channels and nothing to watch. He cradled the remote in his hand, pressing the channel button again and again, letting the screen flip from meaningless image to meaningless image, trying to wipe the seed out of his heart that Krycek's words had planted. Every so often, he would find himself concerned, and unable to stop himself, he would rise up, move into the bedroom, and touch the man, as if only touch could prove his existence. The fever was still bad, and he seemed delirious at times. Krycek would pant and babble, calling out names Mulder didn't recognize, or slip into Russian. Eventually, he would rest again, wrapped in uneasy dreams, and Mulder was able to return to the living room to process.

Everything was changed. There were times when Krycek had accused him of trying to live black and white in a gray-shaded world. Turning to the window to watch the snow falling, Mulder wished for that world of gray again. This world without enemies had become technicolor but no black and white, no shades of gray, no highlights, no shadows, just strips of reds and blues and greens and purples both faded and saturated.

Was Krycek his enemy?

For years, he had acted as his ally sometimes, as his Judas the next.

But then, everyone had opposed him, at least once. Skinner. Deep Throat. X. Even Scully would stand against him if she thought he was on a fool's errand. Krycek was just more volatile. When he turned, he really turned hard and painful, leaving a scar that wouldn't heal.

Could he not forgive the man?

/Son of a bitch killed my father,/ he said to himself. /He was there when Melissa died. It's his damn fault Scully was abducted and now she's barren. He's used me like a pawn, all the while sniping that *I* kept him in the dark. What do you think?/

Mulder flopped back on the sofa and returned to flipping channels. He paused for a few minutes on the latest weather report. Another three inches were expected tonight. At least Scully had the foresight to make sure Mulder's pantry was fully stocked. She and her new partner had dropped by yesterday with bags of groceries. Mulder certainly didn't know this storm was brewing. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the sofa. He missed Scully. They still worked together on occasion. The old rhythms came back to them as sure as spring. They were a perfect combination. He could tell that she was making do with her new partner, but that she missed him, too. Things were different now. Mulder researched the files, and he sent agents out into the field, only occasionally joining them. A promotion, Skinner had called it.

He heard a noise coming from his bedroom. Rising slowly, Mulder wondered if he should grab his gun, but he found himself moving too quickly down the hall. He stopped in the doorway to see Krycek struggling to sit up, flinging the quilts and blankets off of him. "Hey, what are you doing?"

"It's so damn hot in here."

Mulder sat down on the bed and grabbed his shoulders. "Lie back." Krycek was too weak to argue. "I know you're hot, but I'm trying to break your fever."

"Nurse Mulder."

"Don't make me hit you."

"That's the Mulder I know." Krycek laughed, but his laughter quickly changed into coughing. "You know," he said after the coughing had stopped, "out there on the street, I couldn't see anything, except your fist about to hit me. That's when I knew it was you." Mulder covered him with blankets and quilts again. "Stop it, Mulder, I'm too hot."

"That's the point. Now don't move. I'm going to get you some more medicine." He noticed the empty bowl and glass on the bedside table. "I see you got all of this down."

"Took me all night. What time is it?"

Mulder glanced over at the clock. "It's 3:30."

"Where are you sleeping?"

"On the sofa."

"Mulder, why do you bother with a bed if you always sleep on the sofa?"

Mulder opened his mouth to say something, but the light of the lamp was enough for him to see that devilish twinkle in Krycek's eyes.

"At least you got rid of that damn waterbed," Krycek added.

"I seem to recall you liked that waterbed."

The twinkle left Krycek's eyes, replaced by something Mulder thought might be pain or remorse, and for some reason, he regretted saying it. "Do you want some more soup?" he asked to change the subject.

"No, but I need to keep eating."

"You kept this down pretty well."

"It wants to come up, though."

"Maybe we'll wait until the morning. How about a Coke or something? Sugar is supposed to help with nausea."

Both of them stared at each other. That regretful expression remained in Krycek's huge eyes. Mulder stood there, holding the bowl and glass, trying to read him. He was too gifted a profiler to not be able to see what was happening inside Krycek's mind, but what he saw there scared him. He glimpsed shadows of need as before, the need to be held, the need to be wanted, but what he clearly saw like blazing neon were gates, barriers, walls. More defenses than he had seen when the two of them were together, but definitely not the hard mask that Krycek had developed later in life. Had the emotions always been there?

Mulder turned and slipped away to the kitchen. He didn't want to know the answer to that. So what if Krycek's defenses were slipping? The man was evil.

/No, not evil. Amoral. There's a difference. You can trust evil./

Better to focus on his own feelings right now, because that was where the real danger lay. Krycek could beg and plead and cry his eyes out as long as Mulder held firm. Firm to what? Prison? Therapy? So far, the agent wasn't even sure what he felt about any of this. And here he was, practically wearing a white apron and a starched hat with a dainty red cross on the top. Mulder refilled the glass with juice. He knew what the difference was. If he had seen Krycek in that sleek black leather jacket, his hair perfect, his eyes sparkling with barely reigned power, body curving like a pornographer's dream, the old revenge spiced with resentment would have sparked hot. Instead, the man was sick, emaciated, haggard. Any man who would strike Krycek now was nothing more than a coward.

/Better to fatten him up and then kick the shit out of him,/ Mulder said to himself with a smirk.

=========

The next morning, Krycek rolled over in the bed to find Mulder standing beside the window, sipping a cup of coffee. The coffee smelled wonderful. Then Krycek realized it. He could smell again. It had been a long time since his sinuses were clear enough to smell. He assumed it was the drugs, because he still felt horrible. Mulder, though, standing tall in front of the light, took his breath away. It had required all of his will power, ten years ago, not to just let himself go when the man made love to him, to tumble head over heels and act like a fool. He had never really fallen in love before. There was always too much work to be done, even as a teenager, and the Consortium had only ever taught him to fight and slaughter -- never how to deal with love. Mulder had succeeded in getting under his skin. A retroviral infection Krycek was never going to lose. He could lie there in this bed and watch the man all day, watch how his well-toned arm, brown with hair, lifted the cup to his soft lips and then back down again.

Mulder turned slightly, saw Krycek looking at him, and not realizing it, he smiled.

Krycek's expression practically melted, and Mulder immediately understood what he had done.

"Your fever's down to 100." He sat down on the edge of the bed near Krycek. "Think you could stomach oatmeal?"

"Oatmeal would be good. I could use the fiber."

"I'd rather not know that."

"Is that coffee any good?" The puppy-dog look of begging tugged at Mulder's heart. He handed him the cup, and very carefully, Krycek sipped from it. "Oh, man," he groaned. "I haven't had coffee in so long."

Mulder's smile was subtle this time. "Do you want a cup?"

Krycek handed the cup back to the agent. "No. I'd better not risk it. . . . Thank you, Fox."

Mulder's expression grew ice-cold when he heard Krycek say his first name. He had only done that before when they were in bed together. The ancient intimacy hurt. Mulder rose from the bed and stalked away without saying another word.

Krycek closed his eyes, inwardly cursing himself.

=========

Mulder grabbed a measuring cup and slammed the cabinet door when he stopped. /Why the hell am I making that rat-bastard oatmeal?/ He flung open another cabinet, snatched out a bowl, then slammed the door again. /I should just call it in now and get this over with./ Mulder filled the measuring cup with water, pushed it into the microwave, then slammed that door as well. Slapping the packet of instant oatmeal several times against his open palm first, Mulder poured it into the bowl, then crumbled the paper envelope into a tight ball. He punched in enough time to boil the water, then leaned over the counter while his anger faded.

"Hey . . ."When he heard the weak voice, Mulder turned. Krycek leaned against the doorframe. He had at least put on a pair of Mulder's sweat pants. Mulder found his anger fading quickly as he looked at the man. He appeared so pale, with dark circles under his eyes. His hair, though clean, still hung tousled and ragged. The stubbled remains of his beard seemed more like a dark shadow on his face. Mulder could see him trembling.

"What are you doing out of bed?"

"I wanted to say I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what, Krycek? Sorry I killed your father? So I killed Scully's sister? Sorry I'm a double-crossing bastard?"

"I didn't mean to call you Fox just then. I . . ." he looked down at his feet. "I know how you hate that."

Mulder exhaled all of his breath at once, then removed the hot water from the microwave. "I don't *hate* it. It just caught me off-guard." He poured the water into the bowl of oatmeal. "Now go lie down. I'll be there in a minute."

Krycek slowly faded away. Mulder returned to making breakfast. As he stirred the oatmeal, a thought came to him. /Why did that upset me?/ He set the spoon down gently. Something inside him had reacted to that one word like a plucked string. Like an old dream he had put aside, and now that he remembered it, it stung. Not just the word, but the voice, too. /That was a long time ago. It was a foolish dream and it could never have happened and besides, that bastard was the one who fucked it all up anyway./

Mulder stopped as a cold sensation crept across his skin. He rubbed his chin. His eyes squeezed tight. He almost refused to admit the old memories, but he knew enough about psychoses to sense that repressing the old thoughts would be worse for him. There was a time, when Krycek lay draped over his body, both of them exhausted and in the throes of poste coitum triste, that Mulder would fantasize about the two of them together, Alex and Fox, coming home together for a quiet dinner, building a home, growing old side by side. That fantasy had swelled in him, over time, to explode into cutting shards the moment Mulder discovered that damn old man's crumpled cigarette butts in his precious Alex's car. He remembered rushing back to the bureau to file his suspicions with Skinner, fueled by the emotional pain he was feeling.

The professional bureau agent in him wanted to say that the anger and resentment towards this man came from the murders of his father and Scully's sister, not to mention countless crimes and deaths. Mulder sighed. Yes, all the concrete outcomes of the man's actions pissed him off and deserved his righteous hate. But when it came to ache, the most bitter had been the first because it had been so humiliating. It had destroyed something very small inside him that most men would call inconsequential. A simple dream that he would never feel again.

The old, comfortable anger firmly back in place, Mulder grabbed the oatmeal, his hazel eyes hardened.

=========

Krycek lay on the sofa so that he could stare out the window. He had draped the quilt Mulder had slept with last night over his chest. Every so often, he could still smell the agent's cologne and a trace of his natural musk. Outside, large flakes drifted down in a soothing pattern. He had been to Russia countless times. He had been raised in the north where snowy winters were common. But snow never lost its mystical quality. It always covered the wet, brown rot underneath and made the forest seem magical and pristine. /If only it would do that to me./

Mulder walked past the room and into the bedroom. A few seconds later, he returned. "Here's your breakfast." The bowl thunked loudly on the coffee table.

Krycek began to sit up, then he closed his eyes. "Maybe I'd better lay back down." He propped his head on the arm of the sofa before reaching for the bowl. Mulder watched him set the bowl on his chest, then with his one arm, feed himself slowly. Ten years ago, that chest was bulky, carved with muscle like a Renaissance statue. Where had that man gone? Lost like his arm? Taken from him.

"I'm . . . I'm off to take a shower."

Krycek lifted his eyes to see him leave. Thoughts of Mulder stripping himself naked suddenly popped into his head. Krycek stirred his oatmeal, his lips pursed and wrinkled. For a brief moment, Krycek glanced at the bare stump, scarred and ugly, while images of Mulder's still perfect body mixed together. It seemed to emphasize the barriers between them.

=========

When Mulder returned, Krycek had cocooned himself in the quilt. Mulder stepped over towards him, and he noticed the man had only eaten half of his oatmeal. He reached down to touch his forehead. Still very warm. Krycek stirred at his touch. "Huh?"

"Didn't care for your oatmeal?" Mulder tried to put a sting in his voice.

"I was just starting to feel queasy. That's all. Thought I'd better not risk it until you got out of the bathroom."

"You could have come in there, if you needed to."

Krycek looked at him funny, then he bundled the quilt under his chin and closed his eyes.

Mulder put his hands on his hips and stood up straight. "You've seen me naked."

"Yeah . . . I know . . ."

There was something about Krycek's tone of voice that Mulder's profiler mindset recognized, but he just couldn't believe. "What's wrong, Krycek? You suddenly bashful or something?"

Krycek sighed out loud, then he sat up, pulling the quilt away from his chest. What the agent didn't know was that while he was taking his shower, Krycek had lain on the sofa, seeing his weak, fevered body and letting the resentment build. "Look at me, Mulder." The agent stared down at the floor. "I said, Look At Me!" Mulder practically jumped at the sudden energy to Krycek's deep voice. Krycek leaned on the sofa cushion with one hand, his body angled awkwardly. "Look at . . ." his voice broke, "what's left of me." He waved the stump of his arm. "I have to walk around, for the rest of my life, with this . . . and for what? So YOU could get into Siberia and then out of it with your fucking truth." The man's eyes grew wet. "Look. Look at what I look like. I haven't had a square meal in . . . in years. Even you said I look like Charles Manson. You think I LIKE that? The last thing I want to do, *Fox* Mulder, is to walk in and see that not a god damn thing has happened to you."

"Are you saying that *this*--" Mulder pointed at him, "--isn't *fair*?"

"Yes, it's not fair."

"Well, I say it is!" Mulder had kept twelve hours worth of rage bottle up because of sympathy and something else that he didn't quite understand, and all of that exploded. "I say it is fair! So what if you lost your arm? You took away my father!"

"You know what?!" Krycek pulled shakily himself to his feet. "I'm sick. Of hearing. About your goddamned father. Your father was an evil man, and I shot him. I did it, because they told me to, and I tried to frame you because I thought if you were in prison, then they couldn't get to you. *Forgive me*!" The words came out rich with irony. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, Fox Mulder." His voice grew weak, and strangely sincere . . . "I'm sorry."

"You're *sorry*? You're *sorry*?! Sorry doesn't bring back my father!"

"Oh yeah?! Well who the hell is going to bring back *my* father, huh? Or what about my *mother*? Where you there when they were murdered? Oh! Listen to me! I have the WRONG FUCKING MULDER!"

Mulder paled at the revelation.

Krycek continued. "And you want to know something else?! I *am* sorry . . . Mulder . . . that I killed your father, but AT LEAST you have the man who did it . . . standing in front of you . . . saying he's . . . sorry . . . " His voice suddenly became small. He looked up at Mulder and asked, "Who's going to stand in front of me and say, 'I'm sorry.'?"

For a tense moment, the two of them stared at each other with clenched fists. Krycek blinked, slumping down on the sofa and covering his face with his hand. "I didn't want to kill your father, but I was ordered to."

"That defense didn't work in Nuremburg."

"No. . . and it didn't stop from hurting you. I didn't want that. You started hating me then."

Mulder narrowed his eyes. His voice dripped with venom. "I started hating you well before that."

Krycek uncovered his face and lifted his eyes. He rose once again from the sofa, swaying unsteadily. "I don't know why I'm here. I should just leave." He began to pace around the room. "Where are my clothes? Where are my clothes, Mulder?!"

Mulder took a deep breath and counted to ten as Krycek shoved him aside to stumble to the bedroom.

"Where are . . . where are my clothes?"

The agent could hear the other man's voice growing weak. Mulder knew he was sick. Probably still delirious, and he wasn't quite sure if his early diagnosis that the man needed to be in an institution wasn't still accurate. So far, Krycek's emotions were on a roller coaster -- one minute the same old obnoxious monster, the next, a broken, withered man begging for forgiveness. Mulder was a psychologist. He should be able to handle Krycek, at least until the weather cleared and he could take him to a hospital.

Suddenly, he heard a loud thump coming from his bedroom. Mulder raced down the hallway to find Krycek lying in a heap on the floor.

"Alex . . ." He let the man's first name slip before he could stop himself. "Alex, stop it. You're not going anywhere." He pulled the man up. "You're too sick." He guided him back to the bed. "Just lay down, okay. Try to get some sleep. We . . . we can talk about all this when you're better."

Krycek was too dazed to put up much of a fight. He allowed Mulder to cover him, even assisting him with the quilt.

"I'll come back with some juice and some more pills."

==========

By the time Mulder came back, Krycek had balled himself into the blankets. His eyes were closed, but he continued to shiver. Mulder sat down on the edge of the bed, his anger suddenly spent. Riding the waves of Krycek's emotions was exhausting them both, especially when Krycek was drawing out Mulder's own emotional mix. Mulder touched him on the shoulder. "Come on. Take some of these again."

Krycek opened his eyes, and for the first time, Mulder saw the depth of the pain inside.

"Mulder," he whispered, his voice hoarse.

"Be quiet, Krycek."

"I . . . I said some things . . ."

Gently, Mulder placed his fingers on Krycek's dry, cracked lips. "Don't. We . . . we both said a lot of things."Krycek closed his eyes, his face a mass of wrinkles."Krycek . . . Alex . . . look, you're not well. Your emotions are going up and down and you're exhausted. We still have . . . a lot of things to talk about but not now, all right?"

Krycek looked up at him, his eyes wet. "A truce?"

"A truce. Let's focus on getting you better . . . then we'll talk." He held out the pills. "Here, take these, and go back to sleep."

=========

Krycek slept for most of that morning. Mulder remained on the sofa, trying not to think about some of the words the assassin had said to him. They were all too uncomfortable. He told himself again and again not to believe what the rat bastard had said to him, but he couldn't help believing him and the emotions he seemed to be expressing. Krycek was such a paradox. He had helped Mulder before, with information and leads, but at the same time, he had double-crossed and slaughtered his way through Mulder's past like a demon, making it hard for Mulder to decide who was worse, Krycek, or that wrinkled old smoking fart who held the man's leash. Watching the snow fall seemed to make it easier for Mulder to shut off these thoughts. The white, swirling patterns, mixed with all that silence, soothed him somewhat.

But eventually, Mulder's FBI professionalism won out. Krycek was a federal suspect wanted on multiple counts. As an agent, Mulder wasn't about to jeopardize his career for the man, regardless of how pathetic he seemed. Besides, the man sleeping in his bedroom needed antibiotics, not to mention a regular diet. /He can get that in prison./ Still sitting on the sofa, Mulder picked up his cordless phone and dialed in to the office.

"Skinner," his A.D. answered.

"Sir, it's Mulder."

"Oh, Mulder. Look, you might as well stay in today. The roads are a mess and things seem quiet right now."

"Well . . . sir . . ."

"Let me guess," Skinner replied, "you've already made that decision."

"Yes sir."

"So what is it, Mulder?"

"Sir, I have Krycek."

"Alex Krycek?"

"Yes sir."

"Where?"

"In my apartment."

"In your apartment? Mulder, what are you doing with that man in your apartment?"

"I found him outside when I got home. He's in pretty bad shape. I think he's been living on the streets for a while."

Skinner paused for a moment, then said, "Well, I wish I can say I had even a tiny bit of sympathy."

"I know what you mean," Mulder lied. "Look, what do you want me to do with him? Bring him in myself or have someone come by here to pick him up?"

"Don't bother. We can't hold him."

"We can't hold him? What are you talking about?"

"Come on, Mulder. You know he's going to just use the Smithson clause on the Eisenhower Pardon like all the others."

"The Eisenhower Pardon? He can't claim that!""I'm afraid he can. The Smithson clause covers all classified agencies and departments involved in security research."

"I know, I know, but he can't claim that! He was a double-agent!"

"Look, Mulder, I don't like it any more than you do, but you know as well as I do that a lot of people have been claiming that clause over the past three years. Whatever happened, happened. Something made everything fall apart, and now these people just want to return to normal lives. If just one of their kind goes down, then everyone goes down. I . . . I happen to know Krycek's name was on the list of those specifically pardoned."

"What? Why didn't you tell me this?"

"I knew it would upset you. Come on, Mulder, don't read too much into this. I only found out about Krycek last year, and no one had seen him since your abduction. I just assumed he was dead and there was no reason to tell you."

Mulder remained silent for a while, watching the snow fall. Finally, he asked, "So what am I supposed to do with him?"

"You said he was in bad shape?"

"Yeah?"

