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How to throw a Curve Ball
Part 2: Wild Cards
by Courtney Gray


Title: How to throw a Curve Ball - Part 2: Wild Cards
Author: Courtney Gray
Author's Website: Courtney's Fanfic
Fandom: The X-Files
Pairing: Fox Mulder / Alex Krycek
Rating: NC-17 (m/m sex)
Author's Disclaimer: They don't belong to me...
Series/Sequel: Story II in the "How to throw a Curve Ball" Series



II.



Alex Krycek stood near the fine, French voile curtains and gazed out at the rain. Sometimes, the ironies of his life amazed even him.

First, he was his prisoner. Now, he was his houseguest. So, what was this Syndicate man's angle? What price was there to be paid this time around? One thing was certain, he wasn't like the Smoker. He didn't have that particular malignant arrogance, though Krycek knew the old man was all too capable of killing if he deemed it necessary. What Krycek couldn't understand was why he had singled him out now, why he seemed almost paternal towards him at times. It made Krycek uneasy. It made him feel obligated. Granted, the Syndicate was now divided about the Project. New alliances were forming in response to the Colonists' internal struggle and to the rise of an unexpected Resistance. The consequences would inevitably affect everyone. Everyone. Yet Krycek suspected that his elegant patron had a more complicated agenda than the rest of his shadowy colleagues. Whatever the old man's motives, they were keeping Krycek alive and safe, at least for the moment. They were giving him time. He still had contacts, even in Russia, even with all his bridges burned, he could still call in a favor, or more. He had contacts in even strangers quarters, too. But he needed time.

The rain rolled down the windows in heavy, drumming sheets. The storm was getting worse. Another crack of lightning tore through the sky in the distance. The rumble of thunder that followed was louder. It seemed the perfect sort of night to be faced with meeting Mulder again.

It was going to be difficult. He remembered the feeling of surprise and relief that rushed through him when the old man told him Mulder had gone to Wiekamp Airforce Base. They were still unsure of the fate of the Resistance leader, but they knew something had happened. Something had changed because of Mulder's presence there.

Because Mulder had believed him.

A bright white flash lit the windows, followed by another boom of thunder that sounded as if it was exploding right over the roof. It was a bad night to be out. Krycek looked down at the antique writing desk, at the canvas bag on top of the green blotter. How had the smooth old bastard managed to get a hold of that, he wondered. And why would he think that Mulder would want it, or be able to utilize it, or even manage to keep it safe? Mulder's track record for holding on to any sort of evidence was somewhere just shy of dismal. Well, perhaps that was the real object of the exercise: to give Mulder something else to lose.

What puzzled him was the fact that the old man could've given Mulder the stuff himself. He could've had it delivered by one of his errand boys. Hell, he could've sent it FedEx, for all that. But no. "Agent Mulder will meet you at the house. Give him the holdall and inform him of its contents." It had not been a request. Then Krycek was shown a file folder explaining the facts behind what was in the canvas bag so that he wouldn't be completely in the dark himself.

Krycek got up from the desk and started pacing around the large room. The carpet was thick and plush under his bare feet. His gaze swept the teak four-poster bed and its silver and rose patterned silk spread that so perfectly matched the wallpaper, the overflowing bookcase casually sprinkled with first editions, the oil of an English country scene in its gilded frame. He paused in front of it and smiled. A foxhunt, what else. The hounds were scattering over the rolling hillside, the horses with their red-jacketed riders trailing behind. But the fox was no where to be seen. He wondered if the painting was one of the old man's favorites.

He walked into the adjoining bathroom and stopped before the floor length mirror, running his hand through his damp hair. Being able to take a hot shower, have a good meal, sleep in a luxurious bed, these were comforts he hadn't had in a long time. If Mulder met him tonight, he would have to leave this place. He couldn't see how he could remain here, but then, he wasn't sure what the old man's plans were for him. At least, not yet. He only hoped they didn't conflict with his own. It was disturbing enough to know that the old man wanted him to bring back the Smoker. God, how Krycek hated that man. He shrugged off the thought. He'd have his day of reckoning with that one eventually.

He looked down at his new prosthetic. It fit better than the old one, and it was better balanced. He didn't have to compensate as much when he walked. More importantly, it wasn't as noticeably... fake. He straightened the sleeve of his dark green cotton shirt over the wrist. Maybe, eventually, it would even become easier to pretend he didn't notice it.

***

Mulder leaned back in his desk and tossed the wadded up paper at the wastebasket. It teetered on the edge for a second, then dropped inside. "Two points." It was his fourth rim shot in a row, a personal record. It was also the only productive activity he'd accomplished in the past hour and a half.

He sat up and drummed his fingers on the stack of papers on his desk. More damn reports for Skinner. He hated the lulls more than anything. They gave him too much time to think about everything else.

He glanced at his watch. Scully had left hours ago. It was Friday night and though he doubted she had any plans, she was always less of a fool about hanging around the office than he was. Any minute now, the janitors would be making their way down to the basement level. They always worked from the top down, in true elitist fashion. Admittedly, his office was also the closest one to the building dumpsters. All the rubbish in one convenient location.

He let out a long sigh and got up. Well, he had an appointment to keep. In fact, he should've left over an hour ago. The ever-cultured British voice on the phone had been quite precise. "There's a package for you containing something I believe you may find most useful. A number of parties have been looking for it for quite some time now." As usual, the man gave Mulder no answers to his questions, except to say that he would be given more information when he collected the package. The man gave him the address of a house in Arlington and told him when to arrive. Instincts prickling and giving into a stubborn reluctance, Mulder had none too politely replied that he wasn't in the mood for any more wild goose chases.

"Then you saw nothing at Wiekamp Airforce Base, Agent Mulder?"