"Then my advice to you would be to call an ambulance, dump him in it, and go back to thinking he's dead. If the son of a bitch is living on the streets like a rat, then I say that's what he deserves. Next time you see him, have the locals arrest him for vagrancy."

=========

Later that afternoon, Mulder came back into his bedroom to find that his bed was empty. A quick glance to the right and he spotted his guest sitting in the wing chair, his knees against his chest. Krycek had bundled himself in the quilt, and his green eyes gazed out the window at the snow. Mulder noticed the empty soup bowl on the bedside table as he crossed the room to stand at Krycek's side. "I guess you're feeling better."

Krycek's eyes slowly turned away from the window to stare at Mulder.

"Another bowl of soup?"

He shook his head. "Not now. . . . thank you."

Mulder pressed his hand on Krycek's forehead. "Your fever is going down."

"That's normal for the afternoon. It'll go back up at night."

"Still, I figured you'd be down for the count a lot longer."

He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm still not up for the Boston Marathon, but I think I'll be out of your hair in a few days."

"A few days? You have the flu, Krycek. You'll be sick for at least a week."

"Maybe."

"Let me guess. You don't have the flu."

Krycek smiled slightly. "No," he said hoarsely. "I have the flu."

"Do you want to tell me what's going on?"

He took a deep breath, looking back at the window and the snow. Eventually, he said, "I guess it doesn't matter any more. Since that oil thing took me over, I . . . I seem to heal fast."

Mulder's eyes grew big. "Are you saying that thing's still in you?"

"No . . . at least, I don't think so. I guess it just . . . did something to me. It's the only way I can explain living inside a missile silo for five days without water or food. And this." Krycek nudged the quilt with his amputated arm, creating a bulge under the cloth. "It didn't take me long for the skin to grow over it."

"Is that why you didn't want me to take you to the hospital?"

Krycek nodded. "That's the last thing I need is for someone to run the right tests and to see what's swimming around in my blood." Then he smiled. "Did you think I was afraid you'd throw me in jail?"

"Yes."

Krycek turned his eyes back to the window. "In case no one's told you, I've been pardoned. I found out two years ago. That was the worst thing to ever happen to me."

"I figured you'd like knowing you got away with murder."

"I did get away with murder, Mulder. I didn't need a piece of paper to tell me that. What that pardon meant was that all my influence, all my black mail targets, all the people who owed me favors, all of that dried up in an instant. Kinda hard to lean on a mark when he's got nothing to be afraid of." He closed his eyes, resting his head on the wing of the chair. "Besides, you wouldn't have forgiven me, so what difference did it make?"

"I thought we said we wouldn't talk about that right now."

"Sorry. My bad."

=========

Krycek was right. His fever did spike later that night. Mulder stepped into his bedroom one last time before retiring to his sofa and he noticed one small detail. A spiderweb of wrinkles in the bottom sheet of his bed. Looking closer, he saw Krycek's right hand gripping the cloth, the knuckles even more pale than his white skin. Glancing at Krycek, he recognized the tense muscles around his jaw.

"You doing all right?"

"I hate the flu," he groaned.

"Aches?"

He nodded.

"Hold on." Mulder walked into the bathroom, opened the cabinet underneath the sink and began to rummage around. He found the hot water bottle behind the rolls of toilet paper. After he filled it with hot water and returned to the bedroom, Krycek rolled onto his back, only to start laughing. "What?"

"Mulder, are you planning to give me an enema?"

"It's a hot water bottle."

"Yeah, sure." He smirked. "So tell me, do you douche?"

"Do you want this thing or not?"

"I forgot you were kinky."

Mulder rolled his eyes as he sighed out loud. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "I thought we said we wouldn't talk about these things."

"I thought you were talking about work."

"Where does it hurt the worst?"

"The small of my back."

"Roll over," Mulder commanded.

"You don't know how long I've waited to hear that again."

/Yes . . . yes I do,/ Mulder thought sadly to himself. /Yes I do./ He didn't rise to Krycek's baiting. The man was probably just as volatile on that subject, too. Mulder at least knew *he* was. Trying not to think about it, Mulder pulled back the covers and placed the hot water bottle at the belt line of Krycek's sweat pants.

"Oh my god," Krycek groaned, arching his back, his buttocks rising. Mulder's hazel eyes grew wide and he instantly darted them away. The man continued to moan softly, writhing on the mattress. Finally Mulder turned back. Krycek had folded his arm under his head, pulling his long hair away from his back, leaving the skin exposed. Mulder examined the muscles. His old enemy may have lost a lot of weight, but with his arms pulled up, the muscles seemed to have returned to life, making a smooth, broad triangle of his shoulders that arrowed down to a slim waist. Mulder pressed the hot water bottle firmly, making Krycek softly groan again. "Don't stop," he whispered.

Mulder gave in to temptation. He very carefully placed his hands on Krycek's back. The skin felt warm from fever, and smooth to his touch. He squeezed the muscles tenderly, and Krycek whispered again, "Don't stop. Please. No one's touched me for so long." Both hands gripped Krycek's shoulders, massaging his aching muscles. At times, Mulder would stop kneading his flesh to simply draw his fingertips across Krycek's skin. His hair, now clean, spread across the white pillows like thick, dark waves. Time stopped for both of them. No memories. No conflicts. Just Mulder touching him, feeling the man's heart beat underneath his open palms, energy passing back and forth between them.

For Krycek, the strong hands on his back immediately hypnotized him, dragging him into a world where fantasies could test the temperature of reality. Mulder was touching him again, as he had ten years ago. Had he gone back? Had all the events been nightmares? Unbidden, his heart swelled. The pain of this hell was becoming unbearable.

Mulder wasn't sure when he had stopped. He only noticed that his own spine had straightened and that his hands were at his side. Krycek turned to look at Mulder through strands of his long hair. His green eyes flamed brighter with tears.

They stared at each other, both of them motionless, both of them holding their breaths. Krycek's expression begged, begged for everything -- forgiveness, understanding, maybe even love -- but Mulder knew that inside those eyes lay a man begging for . . . any small thing, any small tender crumb.

Mulder couldn't move.

He could only stare back at him. His hazel eyes dry. His expression a mask.

Very slowly, Krycek pressed his face in the pillow. He couldn't witness this freezing rejection any longer. He held his breath to make sure there would be no weakness or crying. Not for this man. He would not cry for this man. This weekend was turning into a sweeter hell than even he could have imagined, with Mulder fulfilling every wish yet at the same time, hovering just outside his reach -- cold, judgmental, vindictive. With his one arm, Krycek reached behind him, grabbed the blankets and quilts, and pulled them to cover his head.

At that moment, Mulder felt as if he had just slapped down a child.

=========

All the lights were out in the apartment. Only the glow from the street lights cut the darkness. With the side streets still coated in snow, Mulder heard no sounds of passing cars, and it was too late at night for his neighbors to be watching television or even moving around. Krycek was in a deep slumber, and Mulder didn't even hear him turning beneath his layer of quilts. On occasion, he would hear a solitary car echoing the crunch of snow under its tires against the brick walls of the row houses. Otherwise, he could only hear a stilted silence.

Mulder perched on the edge of the sofa cushion, his elbows on his knees, and his hands folded together into a tight ball in front of his lips. In such stillness, he had only one area of internal noise, one locus of chaos.

The emotions in his chest.

He hated Krycek, hated the mother-fucking son-of-a-bitch rat bastard who had killed his father. For years Krycek had denied doing it, until this morning when he had stood in front of Mulder and asked for forgiveness. He really did it. He really did it. And he had stood over Melissa Scully's body as the innocent woman bled to death in a doorway. He had betrayed Mulder at every step, claiming to be a double-agent, only he never revealed who he was working for. The man . . .

The man had slid under his skin, a tiny ivy root slithering underneath tree bark, cracking his wooden defenses. Mulder never trusted anyone because any time he did, that person sooner or later just made fun of him. Called him paranoid. Obsessive. *Spooky*.

But he wanted to trust someone.

He wanted to be able to go home to someone and know that the person on the other side of the door was not only glad to see him, but also believed. That he *believed*.

For a brief slip of a moment, he had thought he might be able to have that with Alex. Thought it could be possible. They were already sleeping together, and the sex was mind-blowing. Mulder craved the sex, found himself thinking about it as they drove from one crime scene to the next, found himself luridly staring at the man's body when he should have been paying attention to a witness. He was distracting to every sensory organ he had. His supple-young, well-toned, fresh from Quantico body. Those huge eyes that fawned at him. That thick dark hair that Mulder would card his fingers through. Those lips and the taste of him and how well the man could kiss, making his entire universe become just those lips and tongue. That hard uncut cock belying his Russian heritage. The smell of him in the morning, after he had shaved. That blistering, boyish smile and that deep, husky voice. Alex's intense need to make sure Mulder was pleased by everything he had done.

Mulder covered his eyes, pushing the palms of his hands into his eye sockets until he saw stars. /Damn him!/ He whimpered once before he clamped down on his throat. /I hate him. He ruined everything. I wanted to trust him so fucking much and he was the absolute last person I could trust. He hurt me so bad and what kind of miserable excuse of a human being am I for wanting him? For letting him stay in my home? For being his goddamn nursemaid?!/

He took a deep breath to steady himself. /The man's a wreck. He's a wreck. He's been living on the street for a year. His body's gone. You couldn't have sex with him right now, even if you wanted to. So far, everything you've seen of his mental and emotional state is that he's highly unstable. Aren't you even remotely concerned that he might pull your gun out and kill you?/

Stretching his neck back, Mulder stared at the ceiling. At no time since Krycek had come into this apartment had he tried to injure Mulder. He hadn't swung a fist. He hadn't made any threatening moves. Instead, he had acted contrite and forlorn and even grateful. The only times he had verbally lashed out a Mulder had been . . . Mulder closed his eyes as he realized it.

/He's only reacting to me. To what I've said to him./

He exhaled all of his breath as his shoulders sagged.

/I'm the one on the emotional roller coaster. I'm the one who's unstable./

/One minute I'm bathing him, the next, I'm snapping at him. Then I'm feeding him, then I'm accusing him of murder./

The lump in his throat hardened, closing off his lungs.

/One minute I'm massaging his back . . . because I want to . . . I want him . . . and the next minute, I'm treating him like gum under my shoe. No wonder Alex's emotions are swinging back and forth. No wonder he said he was in hell./

In the dark, Mulder noticed the hazy square outlines of light on the floor, cast by the streetlights through the windows to his right. Inside those squares, he saw the phantom-like shadows of the snowflakes as they slid along the rug, from the doorway of the living room to the edge of the light, disappearing into the darkness nearest the window-ledge. The gray shadow-flakes twirled around the carpet, swirling at Mulder's feet like ghostly moths.

=========

Both men were silent and contemplative the next day. It was Sunday, and the apartment building seemed a little more lively as Mulder heard his neighbors climbing up and down the stairs with their laundry. Mulder fixed Krycek his usual bowl of morning oatmeal, and the man mumbled his thanks. "How are you feeling today?"

"I'm bored."

"Do you want to watch some television?"

Krycek shrugged his shoulders.

"Come on." Mulder held out his hand. Krycek stared at it for a little while before ignoring it, rolling onto his side and lifting himself out of the bed using his own strength. He wrapped himself up in the quilt, then walked out of the bedroom with Mulder following behind him. Krycek claimed the sofa, bundling Mulder's quilt like a pillow against his shoulders and the arm of the sofa, if only to have the man's smell about him again.

Mulder fell into the upholstered chair beside him, one leg thrown over the arm, then he tossed the remote to Krycek. He caught it awkwardly against his chest.

"No," he said, holding out the remote with his right arm. "You do it."

"You sure?" Mulder asked, taking it back and turning on the television.

"I was never one for TV."

"Is that a judgment?"

Krycek sighed. Slowly, he lifted himself from the sofa.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm not going to sit here if we're going to argue," he said softly.

Mulder caught him as he walked past by wrapping his arm around his waist. "Sit back down. I didn't mean it like that."

"Mulder, if we keep adding clauses to our truce, we're just going to be sitting here, staring at each other." Krycek felt something dry in the back of his throat, and when he tried to clear it, the coughing took hold. Krycek gripped his stomach with his one hand, bending over, coughing harder and harder.

Standing up, Mulder rubbed his back. "Cough it up, Alex." He eased the man back to the sofa. Krycek's coughs sounded horrible, like stones rumbling in his lungs. Mulder raced into the bedroom, grabbing the box of tissues on the bedside table before hurrying back to Krycek's side. He handed the ailing man a tissue, and watched as Krycek's skin turned a soft shade of blue. "Alex?" He came closer, and Krycek pushed him away as he caught his first full breath. Mulder hung at his side, and when he saw that Krycek had regained his breath, he pressed on his shoulder, forcing him to lie back down.

"I can't take much more of this."

Mulder pressed his hand on Krycek's forehead. "Your fever's almost gone. Coughing's a good sign."

"That's not what I mean." Krycek closed his eyes, rubbing his temples with his remaining hand. He was quiet for a moment, before he said in the faint tones of a confession, "You know, there was a time . . . when I used to dream about something like this."

Mulder could only stare at him, his lips barely parted.

"You. Me. Me being able to drop my guard for the first time in my life . . . and you there beside me, taking care of me." He laughed, and Mulder thought the man might be blushing. Krycek's eyes darted everywhere but at Mulder. "I know, it was stupid then and it's really embarrassing now. At the time, the smoker thought I was working for him and you thought I was working with you and the whole time I was working for . . ." Krycek coughed, and Mulder waited for him to finish. "I even went so far as the think of the house. You know? . . . me . . . you . . . a dog . . . so far out in the burbs that our friends would have to ask us if they could bring an overnight bag just to see us --"

"Friends?"

"I didn't say it was realistic." His green eyes drilled into Mulder's, then he sighed heavily. "I can't believe I'm telling you this. I must be sick." Mulder didn't make a comment. Krycek looked down at his fingernails. "Then you had to go and ask me for the keys to my fucking car." Now his voice came back hardened, almost accusatory. "Do you remember that day? I had just set up a meeting with the smoker, made him think I was still working for him, and I hadn't had a chance to get rid of the bastard's cigarette butts out of the fucking ashtray. . . . When you asked me for the keys, it was like my whole world ended." He swallowed hard. "It did, you know . . . end that day. My dreams. Of you. I mean, I still had it, the dream. I'd think about it when I was alone, when I thought I was about to die." He went back to studying his fingernails. "I didn't like thinking about it then. Remembering those fantasies was just too hard. It hurt . . . you know? Like thinking about a place you'd never be allowed to go back."

Krycek rolled his eyes. "Jesus. I can't believe I just admitted that." He turned over onto this side with his back to Mulder, leaving the other man to stare at his bare shoulder blades.

=========

Section Two

Mulder couldn't really speak for the rest of the day. He tried to cover the silence in the room with the television's white noise in the same way that the weekend's snow storm had coated the dead mulch outside. Normally, on a Sunday like this, Mulder would pass the time watching some ridiculous science-fiction movie from the fifties, with string-dangled spaceships and silver-lame costumed Martians, but the subject of aliens made him uncomfortable with Krycek lying there like an infection in his heart. Sappy romance movies were certainly out, but then again, Mulder had never been one for romantic movies anyway, not since . . . he closed his eyes to rid himself of the thought. Watching people decorate their homes forced those turned-away thoughts to flit about his mind like moths. He tried to watch a rerun of a basketball game, but he found that his eidetic memory recalled every pass and move. Plus, the screech of their shoes on the polished court cut the air in the room too sharply. CNN proved monotonous enough, and yet changeable, for a few hours.

By that afternoon, Krycek was sitting up. Mulder glanced over at him. Looking at the man, having him here all weekend beside him, Mulder wanted to be able to smile and just talk to him, yet the fact that he couldn't, or wouldn't, made him angry at first, but by now he was getting so tired of anger.

"You must be feeling better."

"You keep saying that. Don't worry, Mulder. I'll be out of here soon."

"I didn't mean it like that."

Krycek remained quiet for a while, studying the shapes on the television. Eventually, he said, "I'm trying to build myself up to take a shower."

"You can take a bath, if you want."

"I might have to do that . . . but I really want a shower. I don't even remember my last shower." Then he laughed gently, picking at a thread on the quilt. "You never really appreciate things when you have them."

"Don't get all cliche with me."

This time Krycek laughed at Mulder's humor. "Have you got a toothbrush?"

"I have some extra ones under the sink."

"Keeping 'em ready for all your johns, huh?"

Mulder smirked. "Nah. The dentist gives me one every time I go in for a cleaning. I never use 'em. Just toss 'em under the sink."

"Makes me glad I had all my teeth capped before I went out into the field."

"Is that how you always managed to keep that smile of yours?"

"Kinda hard to schedule a dentist appointment when you're out there wreaking havoc." Finally, Krycek stood. As he walked away, Mulder's eyes followed his tall, lean body. The man may have been living on the streets, but his body still had a graceful, deadly form that was beautiful beneath all that wear and physical erosion.

=========

Krycek literally moaned underneath the pelting beat of the hot water. He imagined that his shower would be short with both the hot and the cold water running at full blast, but he didn't care. He wanted to feel this blistering energy pounding at his muscles, and besides, he was still a little woozy and he wouldn't be able to stay vertical for long. He soaped his entire body down, massaging the slick suds into his crotch, stroking his cock erect. When was the last time he had even masturbated? Well, this weekend was turning into a tapestry of little luxuries, even if he did have to deal with the flu.

Closing his eyes, he imagined young men, hairless twenty-somethings with tight little holes, holes that needed finger-probing first to loosen them up. One finger. Two fingers. Forcing three fingers into them as they moaned and tried to squirm away, their holes quivering from both discomfort and pleasure before he pushed their muscled bodies against the tile and rammed his dick inside.

He sprayed his orgasm against the green shower curtain, gasping.

Washing himself clean, Krycek knew in the back of his mind why he always had to fantasize about faceless young men.

Putting Mulder in the dream would just tinge it bittersweet.

Krycek wrapped the towel around his waist before he sat on the toilet with his head between his knees, trying to force the dizziness to pass. By the time he was able to stand up again, the fog from the hot shower had faded, and he could see himself for the first time in the mirror.

His hair hung limp, puddling into a wave at his shoulders before falling straight down his chest. Along his chin, the remains of his beard cut like a black scar. Krycek opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out Mulder's can of shaving cream and one of his white plastic disposable razors. Shutting the mirror, Krycek stared at his reflection again. Slowly, he lifted his right arm and began scooping up his hair, bunching it all into a pony-tail at the base of his neck. With his hair now tight against his scalp, Krycek could begin to see the former image of himself.

Then he saw the scissors sitting on the bathroom counter where Mulder had left them after trimming off his beard.

Krycek reached down to pick up the scissors, and when he did, his hair fanned out again.

"Damnit."

He gathered up his hair a second time before staring at the scissors.

"Hey Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

"Could you help me out here?" After a second, he added, "Please?"

Mulder opened the door. "What?"

"Could you cut my hair?"

"What do you take me for, a hairdresser?"

"Just cut it off at the back."

Mulder picked up the scissors, and very carefully, he began to shear away at the ponytail in Krycek's hand, just above the line of his shoulders. As he sliced, heavy strands of wet hair clunked when they hit the tile floor.

"There," Mulder said. "Is that better?"

"Yeah." Krycek studied himself in the mirror, then he made eye contact with Mulder's reflection. "Looks like you're the guy I get to blame for my stupid-ass haircut."

Mulder's expression was unreadable. Krycek didn't really concern himself with Mulder's reaction as he picked up the can of shaving cream. Curious, Mulder stepped back and sat down on the toilet seat to watch as Krycek set the can on the counter then pressed the nozzle with his stump. He sprayed green gel into his right hand. Standing straight again, Krycek began to rub the gel around on his amputation until it foamed.

Impressed, Mulder remained to watch the man shave with one hand, craning his neck to pull the skin taunt or stretching his mouth wide to make his cheeks tight. With surgeon-skill, he drew the razor over his skin, removing the last vestiges of his beard. He splashed his face and washed away the remaining traces of shaving cream. For a long while, he leaned against the sink's counter, staring at his face in the mirror.

Then Mulder noticed how his right arm started to tremble and quiver. In an instant, he sprang up from the toilet and wrapped his arms around Krycek's stomach, catching him before the man had a chance to fall. "Steady," Mulder said. "Steady. I've got you. You need to sit down?"

"No." Krycek shook his head. "I'm tired of giving in. I'll . . . I'll be okay."

Mulder continued to hold him, and Krycek leaned back, pressing his body against Mulder's for support.

Neither could resist the moment.

His eyes closed, Mulder allowed himself to hold Krycek close, that naked body pressed against his chest.

Krycek's eyelids fluttered heavily, drifting in the sensation of his former lover holding him so intimately, feeling the warmth and strength of his open hands spread across his belly and chest.

Taking advantage of the moment, Mulder looked over the man's shoulder to study the reflection of his face in the mirror. Even though his skin still seemed sallow from the fever, the form was still there. That sharp nose. Those round eyes. So breathtakingly beautiful.

Krycek shuddered when he felt Mulder's warm breath on his bare shoulder. "Yesterday," Mulder whispered, "you said you weren't beautiful any more. . . . But you still are, Alex. You still are."

He noticed then how Krycek's eyes shut fully, and his lips tightened into a firm line. His head sagged.

"Krycek, I --"

"Mulder," the other man interrupted him. "I . . . I don't deserve to ask this of you and I know it, but I have to ask it anyway." His green eyes opened, peering into Mulder's with the most intense, pleading stare. "Don't . . . don't hurt me."

Mulder pulled back.

"Don't hurt me, Mulder. I'm begging you. Don't make me think things that aren't there. You hate me, and I know it. I've done things to you to make you do that. I know. But this hurts, and I . . ." His tone of voice grew strained, yet a firm strength steadied it. "I can't take much more hurt, Mulder, so please . . . please don't hurt me."

Like a withering vine, Mulder's arms slipped away from Krycek's waist and he stepped back. Krycek couldn't tell what the man was feeling about the request -- that mask was back in place -- the Fox Mulder mask -- so vulnerable and hurt and bewildered like a shell-shocked child but hiding the true feelings. Mulder's hand reached up to touch his temple, then he pulled it away, then he touched his temple again, the confusion so evident in his motions. At last he said, "There's a toothbrush under the sink," before walking out of the bathroom.

=========

Back at the Bureau the next morning, Mulder sat quietly in his basement office. He had slung his navy blue suit coat over the back of his chair, and he slouched, his legs spread. His right arm rested on the edge of his desk, and with mindless motions, he drew circles on his desk calendar with a ballpoint pen, again and again, embossing a black oval into the paper. His coffee grew cold, untouched. He had left Krycek in his apartment. The man still had a fever, but he seemed to be moving around without getting too dizzy. Mulder wasn't sure what else to do. He didn't trust the man in his home, but what damage could he really do? Mulder had long since stopped keeping anything important in his apartment.

The thought of tossing him out on the street troubled him even more than the paranoia of leaving him alone.

His pen continued to press into the desk calendar, slow, patient strokes that never extended out of the boundaries he had already drawn, the practice mirroring his mindset, his thoughts circling without haste. He hated the man. He didn't trust him. He was so handsome. He had made Mulder happy once, even if Mulder felt like he was betraying something integral to himself by admitting it. His chest felt so heavy, so laden with . . . something that he just couldn't, or didn't want to identify. His hazel eyes seemed to be on the verge of growing wet, and the back of his throat ached from the firm lump that seemed to always remain.

Mulder's indecisions were interrupted by the crisp clicking of high heels. Glancing up, he saw Scully's small frame emerge from the darkness and into the soft glow of the only lamp Mulder had turned on. "Hey, Scully," he said evenly. "Did you have any trouble getting in?"

She stood beside his desk, her lips pursed as she ran her finger along the edge. "I hear you ran into Krycek."

"Skinner told you."

She only nodded, her lips still pursed in thought. "Where is he now?"

"He's back in my apartment."

Her finger suddenly froze, and her eyes grew wide. "You did what?"

"He was sick. I . . ." his voice became small. "I didn't know what to do."

"Well I hope you have insurance, Mulder, because I can guarantee you your apartment's gone."

"He won't do anything."

"This is Alex Krycek we're talking about."

"I . . . I know."

"What makes you think you can trust him?"

"He's not working for anyone now."

"How do you know?"

Mulder couldn't really answer her. He honestly didn't know. He could only offer, "He was sick. He looked like shit. He's been living in the streets around my neighborhood for over a year."

"How do you know that, Mulder?"

"How do I know if he was sick? I think I can spot sick."

"The people he used to work for, they could have easily given him something to make him sick. Did you take him to the hospital?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Mulder sighed. "He said he didn't want to."

"And did he give a reason for this?"

He nodded. "He said he shows signs in his blood from the Pacific Oil alien."

"Why did you believe him?"

Mulder stared down at the black oval he had drawn on his calendar. He truly didn't know the answer to that. But he had. He had taken Krycek's words for gospel.

Scully wasn't about to let him go this easily. "And how do you know he's telling you the truth about living on the streets? How long did he say he'd been living there?"

"Over a year."

"And you never saw him once?"

"He was homeless, Scully," Mulder said with a tinge of energy in his voice, as if finally becoming defensive. "Do *you* ever see them?"

"We aren't talking about me, Mulder: we're talking about you. You, the most paranoid man I know. Are you telling me that you didn't notice a homeless man living in your neighborhood?"

"Come on, Scully, I live in Dupont Circle now. There's so many of them. Do you really see them? Do you? Do you see their faces or do you just look away?"

"Mulder," she leaned across his desk. "I may not, but you do. You always know who's around you."

Mulder sighed out loud, shaking his head a few times.

She moved back, crossing her arms over her chest. "Did you even think to ask yourself these questions?" When Mulder wouldn't answer, she picked up the phone. "Do you want to call the fire department, or should I?"

He reached up, took the phone from her hands, and returned it to its cradle.

"So what did you do this weekend?" Scully asked.

Mulder put his pen down and began running the nail of his thumb underneath all of his other fingernails. /I made him soup,/ he said to himself. /I . . . I made him soup./ He felt something cold and shapeless shiver inside his chest as the emotions stirred. How could he explain to Scully what he was feeling when he didn't even know himself. The old angry fire burned, but alongside it flowed a cool current that soothed him, made him yearn to hold the man, to *believe* in something else. He slowly ran his fingers across his forehead.

Scully watched his tired movements, and she misinterpreted his silence. "Oh, Mulder," she said, moving closer to him and setting her hand on his shoulder. "Don't do this to yourself. The man is evil."

"He's not evil."

"Then what is he?"

It took Mulder a moment before he could say, "I don't know what he is."

"He shot your father, Mulder. He helped to kill my sister. He helped them abduct me. He assaulted Skinner and nearly killed him. He left you to die in Russia. How could you . . . how could you stay in the same room with him?"

"I don't know, Scully," Mulder snapped back, finally rising from his chair to pace. "You didn't see him. He looks . . ." his voice softened. "He looks so bad."

"What do you care if he looks bad? He got what he deserved."

"I know. I . . . I know."

"Then why are you helping him."

"I don't know!" He threw up his hands. "I don't know, Scully! I just . . ." he turned his back to his old partner. "I felt sorry for him."

"Mulder, are you all right?"

He stopped pacing to look her in the eye. "I wish I knew." He scratched the back of his head. "I hate the man, and I can't stop being angry, but . . . when you see him, it's just such a shock. I can't lash out at him. All this weekend, he hasn't really said anything. Well, he said my father killed his parents, but I told him I didn't want to talk about that now. Not when I couldn't really . . . say what I felt like saying."

She came closer, and she placed her hand on his chest. "Mulder, don't let him twist you around like this. Perhaps that's the only reason he's there. To throw you off guard."

Mulder frowned, more to himself.

"So what are you going to do with him?" she asked.

Shrugging his shoulders first, Mulder answered, "I wish I knew. I guess I'll just send him on his way when he's better."

"Be careful. Okay, Mulder?"

=========

An hour after Scully left, Mulder picked up the phone. He dialed the phone number by rote and waited for someone to answer. He didn't have to wait long, and he smiled. "Hey, Byers, it's me, Mulder."

"Ah, Agent Mulder," Byers' crisp professorial voice came across the other line. "And how are you?"

"I'm fine. Did you make it through the storm all right?"

"I, I'm afraid, am one of the unlucky few who lost their power this weekend."

Mulder laughed softly to himself, thinking of the formal, always-suited member of the Lone Gunmen.

But Byers was too impersonal for a long, friendly conversation. "I'm sure this isn't a social call," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"I need to know if you have a contact with the NSA."

"The National Security Agency?"

"No, the Nova Scotian Air Force."

"Then no, we don't have any contacts with the Nova Scotian Air Force." Byers waited a moment before adding, "But if you ever need any news from the National Security Agency, just let us know."

"I need to meet with your contact. Who is it?"

"Nothing doing, Mulder. You know we don't name our sources."

"Relax, Byers. I'm not working a sting operation. You're getting more paranoid than I am."

"Paranoid, maybe. Weird, no."

"Look, can you just send them a message? I need to talk to someone about an agent."

"Any agent in particular?"

"A double-agent. One who's been abandoned by both sides. I need to know what these guys do when they can't spy anymore."

"They retire to Florida?"

"When did you get this sense of humor, Byers."

"Sorry," he said smartly. "Must be something about snow."

"Just deliver my message okay? It's a harmless question. I just need some advice."

=========

Later that night, Mulder strolled slowly through the underground parking garage to his car. His long dark trenchcoat swayed with each step, and his brown muffler hung around his neck. For most of that day, he had thought about Krycek, what to do, why he couldn't make sense of the emotions he was feeling. He had avoided leaving his desk, even after five, because he knew he was driving home to Krycek. Waiting for him.

The act was too symbolic. Too much of what he had wanted, but not in the manner that he approved.

Mulder reached into the pocket of his slacks and retrieved his car keys, and when he did, he heard something metallic strike the car door. Looking down, he spotted the silver flash of a quarter spinning to a stop on the oil-stained concrete at his feet.

Quickly, Mulder looked up to see a shadow melt into the corner. "Who is it?" he called out. "What do you want?" Mulder stepped closer until he heard a firm voice speak.

"Don't move any closer than that."

"Who are you?"

"I got your message from Byers."

Mulder relaxed, but only slightly. "I have a simple question. Why all this secrecy?"

"Agent Mulder, I can't risk being seen with you."

"Why?"

"I have my reasons. What is your question?"

"I have an agent, a double agent --"

"What's the name?"

"Krycek."

"Alex Krycek?"

Mulder's mouth gaped open for a moment. "You know him?"

"Know *of* him. He was double-crossing the Consortium. Did a damn good job of it, too."

"You know of them, too?"

"Of course." Mulder heard a ruffle of cloth in the shadow, and he grew nervous. "Do you have him?" the stranger asked.

Mulder decided not to answer, sensing that he had made a fatal mistake.

"Krycek is not of any concern to us, Agent Mulder. He's just a man, now. A very talented man, but a man nonetheless. Why are you protecting him?"

"Who says I am?"

"You must be if you wanted to ask me a question."

"He's not working for anyone now. What should he do?"

"Do?"

"If you suddenly found yourself out of a job, what would you do?"

The stranger waited a moment. "I'll have someone contact you. His name is Braudel. Frank Braudel."

"Wait?"

Mulder stepped into the darkness, and when he did, he saw a flurry of cloth dart into a stairwell. He started to run after him, when a part of him forced himself to stop, respecting the man's privacy at least.

=========

The agent wasn't sure what to make of the conversation with the stranger. Why the secrecy? How did he know about Krycek and the Consortium? Did he know where they went? Did he know what had happened? And why was he so afraid of Mulder? Had he been a part of the original conspiracy, and was he afraid that Mulder would expose him? But that didn't make sense -- what would the Lone Gunmen be doing with a Consortium agent as one of their contacts?

Maybe the guy was just a crank, as paranoid as his friends.

Mulder paused outside of his apartment, wondering what he could expect. Would Krycek even still be there? Would the apartment be trashed? Had the man robbed him of every portable object of value?

He shoved the key into the lock and opened the door. When he stepped inside, he immediately spotted Krycek sitting in the chair, reading. His long hair had fallen forward like a veil. When he looked up, he smiled, his green eyes sparkling through the thick strands. He sat barefoot in the chair with his legs crossed underneath him, wearing Mulder's sweat pants and a thin, white cotton tee-shirt. "Hi honey," he mocked. "You're home."

Mulder shot him a false smirk as he shucked off his coat. "I see you're still here."

"Didn't you order me not to leave this morning?"

"And you obeyed me? I don't know what surprises me more." Then he smelled something cooking. "Wait a minute. What is that smell?"

"I got hungry, so I made us something to eat."

"You made us dinner?"

"Yeah. So?"

Mulder thought about his pantry. "What did you make?"

"Chicken Parmesan."

"You made what?!"

"Well, not real Chicken Parmesan. I just took some of those frozen chicken breasts, and I baked them in spaghetti sauce. If you dump parmesan cheese on it, it tastes all right."

Mulder walked into the kitchen and opened the oven door. Then he noticed only one chicken breast in the metal pan. "So I see you didn't wait for me," he called out.

"I got hungry," Krycek answered behind him. Mulder spun around, not expecting him to be in the kitchen. The assassin leaned against the doorframe with his one arm around his waist. "Besides, I figured that would be too domestic."

Mulder only nodded as he picked up a pot holder. He pulled the pan out of the oven, and when he turned around, he saw that Krycek had slipped away again.

=========

After Mulder finished his dinner in the kitchen in silence, he returned to the living room to find Krycek still in the chair, reading. He didn't even look up as the agent sat down heavily on the sofa and reached for the television remote. For an awkward moment, Mulder held the remote, his thumb resting on the power button, wondering if he really wanted to watch television, afraid that it might spoil this increasingly strange moment. Krycek was right. This moment did feel oddly domestic. A man at home, waiting for him. Dinner ready. A comfortable silence between them. Like a married couple.

Like a married couple who had just suffered through a vicious fight and now their emotions were too exhausted for contact, too exhausted for conversation. A bruised emotional truce.

/Truce? Isn't that what this is? A truce?/

Finally Mulder broke the silence. "What are you reading?"

Without lifting his head, Krycek's eyes peered through the curtain of his long, dark hair. "Crime_and_Punishment."

"How appropriate."

"You're the one who owns it so don't start throwing stones. When did you start reading the Russians any way?"

"October, 1994. Although I admit, I haven't figured them out yet."

Krycek only smirked. "Cute, Mulder."

"Did the title catch your eye?"

"Yeah. Sure beats all the gay porn you have. I tried to read that but too many of the pages were stuck together."

"When did you start *reading* any way?"

This time Krycek cocked his head to the side and glared at him. "My father made sure we all had a healthy appreciation for Russian literature. I'd rather be reading Turgenev or Gogol instead of this. The translation's off from what I remember. Some Zamyatin would be nice." He frowned as he flipped the book to the front cover. "But hell, this sure beats _Communion_. Jesus, Mulder, just how many copies of that book do you own?"

Mulder shrugged his shoulders. "I get one every year at the bureau's Christmas party. A tired joke at Spooky's expense, I guess."

"I see," he snapped. "Well remember that the next time you see me reading Crime_and_Punishment. I'm not an idiot, Mulder. I didn't pick up this book because of some asinine interpretation of its title by someone who's never read it. I picked it up because it's the only thing you have in this house that's above an eighth grade reading level."

"That one was a gift, too."

"Have you ever read it?" Krycek tossed it at Mulder, and the agent caught it against his chest.

"Yes."

"Then you know its about over-reaching pride . . . and remorse." Krycek rose quickly from the chair and moved into the kitchen.

Still in the living room, Mulder could easily hear him fling the metal pan into the sink and turn on the water. He sighed, glancing up at the ceiling as if looking for celestial advice. Shaking his head, he placed his hands on his knees and lifted himself off the sofa. When he entered the kitchen, he saw Krycek squirting dishwashing detergent into the flow of hot water from the faucet. Once the soap had foamed, he turned off the water and grabbed a sponge. Very quietly, Mulder watched from the doorway as Krycek braced the pan into the corner of the sink to scrub it. Even with his strategy, Krycek couldn't hold the pan steady. It continued to scoot around the basin, banging against the sides, and Krycek had to chase it from corner to corner. Mulder could easily see by the expression on his face that Krycek was only getting more frustrated and angry.

He eased up behind the man, touching his hips. Krycek jumped away from him. "What are you doing?" Krycek barked.

"Don't do this."

"I don't need your help. I'm not an invalid."

"You don't have to do the dishes --"

"Well maybe I want to," Krycek shot back. "Maybe I'm tired of this. Maybe I'm tired of skulking around here with my tail tucked between my legs like the most evil thing on the planet while you stand by and congratulate yourself on just how gracious and tolerant you can be. You don't know me, *Fox Mulder*. You don't know what choices I had to make and what I had to suffer because of them."

Mulder placed both hands on Krycek's chest and shoved him away from the sink with a little more force than he had intended. "All I said was that you don't have to do the dishes. You cooked. I should clean. Next time let me finish my sentences and stop jumping to conclusions." They stared at each other like two men waiting to draw guns. This time, Mulder broke their showdown. "Truce is over, Krycek. It's time we talk."

"So talk."

"Who were you working for?"

"What, no foreplay? That was always your forte."

Mulder's eyebrows narrowed over his eyes, the growing rage evident. "An experience you'll never enjoy again."

"A pity."

"Who were you working for?"

"What difference does it make? You won't trust the answer."

"Entertain me."

"I don't know who I worked for."

"Bull shit. Try again."

"I can only make assumptions, like you did. I had managed to infiltrate the Consortium because my parents were Consortium scientists. They were traded by the Russians like cattle in exchange for information the Americans had uncovered, information built on research started by the Germans but captured by American forces at the end of World War II. They were put down in 1978, and your father was there. I know. I watched him do it. I was raised by other members of the Consortium -- a German family named Arntzen. I sat in the shadows and I learned. Once I was in, another person recruited me to join a conspiracy within the Consortium, a woman named Else Marsh. Her grandfather had been one of the Elders but he had died almost twenty years ago. She told me he had been the one protecting my parents and after he had died, my parents couldn't protect themselves. She thought I would be interested in working against the Elders since they had killed my parents. We were highly decentralized to prevent the conspiracy from being discovered. Our cells were linear and singular, and whenever one of us got caught, we always managed to look like rogue agents. I had only one person I could contact, and that was Else. She gave me my orders. I don't know who gave her hers."

"You expect me to believe this?"

"Actually, Mulder, I expect you to be paranoid." He leaned across the kitchen table. "So far, I've never been wrong."

"Who ordered you to kill my father?"

"Old man Spender. He knew your father was going to feed you information that wasn't true but would have pointed you towards another truth once you started researching it, a truth that would have been far more dangerous to Spender and yet would have steered you away from your father's own crimes. Your father gambled that the Elders would turn against Spender once he was exposed."

"Why? Why would he do this?"

"You already know the answer to that, Mulder. Spender was having an affair with your mother when you were conceived."

"You're getting confused with Star Wars, Krycek. That bastard was not my father."

"Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't. I don't think that matters and I don't really care. What matters is what your father thought about it. And what Spender thought. He ordered me to kill William Mulder and I did it. He told me to make it look like you did it, and I did, because I wanted you as far away from all this as possible."

"Why?"

"Why do you think, Mulder? Huh? Why do you think?"

"How sentimental."