That, as they say, was the question. "I'm not sure what I saw," he had answered honestly. Images shot through with light and shadows; the shift and bounce of the truck. A man with no eyes. And someone else. The feel of the gun in his hand and not knowing who or what he was shooting at, but just needing to stop whatever was happening. Light descending over them in a blinding white cloud. Time lost and his mind blanked. The memory had returned later, but only in hazy fragments. He just wasn't sure.

"You saw the alien Resistance leader, Agent Mulder."

Mulder had been silent then, the phone receiver clutched against his ear.

"Agent Mulder?"

It was a 50s B Movie marathon. Battle from Beyond the Stars. They Came to Conquer Earth. Attack of the Eyeless Invaders. Now that he was finally convinced it had all been a fabric of lies, carefully woven over decades to conceal the government's covert experiments on its own citizens, he was being jerked around again. Thrown another curve.

All he wanted was the truth. Before, he... believed. His search was for corroboration, for the evidence of the truth he already knew. Now, it was almost like starting over. Yet he knew he'd already taken that first step when he went to Wiekamp.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked, hoping to catch some insight into motive, if not fact. There was a pause on the other end of the line and he thought, for a moment, that the man might not answer.

"Everyone makes mistakes, Agent Mulder. Some mistakes are irreversible. However, even then, one can perhaps affect the consequences. Let us just say, I think the game would benefit from a wild card or two."

"Is that what this is to you, a game?"

"For some men, everything is a game. It forces us all to play. Sometimes poker, sometimes chess. Yes, in many ways, it's much like a game."

"I prefer Parcheesi myself."

The beat of silence that followed seemed very cold. "You have a peculiar sense of humor, Agent Mulder."

"So I've been told. Look, for all I know I've been playing Trivial Pursuit for the last five years. Now, why don't you just tell me what kind of information you're giving me. Right now."

"Alex Krycek can answer your questions when you pick up the package."

It was his turn to be speechless. Krycek. The last time he met Krycek... well, he didn't even like to think about the last time. He'd thought about it too much as it was. "Is he working for you now?" he finally managed to ask.

"We have a mutual goal."

Mulder could hear Krycek's words echoing in his mind: I was sent by a man, a man who knows as I do... "It seems his loyalties are for sale to the highest bidder."

"Alex Krycek is a practical and resourceful young man in need of guidance."

The Devil's Disciple? Krycek could probably teach the old man a thing or two, thought Mulder angrily, tiring from the cryptic runaround. "He's dangerous and belongs in prison."

"Really? I would think it would be extremely difficult to generate an effective prosecution against someone without any evidence whatsoever. And it's shocking how easily evidence can disappear these days, assuming, of course, that it could be found in the first place. Given the global crisis we are all facing now, to preoccupy ourselves with Alex Krycek's criminal culpability seems rather a waste of time and energy, wouldn't you say?"

"Why are you protecting him? He's a killer, a traitor. He'll betray you just like he's betrayed everyone else."

"Are you referring to his former partnership with you?"

Mulder said nothing.

"In England, some regard Benedict Arnold as a hero. It's a matter of perspective, after all, Agent Mulder. From our point of view, Krycek was merely carrying out the assignment he was given, as he was trained to do, and as we fully expected him to do. In fact, some of my colleagues feel he was rather ineffective and far too independent, which is fortunate for you, if not for him."

Mulder scowled at the receiver. "You should all form a glee club. There's a little place in upstate New York called Attica that could really use one."

The man sighed. "For god's sake, after all you've witnessed, your juvenile naivete is becoming rather tiresome. Now, you have the address. If you are still interested in pursuing the truth, then you will be there tonight."

And then the line had gone dead with a quiet click, leaving him with yet another unanswered question. Mulder snapped out of his reverie at the sound of voices in the hallway. The janitors. He grabbed his trenchcoat, glanced at his briefcase on the floor before dismissing it, and walked out of the office.

The night sky rumbled and cracked as he emerged from the Hoover building. The street lamps were hazy amber globes of light hovering in the pouring rain and cars knifed through sheets of water on the roadway.

"Shit." He hadn't brought an umbrella and, naturally, he'd parked in the lot across the street. By the time he reached the car, he was soaked. His hair was dripping, rivulets snaking down his collar, down his back. His pant legs were wet, his shoes and socks drenched from a puddle he missed avoiding. It didn't improve his mood. He considered going home, but his curiosity was far too piqued. And then there was Krycek. Beyond the sense of unfinished business, there was a disturbing feeling of inevitability whenever Krycek was involved. Their lives seemed to be forever twisted together like barbed wire, and every new encounter seemed more unsettling, more unresolved than the last. This time, though, no surprises. No moves in the dark. This time, he would be ready for him.

The windshield wipers whooshed in a steady rhythm as he drove through the rain-soaked streets. He thought about calling Scully. It would only be sensible to let her know where he was going; she could back him up in case there was any trouble. Krycek was no boy scout, after all. The cellphone was in his hand, his finger hovering over the speed dial button before he threw it back on the seat.

He hadn't told Scully about Krycek coming to his apartment. He showed her the slip of paper about Wiekamp Air Force Base, but that was all. He still didn't understand why he hadn't told her that it was Krycek who had given it to him. Just as he couldn't quite understand why he didn't want to tell her that he was going to meet him now.

***

Krycek listened to the faint chimes of the hall clock downstairs as he pulled on his boots. Mulder was late. Maybe he wasn't going to show. That wouldn't make his well-manicured host at all happy. He got up from the bed and stood before the bureau mirror, lightly touching the left sleeve of his shirt. The material was a soft, brushed cotton, too thin to conceal the straps of his prosthesis. He stared at the vague outline beneath the shirt, his lips tightening, and went to the closet, looking through the items hanging there. The old man had even bought him some clothes, his sartorial sensibilities balking at Krycek's shabby Russian leftovers, he assumed.