"You've got a pretty black kettle there, yourself, Mulder." He threw his arm out to point his finger, and when he did, the last remaining foam from the dishwashing liquid sprayed from his hand.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You know what your problem is? You can't imagine anyone being as smart as you are. You just think people bungle along on luck while you remember all the facts, analyze them in private and live on your conjectures. And if someone does the same damn thing, it's because they're conspiring against you. Well let me tell you my conjectures. You hate me, and you live off that hate. But there's something else that's dividing you, because if that was all you felt, you would have left me to die out there in that snowstorm. You didn't. And to make it all worse, you dragged me into this apartment and you bathed me and you fed me soup and you touched me. Now I don't know enough about what's going on in your head, but the one thing I do know is that it isn't love. You're way too distrusting for that. My guess is that you see me as nothing but another hole you can fuck, just like it was ten years ago when we first met. And to think I used to dream of you as a way out of it -- two sons of the Consortium who could band together. When I figured out that you would never love me and that I wasn't anything more than a step above your two-dimensional porno movies, I found it just a little easier to follow Spender's orders. Now it's ten years later and you want to fuck with me again, only this time there's some vengeance in that fuck. A grudge fuck."

"You're way off base if you think I'd want to fuck you again."

"I didn't say fuck, Mulder. I said, fuck with. There's a difference. And I'll take it one step further. I think you hated me ten years ago, when we were fucking. I think you hated me because you were attracted and you wanted it and you enjoyed it, but you couldn't stand it that I was a man."

Mulder stared at him, the air running in and out of his lungs, making him light-headed.

"So don't call me sentimental. Yes, I let it affect my judgments. Yes, I refused to see you get killed and I made sure you stayed alive. Because unlike you, *Fox Mulder*, I didn't just think of you as another hole. I wanted more from you but you wouldn't give it, and I grew to resent you for it but I could never truly hate you." He drew in his breath. "And you, you want to see me dead, but you keep me alive because your dick wants it." Krycek stepped around the kitchen table and moved towards the living room. "Have we talked enough, or do you have something else to say?"

Mulder's eyes couldn't look up from the floor. He wanted to defend himself against Krycek's allegations, but in doing so, he would have to admit that what he was feeling wasn't sexual attraction but emotional need.

Only the deep-seated, almost instinctual habit to hate the man wouldn't let him. A tiny portion of his analytical mind commented on how ironic this was. Where some men couldn't reconcile their attraction and love for another man because of their ingrained belief that such feelings were wrong, here he was, unable to admit the same because of an ingrained vengeance that he couldn't resolve.

Krycek's explanation of his actions seemed probable. Could he trust him?

Finally, Mulder left the kitchen, and he saw Krycek spreading his sheets out on the sofa. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"I changed the sheets on your bed and washed the old ones. You can sleep there and I'll sleep on the couch tonight. Tomorrow, I'll be out of your hair."

"You don't have to."

"Maybe I want to."

"No, sleep in the bed. You . . . you said some things tonight that I need to process. I won't be able to sleep and I would just keep you awake."

"Fine." He stopped arranging the sheets and just sat down.

Mulder eased into the chair where Krycek had been sitting before their argument. "Krycek?"

"What?"

"I know you still aren't feeling well. Stay until your health comes back. At least until this cold front passes."

"It's winter. It's going to be cold for a long while."

"Jesus, will you stop looking a gift horse in the mouth."

"This gift horse is dead, Mulder, and I'd appreciate it if you'd stop beating it."

Snide masturbation remarks popped up in Mulder's mind, but he decided to forego them for now. "All right . . . truce . . . until I digest what you said."

=========

Mulder thought he would never see the day when he was pleased to have an ominously disturbing case come across his desk, but the sudden disappearance of six young men had stirred his basement office to chaos and derailed his mind from thoughts of Krycek. The victims were all blond men. They were all born in March. They all disappeared on the same night, and based on witness accounts, probably at the same time. From the corner of the room, Mulder watched Scully and her new partner examining the map of Seattle with the homes and apartments of the victims marked with red dots. The marks formed an eerie circle. A courier arrived around noon with the plane tickets, and Scully stared up at Mulder when she realized there were only two.

"Aren't you going?"

"I need to stick around here."

"Let me guess."

"Don't, Scully."

"Mulder, give it up. The man's not worth it. Let him sleep in the gutter where he belongs."

"I need to know why."

"Mulder, knowing why my sister's dead won't bring her back."

He nodded before he had to turn his hazel eyes away from her gaze. Scully started to say something else when they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Everyone in the room looked up to see a tall blond stranger standing in the doorway. His black trenchcoat hung to his calves, draping over a pair of creased khaki slacks and a soft white cable-knit sweater. A bright red scarf added a shock of color to his monotone wardrobe. His blue eyes scanned the room, and he ran his thick-fingered hand across his smooth, square jaw. "Which one of you is Agent Mulder?" he asked with a deep, resonant voice.

"I am."

"Frank Braudel," he added, holding out his hand. When Mulder gripped it, the tall stranger squeezed hard enough to crack the agent's knuckles, causing Braudel to smile subtly. "I got a message, saying to speak with you."

"Yeah. I was expecting you to call."

"I have some friends who work here. Decided to kill two birds with one stone." He then turned his gray-blue eyes to Scully, glancing at her breasts before smiling at her. "Is there some place we can talk?"

"Don't worry, Mulder," she said coldly, glaring at Braudel. "I could use some lunch anyway."

Braudel smirked broadly as Scully and her new partner passed him by. He couldn't resist watching her rear as she left. Once she had turned the corner, Braudel redirected his focus to Mulder. "I hear a rumor that you've found Alex Krycek."

"So you know of him, too?"

"His reputation precedes him."

"If he's such a hot commodity, why doesn't anyone want him?"

"Who says no one wants him? I'd be more than happy to have him working for me; it's just no one can find him. I guessed he was dead."

"Working for you? Just what is it you do?"

"I run a very discreet . . . and very expensive . . . security service. Bodyguards. Security consultations. That sort of thing."

"Why does that make me nervous?"

"It's very reputable, Agent Mulder. I'm surprised you haven't heard of it." Then he cocked his head arrogantly. "Of course, with your Spooky reputation, I don't guess the other agents are real chummy with you."

Mulder's eyes narrowed with threat. He already hated this man.

Once Braudel had seen the reaction he wanted, he grew more relaxed. "Most agents keep guys like me in mind just in case the FBI or the CIA or the NSA don't work out for them. All I do is manage a consulting firm, Agent Mulder. Fortune fifty companies hire me and my men to discover all, and I do mean all, possible weaknesses in their companies' securities. Foreign dignitaries will hire my bodyguards to supplement their own when they come to D.C. or to New York. My services are legit and extremely profitable."

"I see."

"So where's Krycek?"

"He's staying in my apartment for now."

"You guys fucking?"

"No!"

Braudel held up his hands in mock defense. "Hey, just asking. I wouldn't give a damn if you were. Just trying to figure out why an FBI agent would be helping out a Consortium agent, especially considering the two of you."

"So you know about the Consortium, too?"

"Two of my best men are from there. Those guys didn't mess around. They were the ones to fill me in on all the Krycek stories." He leaned in closer to whisper. "They said he only had one weakness." Then he winked with an arrogant shrug of his shoulders. "I was just putting two and two together. My bad if I came up with five." Not giving Mulder a chance to react, Braudel stood up straight and asked, "What's he been up to?"

"I don't know. He said he's been living in the streets for over a year."

"Homeless, huh? Not surprised. I rescued the other two Consortium agents off the streets, too. Don't know what happened with that group, but they sure as hell dissolved overnight. Left all of their operatives high and dry. So what, did this snow storm chase him in? The original man who came in from the cold."

"Something like that."

"Look, I want to see him. If he's willing, I have a garage apartment he can stay in. I'll get him back on his feet in exchange for a year of his time. Then he can choose to stay after that if he wants to."

"You need to be telling Krycek this," Mulder said.

"I know." Then he winked. "Just want to make sure his boyfriend knows what I'm doing."

Mulder grabbed the larger man by his lapels. "Look, as far as I'm concerned, the man is my worst enemy. I just want to see him gone and I don't want to see you spook him. Got it?"

Braudel easily shrugged him off. "Fine. What's your address. I'll go see him now."

"Wait. Not yet."

"Why not?"

"I haven't told him I've done this yet."

"Oh. I see. He's your worst enemy and yet you let him stay in your apartment and you're acting like the little Samaritan. Who's kidding who here?"

Instantly, Mulder decided that he couldn't win this argument and that it would be better if the man just left. "I'll see him at lunch. I'll tell him what I've done. Why don't you be at my apartment around two o'clock?" He reached over to his desk, grabbed a slip of paper, and wrote down his address. Braudel just glanced at it before slipping it into the pocket of his trenchcoat.

"Very well. Until then, Agent Mulder."

=========

Krycek nearly jumped from his seat when he heard the key slip into the lock. He wasn't expecting Mulder to be back so early. Old habits clicked easily into place as Krycek's expression hardened. He rose calmly from the chair and eased behind the door. He wished he had had the forethought to track down Mulder's Sig Sauer that the agent kept at home. With his back against the wall, Krycek lined up his vision to peer through the crack in the door as it opened.

When he recognized Mulder's distinctive profile, he sighed out loud.

Mulder heard him, and he peeked around the corner of the door. "What are you doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Krycek groused back, moving away from the wall.

"Are you up to something?"

"Yeah, Mulder. I'm running drugs from your apartment. Call next time." He returned to his chair. "I just wasn't expecting you this early and I didn't think it was you."

"Who did you think it was?"

"Well, since no one is my friend these days, it couldn't have been good." Then Krycek noticed the plastic bag in Mulder's hand and the savory smell of food. "What's this? You're bringing me lunch, too?"

"No, I bought myself lunch, but you can have some of it if you want."

Krycek just shrugged his shoulders. "So what brings you home for lunch? Can't resist my charms?"

Mulder decided not to take the bait. The healthier Krycek became, the more obnoxious his personality got -- almost playfully combative, like a house cat before pouncing for the final kill. "So what are you doing to entertain yourself today?" he called out as he stepped into the kitchen.

"I found where you left my clothes on the fire escape. I've been cleaning them."

"How many times did you have to wash them?"

"I finishing up with the coat right now. Oh, by the way, I used up all of your detergent."

"I still had half a box!"

"Guess that answers your question about how many times it took me to wash the smell out."

Mulder could only groan. "I wanted to talk to you about something."

Krycek's shoulders sagged. "What now?" he said with an exhausted tone.

Mulder sat down behind the kitchen table and started pulling out take-out boxes. He fished around for chopsticks, throwing a pair to Krycek just as the man entered the room. "I talked to someone this morning. Frank Braudel. Have you ever heard of him?"

Krycek arched his eyebrow. "I might have."

"I'll take that as a yes. Where did you hear of him?"

Krycek sat down across from Mulder, but he didn't reach for any of the food. "Some of the loser operatives used to speak of him like he was some sort of holy grail. Said he ran a high-priced security organization. These guys kept saying they were going to slip out of the Consortium and start working for him instead. So you ran into him, huh?"

"Actually, I had to track him down."

Now Krycek's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why?"

"I thought he might be a good lead for you."

"You what?"

"He seems legit. I thought it might be a good solution for you."

"Solution?"

"Well you can't keep living on the street --"

"Who the fuck are you to make that decision?" Krycek kicked the chair back to pace in the kitchen, his jaw clenched tight. Finally, he turned sharply at Mulder and barked, "I don't know what pisses me off more . . . how fucking dare you . . . you had no right to interfere with my life that way!"

Mulder dropped his chopsticks and glared back. "Who are you to jump all over me for interfering? When did you ever stop to involve me, any of those times that you thought I'd be better off in prison, framed for killing my father? Or with Scully out of the way? Or experimented on in Russia just so you could keep the black cancer out of their hands? Huh?"

"Why did you do this?"

"I don't know, Krycek. Why did you treat me the same way?"

"Because I felt something for you, Mulder," he said calmly. "And it wasn't hate. So what's your excuse."

Mulder could only swallow, unable to answer. After a while, he said, "I just want you to talk to him. He'll be here in another hour. What you do with your life is your decision. I just wanted to help."

"Why, Mulder? I want to know why?"

He looked up at Krycek. "I honestly don't know."

=========

Mulder could barely work when he returned to his office. His mind could only think of Alex meeting with Braudel. Would he take Braudel's offer? Would Braudel even make him an offer once he saw the condition Krycek was in? Was Braudel all that he said he was? It was rare for Mulder to take a stranger at face value, especially a man who was familiar with both the Consortium and Krycek. He tried to tell himself that Krycek was not only a grown man, but that he was extremely capable of handling a dangerous situation, maybe even more so than Mulder.

Whatever the outcome, Mulder knew that when he came home that night, his apartment would be empty. Krycek would either leave with Braudel, or he would slip out the front door and return to his secretive life in the streets. Tonight, Mulder would sleep in his own bed, a bed that would smell of Alex. The apartment would be cushioned in silence. Even if Krycek's conversation had been wry and biting, it had still been Alex speaking. His deep baritone voice. Those green eyes glittering and that feral grin. The verbal give and take that Mulder enjoyed. Everything would be back to the way it was. Krycek would be gone and Mulder would wonder where he had disappeared.

The guilt would return. Mulder knew that only too well. When Krycek had first betrayed him, he couldn't help but flay himself with the obsession that if only he wasn't Fox Mulder, if only he had been born a different man with a different cause, then Alex Krycek would have stayed with him. They were good together. They each had a very obsessive dogged personality upholstered with a dry, wicked sense of humor and a sedate lust. They craved each other's bodies and after only a few nights together, they had learned their partner's mechanics, the way a driver learns the secrets of his race car -- when to brake, how sharply to turn. If Mulder had only been born another man, then Krycek wouldn't have betrayed him. He wouldn't have left him. He wouldn't have cut the wrathful destruction through all avenues of Mulder's life. Tonight Mulder would fling guilt on himself for driving Krycek away a second time.

His genius knew this guilt was ridiculous. Krycek was responsible for everything that had happened between them. Mulder had only been reactive.

But knowing it and feeling it couldn't be reconciled. He *felt* guilt even if he knew he wasn't party to it.

And that tore at his self-esteem even more. A part of him knew that if he could just resolve this mental/emotional dichotomy, then he could really heal himself, but another part knew just as clinically that the internal divisions were a manifestation of something more deep-set.

He was in love with Alex Krycek.

He murderously hated Alex Krycek.

When five o'clock arrived, Mulder couldn't take the anxiety any longer. He wished Scully good luck on her flight the next morning, grabbed his trenchcoat, and rushed out of the office. He was afraid of what he would find when he returned, but he couldn't stand this not-knowing. Traffic in the tight streets north of the city only annoyed him more. When he was finally able to turn onto his neighborhood and park his car, Mulder's heart was beating frantically in his chest. He waited a moment to take several centering deep breaths, calming himself for what he knew was inevitable.

The return of his loneliness.

Mulder opened the car door and stepped out onto the salted asphalt. He missed the snow now. There were still thick patches of white everywhere but on the roads and sidewalks, yet these patches would melt in a few days. The dark mulch would return. The wet black limbs would scratch against the winter sky like hags and everything would be rot again. If only the snow would continue, gracing everything like an old woman's lace.

He scuffed the soles of his shoes against the hemp welcome mat at the front of his apartment building. Like most snow storms, the air following behind it was even colder, and his nose and fingertips stung. He couldn't stand out here forever.

The dry heat irritated his skin. He checked his mail, this time not so much out of habit as yet another excuse to wait in the lobby before going up to face the inevitable. The irony struck him. He had run out of his office in a hurry to get home, cursed the traffic, and now he was dawdling in the foyer. Shaking his head, Mulder shut down his thoughts as he climbed the stairs to the second floor.

When he reached the door to his apartment, he heard voices. Krycek's. Braudel's.

His heart leapt into his throat when he realized the man was still here, but then his stomach twisted when he considered Braudel. He exhaled all of his breath, pressing his forehead against the door. /Damn./ He really didn't feel like dealing with that man now.

Finally, he unlocked the door. Without looking into the kitchen where Braudel and Krycek sat at the table, Mulder kept his back to the men while he slowly pulled off his coat. He hung the heavy trenchcoat on the coat rack. Then he carefully lifted the wool muffler from around his neck. He considered taking off his shoes but thought better of it.

Braudel was the first to speak. "Well," he said to Krycek, "it looks like the master of this castle is home. I'll wait for you downstairs."

"Thanks." Krycek rose from the table, and Mulder saw that he was back to wearing the tattered sweater, old flannel shirt and black wool pants that the agent had discovered him wearing several days ago.

When Braudel passed Mulder at the doorway, he patted him good-naturedly on the shoulder. "My thanks to you, Agent Mulder. I'll be sure to send you a recruiter's fee." Mulder wanted to toss back a biting remark but decided to let it go, afraid that would just egg the man on further. Braudel didn't seem to notice the slight as he closed the door behind him.

Glancing back, Mulder saw Krycek standing before him. "So, I guess you're going with him?"

Krycek shrugged his shoulders. "He made me a good offer."

"What are you going to do?"

"He said he'd get me back on my feet. Give me a place to live. Help me get my strength back. In exchange, I work for him for at least a year."

"Good," Mulder said softly, not really feeling it.

Krycek stared at him for a long while. He had so much more that he wanted to say, but he wasn't sure if Mulder would except it. He moved over to the coat rack, and for a moment, he just focused on the two coats sitting side by side. It seemed so right. These objects belonged together.

They belonged together.

They were both sons of the Consortium.

They had both survived.

They both hungered for the other.

But Krycek didn't want to feed this ache any longer. He had grown tired of it, and the past few days had only added to his confusion when it came to Mulder. He lifted the heavy coat off the hook, then slipped his right arm through the sleeve. Awkwardly, he reached over his shoulder to drape the coat over his missing arm, navigating the tight cloth until his stub could slide into place. Then he looked deep into Mulder's eyes.

Mulder was trying desperately to fit an unemotional mask over his face, but his eyes betrayed him. He was hurting, honestly hurting, and the sight took Krycek's breath away. The muscles around his chest tightened, and Krycek found it difficult to speak.

"Fox," he began, purposefully choosing to be intimate, "I don't know what you're feeling. But I want to tell you honestly what's going on inside me, even if it is a waste of time because you just won't believe me. What I'm going to say, I'm saying it for my own sake, not yours, because I don't want to go on living with thoughts of how my life would be different if I had continued keeping this inside."

Mulder grew cold all over with fear. He didn't want to hear this, but his heart had gained control and wasn't going to let his mind deny him any longer.

Krycek stepped close, and his breath warmed Mulder's skin. "Ten years ago, I had to make a choice . . . between fighting the Consortium, fighting so the world could live . . . or standing at your side." Krycek glanced down at his feet before lifting his gaze once more. Mulder could see the intense pain in those green eyes. "I . . . I've always regretted my decision. I came so close to damning the world to fire for you, Mulder." He swallowed hard. "I wish I had."

Then Krycek moved closer, closer, and his moist lips pressed against Mulder's check. All of Mulder's breath slipped out of him like falling silk. Krycek's voice brushed his ear with feather-strokes. "Oodachi tybie, tovarish."

Mulder couldn't speak as Krycek turned, walking out the door and towards the stairwell without ever once turning around to face Mulder again. A brutal lump hardened inside Mulder's throat.

=========

The Mall
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, April 8, 2004. 4:17 p.m.

A mild spring breeze flowed off the Tidal Basin, causing Mulder's garish tie to flip over his shoulder. He closed his eyes as his muscles shifted, relaxing, releasing the tension the past few months had woven into them. He wasn't sure how he had gotten here. Sometime after lunch, he just couldn't sit in his dark, windowless office any longer. The absence of light seemed to stir his mind to undisciplined rambling, and that always caused his consciousness to poke at scars, refusing to let them heal. He knew he needed to walk, and so he had, strolling out the front of the Bureau building and crossing over to the Mall. The green had returned to the grass, and it was at times like this that he really felt his colorblindness. So many people had commented on it. So many poets over the ages had praised the return of grass as the herald of rebirth and resurrection. Mulder wondered what it was really like.

And on cue, the thought rose in his mind -- Alex Krycek had the most beautiful eyes. Mulder wondered just how glorious they were in full color.

He sighed.

Alex.

Looking up, Mulder focused on the ripples in the Tidal Basin. Across the water, the white marble of the Jefferson Memorial glared stark and white. Everything smelled alive, the perfume of outrageous beds of tulips, azaleas and dogwoods stitching the air with texture. Mulder sat down on a gritty concrete bench underneath a canopy of cherry trees. The cherries had already reached their peak, and now the spring breezes jostled their round pink blossoms free to twirl and spin, settling on the agent's navy-blue shoulders. At his feet, the shed blossoms collected like confetti or snow.

On the recollection of snow, Mulder's mind returned to the sore memories. Krycek.

Today was no different than any other day since that fateful weekend in January. Every day he thought of Alex. Every afternoon he walked mindlessly out of the office and into the Mall.

The man had called him twice. Once, a week after he had left Mulder's apartment, just to say where he was. That he had settled into the tiny, one-room apartment over someone's garage. That he now had a modest wardrobe and that he would be spending most of his days in the gym and on the firing range. Mulder was still uncertain what he thought of Krycek -- his psyche remained balanced over the sharpened edge of repulsion and hunger -- and so he didn't really speak with him. The second conversation had occurred last month, but it was too ill-timed. Scully had been assaulted while apprehending a suspect in Philadelphia, and Mulder was rushing to her side. His cell phone had chirped just moments before take-off, and Mulder had to cut the conversation brutally short.

Krycek hadn't called back after that. And Mulder hadn't tried to call him either.

Two weeks after Krycek had left to join Braudel, Mulder's untamed mind had latched onto a revelation, and since then, had whipped the agent with guilt.

If he had only opened himself up to Krycek, ten years ago, when they were sleeping together -- if he had moved their relationship past casual sex and into something colored with emotions -- that would have been enough to push Krycek over the edge. He would have joined Mulder at his side. He would have informed him of his place in the Consortium, given him enough information and guidance so that the both of them could have truly created a conspiracy of two. This epiphany had left him in a cruel paradox. First, Mulder suspected that Krycek was lying to him all along, that he never did regret siding with the conspiracy against the Consortium, that he really wasn't at the verge of choosing Mulder over the game and that all of his words in January were the same old predictable manipulations. But that distrust ate at him -- it was this very distrust that had driven the other man away ten years ago in the first place -- and had led them both down the path of mutual destruction of each other's lives.

Mulder was truly at a loss, and he had been for months now. He wanted Krycek. He wanted him dead. He wanted him by his side. He wanted him . . . new.

At one point, Mulder thought that perhaps he would be better off if he just started over, tried to rebuild his life anew. Date someone else. That led to several weeks worth of anxiety as he tried to decide just who to date and how to go about it. Dating in D.C. was a nightmare. All the other men lived by their Daytimers and Palm Pilots, scheduling their personal along with their professional lives with a bureaucratic zeal. So much over-reaching self-importance, spiced by the need to prove just where on the country's pecking order each man stood. "I'm Senator Dowland's aide." "I report to the Executive Office of Campaign Reform." "I'm the Assistant to the General Director of Finance for the Under-Secretary of Housing Development." Such intense insecurity and judgment.

During his one and only date with a dark-haired thirty-something lawyer who spent his time between the gym and the Library of Congress, Mulder found himself studying the other man's hair -- how it was the same shade of sable as Krycek's. How his light-gray eyes just didn't have the same hint of danger as Alex's. How that stilted, over-professional voice lacked the purr of his nemesis-ally. The night had ended back at the lawyer's condo not far from the National Zoo, where both men tried to at least succor their disappointment with sex, but Mulder found that he couldn't focus. Unsatisfied, he left soon afterwards, never to call him again.

Today had been processed like all the other days since January with cookie-cutter precision. The afternoons were always the worst. Now he would start to consider going home, alone, as he had done for year after year. Like a patient scratching at his wounds, he opened up all the holes for habitual bleeding.

The falling cherry blossoms only added to his misery. They were too much like snow, especially with his color-blindness masking the pink tinge with gray. He picked at each round petal, rolling it in between his fingers before slowly taking another. Mulder had been coming here regularly since the trees had begun to bloom, allowing himself to think of snow.

He wasn't sure how long he had remained on the bench, lost in thought, when he heard the electric pulse of a voice say, "I had a feeling I'd find you here."

Mulder raised his head quickly to spot the man standing on the stone path some twenty feet away. His long hair had been trimmed short, back to the old, familiar style with the thick wave just at his forehead. Gone was the sallow skin and the dark circles under those huge eyes. His leg muscles curved thick underneath faded blue jeans. His chest bulged as it had before when he was a dangerous thug who could whip Mulder with one hand, only now made even more imposing by the thick black turtleneck. His ominous black leather jacket gleamed, unmarred by age or use, obviously just purchased. Alex Krycek stood there with one hand shoved into the pocket of his jacket, the other, a new prosthesis, hanging at an angle.

"Krycek?"

"You've been coming here every afternoon, haven't you?"

"You've seen me?"

Krycek moved closer to stand beside the bench, still unsure if Mulder would welcome his presence. "Yeah. I've been guarding Prince Fasil for a few weeks. He likes to jog here and I wasn't able to stop and say something. He left for Riyadh last night, so I was hoping I could find you here."

Mulder could only stare up at him. He looked so handsome, like the old Krycek had returned, and yet, there was still that tentative rapport from January. "You could have called me."

Krycek looked down to kick several white stones with the tip of his boot. "Yeah, I could have. I'm not much for phones, though." Then he glanced up. "Apparently, you aren't either."

He shook his head, smiling slightly. "No. I guess not."

"Can I sit down?" Krycek pointed to the bench.

"Yeah. Sure." Mulder moved to the right to give him some room. "You look good."

Krycek smiled. "I guess I'm easier on the eyes now."

"How have you been?"

"Well, I guess. Braudel's working out fine. I feel like I'm back on my feet. I have something to do to kill the time. The money's good. I'm only doing bodyguard work for now." He laughed to himself. "All my clients get nervous when they see I only have one arm." He winked at Mulder. "Beating up their best personal bodyguard right in front of them usually shuts them up." Then he added, almost to himself, "Helps me feel better, too."

Mulder stared down at the white petals at his feet. Already his body was beginning to betray him. His heart swelled at the man's voice, at the spicy scent of his cologne, at the warmth of their shoulders brushing. Something tugged at his chest to take the man into his arms the way someone easily drags a familiar blanket off the back of a chair and bundles it against their skin.

Krycek interrupted his thoughts. "So, is something wrong?"

"Huh?"

"I've seen you out here every day for over a month. What's going on?"

"I . . . I just need to think."

"Still?" Krycek's one word question seemed overburdened with meaning and apprehension.

Mulder could only nod. He picked at the petals on his creased slacks.

Krycek sighed and he added, "I'm old enough to know there's nothing I can do to help you. This is something you have to figure out for yourself."

"It's not that, Alex. I'm not bothered by you being a man. I wasn't before. I never have been. It's just that I can't trust you."

"That's what I'm talking about. It's not just me, Mulder. You don't trust anyone. I can't help you there. I can try. I can explain all of my actions and expose everything about myself to you, but it just won't work. You wouldn't trust a nun, let alone me."

Mulder rubbed his fingers together, unable to look into Krycek's eyes. Suddenly, he felt Krycek's fingers in his hair, and Mulder flinched.

Krycek pulled back as if burned. "You . . . you have flowers in your hair," he said softly, but Mulder could see by the hurt expression on the Alex's face that the damage had been done. He was still too afraid of Krycek, and the other man turned his gaze away to stare out across the Tidal Basin. Mulder brushed his hand across the top of his hair, shaking loose several white petals that fell into his lap.

"I need time, Alex."

"I know. I know. Just answer me this, Mulder. Am I misreading things? A part of you does still . . . want me . . . don't you?"

/Now or never./ Mulder took a deep breath. His ribs ached and he felt spikes in the sides of his throat. "Yes," he hissed through clenched teeth.

There. He had said it.

"And you can't reconcile that with what I've done to you." He said it as a statement and not a question.

"Yes."

This time Krycek exhaled all of his breath in a defeated rush. "I thought so."

"I don't know if I ever can."

They sat in silence, feeling the breeze against their faces. Finally, Krycek gathered up his courage and said, "Prince Fasil will be gone for four days. This is the first chance I've had any time to myself. I . . . I think I owe you for several meals, Mulder. Can I . . . take you out to dinner? To repay you?"

"You don't have to repay me."

"Is that a no?"

Mulder stared forward at the Jefferson Memorial. Even his mind had grown silent.

Krycek tried, "There's a little bistro on S, not that far from your apartment. We could walk there. Say Saturday night?"

"I don't know--"

"I getting tired of hearing that."

"Then let me finish," Mulder answered sharply. "I was going to say I don't know if that's a good idea."

"We don't really have much of a choice. We need to do something. We're at an impasse here. I want you. You want me. What we don't have is trust."

=========

72 Riggs Place NW, Apt. 21
Washington, D.C.
Saturday, April 10, 2004

Mulder stood in front of his bathroom mirror and ran his brush through his thick brown hair. He couldn't remember a time when he was more nervous. His stomach cramped, and had been cramping since the night he had agreed to have dinner with Krycek.

/Dinner with Krycek. I'm having *dinner* with Krycek./

When had his world flipped upside down?

But it hadn't really. Mulder was reminded of T.S. Eliot's comment on the end of the world. Not with a bang, but a whimper. As if the world had been made of sand, everything had dissolved away, leaving bizarre stone cores where familiar structures had been. He had remained, and Krycek had remained, but their war was gone. All that lingered were the actions, left without reference, unconnected to cause and effect, like looking at a painting or a movie or the constructs of fiction, free for analysis and critical judgment where emotional attachment didn't apply.

Mulder stepped back from the mirror to see a wider perspective. He had changed his clothes countless times. At first he had thrown on jeans and a comfortable sweater, but that seemed too casual and he didn't like the idea of giving Krycek the false impression that he wasn't taking this dinner seriously. Krycek had asked him repeatedly to just *try*, and deep-down, a part of him knew that the war was over and that if he wanted any real peace, then he was going to have to accept that advice. Alex had already told him that he didn't expect Mulder to trust him today, but he hoped, that after a year, maybe two years of this kind of communication, the trust would come.

Hearing Krycek say "a year, maybe two years," had caused Mulder to grow instantly light-headed. First, it indicted his obsessive paranoia if another human being could so comfortably accept that it would take Mulder more than a year of exposure to someone to trust him.

Then, he marveled at Krycek's surprising commitment to stick it out for over a year until Mulder's animosity waned.

So the hiking boots, jeans, and worn sweater were out. This was really serious and he couldn't take this so lightly.

Mulder had then thumbed through his gallery of suits. Most were navy. A few black. One dark-green. Some brown. He tried on a few but each time he looked like he was dressing for work. Definitely not the impression he wanted to give to Alex. Tonight was the last night he wanted to feel like an FBI agent confronting a rogue operative.

He grew more frantic until he finally had to stop himself. He hadn't behaved this anxiously for his first junior-senior prom. In fact, he'd *never* acted like this for *any* date in his life.

Taking a deep breath, he adjusted his light-brown sports coat. He had chosen to go with the brown because it seemed more casual than his mountain of navy jackets. Mulder straightened his tie before brushing imaginary lint from his ivory button-down shirt. He had been wearing a wool sweater vest, thinking it would be cold tonight, but it made him appear too bookish, especially since he had chosen to wear his glasses tonight to make him look more vulnerable. He had planned on wearing cotton khaki pants, but the outfit seemed too coordinated and precise, so he changed into a pair of drab-green slacks, hoping the mix of colors would balance the casual with the formal.

Mulder practically jumped from his skin when he heard the sharp rap at the door echoing through his apartment. He steadied his breathing, peered one last time at his reflection in the mirror, then left the bathroom to open the front door.

When he did, he could only stare at the man. A corner of Alex's lips curled up in a devilish smile. He had brushed out the wave of hair across his forehead, and instead of that perfect, molded look, dark strands had slipped out of place. Mulder forced control over his hand, fighting the impulse to reach out and brush the hair back into place. For once the man was not only gorgeous in a heavy knit sweater and a dark green camel-hair sports coat, but he had made himself this physically disarming on Mulder's account alone. He was trying to impress him as much as Mulder had been working to do the same for him.

Krycek's green eyes twinkled as he said, "You wore a tie for me."

Mulder smiled back at him. "Yeah."

"I wanted to wear a tie for you."

He started to ask Alex why he hadn't when he considered the arm. Maybe Krycek couldn't knot a tie by himself.

Reading the expression in Mulder's eyes, Krycek added, "I haven't quite gotten the hang of this new arm yet. I can get the knot, I just can't tighten it."

"It doesn't matter," Mulder replied. "You look incredible."

Alex's face practically beamed. "Are you ready to go?"

"Don't I get a corsage?"

"On your birthday," Krycek answered.

Locking his door, Mulder threw back, "I have to wait until October?"

"Do you want me to wear one for my birthday?"

"I have to wait until August?"

This time Alex grinned. "You remembered my birthday." Then he rolled his eyes, thinking of Mulder's eidetic memory. "Of course you remember my birthday."

The restaurant Krycek had in mind was only a few blocks away from Mulder's apartment. The weather was a little chilled, but neither man seemed to mind, enjoying the fog of their breaths steaming in front of them, reminding them they were alive. Walking, their shoulders continued to bump together. Once at the restaurant, Krycek had asked if they could sit in a secluded booth towards the back, away from the glass windows. He didn't want distractions tonight.

They both ordered cocktails almost immediately after sitting down. Mulder smirked at Krycek, and rather than let the man comment on his own desperate need for a drink to settle his nerves, he decided to grab the first jab. "What, nervous, Krycek?"

"Mulder, I haven't been this nervous since I lost my virginity," Alex confessed with a whisper. "I spent all day buying clothes for this date."

Mulder laughed softly, suddenly relieved that he wasn't the only one on edge. Then he studied the other man for a moment. Krycek wasn't the twenty-five year old rookie who had burst into Mulder's world ten years ago, fresh-faced from Quantico. Alex had changed radically. He had not only hardened, but in a way, with the war over, he had softened back to humanity. Mulder could barely see the almost sycophant young man, barking at his heels like a puppy, and at the same time, the cold-hearted, amoral, determined agent who would let nothing stand in the way of his objectives. It seemed that this man sitting across from him had merged the two personas. He wasn't a puppy any longer, and at thirty-five, he was much too experienced to be chasing after father-son fantasies.

"Why do you want me?" Mulder asked.

Krycek's eyebrows furrowed as if in surprise, the question coming completely by surprise. After a sip of his scotch, he said, "I would think that's obvious." He gazed into Mulder's eyes. "You believe."

Mulder almost laughed from the unexpected answer.

Alex then added, "I don't guess you'd ever thought you'd hear that, huh?" He ran his finger along the rim of the tumbler. "It's true though. . . . Mulder, I've been through hell. I've seen things that wake me up at night in a cold sweat. How can I ever explain that to someone? How can I tell someone I love what happened to my arm and not lie? They'd just look at me like I was a freak."

Fox could only stare at him, his breath caught in his throat.

"Mulder, it doesn't matter if the colonization didn't happen. As far as we're concerned, we're the last two people left on this earth." Then he teased, "Of course, you could always turn to Scully or Skinner."

Mulder laughed. "Won't happen."

"For me, either. I think both of them would put me in a grave faster than you ever would." He stuck his finger into his drink, swirling the ice around. "The war is over, Mulder. I have nothing to hide, and no one but you to believe what I say." Their eyes met again, this time in earnest. "You can ask me anything. I'll tell you whatever it is you want to know. If I know it, that is."

He waited for a minute before he asked, "Were you born in Russia?"

Krycek smiled delicately, pleased that Mulder wanted personal details instead of the morbid necronomicon that had been his life for the past ten years. "Yes. I was born in Stalingrad, but I don't remember it. We were . . . *traded* when I was four."

"Where did you grow up?"

The night passed between them tenderly as they talked together about their childhoods. Mulder discovered that Krycek had an older brother who he had worshipped. According to Alex, he was more handsome than any of them, and he could win at any sport. Sadly, Krycek told him that his brother Mikhail had disappeared one night. He had discovered that there were clones of Mikhail being produced, like those made from Samantha Mulder, but that he had always chosen not to see them. He never thought he would be strong enough to witness it, seeing that treasured face worn by another person's soul.

As they grew more comfortable, the conversations became more light-hearted. Embarrassing moments from high school. Laughable exploits from college. The traditional hazing in Quantico. Mulder had to admit that this easy camaraderie felt extremely comforting.

Finally, when the waiter warmed their after-dinner coffees, they both realized that they were the only two patrons left in the restaurant, and that the staff was waiting to close. "I don't want this to end, but I think they'd like for it to," Alex whispered.

"Yeah. We should go."

Their easy conversation at the start of the night gave way to a nervous silence as they strolled back to Mulder's apartment. For a few hours, they had been able to stave off apprehensions of the future and just concentrate on each other's presence. Now there would come the questions of what happens next. Once they were back on Mulder's street, just a few feet from where Alex had collapsed in the January snowstorm, they stopped. "Did you drive?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah." He pointed to a blue sedan. "That's my car."

"I guess this is good night, then."

"I'll walk you to your door, at least."

Mulder had hoped he would say that. Together they stepped into the old rowhouse that had been converted many years ago into apartments. Climbing up the stairs, Mulder felt Alex's hand on the small of his back, guiding him, but once outside the doorway to Mulder's home, Alex hung back.

"You . . . you can stay . . . if you want," Mulder offered tentatively.

Alex recognized the hunger in his eyes. Mulder wanted him to stay, to hold him once more. All of his muscles ached to join him, but he clamped down on these urges with a battle-tempered will. "No," he answered. "As much as I want to, no. Ten years ago, we had sex because we thought it didn't matter, and it nearly destroyed us. I don't want to risk that again." He ran the back of his knuckles down the side of Mulder's face. "Okay?"

Mulder's expression softened. He leaned closer, put his hands on Krycek's waist to prevent him from pulling away, and very gently, he pressed his lips to Alex's for a warm, chaste kiss.

Once released, Alex did ease away, his eyes closed in a mix of rapture and torment. The sensations clung to him, swirled in his mind, and before he could reign in his hunger, Alex snapped his arm around Mulder's waist. He crushed the man to his chest, and his mouth latched onto Fox's for a passionate, absorbing kiss, his tongue assaulting his beloved. Mulder moaned, the sounds echoing in the hallway, as he draped his arms over Alex's shoulders, his fingers carding through his thick hair. They kissed ardently for several minutes, their hands roaming across cloth and muscle before finally Alex broke away, panting, his cheek pressed to Fox's to hold him steady. "This hurts," Alex whispered. "This hurts so much, but I have to do this. We have to do this right this time."

He slipped out of Fox's embrace and darted for the stairs, averting his eyes the entire time. He knew if he looked at Fox again he would lose control.

=========

Section Three

72 Riggs Place NW, Apt. 21
Washington D.C.
Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Mulder sat on the edge of his sofa, his wrists on his knees and his shoulders sagging. Strands of his hair rose from his head in spikes, curling waves, licks, and even a few tangles. As he had done a hundred times, Mulder dug his fingers into his hair and pulled. Finally letting go, again, he glanced over at his VCR -- that Alex had programmed because he was tired of seeing it blink -- and he groaned. Four o'clock in the morning.

Like a tree falling over from age, his body slowly started to lean towards the right, gaining speed as he collapsed on the sofa. He moaned miserably.