He took a wool, charcoal-colored shirt off of one of the hangers. It was thick and bulky, and he put it on over his green shirt. There, that was better. He realized his hand was sweating and wiped his palm across the thigh of his black jeans. Strange that he would feel so nervous. Considering all the things he'd faced, all the things he'd done, the prospect of seeing Mulder again shouldn't tie his stomach into knots. It meant nothing to him. Nothing at all. His hand balled into a fist as he tried to swallow past the lump in his throat.

Lightening flashed through the window curtains, making him jump. A roar of thunder followed. He gritted his teeth and walked over to the bed, pulling his gun out from under the pillow, clicking the safety off and on again. The feel of the cold metal in his hand was reassuring. He wasn't going to let Mulder get to him. He was going to maintain control over the situation. If he had to stick a gun in Mulder's face again, then so much the better. He slipped the gun into his belt and went downstairs to wait. Another half-hour passed by as he paced and prowled through the rooms. Every few minutes, he would check through the curtains at the front of the house and glance at the controls of the security alarm system.

The residential, tree-lined street was fairly dark, with just a streetlamp here and there and the pale rectangles of light from a few windows visible through the storm. The wind was howling accompaniment to the thunder, bending the branches of the trees, scattering the late autumn leaves into the rain like confetti.

Krycek was about to give up on Mulder when he heard a car going by and then backing up, stopping and then pulling up into the driveway. His pulse began to race, and he went to the window, drawing aside the curtain fractionally to watch as Mulder got out of the car and approached the house. He didn't have an umbrella, but he was still walking slowly, hesitantly, through the downpour towards the door.

Krycek drew in a long, hard breath and glanced down at this left arm, pulling at the end of his shirt sleeve, and headed for the door. He stood in front of it, waiting. The seconds ticked by. No knock, no ring. Had Mulder changed his mind? He looked through the peephole. Mulder was just standing there in front of the door, the rain rolling off his hair, his face, and his clothes. He was like a statue.

"Damn it." Krycek flung open the door and found himself looking straight into Mulder's wide hazel eyes. For a moment, all the words caught in his throat. The sound of the wind and the sting of the rain brought him back to himself. "Get inside, Mulder."

Mulder just kept staring at him, raindrops trailing down from his hair over his face. His clothes were soaking wet. Krycek reached out to pull Mulder inside. Mulder blinked, glanced at his hand, and quickly brushed it aside, stepping into the house. Krycek closed the door and set the bolt, turning to see Mulder's Sig Sauer pointed at his chest.

"Give me your gun."

Krycek realized he hadn't tucked it out of sight. With an irritated sigh, he removed it slowly and held it out to Mulder, handle first. Mulder grabbed it, slid it into his coat pocket and, after a quick look around, motioned for him to walk towards the living room. "There's no one else here, Mulder," Krycek told him over his shoulder.

"Just keep moving." They were in the middle of the spacious living room when Mulder told him to stop. Clothes drenched and hair plastered against his forehead, Mulder was creating a small pool of water where he stood. Even with the gun in his hand, he had a certain pathetic, lost quality about him. It reminded Krycek of the way he looked the last time they saw each other, when he had left Mulder sitting on the floor of his apartment in the dark, gun in hand. He hadn't been quite sure then if Mulder would shoot him or not. He still wasn't sure.

"I can get you a towel to dry yourself off," he offered. It was a strange feeling, being in such a domestic setting, playing the considerate host. He was reminded again of how inexorably his life had changed, and how quickly it could change again.

Mulder was looking intently at his left hand. The room lighting was good enough to make Krycek willfully resist the urge to shift his body away from the scrutiny. Whatever Mulder saw, he didn't seem surprised by it. Krycek wondered if Mulder had detected his prosthesis the last time they met. It was certainly possible. Mulder usually noticed everything but the obvious. It would also explain his stupid wisecrack. As if on cue, Mulder spoke up.

"Your new owner said you had some information for me."

Krycek tried not to flinch. Mulder had a way with words. Maybe he'd inherited it from that cold-blooded bastard of a father of his. Fortunately, it seemed to be the only trait they shared. He sighed, trying to ignore the insults. "He wants to help you. I want to help you."

Mulder gave him a frost-covered smile. "Oh, but you've all done so much for me already."

"Do you want the information or not? If not, then get the hell out of here." He was suddenly angry, more at the old man than at Mulder, for setting up this pointless confrontation.

"I didn't drive through this fucking storm tonight for the scenery."

Krycek nodded tightly. "I'll go get it."

Mulder jabbed the gun towards him. "Oh, no, I'm not letting you out of my sight."

"It's upstairs. I'll just bring--"

"We'll both go." Mulder waved the gun towards the doorway.

Krycek looked at the gun and managed a bitter smile of his own. "Sure, Special Agent Mulder, whatever you say." He looked up then and their eyes met and held. The air between them suddenly felt as electric as the storm outside. He turned away, not quite steadily, breaking the contact, and led Mulder out of the room and up the stairs.

***

Mulder felt the raindrops dripping down his collar from his hair as he followed Krycek through the house. He patted the pocket of his trenchcoat, double-checking for Krycek's gun. He was wet. He was cold. Yet his pulse was racing. His heart was beating like a drum. It was the familiar surge of emotions that Krycek seemed to generate whenever they were near each other. With each successive meeting, the feeling grew into something ever more complicated, ever more... frustrating.

He gripped his gun, watching Krycek's back as they walked. He looked at the man's left side. Krycek was wearing a thick shirt. If Mulder hadn't already been sure about the fake arm, he wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. It was the hand. Almost life-like. Almost.

They walked up the stairs and into the first room on the right, which was a bedroom, a very attractive bedroom. The entire house reflected its rich and powerful owner, the man who was once his father's friend, thought Mulder. The man who now owned Alex Krycek, or so it seemed. He paused and scanned an elegantly framed oil painting with a note of amusement. "You have a nice little kennel here, Krycek," he said. "You must be a very obedient pet to deserve all this."

Krycek whirled around to face, his voice breathy. "No one owns me, Mulder. I'm getting tired of your insults. They're getting more predictable all the time. Why don't you just shut up, for once?"

Well, it seemed Krycek still had a few buttons to push. It almost brought a smile to his face. "My apologies. I forgot how sensitive you can be when you're not killing people."

"Don't push me Mulder. Let's just get this over with, all right?"

He was surprised by the sudden lack of anger in Krycek's reply. Instead, his tone was flat, weary. Mulder watched the man's eyes for a moment, watching the strange play of emotions there. "All right, where's the information?"

Krycek pointed to a canvas bag on the desk near the bed.

"Open it, show me what's in it."

Krycek unzipped the bag and took out several large manila file folders, about a half dozen disks and two thick black, spiral-bound notebooks. Mulder waved him aside with his gun and approached the desk. With his free hand, he flipped one of the notebooks open and scanned the first page. 'Notes and Observations' was the heading. Underneath that was a name: Joseph Ridley, M.D.

Mulder looked at Krycek questioningly, unable to hide his surprise. "Where did this come from?"

"The bag was in a locker in the Greyhound bus terminal in San Diego, California. Locker 935, to be exact. It was put there by a man named John Barnett."

Mulder felt a fist tighten in his chest at the name. John Barnett had been the only man that Mulder truly regretted not killing when he first had the chance. Too many people had died as a result, including Reggie Purdue, his mentor and his friend. He had few enough of those to spare. It was yet another layer of guilt on his psyche. "These are Ridley's research papers on his Progeria experiments. Barnett stole them four years ago to bargain for immunity."

Krycek nodded. "They're still searching for his papers, now more than ever."

"They?" Mulder opened one of the file folders, glancing at a computer printout of formulas and lists of chemical compounds. He sifted through some of the pages. It looked genuine, but he didn't have the expertise to tell one way or the other.

"The same ones that wanted it then, want it now."

"Why?"

"The Colonists want the information for their... hybridization experiments. We're not sure, but it seems that they've encountered some kind of problem with their specimens. Some kind of mutation possibly. They've been told about Ridley's research and now they want it. Maybe they think Ridley's work could provide some necessary component for their experiments."

"Specimens, Krycek? Do you know what you're saying?"

"Yes, Mulder, I know. If their agenda continues as planned, we'll all wind up as specimens for them."

Mulder lowered his gun slowly. "Did your boss make a set of copies for himself?"

"It'd defeat his purpose, just make it easier for his over-anxious colleagues to get to it first. They'll hand it over to the Colonists immediately. He figures you might be able use it as a bargaining chip, if you have to. In the meantime, you and Scully might be able to figure out what's in the research that makes it so important to them. How it fits in with everything else."

Mulder took a step towards the other man, noting the sudden tension in Krycek's body. "I'm surprised you didn't want to keep it yourself. As your own bargaining chip."

Krycek gave him a hollow laugh. "Yeah, right. We're playing in the big leagues now, Mulder, and I'm in the wrong position. Depending on who found out, keeping that stuff would only guarantee me a bullet in the head or worse."

"Worse?"

"First place in the specimen line."

"The Resistance you told me about--"

"There's a lot of confusion. Contact's been very sporadic."

Mulder felt as though Krycek was not telling him everything, not that that would be anything new. "Then it made no difference that I went to Wiekamp."

"If the leader had died, we would've heard something by now. It made a difference, Mulder. It might be part of the reason they want Ridley's papers now, so they can escalate their colonization process. Maybe the internal dissension is growing."

Mulder stared at Krycek, searching the green eyes for the truth. A clap of thunder shook through the house, the lightening flashing white through the windows a moment later. The storm was surrounding them. As Mulder held Krycek's gaze, he felt the belief settle inside him. He wasn't sure whether to pity himself for it or not. He also knew in his gut that Krycek was, once again, giving him only pieces of the puzzle. But then, Krycek himself was a mystery, with more twists and turns to him than all the other shadow men surrounding the Project. Mulder raised his gun again. "Put it all back in the bag."

Krycek let out a breath and began stuffing the folders and the rest into the canvas bag. He zipped it closed, picked it up and held it out towards Mulder.

The rain was pounding against the windows, and the wind whistled through the eaves. Mulder became aware of his wet clothes and the pool of water that seemed to have invaded his shoes. "I could use that towel," he said. He watched a small frown grow over Krycek's face, a line deepening across the bridge of his nose. He wondered why Krycek seemed uncomfortable. At the same time, he wondered where he could keep the Ridley research. Trying to hide it in his apartment would be like leaving it in the middle of Dulles International. He wasn't too confident about keeping it in the office either. He should hand the stuff over to Skinner. That would be correct procedure. Well, he could say with pride that he had never been accused of being a stickler for protocol. Besides, he didn't want to make this official business quite yet. That could bring in too many other parties and one too many chances of alerting the wrong people. He'd been down that road enough times already. He was going to keep this one under wraps for as long as possible. He wanted to check out the material through his own sources first, along with making a few extra copies of the data. The Gunmen. Yeah, no place safer than with that trio of high tech paranoids. He could ask them for help on deciphering some of it, too, maybe check out some medical contacts. They could also stash an extra copy or two of the data. Frohike might demand a couple of his limited edition videos in payment, but it would be worth it. He would drive directly over to their place. Then he'd call Scully. Try and explain it all. Somehow.

A towel was thrust into his chest. Krycek stepped back quickly, stopping only when he bumped into the desk behind him. Mulder clicked the safety on and slipped his gun back in its holster. His shirt was sticking to his back, clammy and cold, even though the room was warm. His socks were squishing in his waterlogged shoes. Krycek was chewing on his lip.

"Is the lord and master coming home tonight? I'd like to ask him a few questions, too," asked Mulder.

Krycek ignored the insult and just shook his head. "He's probably halfway to London by now."

"Have this whole place to yourself then?" Mulder asked as he pulled off his trenchcoat and draped it over a nearby chair.

"What are you doing?"