/I give up on sleep./

He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.

/Alex Krycek is the most evil man on the fucking planet. Why? Why did I give in to him? Scully was right. I should have left him in the snow. I should have left him in the goddamn snow./

For two months now, they had been "dating." Intimate dinners, the kinds he had always seen on television and in movies but always assumed they were the fictions of purple-prose writers. Baseball games in Baltimore. He never thought he would go to a baseball game with anyone let alone Alex Krycek, but the younger man found it patently absurd that the two of them should be sitting in the stands eating what they could only hope was meat in those hot dogs and drinking barely cool beer and it always put him in such a good humor that Fox couldn't tell him no. One night they had even caused a scene in a fairly nice restaurant that included swing and ballroom dancing -- not because the two men rose onto the floor to dance together -- but because they couldn't stop bickering over who would get to lead.

The worst were the movies. Alex would always insist on sitting to Mulder's left so that in the dark, he could reach out with his right and hold hands.

The past two months had haunted Fox from one surreal episode to another. To common, every day, garden-variety human beings, they had been mimicking the behaviors of any dating couple. But to them, after having spent the last ten years slinking in the shadows and chasing nightmares, this common safety seemed absurd.

After every date, Alex would walk him to his door and plant the most blistering, passion-fired kiss that caused Fox's bones to melt into his already lax muscles. He hungered for the man. Every night he was haunted by visions of Alex in every possible situation, so much so that Fox had trained his mind to recognize an Alex-dream instantly. Now, the dream-scenario didn't matter. Scully could be walking down the aisle wearing a scuba suit, about to marry all three of the Lone Gunmen who weren't at the wedding for some reason, and Fox would see Alex walking in front of her as the ring bearer and he would jump the man right there, in the aisle of the church, throwing the ring aside and shoving the red-velvet pillow under Alex's ass to lever his rear even further off the floor.

There were times when Fox's admiration of Alex would rocket as he realized just how determined Alex was to make sure they were ready this time. He wanted Fox, he absolutely wanted Fox so badly that he wasn't about to risk any chance that either of them would get hurt this time. That kind of devotion made his heart ache.

But most days Fox would grumble and growl that Alex was withholding sex just to drive the man insane, to force the emotions and the trust.

The old dichotomy remained. There were still things that Krycek had done to him that Mulder just couldn't forgive. He still wanted to beat the man sometimes, and there were times when Krycek would reach out for Mulder, and he would jerk as if burned by his touch. But now those emotions were growing weaker and weaker, while his desire and need eclipsed them. He liked what they had built together so far, and he wanted it to continue. His struggle now was to believe that these days would continue to span out before him, and that they wouldn't dissipate like a summer fog.

=========

F.B.I. Headquarters
Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

The moment Mulder feared worse than anything, that his day to day dreaming would vanish in an instant, came upon him with the subtlety of a snake. He suspected all along that the serpent lay hidden in the grass; he knew of its movements; but the actual strike came from behind and left him staggering.

He was sitting in his office, reading a report and wondering why the field agent hadn't suspected vampirism in the recent after-hours attacks on bloodmobile drivers, when he realized someone was in the office with him. He turned his head to the side and recognized Dana Scully standing there.

Only her expression was all wrong.

Scully knew about Mulder's interest in Krycek. She didn't approve. She had warned him so often that Mulder had finally asked her to stop. He should have known though that just asking Scully to stop would never work. Mulder was finally forced to invite her and a date over to Mulder's apartment while he and Krycek cooked them dinner, Scully's poison jokes aside.

That night, Alex worked so hard to impress Scully. He refrained from his usual caustic humor, choosing to remain in the shadows for the first hour, only stepping into her attention when he thought he could say or do something without incurring her wrath. But she wasn't interested in what he had to say to her. Instead, her sharp eyes focused on every movement the man made around Mulder. Did he help with the meal? Where did he place his hand? On Mulder's hip, his shoulder, his arm? What did he whisper to her former partner that caused him to smile so?

Afterwards, once Scully had left, Alex fell into Mulder's arms, mentally exhausted. They stood in the quiet of the hallway, slowly swaying together in an embrace, feeling each other's heartbeats against their chests.

From that point on, Alex and Scully had drawn up an unspoken armistice.

Today, watching Scully standing in front of him with that unreadable expression on her face, Mulder thought back to that dinner, and his stomach dropped.

"Scully, what is it?"

"Mulder, was . . . do you know if Krycek was still guarding the Iraqi delegation at the Mid-East conference?"

Mulder felt his skin grow cold. "Yes."

She touched his arm. "Mulder, I just heard. It was . . . there was some sort of incident . . . not more than ten --"

Papers flew off his desk like startled birds as his hands launched him forward. He nearly pushed Scully aside as he ran, leaving both her and his jacket behind. He knew the conference was being held at the State Department. Krycek had complained about it only a few days before. He rushed into the hallway, punching the elevator call button again and again, cursing out loud as Scully ran to join him. "I'm going with you," she said, but Mulder didn't hear her. Other thoughts crowded out the sounds.

He hadn't said anything to Alex about what he was feeling.

He woke up every morning now, wishing the man was asleep beside him. He didn't need the sex any more. He needed the man. He needed the pulse and the breath and the warmth and the life at his side.

All this time, he had been waiting for Alex to tell him when the moment had come for them to officially move from tentative dating to actual romance. He had held back all of his desire, all of his emotions, for that one moment when Alex threw back the levers and the floodgates burst.

Mulder had never said a word, never made mention of what his heart had been yearning.

Scully had to run hard to keep up with him once the elevator doors opened onto the parking garage. She made it to Mulder's car just as the man had switched the ignition and jammed the car into drive. Tires squealed at each turn within the cramped garage, and she was certain sparks scraped off the bottom of the car when it landed after hitting the curb on the way out. Mulder ran the red-light, turning right onto Constitution Avenue and flying towards the State Department. "Mulder, slow down!" she shouted, gripping both the dashboard and the door handle. She gritted her teeth as Mulder took the right turn onto 21st Street too sharply, fishtailing before slamming on brakes in front of the road block.

Mulder left the car in the middle of the road, then flashed his FBI credentials before darting past the police barricade. Frantically he searched, craning his neck over the crowds and delving deeper into the melee.

Then he froze.

There, nearest the entrance, the crowd parted as a gurney rushed towards the waiting ambulances.

He saw the shock of dark hair. He saw the left arm hanging at an awkward, artificial angle.

His face was slack and lifeless.

Blood coated his chest.

Time turned syrupy, pulling slower and slower. Krycek wasn't moving. His eyes were closed. He didn't seem to be breathing. Scully ran past him as Mulder just stood there in shock, his entire world breaking into chips and shards and just hanging there, waiting for that magic moment when gravity would take over and life would fall to the ground. "I'm a doctor!" he heard Scully shout. "Let me through!"

Now like an automaton, Mulder followed behind Alex's gurney. Scully hung over his lifeless body, shouting orders as the EMT's lifted his gurney into the back of the ambulance. Suddenly, she was shouting at him and Mulder continued to come closer, time's restraints relaxing enough that he could now hurry.

"Come on, Mulder! Come on!"

Mulder ran to catch up with Scully and Krycek, jumping into the back of the ambulance with them.

"Sit here," she ordered him, then she barked at the driver. "Get us to Washington U Hospital! Now!" The doors closed behind them and the ambulance lurched forward.

Scully pulled open Krycek's shirt, and Mulder saw the three distinct red pits in his beloved's chest.

"No," Mulder mumbled. "No. Not yet. Not yet."

The drive five blocks to the hospital blurred in Mulder's senses. He could only comprehend the jostling of the vehicle and Scully's frantic movements. Alex was having trouble breathing, and she connected an oxygen tube for him. "He needs blood," she groused but there wasn't anything she could do. Once they got to the emergency room entrance, she pushed Mulder hard out of the ambulance, keeping him out of the EMT's way as they hurried Krycek into surgery.

"Mulder," she barked. "Mulder. He's alive. He's alive."

Scully led him to the hallway outside surgery to continue his pacing. She had long since suspected that Mulder was falling deeper and deeper for the bastard who had stood by while her sister lay bleeding to death. Now her suspicions were confirmed. She had to admit that the old dangers of the Consortium had withered unfruited on the vine, and the men who were truly guilty, Luis Cardinal and the bastards who had directed him, were all dead. She should be able to deal with Krycek, but she still mistrusted him. For Mulder though, she decided, those days of mistrust were numbered.

An hour later, a red-smeared surgeon pushed his way through the swinging doors "Are you Dr. Scully?"

"Yes," she answered.

"The patient you came in with, Alex Krycek . . ."

"Yes?!" Mulder asked, suddenly coming to life.

"The kevlar vest he was wearing didn't protect him from the bullets. They pierced the shielding, but the shielding was enough to stop most of the velocity. He was damn lucky. Each bullet then broke a rib, so they didn't pass much further than the muscle. Right now he's having trouble breathing. He's going to be in some serious pain until his bones knit."

"When can I see him?"

"They're wheeling him to his room now. The nurses station can tell you the number. He's going to be unconscious for quite some time now. When he comes to, though, I don't want him talking. He's going to have a hard enough time getting oxygen as it is."

=========

Towards seven o'clock, Scully returned to Krycek's room because she was sure Mulder hadn't bothered to eat. The dissidents' attack on the conference had been carried out by two individuals, and Krycek had disabled one of them before slipping into unconsciousness. Only the assailants and the bodyguards were injured. All the dignitaries had escaped unscathed. So far, the police had managed to keep the press away from Krycek's room, and her FBI credentials had carried her through their ring. When she stepped into Krycek's room, her eyes settled first on her former partner.

Mulder sat in the vinyl chair, staring at the other man as he slept. Already, Mulder had the look of exhaustion, though the attack had occurred at ten o'clock that morning. He didn't even notice Scully until she placed her hand on his shoulder. "Mulder, he's going to be fine."

"I know," he whispered. "I know."

"Are you going to stay the night?"

"Yeah." He pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I brought you something to eat." She handed him a white paper sack. "It's from that deli across the street that you like."

"Thanks." He smiled weakly as he took the sack, then opened it to peak inside.

"Do you want me to bring you back something from your apartment? A change of clothes? A toothbrush or something?"

"No," he answered. "I think I'll be fine. I want to be here when he comes to. After that happens, I'll probably go home and get some things."

"You sure?"

He patted her on the arm. After all that had happened between them over the past ten years, she was still his closest friend. "Thanks, Scully."

"Call me if you need anything." She slipped out of the room. Scully worried about Mulder, wanted to be there for him, but she wasn't sure about Krycek and quite frankly wasn't worried about his recovery -- except for how it would effect Mulder.

In silence, Mulder slowly ate the sandwich Scully had brought him, chewing methodically and not really tasting it. All he could focus on was the barely discernible rise and fall of Alex's chest. /When was he ever in danger?/ Mulder knew the answer to that. He had always been in danger as a bodyguard, and Mulder had been the one to direct him towards it. He had been the one to find Braudel and he had been the one to encourage, however reluctantly Krycek would let him, to join. Perhaps he had thought the man was invincible. Alex had after all survived alien possession, abandonment in an underground missile silo, and even more impossible, escape from post-Soviet Russia with a freshly amputated arm and super-critical information. Nothing could happen to him as a simple bodyguard.

But nothing had happened. Or rather, the nothingness happened.

Mulder had not told Krycek anything that had been going on his mind, how he craved Alex's presence, how he wanted him, not just physically but emotionally as well. If Alex died, he would not know that Mulder had wanted him to stay, to truly stay. Mulder had allowed that nothingness to happen.

Krycek slept on into the night, and Mulder remained, angled as best as he could in the uncomfortable chair. Uninterpretable dream images flashed behind his closed eyelids, waking him up every so often. Around two in the morning, he heard a breathy, "Shit!" coming from Krycek's bed.

"Alex?" Mulder leaned forward in his chair and touched the other man on the shoulder.

"Ai!" he hissed. "Where am I?"

"You're at Washington University Hospital."

"Hospital. Shit. Make sure they don't test me."

"Already covered."

"What happened?"

Fox drew his fingertips from Alex's temples, across his cheek, along the line of his jaw, then brushed his index finger over the man's lips. "Your vest didn't stop the bullets. They broke three of your ribs, so don't try to talk, all right?" He reached over Alex's head to press the nurses' call button.

Krycek gripped Mulder's arm. "What about Al-Bukhari?"

"Was he in the delegation?"

"Yes."

His hand returned to caressing Alex's face, and Alex eased into his touch like a cat. "He's fine. No one in the delegation was injured. Now stop talking."

Alex tried to take a deep breath, but his broken chest prevented him. He threaded his fingers with Mulder's just as the nurse came in.

=========

On the afternoon of the next day, Alex woke from his drug-induced sleep to see Fox's familiar silhouette against the window, the vertical lines of the plastic blinds creating a hazy aura about him. Alex remained quiet, not wanting Fox to realize that he was awake, not wanting to break this moment. He shifted as silently as he could onto his side to get a better look at the man. When had it really happened? When had he let this quirky, obsessive, distrustful, skittish, paranoid . . . brilliant man insinuate himself into a network of defenses and personalities that Krycek had been embroidering about himself since the day a cadre of men had entered his family's home and shot both of his parents over the dinner table?

He had pulled Alex from a snowstorm. Fed him. Nursed him. Arranged a career and a future. Allowed Alex to call on him like a suitor.

If only Alex could survive this courtship before Fox's mistrust drove him insane.

He sighed as much as his broken ribs would allow him. He had no choice but to wait on Mulder. Krycek had created this man. It was his punishment to see this through.

Mulder heard his weak sigh and he turned. "How are you feeling?"

Alex smiled. "These are some good drugs."

Fox moved around the bed to return to his chair. He placed Alex's hand in his and kissed the knuckles. "Do you want to stay at my place when they let you out?"

He shook his head. "No. I'd rather go back to my place."

"Who's going to take care of you?"

"I can take care of myself."

"I'd rather you stayed with me."

"But all my stuff is back at my place. My clothes. My books. My food."

Mulder smirked. "Your porno movies."

"Watch it," Alex warned him. "I could zing you on that one."

Fox laughed softly. "You're not getting rid of me that easily."

"I'm not counting on it." He smiled back at him. They stared at each other for a moment longer, both of their eyes glittering with easy feelings. Finally, Fox leaned over the bed, placing his hand on Alex's pillow to maintain his balance, and he lightly kissed him on the lips. When he pulled back, Alex added, "What a time to be so stoned I can't feel anything."

Fox traced his finger down the bridge of Alex's nose to the pointed tip. "You'll feel something soon enough, I'm afraid." With one finger, he drew lines across the man's beautiful face. Alex closed his eyes, hypnotized by the sensation of Fox's warm breath across his skin. Just moments before drifting off to sleep, Fox's voice pulled him back. "I thought I'd lost you."

Alex stirred himself awake again. "Not likely." He sluggishly raised his hand to touch Fox's jaw.

"Fox?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't panic about this. This kind of stuff happens. Don't make it force anything inside you that isn't really ready."

"Alex, I need to say this."

"Keep it. Save it until I get better."

"No. Alex, I want you to know what I'm feeling. I think about you all the time. I miss you when you aren't around. I want you, Alex Krycek."

Alex grinned. "I'm not going anywhere. I still have plans for you."

"And what would those plans be?"

Alex's smile faded as he grew serious. "I want you, too, Fox. I want you more than anything I've ever wanted in my entire life. No bullet from a dork lunatic, drunk on some bonehead ideology, is going to stop me."

Fox dropped his head closer to kiss Alex again, gentle manipulations of lips against lips, soft and fragile, expressing more in their feather-light brushes than any hungry consumption. Both men were lost to the tenderness, the emotions flowing back and forth between them.

A polite cough coming from the doorway disturbed them, and Mulder practically threw himself away from Krycek, unsure what to expect.

Frank Braudel stood there, his hands clasped together just below his rock-hard belly. He wore a simple Polo golf shirt and khaki slacks, his heavily-muscled arms bulging underneath the rim of his short-sleeves. His blue eyes twinkled with mischief at having caught the FBI agent in such a compromising position. "Agent Mulder," he said slyly. "I see you're doing an excellent job of keeping my best man entertained."

Krycek grinned. "Hey, boss."

Braudel strode into the room with a confident swagger. He approached Krycek's bed, displacing Mulder from his position. Without asking, his large fingers pinched the edge of Krycek's blanket, pulling it away from his bandaged chest. "So what do we have here?"

"Three bullet wounds."

"Are you sure?"

Mulder couldn't read their good-natured, almost teasing tones of voice. They were joking about something, but he couldn't understand what could be so humorous.

Alex answered Braudel, "I have the holes to prove it."

"Yeah, I spoke to the doctor. But those bullets didn't really go *inside* you. They just went as far as your ribs."

"You wouldn't dare," Krycek challenged him.

Braudel laughed out loud. "For you Krycek, no. You're making me a rich man as it is. I'm already fielding calls from new clients." He turned to face Mulder with a grin. "The man's an artist with a gun," he said. "I saw the security videos. He takes three bullets in the chest, and *on his way down*, he shoots this guy three times. Here." He pointed to his right shoulder. "Then here." His left shoulder. "And the finishing touch --" he turned back to Krycek with an arrogant cock of his head, "--you went and shot him here." He pointed to the joint between the hip and pelvis. "Shattered the man's hip. Dropped him like a cow. The guy was an Iraqi foreign national. Now they get to deport him to Iraq *alive*. Oh man, we got a bonus just for that alone."

"So I get my money then, huh?"

This time Mulder interrupted. "What money?"

Braudel answered him, "I give all my men a bonus for taking a bullet for a client. $10,000 a bullet. This time, though, I'll forgo taking my cut from the Iraqi bonus and give you that, too."

"How generous," Mulder remarked.

"Generous? Hell, with the business Krycek just sent my way, I can afford to be generous." He directed his question to Krycek. "So, how are you gonna spend all that money?"

Krycek grinned. "I'm gonna buy the fastest, sexiest red convertible I can afford."

Braudel laughed boisterously. "That's what I like to see." Then he took on a strange, fatherly persona. "In this life, Krycek, you could be dead tomorrow. Don't think about the future. Only think about the present." He eyed Mulder hard, but still spoke to Krycek. "Take what you want in life now. Don't count on it being there for you when you can get around to it."

=========

1432 Volta Place NW, Apt. 7B
Washington, D.C.
Saturday, July 17, 2004

Sitting on the bed behind Krycek, Fox carefully threaded a line of gauze under Alex's arm and across his chest. Krycek's Georgetown apartment was much smaller than Mulder's, designed for college students with little cash for rent. His double-bed took up most of the room, with barely space for an end-table and a lamp. Fox had tried to convince him to move closer to his own place, but with typical resistance, Krycek could not be budged. Alex grimaced hard, and Fox stopped his movement, leaning over to ask, "You aren't holding your breath, are you?"

"I'm not breathing, if that's what you mean."

Fox's hands felt warm against Alex's chest. "If I tie this too tightly, you won't be able to breathe." He cut the strip, then pinned it in place.

"It's okay," he whispered. He closed his eyes and slowly exhaled, then inhaled, halting frequently as the pain bit into him.

"You sure? I can loosen the bandage."

"It needs to be tight. I'll be fine. These pain killers put me to sleep fast enough as it is."

Fox continued to brush his hands across Alex's bandaged chest and bare belly, soothing him the way a rider calms a skittish horse. Alex leaned back, pressing his weight against Fox's chest, feeling his heartbeat through the tightened gauze. Very carefully, Fox wrapped his arms around Alex's stomach, avoiding his chest, and he placed his dry lips on the other man's shoulders. A faint laugh fell from Alex's lips, and Mulder glanced up, making eye contact before moving even closer. Together, they touched, cheek to cheek with eyes closed, and sat silently, Fox holding Alex close, just . . . breathing.