Mulder was loosening his tie, unbuttoning his shirt, wiping his neck. The nervous look on Krycek's face amused him. It seemed that taking off his clothes was more threatening to his former partner than a gun pointed at his chest. Well, well, well. Mulder bent down to untie his shoes and pulled them off along with his drenched socks.

"Are you taking your clothes off?" There was a distinct edge in Krycek's voice, which seemed to have risen half an octave above his usual husky whisper.

"It's a monsoon out there. I just want to dry off a little." He glanced at Krycek and added, "Maybe wait here for a while until the storm eases up." He was pleased to see the frown return to the other man's face. "You don't mind, do you? Driving here was a bitch and the storm is even worse now." He ran the towel over his hair and then started stripping off his tie and shirt. Krycek looked away and walked towards the door. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I'm going downstairs."

"Oh, no, I said I'm not letting you out of my sight and I meant it." Mulder threw off his damp shirt and slipped off his wristwatch and stuffed it into his pants pocket. He began to unbuckle his belt. "You're staying right here."

Krycek turned around, his eyes widening. "Damn it, Mulder, I'm not going to do anything."

Mulder patted his gun holster. "Humor me."

Krycek shrugged and remained where he was, back stiff, head turned towards the windows and the storm outside.

"How long have you had Ridley's stuff here?" Mulder skinned out of his suit pants. The bottoms of the pant legs were dripping wet. He sat there on the bed in his t-shirt and boxers, gun and holster beside him, wiping his feet, and looking at Krycek. He tried to recall the image of the boyish, green agent that he worked with several years ago. Krycek had played his role so well. Mulder wondered what role he was playing now.

"A couple of days."

"Did you look through it? Does it make any sense to you?"

"I'm not a doctor, Mulder." Krycek walked over to the desk and sat down in the chair, still facing away from him. "Yeah, I looked through the notebooks, and the guy was crazy. He really thought he could cook up the Fountain of Youth."

"It worked on John Barnett."

"Ridley used some sort of grafting procedure to grow back Barnett's hand. Salamander cells, of all things. That may be the part that the Colonists are interested in, the cell grafting, but it doesn't make sense. All Ridley wound up with his own personal Frankenstein."

"Barnett was a monster long before that." Mulder pushed the dark memory aside, picked up his gun, got up and walked into the rose-tiled bathroom. He tossed the towel into the empty hamper and pulled another one off the rack. His t-shirt was wet around his neck and down the back. He gave it a moment's consideration, then drew the shirt over his head and off, and walked slowly back into the bedroom. Krycek was looking down at the carpet, brow furrowed. "Do you have a robe or something I could borrow?"

Krycek glanced up at him, mouth opening and then closing in a hard line before he looked away again.

His reaction intrigued Mulder. He slipped his gun back in its holster and tucked it into the pocket of his trenchcoat. He tapped the other pocket, making sure Krycek's gun was still there. He really didn't expect it not to be.

Krycek's head was down, long dark lashes hiding his eyes. "There are some clothes in the closet. They'll probably fit you. Just take whatever you want and leave," he said.

Even though Mulder was almost naked, he felt completely at ease. He might have more than his fair share of emotional hang-ups, but being shy about showing some skin wasn't one of them. It was certainly more comfortable than standing around in soaking wet clothes. But maybe Krycek had a problem with it. It seemed that Mulder's very proximity caused Krycek a definite amount of distress.

Mulder walked up to him, closing the space between them. His eyes narrowed speculatively as he looked down at the bent head. Perhaps it was Krycek's tension that irked him on. He realized he wanted to make Krycek squirm. Hitting him or shooting him, however deserved, didn't seem quite apropos, under the circumstances.

Krycek's hair was a little longer now. Mulder reached out, the back of his hand brushing through the hair above Krycek's left ear. It was silky and thick, falling softly through his fingers. He only had a split second to register the fact before Krycek leaped up from the chair, forcing Mulder a step backward with the movement.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Mulder watched the man's face, the quick flow of emotions, the interplay of anger and fear and pain in his eyes, and then the cold mask settling firmly over his features.

"Don't touch me."

They were standing face to face, so close it reminded Mulder of that time in the cell in Tunguska. Even Krycek's words were almost the same. The gulf was there between them, as always, yet somehow, something was different. Each time, it seemed that Krycek was different, shifting and changing the emotions between them, clouding and muting the crystal clarity of Mulder's rage with each contradictory action that Krycek inevitably made.

"Why not, Krycek? It's not like we haven't touched each other before."

"I'm not in the mood for mind games."

Mulder's lips twitched upward. "So we only play when you want to play, is that it?" Mulder didn't wait for an answer. "Well, I'm not playing games, Krycek."

"Like hell you're not."

Mulder grabbed Krycek's arms, the fake one feeling strangely stiff and unyielding in his fingers. He let go, raising one hand slowly towards Krycek's face. Krycek ducked his head and moved away, towards the door. Mulder followed. The look of confusion on Krycek's face made Mulder grin wolfishly. He watched as Krycek changed direction and hurried over to the raincoat slung over the desk chair, fumbling for one of the guns, pulling out Mulder's Sig.

Mulder looked at the gun pointed at his chest, not particularly pleased with the immediate sense of déjà vu. No, there wasn't going to be a replay of that little scene again. It was going to be different this time. He gazed into Krycek's wide green eyes and grinned. "I had no idea my boxers were that threatening. You don't think blue is my color?" He glanced down at his aqua blue shorts and back up at Krycek, rubbing idly at his chest.

"I w-want you to get dressed, take the goddamn bag and get out of here."