"Stay . . ." Alex whispered.

Goose-flesh shivered across Fox's skin as all the multiplied tension in his muscles melted away. "Alex . . ."

"It's a Saturday. You don't have to go to work tomorrow. Stay."

Gingerly, Fox embraced him, kissing him on the back of the neck. "Alex, I'm having a hard enough time controlling myself. I . . . I want this to be special. And I don't want to be afraid I'm going to hurt you. As I remember, you can be pretty vocal, and that requires a deep breath."

Alex tried to laugh harder, to release his frustration, but his ribs prevented him. "Damnit, this sucks."

"Or doesn't suck," Fox teased, his grin infectious, "which is . . . why it sucks."

"Don't make me laugh."

"Sorry."

"No, you're not."

This time Mulder laughed out loud as he confessed, "No, I'm not."

"Stop it," Alex winced. "Stop it."

Releasing his hold, Fox rose from the bed. He grabbed the incentive spirometer, a plastic tube with a small red ball inside which the doctor had given Krycek to make sure his lungs remained healthy. "Here," he said, handing the tube. "Practice your blow jobs."

Alex cut him a frown as he took the spirometer and began to blow in it, making the ball float.

Mulder chuckled as he made his way to the kitchen. Alex's apartment was such a tight little closet. His living room barely held a sofa and a chair, and his kitchen couldn't even fit a table. He had to eat in the living room, his plates on the coffee table. Mulder grabbed a glass, filled it with ice and water, then returned, picking up Alex's pain killers on his way back. "Eat me," he said, holding out two pills. After Alex took them, he then offered the glass of water. "Drink me."

"Thanks, Alice," he groaned after swallowing the pills.

"Say hello to the White Rabbit for me." Fox took the water from him and set it on the bedside table.

With a few grunts and moans, Alex lowered his body onto the bed, pulling the blankets over him. Gently, Mulder climbed onto the bed beside him, lying on top of the sheets as he nestled close behind Krycek. He draped his arm across Alex's waist, careful not to hurt him, but more even more careful to avoid his crotch. Mulder figured Alex was probably as painfully erect as he was. "I wish you'd stay at my place."

"We can't keep our hands off each other as it is. What makes you think we'd fare any better at your place?"

"I wouldn't worry about you here by yourself."

"I'm a grown man, Mulder. I can take care of myself. Besides, these ribs are a walk in the park compared to what I've been through."

"I'll stay until you fall asleep."

Alex placed his hand on top of Fox's and squeezed. "You always do."

=========

72 Riggs Place NW, Apt 21
Washington, D.C.
Saturday, September 4, 2004

The doctors had prescribed three months of recuperation time, and Mulder wasn't sure if he could endure the wait. For Krycek, as he grew healthier, his mind began to focus on his reward, and this reward didn't just include Fox Mulder. His ribs became more of an annoyance than a disability, and he spent much of his time on his feet and away from the cramped apartment. The first few times Mulder came by Alex's apartment only to find the man missing had panicked him. Luckily, Krycek answered his cell phone quickly, but he still received an earful of Mulder's rants. Mulder could badger and complain, but he knew that Krycek's attention had lasered onto one thing, and one thing only.

His damned convertible.

Krycek spent hours in the public library, pouring over magazine and newspaper reviews. He dropped by Mulder's apartment to borrow his laptop, downloading countless webpages about BMW's, Benzes, Jaguars, Miatas, Mustangs and Corvettes. Finally, one Saturday afternoon, he peered up at Mulder with an fiery gleam in his eye and said, "Let's do it."

Mulder could only grin like an indulgent parent. "Where to?"

"There's a Mercedes dealership I want to try in Alexandria."

The hot, humid air hung like lifeless cloth, and Mulder didn't mind leaving his apartment so long as he could step quickly into another air conditioned building. As it was, his gray tee shirt clung to his chest the moment he stepped outside, and he didn't relish the idea of strolling through sweltering car lot after sweltering car lot just to please Alex's craving for a sportscar. Krycek, though, had fixed on his best persona -- the sly, soft-spoken character with obvious wealth and taste. In spite of the heat, he put on his best slacks and a hand-tailored white button-down shirt with his initials stitched into the pocket. Despite southern summer heat, Krycek always chose long-sleeved shirts to hide his left arm. His buffed black leather dress shoes reflected the southern sunlight.

Once in the car lot, it didn't take the dealer long to spot them strolling around the sleek Kompressors. A stout, middle-aged man, he avoided Mulder's worn tee-shirt and arrowed in on Krycek. "Can I help you gentleman?"

Krycek pointed to the silver Kompressor next to him. "I want to test drive this one."

The dealer glanced at the car, ran his hand across his balding scalp and smiled. "Good choice. I'll be back with the keys in a minute."

Mulder sidled up to Krycek. "Be careful with these sharks."

Krycek laughed. "Oh, Mulder, come on. Think about Spender for god's sake. If I can handle that bastard and his goddamn Morleys for years, then I think I can take care of a slimy car dealer for one afternoon. This guy'll be giving me money by the time I'm through with him."

"Sure he will."

"Jeez, Mulder, if you think this guy's a shark, what'd you think I was?"

"Oh, that's easy," Mulder dead-panned. "You were a rat."

Again Krycek laughed. For a moment, Mulder let that laugh sink in -- they had finally gotten to a point in their relationship where they could joke about their past. /Well, some of it, anyway./

When the salesman returned, he stepped over to the car. "Here you are, sir." He held out the keys, and Krycek reached out to take them. When he did, the salesman noticed his missing arm. "Oh . . . my . . . I didn't notice . . . well . . ."

"What is it?"

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't realize . . ."

"What?"

"This car . . . well . . . it's a . . . it's a stick shift."

"And?" Mulder noticed Krycek's eyebrows narrow menacingly.

"Well . . . can you drive a stick?"

Then Mulder saw it, that hardening of Alex's face, from angel to demon, the eyes growing almost black with anger. He had seen that expression before. This was the moment Krycek could kill and leave without even remembering the stranger had a life.

"Get in," Krycek growled.

Mulder stepped back, standing on the curb as he watched Krycek easily start the car and back it out of its parking space. Krycek had little trouble steering the sportscar and shifting it into higher gears as he drove the car out of the lot and onto the street. Even so, Mulder couldn't wipe away the image of that dangerous expression on Krycek's face. He was so sensitive about the arm. Mulder had found over the course of the year that most times it was better not to bring it up. But the man had been maligned and maligned hard, and Fox worried about what he was going to do. Keeping an eye on him, Mulder watched as Krycek drove slowly down the road adjacent to the lot until almost at the end of the road.

Then the car stopped.

Mulder waited, wondering what he and the dealer were saying to each other. This couldn't be good.

Suddenly, Mulder heard the turbo engine racing. With a squealing of tires, the car blasted backwards down the street, gaining speed. Mulder's face paled. Like a silver flash, the car shot in reverse towards the dealership until it instantly spun 180 degrees with a flourish of white smoke and a furious shriek of rubber on asphalt. Now moving forward, Krycek gunned the engine, heading back towards the dealership without ever really slowing down. The car gained in speed, taking the sharp turn into the dealership's entrance with a weapon's grace before slamming on brakes beside the sidewalk where Mulder stood.

The door flew open and Krycek stormed out of the car. He stopped long enough to throw the keys at the salesman. Then he leaned into the car.

"If you ever insult me again," Mulder heard Krycek say with a voice like tiger's purr, "so help me god I'll take you apart like a doll." Krycek slammed the door, causing the sportscar to rock on its tires. He spun around and without looking at Mulder, said, "Let's go."

The salesman sat in the passenger's seat, panting, unable to move or speak.

Mulder turned, taken aback by the scene. "Alex?"

Already back at the car, he yelled, "I said, let's go, Mulder!" Krycek flung open the door and sank into the passenger's seat.

Mulder chased after him, got behind the wheel and asked, "Are you okay?"

"Drive."

He placed his hand on Alex's knee.

Alex slung his hand off and yelled, "I said drive!"

Mulder turned the ignition and drove off the lot. Concerned, he studied Krycek, how he sat there, slumped against the side of the door with his hand covering his temple, as if shading his eyes from the sunlight. Once they crossed the Potomac, Mulder pulled over onto the side of the road. He shifted in his seat to focus on Krycek. "Alex?"

"Son of a bitch," he muttered.

"He didn't know, Alex."

Alex let his hand drop away, and Mulder could then see how his cheeks flamed with shame and humiliation. "I know."

"Don't let it get to you."

"Mulder . . ." he said, his voice strained. "He was . . . fuck it . . ." He took a deep breath, then toyed with the buttons on his shirt. "The minute . . . the minute I got into the car I knew he was right. I need . . ." He forced his eyes to stare down at the floorboard. "I need to drive an automatic." Fox placed his hand on Alex's knee again, and this time the man didn't push him away. "I just . . . I just couldn't admit to the son of a bitch that he was right and go back to the lot. And then that . . ." He sighed.

Mulder rubbed his shoulders. "Are you sure you need an automatic? I don't know about you, but I was impressed."

Krycek laughed once, despite his anger and humiliation. "Yeah, I'm sure." He looked out the window. "I knew the minute I got behind the wheel that I even if I could do it, it would just be more of a hassle." Then his anger sparked, "And that son of a bitch kept sitting there, trying to tell me that it was all right if I couldn't drive a stick. Saying shit like driving a stick in the city can be such a pain and god damnit I don't need pity!"

"Come on then." Fox patted his thigh. "Let's try somewhere else."

"No," Krycek said, running his fingers through his hair. "Take me home, Fox. Just take me home."

=========

F.B.I. Headquarters
Washington, D.C.
Friday, September 10, 2004

Scully stood beside him, their shoulders nudging against each other, as she traced a line of the report with her finger. "The bloodwork suggests severe anemia."

Mulder leaned back, his hand on his chin. The chemical smell of the lab burned his nose, but he tried not to think about it. "Would that explain why he was drinking blood? Blood is high in iron, right?"

Her tone was ironic. "Well, yes, but then so are raisins." She stood up straight, her hands on her hip. "Or why not just get iron supplements from any drug store?"

"This guy doesn't strike me as the sharpest knife in the drawer."

"I'd say spoon is more like it."

"Would his anemia get to such a point that his body just started craving it? The way undernourished children in the South used to eat clay to get the minerals they needed? Almost like animal instinct?"

"Wouldn't he have just craved red meat? I mean, you don't really think of blood."

Mulder rubbed the back of his neck. "We need some sort of motive to explain this guy's actions. We can place him at the scene of the crime but we can't explain why he was there. I mean, it's not like we can say he *wanted* to be a vampire because he didn't have anything even remotely vampire-related at his apartment. The guy didn't even know who Anne Rice was, for Christ's sake."

Suddenly Mulder's cell phone beeped, and Scully didn't have a chance to comment. Mulder fumbled around his jacket until he reached his phone and then answered, "Mulder."

"Hey, it's me."

The beaming grin on Mulder's face alerted Scully to who had called. She picked up the report and mouthed out, "I'll see you downstairs."

Mulder only nodded, then he said to Alex, "Did you get it?"

"Picked it up today."

"When can I see it?"

"That's why I'm calling. You aren't going out of town this weekend, are you?"

"Don't think so." Mulder's heart beat frantically in his chest. Krycek's doctor had said it would take three months for his ribs to heal, and those three months had now passed.

"Good. I'll be by your place tomorrow morning around ten to pick you up. Be packed and ready to go."

"Where are we going?"

"Braudel gave me the keys to his beach house. We're going."

=========

The next morning, Mulder had just shoved the last tee shirt into his overnight bag when he heard a car horn blaring. At first, he ignored it, thinking it was normal street traffic, but then he heard the horn a second time. He could only laugh. With a smirk, he hauled the suitcase off the bed and headed out the apartment. Once he opened the front door to his apartment building and regarded the tight, tree-lined street, he had to chuckle.

Krycek leaned against his bright red BMW Z-3 with a hedonistic grin. He had already stowed the top away. His left arm lay bent in an angle to his chest, and his right arm cupped it, both crossed at his chest. In typical fashion, he wore a white button-down shirt, opened wide at the neck. With his tight faded jeans and his sleek black boots, Alex practically glowed with seduction.

Mulder trotted down the steep steps of his building, pausing in front of Alex to kiss him on the lips. Alex quickly grabbed Fox's suitcase and shoved it into the tiny trunk. Mulder caught sight of the bags of groceries and wondered how the man was able to get all of that in such a tight space.

Alex slammed the lid to the trunk and then stepped back. "Well?"

"Well what?"

He rolled his eyes. "Hello? The car?"

Mulder opened the passenger-side door and climbed in. "It's not as hot as you are."

Krycek cocked his head, caught off-guard. "Good one. You'll get points for that later."

After Alex had sat down behind the wheel, Mulder said to him, "I'm hoping I get a lot of points later."

Alex winked at him, then leaned over to kiss Mulder again. "I have a feeling we're going to really enjoy this weekend." Then he slid on his sleek black sunglasses.

The stereo played music from the 80's, and the hot wind tousled their hair as Alex skillfully guided the sleek knife of a sports car through Maryland, crossing over Chesapeake Bay at Annapolis. The salt smell invigorated them both, and Mulder found himself watching the sailboats and fishermen plying the metallic waters. He could already feel the sun baking his skin, and he wondered if he should worry about getting sunburned. Mulder really didn't have time to think about any one thing for very long. Krycek's energy level raced. He sang out loud. He winked at Mulder when he could. His enthusiasm and vitality infected Mulder with good-humor. For the entire trip, Fox kept his hand on Alex's thigh.

They stopped in Salisbury for a quick lunch, but like a horse approaching his stable, Krycek's impatience seemed to grow. Mulder had to convince him to really stop for lunch and not just grab something from the drive-through. When he came back from the restroom, he spotted Krycek leaning against his car, waiting for him.

The drive into the Virginia peninsula grew more and more rural as they approached the coast. Krycek exited off the highway and headed towards a little burg called Modest Town, which Mulder thought was too ironic considering the both of them. Fox looked down at the road atlas in his lap and he said, "Alex, I don't even see this road on the map."

"Relax. That just means we'll be secluded." The sportscar managed the rough road well, steering easily around tar-filled potholes. At last, Krycek stopped at a dirt road and read his directions. "This must be it." They drove through a short grove of sea pines and pin oaks before passing into the open air of the dunes. Both men grew silent.

Braudel's beach house was no small cottage. It rose two stories with a red tin roof. A wide porch surrounded the white-painted house, and upstairs, a narrow verandah added a sense of grace, and they assumed, a staggering view of the beach and the Atlantic ocean. Neither of them could see another house anywhere nearby.

"Alex . . . I think this is going to be a beautiful weekend."

=========

Mulder tried to grab as many bags of groceries as he could, acting nonchalant about it so Alex wouldn't notice. This year had taught him that Krycek had a steely independence, and he didn't abide anyone trying to help him. Mulder wondered how much of that had to do with the loss of his arm. He could deal with Alex's quirks, though. When he wanted help, Alex asked for it, but most times that never happened. Fox understood first hand. His mind and personality seemed to work the same way.

Once inside the house, Krycek unbuttoned his shirt. He peeled it away from his body, then began to work the straps on his prosthesis free. He grimaced as he threw the false arm onto the nearby sofa. From the kitchen, Fox watched his movements, realizing that Alex's right arm and shoulders must be sore from the drive. Unlike another driver, Alex was never able to really change hands, forced to hold the steering wheel at all times with his right. Fox left the kitchen, easing behind him. His hands cupped Alex's shoulders to massage away the tension. He squeezed the muscles, convincing the knots to relax, listening to Alex's grunts and groans.

Finally Krycek rotated his right arm in his socket, pulling his muscles taunt. "I'm gonna change into some shorts and a tee shirt."

Mulder returned to the groceries and began to unpack them while he waited.

=========

Fox had seen Krycek in a tee shirt and boxer shorts before, whenever he had come over to Alex's apartment to check on him, but there was still something that struck him as odd about it as he stood beside the man. He had changed into khaki shorts and a plain white tee-shirt that barely covered his scar on his left arm. Every so often, as they strolled the beach, Mulder would take the time to really examine him in the sunlight. Always he had seen that cunning body exposed indoors, in apartments, offices, hotel rooms. Hardly any hair darkened his arms, except nearest the wrist. His smooth, defined thighs pulsed like a precision machine, bunching tight then releasing smooth. Dark hairs curled just on his calves.

The water rushed forward on the beach, coating their legs in seafoam before ebbing back into the ocean. They had been walking in the surf for so long that both of them could still feel the push and drag of the water, even when they moved past its reach. The crash of the waves seeped into their hearts as their heartbeats began to match its easy, predictable pace. Even their breathing soon synchronized with tidal rhythms.

The isolation and the aesthetic wonder of the sea drew out their need to touch. Mulder's hands caressed Alex's shoulders, his back, tracing his arm to hold his hand as they rambled along the shore. Krycek sometimes twined his arm around Fox's waist, drawing the other man close so that they could both feel the pleasing cadence of their steps.

The only moments Alex would pull away from Fox would be to reach down and inspect a shell or pebble. Mulder had to resist laughing as Alex's pockets grew heavier and heavier with collected beach finds. He had no idea a man who could so easily kill years ago had somehow or another grown . . . winsome.

The two of them remained on the beach for several hours, only returning to the house when hunger forced them back. Neither of them seemed to be in any rush. Without commenting on it to the other, both men recalled their earlier, never-spoken fantasies of living together, freed of the onus of conspiracy and threat. Side by side. Settled. Building a home. Nesting.

As for the sexual hunger that had been haunting them for months, now the calm presence of each other was enough. They were both too afraid of rushing the moment, of tarnishing this realization of a dream. Better to hold perfectly still and watch the rainbow swirl across the bubble's surface than to risk bursting it forever.

After they had eaten a quiet, comfortable dinner together, Mulder picked up the dishes from the table to load them into the dishwasher. Closing the appliance door, he peered out the kitchen window and noticed Krycek standing on the long wooden landing that stretched from the house, across the dunes, to the beach. He stood there, stock-still, with his hand in his pocket. The wind from the ocean toyed with his dark hair.

Feeling the blue coolness in his chest, Mulder's breath slipped from his lungs. He had never really felt this kind of longing, not for anyone in his life. He had felt the tracework of desire ten years ago, but he didn't trust him, or himself, or the world for that matter, to stand aside and let Spooky Mulder have just one dog day. Rather than act on his heart, he let the hungry mouth of the conspiracy swallow the young man whole and spew out a killer. They had torn each other apart after that, supplemented by atrocities, but ignited by one hurtful spark.

Fox wiped his hands, then dropped the dishrag on the counter. This weekend, their time was devoted to each other, and he wasn't going to waste a minute of it. The screen door creaked its complaint before slamming back on its hinges. The warm moist air of the fading summer evening brushed across his skin, making his relaxed muscles sigh against his bones. His bare feet registered the warmth of the boards beneath them, along with the sandy grit. Very slowly, he approached, not wanting to taint even this image of Alex just . . . standing . . . measuring the depth and power of the horizon and the sensuous call of mother ocean, transforming them from instruments of humanity's struggle into the smallest, most insignificant specks.

Rather than startle him, Fox eased beside the man, then sat down on the top step of the stairway that led down to the shore.

A few moments later, a silent and humble Alex Krycek moved around Fox to sit on the step below him, settling between Fox's outspread thighs. Fox closed the gap, his hairy legs tickling Alex's skin as Alex snaked his arm around the back of the other man's calf. With the contented smile of a fed man so long deprived of food, Fox wrapped both of his arms around Alex's upper chest, pressing his face against Alex's cheek.

Together, they watched the tide rise higher and higher on the beach as the horizon darkened from cobalt blue, to indigo, to black. Above them, the ceiling of space resonated with a gradient of blue, purple, red and orange. With the sun behind them, their skin glowed peach and salmon.