A boom of thunder sounded above them, then the flash of lightning painting the room a ghostly white. Mulder crossed the distance until he was standing right in front of Krycek, the muzzle of the Sig inches from his bare chest. "You gonna shoot me? Are old habits that hard to break?" Krycek swallowed, teeth chewing at his lower lip. He had a nice mouth, Mulder absently noted, lips full and round, ripe. As an example of male anatomy, as just a body, and extracting the dubious humanity that it housed, Krycek was a very good-looking man. He was suddenly uneasy at the direction his thoughts were taking, but it wasn't enough to override the satisfaction of finally feeling in control of a situation. It was a bizarre situation, of course, standing almost naked in front of Krycek, looking at the gun barrel and knowing Krycek wouldn't shoot him. After all, that would defeat the whole purpose of giving him the Ridley papers. He could hardly do anything with them if he was dead.

Any port in a storm. The phrase danced into his head with a swirl and a dip of reckless abandon. Mulder hadn't had sex with... anyone in a long, long time.

"C'mon, Krycek, put the gun down. You don't want me to bleed all over your elegant host's lovely carpet, now would you?"

The Sig was still pointed at him. Krycek was standing with his back to the chair, the wet trenchcoat pressed against his leg. Mulder took another half-step forward. "You said you wanted to help me?" Mulder glanced deliberately at the gun barrel. "That won't help me." He watched as the green eyes squeezed shut for a moment and Krycek let out a long, unhappy sigh.

Mulder reached out slowly, taking hold of Krycek's wrist, pushing the gun down to his side. There was no resistance, and Mulder didn't try to take away the gun. He leaned forward until his lips brushed Krycek's right cheek. His skin was soft and smooth, and smelled of soap, his hair fresh with a hint of evergreen.

"Remember?" Mulder whispered, moving his mouth gently over the warm flesh, lips pressing into a kiss. He heard a sudden catch in Krycek's throat, but the man said nothing, did nothing. Mulder knew this was crazy. Definitely the E Ride to Bedlam. Where was his protective wall of guilt, his trusty anger? Why was it all so muddled, so distant, like an out of body experience. No. It was an out of mind experience. His body seemed to know exactly what it wanted to do as his lips moved inexorably, with sensuous precision, towards Krycek's mouth. He tilted his head, his lips hovering millimeters away, so close their breath mingled, and then Mulder murmured into Krycek's mouth, every word a distinct breath. "It won't make any difference anyway, right?"

Krycek's eyelids closed slowly, a fine tremor running through him. It was the only answer he gave. Mulder shut down his brain completely, and pressed their mouths together. It felt good. Too damn good. He opened Krycek's pliant lips with his tongue, pushing inside. Krycek made another sound, like the barest of whimpers as their kiss deepened.

There was a soft thud as the gun fell out of Krycek's hand onto the thick pile carpet. Mulder was still holding the other man's wrist. He reached out with his free hand, snaking it around Krycek's waist, pulling their bodies together.

The kiss turned into two, then three, then four. Mulder's cock was hard. He felt Krycek's erection, pressing against him through his jeans, as hard as his own. He lifted his head and burrowed his lips against the strong neck, licking a trail up over jaw and cheek, and back over to the full, round lips, wet now from their kisses.

There was something undeniably exhilarating about Krycek's passivity, his... containment, all that intensity banked. As he began moving them backwards, towards the bed, Mulder wished he could see what was going on inside the other man's head.

***

God in heaven and hell, help me. It was an odd thought for a man who had never learned how to pray. Krycek's mouth was covered again, kissed again, the heat of the contact burning right through him. God, he'd let go of the gun. He'd let it drop through his nerveless fingers like a fool.

Mulder's instincts were matchless, as precise as a scalpel. And it was a mistake, a terrible mistake. He should stop it now. Why was he letting Mulder pull him to the bed instead? Why was he letting him push him down into the pillows? Mulder's body settled over him, rubbing against him with sinewy grace, cool fingers stroking his face and hair with unexpected gentleness. A fingertip traced his eyelashes, a warm tongue traced his ear. As Mulder moved to kiss him again, struggled to shift him away, turning his head. He gulped a breath, bracing his hand against Mulder's shoulder. The movements seemed to surprise the other man. Suddenly still, they looked at each other. Krycek tried to keep his voice steady. "Okay, you've played your game. You've had your fun. Enough."

"Oh, but I haven't had my fun yet," cut in Mulder.

"No more, Mulder. You hate me, then hate me, but not like this. I won't be the only one who's hurt here."

"I don't care," whispered Mulder, his eyes dark with emotion.

"You always care, Mulder, sooner or later. That's your albatross."

A silent moment later, Mulder rolled away slightly, sitting back on his heels. Krycek's body immediately regretted the loss but he swallowed hard, forcing himself to go on, to finish it. "I won't apologize for the past or anything I've done, Mulder. I did what I had to do. I had my reasons, and I don't have to tell you a single damn one of them.

"Remember the day we met, you'd already made up your mind about me. I told you then that you didn't even know me."

"I grant you that, Krycek, no truer words were ever spoken."

Krycek just shook his head slowly. "The real joke is that you still don't know me, Mulder. Now, why don't you just be a good boy and get off this bed, get dressed, take Ridley's papers and go."

Mulder listened to him, head angled slightly, face bland except for the heat in his eyes. "You know what insanity is, Krycek? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." He looked as if he'd just made up his mind about something, a self-mocking smile curving the edges of his mouth. "This time we're switching from the two-step to the tango."

Krycek's eyes widened in shock as Mulder reached for his belt and began undoing the buckle. He grabbed Mulder's hand, roughly pushing it away, and tried to sit up. "I don't want to have sex with you, Mulder."

Mulder pushed him back down and straddled his thighs, making Krycek grunt from the sudden weight. "Funny, I think I always had the feeling that you did." The rain was still drumming against the windows, but the thunder was moving away.

Krycek was angry now, his voice cold. "Sex doesn't seem like your choice of weapons, Mulder. It's a lousy choice for amateurs, a stupid choice." He let out a breath, too aware of Mulder's scrutiny. There was one sure way to stop it. He looked right into Mulder's eyes. "If you need it so bad, why don't you go and fuck Scully?"