Alex craned his head back to kiss Fox delicately on the lips. "I'm glad you came," he whispered, afraid his voice would shatter the beauty.

"Alex," he replied with a voice similarly gossamer, "if you haven't figured this out by now . . . I'm so much in love with you that sometimes it hurts to breathe."

Fox wasn't sure if the water in Alex's eyes came from the heart, or from the brush of the wind, but he couldn't argue with the man's actions. He shifted in his seat, his right arm wrapping around Fox's back, his forehead snuggling into his chest. Fox ran his open hand through his thick, windblown hair. Alex's voice cracked, "I love you."

The sun set further and further behind them, and star by star, the dark zenith prickled with gems. For once, those stars spoke no omens of viruses, clones, or invasion into their fragile circle. After a while, Alex asked with a lust-embroidered timbre, "Do you want to go inside?"

Fox hugged him tighter. "Not yet. This moment, right now, is all I've ever wanted in my life."

==========

On the second floor verandah, Braudel had arranged two white wicker chairs and a long wicker sofa. Alex and Fox had found the blue and green cushions stacked in the upstairs loft area, and as Fox arranged the cushions, tying them so they wouldn't slip, Alex lit four citronella candles, which he set in the corners and on the small round side-tables. Blowing out the last match, Alex turned. Only the light from the four flames illuminated them, casting shadows and highlights along with a warm glow. Fox lay back on the sofa, one arm balanced behind his head, while one leg extended the length of the cushions. His eyes radiated desire.

With slow steps, Alex approached. The wicker creaked underneath his weight as he stretched his body across Fox's. His arm slid underneath the older man's back just as Fox embraced him.

Their kisses came like falling leaves, slowly coming together with no rush, until with moist tenderness, they touched. Mutual sighs slipped from them. Fox brought one hand up to Alex's face, cupping his cheek as their lips wrestled together, opening up to velvet tongues. His other hand traced the lines of his back through the soft cotton of his tee-shirt, feeling the fabric molded to the warmth and contours of his muscles.

The ocean waves pulsed in the night air as more stars filled the sky, along with the barest scale of the crescent moon, hanging on its side like a tipped bowl.

Fox's hand on Alex's back gripped the shirt, pulling it away from his shorts just enough that he could run his open palm underneath. Alex gasped when he felt the rough, gun-callused hand drag across the small of his back, rising up his spine to hold his shoulder-blades. Their kisses grew more ardent, legs brushing against legs, arms holding tighter.

Alex broke their kiss, and Fox panted for breath before moaning when Alex's mouth attacked his neck, sucking hard enough to mark. He arched his chin up into the air, giving Alex even more flesh to suck and bite, wanting the bruises, wanting them as signs of possession. Alex nibbled higher, finally drawing Fox's earlobe into his mouth to bite.

"Take off your shirt," Alex ordered, as he moved away.

Fox stripped off the gray tee shirt, dropping it on the verandah floor.

With one arm, Krycek gripped the rim of his white tee shirt, pulling off his body with one sleek movement.

For a moment, they studied each other's bodies. Alex -- smooth, ivory, chest bulging and abs lined. Fox -- furry and hardened.

They saw scars.

Fox wanted, but was afraid, to touch the three pink stars, still fresh, on Alex's chest.

Alex stared at the radial scar nearest Fox's shoulder. Scully had put that there -- to stop Mulder from killing him that night outside his apartment, so many years ago.

They took in this history, folded it, then stored it somewhere deep inside them. Fox reached out at the same moment that Alex slid forward, returning to their embrace, only this time hot skin pressed against hot skin. Alex returned to sucking love-marks on Fox's neck, and Fox's searched Alex's chest until he reached his hardened nipples. He rolled one of the pert nubs between his thumb and forefinger, drawing out the first animalistic moan from his partner.

Fox remembered that sound, and his lust tightened inside his spine. Alex had always been extremely vocal, and Fox recalled with heat how those sounds only drove him to greater excitement.

Alex kissed him just below his neck, where his collarbones met over the center of his chest, driving his tongue into the hollow there. He peppered Fox's hairy chest with moth-light kisses before attacking his left nipple with his open mouth. He sucked hard, drawing the nipple into his teeth to bite. Fox arched his back, groaning hard as his hands clawed at his back and as he ground his crotch into Alex's pelvis. Feeling the erection through the cloth, Alex rolled onto his side, between Fox and the back of the sofa, so that his right hand could be free to pop the button on Fox's shorts and pull down the zipper. Fox raised his hips off the cushion, and Alex pulled his shorts down his thighs. With precision skill, he slipped his hand through the slot in Fox's boxer shorts.

Fox gasped when he felt Alex's strong hands cup his cock and balls. Alex massaged him, pleasuring both of them as his fingers journeyed across his hard, bony shaft, covered in silk-skin and soft with brown hair. At last, he managed to extract Fox's long, thick cock.

Alex hadn't held that heavy shaft in years, but he never forgot it. Fox's often-teased nose boded the size and girth of his cock, and Alex had missed it well. For several moments, he just stroked the cock, his hand sliding from slick head to broad base. Fox moaned under his touch, his hazel eyes clouded with desire, but they soon shot wide open with a gasp when Alex leaned forward to swipe his tongue across the head. He could feel the raspy edge of the man's tongue on his sensitive cock-head, and he groaned as Alex wrapped his lips around the bulb, sucking it into his mouth and nipping the rim with his teeth.

Fox's shoulders sagged against the pitted arm of the wicker sofa. Leaning over him, Alex struggled to open his mouth wide to accept the shaft deeper, past the back of his tongue and into his throat, but it had been too many years since he had tried to take a man that deep. He gagged several times, determined to take all of Fox into his throat as he had done in the past. The angle hurt his neck, and he had to accept that for now he could only get half of his length inside.

Lying against the cushions, Fox rubbed his hands across the man's body, his lungs panting for breath. The warm, wet sensations swam across him, sliding up and down with an oceans pull and if he concentrated, he could still feel the remembered flow and ebb of the waves from the afternoon stroll. Inside his groin, he could sense the tickle of an impending orgasm, and he reluctantly pulled Alex from his crotch.

Alex immediately clamped down on Fox's mouth, devouring him hungrily, their wet lips sliding across each others with none of their earlier delicacy. Their tongues twisted together, sliding across teeth and sucking hard. With both hands, Fox gripped Alex's chest, rolling over him so that now, Alex lay against the cushions, his lungs heaving. Fox twined his arms around Alex's body, his mouth sucking on the man's neck, drawing the blood to the surface for tomorrow's welts. The younger man's moans echoed off the roof of the verandah, spreading across the dunes below like a cat's call, and Fox sucked harder, just to hear that sound grow louder.

He avoided the still-tender bullet scars, zeroing in on Alex's sensitive nipples, dime-sized on his heavy chest. Fox took the right nipple into his mouth, running the nub between both rows of teeth before sucking hard. Alex bucked underneath him, his crotch pumping into Fox's firm stomach.

With teasing slowness, Fox mouthed against the skin of Alex's muscle-hard belly, his tongue twirling into his navel before slicking a wet line down the trail of hair below. His hand gripped the rim of his shorts, holding them steady so that his fingers burned Alex's skin with their motionlessness. At last he opened his shorts, tugging on the zipper, then pushing his hand past the elastic band of his boxers.

"Yesssss," Alex hissed when he felt Fox's strong hand grip his cock. Then Fox's patience staggered, and with both hands, he stripped Alex's shorts away, exposing him to the sultry southern air. Whereas Fox's cock swelled with thickness and weight, Alex's shaft stretched long and thin. Fox remembered how that cock had drilled deeper inside him than any other man had been able to do, and he ran his fingers along the length. Squeezing harder, he pulled at the foreskin, dragging it past his cockhead, then tugging it down his shaft towards the base. Fox remembered how he had praised Russian doctors for not being as scalpel-hungry as American pediatricians.

He pooled Alex's foreskin over the head, then drilled his tongue inside, tasting the savory-sweet precome. Alex practically shouted, his hand grabbing Fox by the neck. Fox laughed at Alex's response, and his warm breath sent shivers across the other man's muscles. Pulling the foreskin away, Fox revealed the slender head, and he sucked that into his mouth, running his tongue underneath the rim.

"Oh, god," Alex groaned, his hips gyrating underneath Fox's mouth. Fox swallowed him deeper, taking an inch into his mouth, pulling back to just the head, then sinking further for another half-inch. He worked on this rhythm, this flow and ebb like the tides. Alex's head rocked back and forth against the arm of the sofa until finally he had to plead, "Fox . . . Fox, not so fast . . . it's too soon!"

Fox pulled himself away, and he frantically tugged on the strings that tied the cushions to the sofa. Alex tried to catch his breath while Fox worked, but then he felt his lover drawing him up. Opening his eyes, he saw Fox hauling the cushions from underneath them and tossing them on the floor. They both stood up, and once the sofa had been stripped, Fox guided him back down on the cushions to lie on his back. Then Fox straddled his knees at Alex's head, bending down so that his thick shaft dangled just above Alex's mouth. With ease, Alex opened his mouth, drawing Fox's cock inside with his tongue. At this angle, the thick shaft slid easily past his throat, and Fox hissed with pleasure. He pumped his erection into the man, fucking his throat, before grabbing Alex's hard, lean cock by the base and pointing it into his own mouth.

Together they established a tidal rhythm, pulling in and drawing out, their lips sucking on the head before their throats opened to take the lengthy shafts. Alex reached up to massage Fox's hairy scrotum, pulling at it, and Fox did the same, rolling the heavy balls between his fingers until their body temperatures began to spike. Sweat poured off their bodies and their lungs heaved. Both men felt their spines begin to tingle and then Alex mumbled against Fox's shaft, and the climax hit them. Alex blasted into Fox's mouth, and Fox's cock swelled even thicker in Alex's throat, burning his body with semen. They both sucked hard, trying to drain the orgasms away, until finally they needed air. Gasping, Fox rolled off of Alex, stumbling weakly until he could lay across his belly.

Alex guided him back to mouth, and they kissed, tasting each other's sea-salt on their tongues.

Fox rested his head on Alex's chest, drawing meaningless shapes with his fingers while his body slowly sank back to earth. Alex's heart thumped in Fox's ear, but after a while, it calmed, and Fox was able to hear the crash and surge of the tide against the shore. They remained there for a long while, but they continued to touch each other, and to trace the lines of their bodies, as if to remind each other that they were not asleep, and that the only thoughts in their minds were of each other. Eventually, Fox's fingers slid down to Alex's belly, and then into his groin to toy with his long, uncut shaft. Alex's foreskin fascinated Fox, and he pulled it over the cock head, then slid it past, until finally Alex had grown rigid and hot from the attention.

Taking a moment to kiss him again, Fox whispered, "Should we take this into the bedroom?"

Alex's voice growled with hunger. "I want you to fuck me, Fox. I want to feel you come inside me."

Fox rose gracefully from the cushions, and he held out his hand for Alex. This time, Alex accepted the help, rising with his aide from the floor. Together, they each grabbed two candles and carried them inside, setting them down on the dresser and on the bedside tables. Alex laid down on his stomach across the bed while Fox retrieved the lubricant from his suitcase. Turning around, Fox saw the candlelight dance across Alex's body, accentuating the curves of his muscles, the roundness of his buttocks and the firm bulk of his thighs. He stood there, transfixed, as the realization bloomed in him that this was his man, his boyfriend, his lover, his future, lying there, waiting for him and no one else, and that tomorrow, he would be there. He would sleep tonight with this man in his arms as he had never done in the past, and he would let nothing divide them until death took them both from this earth.

Alex rolled onto his side to look at the man standing there, that thick cock hard and rising from his body like a sundial, hungry for no one but himself. He smiled.

Fox saw that happiness in his lover's eyes and he said, "I love you, Alex."

Those green eyes sparkled, and this time, Fox didn't need to know what green looked like. The star-like reflection of the candles twinkling in those eyes spoke more than any cavalier poet. "Fox," the man whispered, "I don't think I've ever loved you more than I do tonight."

Approaching the bed, Fox set the lube aside, then guided the man back to lying flat on his stomach. He pressed his full weight against his muscle-smooth body, then started to nibble and chew on the back of his neck, just where his hairline stopped and his sweat-salty skin began. Alex writhed underneath him, calling out his name, and the word "Fox" echoed off the bedroom walls. Very slowly, Fox's hand slid down the man's spine, past each vertebrae, until he reached the sensitive cleft of his rear. Alex arched his back, lifting his buttocks higher as those fingers brushed through the smooth valley until they touched his tight entrance. For several minutes, Fox simply ran his fingers around the ridged circle as Alex spread his legs wider and wider. He was shivering with lust, and Fox tried to drape as much of his body across Alex's exposed skin to keep him warm.

At last, Fox rose off Alex, moving between his legs to lick those round muscles. He spread the cheeks apart, and his breath made Alex jump at first. Then with soft, butterfly licks, his tongue teased the cleft, deeper and deeper, until he was able to brush the entrance with wet glances. Alex lifted his pelvis higher and higher until finally his body balanced on his shoulders and his knees while Fox drilled him with his tongue, fucking him with his mouth.

When he felt Fox's finger toy with his anus, Alex sank back down to the mattress with a sigh. His body wiggled and squirmed as that finger pressed inside him. It had been so long since he had felt that invasive sensation that it was almost as if he were feeling it for the first time. Every sensation burned into his mind with clarity. First one knuckle, then another digit until that finger slid inside him, moving around his silken channel. Fox added lubricant, and the finger bore inside him easier, and the speed and friction heated up his joints and made him itch.

Fox could sense how tight the man's inner muscles were. He had not been fucked in years. He knew he would have to be gentle and controlling, or else he could easily hurt the man he loved. Spreading more lube on his fingers, Fox squeezed two fingers into his hole. Alex groaned as his body stretched to take him in. For several minutes, Fox fucked him with just two fingers before adding a third. With the third finger, Alex again rose up on his knees with a swirl of discomfort and pleasure playing themselves out in his guts.

He took his time, adding lubricant and twisting his three fingers into Alex's channel until the man's muscles no longer clenched or quivered, but accepted the entrance and withdrawal with ease. "Alex?" he whispered.

"Love you," was the man's only mumbled response.

With a soft laugh, Fox said, "Sit up baby. I'm going to lie down and you're going to sit on top of me, all right?" Fox positioned himself on his back while Alex groggily rose up on his knees. "It's been too long for both of us. I want you to control it, okay?" Fox poured a liberal amount of lubricant on his painfully erect shaft, the grease making sucking sounds in the quiet room.

Alex only nodded in the candlelight as he straddled Fox's hips. His right arm lifted Fox's heavy shaft and guided it towards his hole. Fox gripped Alex's hip bones, steadying his descent, until both of them groaned when the head of Fox's cock made contact with Alex. Taking a deep breath, Alex pressed down on the erection, opening himself up as much as he could.

The cockhead still breached his anus more than Fox had prepared him, and his mouth stretched wide in an O-shape. He closed his eyes, wincing and grimacing as the head punched through the sphincter and into his moist channel. Fox forced him to stop and grow accustomed to the sensation before drilling another inch into him. Using his own weight, Alex sank further onto the shaft, closing the distance as the cock filled his guts with hardness. After several moments of insertion and withdrawal, Alex finally felt the curl of Fox's pubic hair scratching the skin just underneath his balls.

Alex collapsed onto Fox's chest, and the other man embraced him, holding him tight with his cock imbedded deep inside him. He waited until Alex slowly rotated his hips along the rigid shaft. When the younger man's rhythm increased, Fox tightened his hug as he gently roll Alex onto his back without slipping out of him.

Alex wrapped his legs around Fox's back, and they kissed. Very slowly, Fox withdrew an inch of his thick cock, gauging Alex's reactions before he stopped, then slid back inside. He performed this ritual again and again, pulling out just a little more before returning full length inside his gut. As the length increased, so did Fox's pace, until eventually, he was pulling his cock out until just the head lay inside Alex's body before drilling full bore into him. Alex groaned with each punch, and he pressed on the small of Fox's back to increase his pace. Now Fox fucked him fast, pumping into him as the heat and friction increased, Alex's opening gripping his cock like a fist, his neck muscles straining and his eyes clenched tight.

Fox balanced on his toes and his hands, and he closed his own eyes as he started to piston back and forth into Alex's body, fucking him harder and harder with the full length and thickness of his body. Alex howled, his body squeezing tight from the onslaught until they both felt the fires growing inside them. Alex had yet to touch his cock, but Fox's brutal screwing of his prostate had battered his body into a second climax. His scrotum grew rigid like a firm plum against his body, and his anus clamped down on Fox's cock just as his own shaft blasted hot come against their chests.

Lost in the rutting sensations, Fox suddenly felt Alex's inner muscles grip his shaft with a quivering tightness, and he heard Alex wail beneath him. The orgasm started in his groin, and he felt the marvel shiver along his nervous system, settling all over his body like the dance of snow. Fox screamed out Alex's name as his cock burst inside him. Below, Alex sighed as the hot, wet splash filled his guts.

Still shaking, Fox balanced on his hands, until his elbows buckled and he fell upon his lover. Without even a groan, Alex wrapped his arm around his man, claiming him with a slow, loving kiss.

"I love you," Fox whispered into his ear, his cock growing soft inside him.

Alex kissed him on his shoulder. "I love you, too, Fox Mulder. I love you, too."

=========

That night, they slept in each other's arms, never parting. As one turned, the other turned, arms around waists and chests, the cloth-like touch of breathing always brushing across their skin. Outside, the ocean surged upon the sea-shore, sliding back with a hiss, and that constant crash and ebb soothed the two men into a peaceful slumber. For once, Fox felt no symptoms of insomnia, and he slept heavily in his lover's arms. For once, Alex wasn't haunted by the visions of giants holding him down to rip off his arm and spray the room with blood, or worse, those oil dreams, where slithering black slugs overcame him, leaving him in dank coffin spaces. This night, they slumbered in absolute peace, lulled by the rise and fall of the sea, their hearts mirroring the easy pace.

Fox woke that morning as a rosy light brightened the room. He felt the heavy embrace of Alex's arm, and he shifted around to look at him. The jostling of the mattress pulled Alex from his sleep, and his eyes peeked out into the world.

They both smiled.

"You're still here," Fox whispered.

Alex ran his fingers along the line of Fox's lips. "I'm not going anywhere," he said. He turned to stare out the still-open french doors that lead out onto the verandah, noticing how the sky was turning red with light. "Come here," he said at last, rising from the bed and dragging the sheets with him.

Fox followed him naked out onto the verandah. Alex bent down to scoop up the cushions from the floor. They were wet and cool with dew, but neither of them seemed to mind as they re-arranged them on the wicker sofa. Fox shivered, and Alex draped the sheet around both of their bodies. Holding each other, they fed off each other's body warmth and warded off the early morning chill. Alex guided Fox down to the sofa before he settled down on top of him, his back to Fox's chest. Fox threaded his arms around his lover, hugging him close as they watched the gunmetal gray ocean.

In silence, they listened to the surf and the happy call of gulls, waiting for that moment when the red circle broke over the sea. Waves of orange surged into the morning sky, and one by one the stars disappeared, except for the one sparkling twinkle of Venus. "It's another day," Alex said at last, "and I still have you."

Fox took a deep breath, and then he said, "I want it, Alex."

"What?"

"I want the dream."

Alex snuggled down into his embrace to listen to him, Fox's voice vibrating against his skin.

"I want the dream. I want the house and the dog and I want to come home every night to find you there. That's what I want, and I'm sorry if I'm saying this too quickly but I've been wanting it all of my life. Please tell me you still want this. Please tell me that's what you want."

Alex kissed him on the chest, then pressed his forehead along the curve of Fox's shoulder and neck. "I want the dream," Alex repeated him. "I want the dream."

Fox squeezed him tight to his body, kissing him on the top of the head while above them the sky surged with light.

FINIS