Mulder stared back, unblinking. "Nah, she's too good for me."

But a bad boy is right up your guilt-ridden alley, thought Krycek bitterly. "I bet she lets you know it every single day, too. Not in words, of course, never that. I'm sure she always tries to be kind, to be so very... noble."

Mulder backhanded him across the face, snapping his head sideways. The sound was loud, the sensation burning across his cheek and mouth. Carefully, he turned his head towards Mulder again. "I guess we're back to the two-step. Good for you. Now, why don't you get the hell out of here?" He waited for Mulder to get up. He wanted to be alone. He was always better off alone.

Instead, Mulder leaned forward again, touching their lips together, and murmured against his mouth. "Don't try to use Scully to distract me. You're lousy at it. This is just between you and me." Then Mulder stretched out flat on top of him, storm-cooled flesh and muscle settling over him, smelling like autumn rain, moist lips nuzzling at his throat.

Heaven and hell in one perfect, fucked up package.

Mulder's hands and legs were still cold, or perhaps it was just his own body that was too warm. The lips licking at his throat moved up over his jaw, across his mouth. Mulder lifted his head slightly. "C'mon, kiss me back."

Krycek was clutching the bedspread, the fine silk cloth bunching and twisting in his fist. He let go with a hiss, his hand reaching up towards Mulder's throat. His hand circled damp skin, fingers playing over vulnerable arteries and nerve points.

Mulder just looked into his eyes, smiled, and kissed him again. Krycek's fingers felt for the nerve point behind the ear as Mulder's breath touched his lips, tongue slipping into his mouth.

Mulder made a sound, somewhere between a hum and a moan as he probed Krycek's mouth. Krycek's fingers began to tremble, his hand moving irresistibly into Mulder's soft brown hair, carding through the damp, silky strands as he began, helplessly, hopelessly, to kiss Mulder back.

It was like sinking, drowning, like falling from the sky. It was like having secrets torn away. He was faintly aware of the sound of the rain on the roof and against the windows, of how cold it must be outside. Mulder was saying something to him, unintelligible half phrases between kisses and embraces, between touches that grew more and more intimate. It wasn't until he felt Mulder's hard cock stabbing against his thigh that he realized he was naked from the waist down and that his charcoal shirt was lying in a heap with his pants on the floor. Mulder was pulling at his thin cotton shirt, pushing it up over his chest.

"N-no, leave it," he said hoarsely, tense fingers locking around Mulder's wrist. He shifted away as Mulder let go of his shirt and sat up, straddling his thighs.

His gaze roamed over Mulder's body. Did his own face reflect that same confusion, that need? Mulder was breathing fast, too, chest heaving. His nipples were erect. The reality of it all was outrageous, impossible, seeing Mulder like this. With him. Slowly, his hand reached out to touch the long thick cock.

It was beautiful. Mulder was beautiful. His fingertips brushed along the inside of the shaft, feeling it twitch at the contact. He curled his hand around the base of it. It was hot, silky, hard. The tip glistened. Mulder's eyes closed and he groaned, a lush, teasing sound.

He was holding Mulder's cock in his hand. His mind began to spin again. He pulled back. It shouldn't be happening. He felt Mulder's fingers encircle the base of his cock, moving up and down in a firm stroking motion as if it was something he did every day, Mulder's gaze, rapt and locked on the motion of his own hand. Krycek thought he'd been set on fire.

Then Mulder let go. He slid his hands underneath Krycek's thin green shirt, until his fingertips brushed firm nipples, hands reaching further up, towards his shoulders, the shirt riding up, exposing his stomach, his chest.

"No!" Krycek twisted away.

"I want to see it," Mulder told him tightly, his hands dropping to clutch at Krycek's waist. "It doesn't make any difference."

"No. I can't." Krycek knew his face was already giving too much away, but he said the word anyway. "Please." His mind flashed back to the gulag. He'd said the word to Mulder then. Would it be as worthless now?

The hands at his waist clenched, fingernails digging into him. The pressure increased to the point of pain, then stopped. Suddenly, Mulder's weight draped heavily over him and his mouth was taken again, and again, his head anchored between Mulder's palms. He felt the muscles rippling across Mulder's back. Their bodies moved and shifted, cocks rubbing and pumping roughly against each other, sensations igniting, doubling. Mulder's skin was warm now, almost as hot as his own, the scent of soap and sweat and rain mingling between them, the sound of their ragged breathing and frantic grunts, their noisy moist kisses drowning out the storm.

Krycek tasted blood on his mouth as he came.

When he opened his eyes again, Mulder was smearing a kiss against his cheek, the long lean body bucking against him, more wet heat spilling between them.

The room was blurring. Krycek blinked quickly, but couldn't stop it. Oh, no. Mulder was trembling from his orgasm, sharp breaths puffing against Krycek's neck. Krycek couldn't free his hand, his right side pinned under Mulder's body. He turned his head away into the pillow. He wished they had shut off the lights.

The sound of the wind and the rain seemed louder in the sudden quiet of the room. One of the windows rattled. Krycek tried to press his face deeper into the soft down pillow. He waited for Mulder to move away. He was almost relieved when he felt Mulder's weight shifting.

He flinched as a palm cupped his jaw, trying to turn his face into the light. He kept his eyes squeezed shut, resisting the pressure. A fingertip slowly followed the trail of a teardrop down to his mouth, then moved to dab at the blood on his lower lip. Then, silently, Mulder rolled away to lie beside him on the bed, their bodies no longer touching.

Krycek listened to the wind, and the drumming of the rain against the windowpanes. His hand freed, he thought about wiping the wetness away from his eyes, but it didn't seem to matter any more. The room seemed colder. He was aware of the semen splashed across his belly, the fact that his green shirt was bunched up under his armpits, chest exposed. He drew in a breath, too conscious of the body beside him and began to get up.

A hand gripped his right wrist. "Where are you going?"

"Clean myself up," he answered. His voice was as rough as sandpaper.

"Don't move." Mulder got out of the bed and scooped up the towel he'd tossed over a chair. He turned off the lamp, throwing the room into overlapping shadows, cut only by the soft light shafting in from the hallway and the dim light through the curtains from the street lamps. Mulder wiped the semen from his belly and then got back on the bed and did the same for Krycek. He tugged down on Krycek's shirt, straightening it over his chest and stomach and pulled at the bedcovers. "Shift up for a minute," Mulder told him.

"What are you doing?"

"I want to get under the covers."

"What for?"

"I'm tired."

Krycek swallowed, afraid he couldn't get the words out. "Why don't you just leave, Mulder? The storm's moving off. The rain should be easing up."

"No, it's not." Mulder's voice was as shaky as his. "I want to rest for a while. I don't want to talk and I don't want to think."

"That's right, you're not thinking." Krycek rubbed angrily at his blurring eyes and started to get up again and, once again, Mulder caught him by the arm and pulled him back down. "What the hell's wrong with you? Let me go."

"I told you before I'm not letting you out of my sight. You're staying right here. Now, get under the blanket."

Krycek stared at him in disbelief. The faint chimes of the grandfather clock downstairs sounded midnight. Mulder's hand still gripped his right forearm. Krycek couldn't see his expression clearly in the darkness, just the sharp glimmer of his eyes. Sighing, he settled against the pillows. "I don't understand you."

"Shut up." Mulder let go of his arm, and tugged the covers over them both.

It was surreal. Krycek lay on his back, forcing himself into stillness. Inside, he was shaking, his body still reverberating from the assault of sensations while his mind mercilessly imprinted each and every one on his memory. He could feel Mulder turning to lie on his side, facing him. The streetlamps outside cast a distorted reflection of the windows on the ceiling, magnifying the liquid movement of rain against the panes. It looked as if the house was melting over them.

He could hear his father's voice, whispering to him from the past, from a time when there had been many possibilities. "Be careful what you wish for, Alex." The deep, accented voice had been uncharacteristically thick with emotion. "A man's dreams will trap him more surely than any enemy." Krycek remembered it very clearly now. It had been one of the few, genuine conversations between them, a talk about consequences and regrets. His father had seemed so incomprehensible to him then. So... weak.

Like father, like son. Sometimes, it was true. He drew in a breath and gave in to the urge to turn his head towards Mulder. He met a steady, unblinking stare. Slowly, Krycek raised his hand and brushed the back of it along the side of Mulder's face. He felt the strands of silky hair falling across the high forehead, felt the soft, velvet skin, the beginnings of stubble across the jaw. The backs of his fingers moved over Mulder's lips in a reluctant caress before drawing away. Mulder closed his eyes but he didn't move.

Krycek looked back up at the moving patterns on the ceiling. His life was like that, he thought, a mere reflection of its original reality, twisted by shadow and light into something only vaguely recognizable, even to him. He certainly hadn't bargained on what meeting Mulder... knowing Mulder, would do to him. Hadn't foreseen how it would affect him. Mark him. Now, it was too late. He couldn't control Mulder in any way. That realization was bad enough and not even particularly new, but now he had to face the fact that he couldn't control his own feelings either. He couldn't even find the strength, the fucking common sense, to stand up and walk the fifteen feet to the door and out of this room.

Whatever happened from here on out, even with the prospect of a cataclysmic Alien War ahead of them, Krycek knew it would be Mulder who would be the life, or death, of him.

All the same, when he closed his eyes, he succumbed to his survivor's instincts and fought against the dreams, and his future visions.

***

Mulder opened his eyes and stared at Krycek's profile, at the fan of spiky, long lashes against the pale skin, pale even in the shadows.

He felt a little like throwing up. He felt even more like putting his arms around Krycek and rolling on top of him again. It seemed the tango was better than the two-step after all.

Krycek was right. He should have left. Even as he thought it, he was reaching out to encircle Krycek's waist. He pulled his hand back at the last second.

If only Krycek hadn't turned human on him. An emotionally vulnerable Alex Krycek was not something Mulder had ever expected to see again. It threw him off. It was too close to Mulder's first impression of him than to the reality he had become. If it was an act, it was a damn good one.

Mulder folded his hand under his own ribcage and sighed. The drumming rain had turned into a softer patter against the windows. It was easier to hear the wind. His eyes followed the edge of Krycek's profile from his hair down to his throat. He wondered what Krycek's amputated arm looked like. He wondered what Ridley's papers could reveal, and how long he could keep them secret. And how he could convince Scully to keep it under wraps. He wondered why just rubbing his cock against Krycek's could make him feel so... alive. Why had it felt so... right?

He shivered then, the rain's chill (he assumed) finally seeping into his bones despite the covers. Krycek's body radiated heat. There was no point in being uncomfortable, was there? Mulder moved his arm again and slid it around Krycek's waist, easing closer until their bodies touched. Yes, that was better. Warmer.

Krycek never moved, didn't even open his eyes, but Mulder knew he was awake. He watched Krycek's Adam's apple bob slightly as he swallowed. Shifting a little, Mulder's groin settled against the other man's hip. He watched Krycek's lips tighten suddenly, and slowly relax, as if with conscious effort. The wind rattled one of the windows, making a faint, keening sound.

His body was tingling, somewhere between satisfaction and hunger. The warmth felt good. He'd just rest for a few minutes, then drive over the Lone Gunmen office. They were used to having him pop up on their doorstep at odd hours. Yeah, that's what he'd do. He'd just close his eyes and rest for a minute. When Mulder opened his eyes again, he felt like he was drifting out of a cocooning dream. A moment's disorientation turned to shock at the feel of a body against him. Krycek. Mulder's face was burrowed against his neck and his body was partially draped over Krycek's right side, one leg nestled between the other man's thighs, an arm cradling his chest. Instantly awake, Mulder pulled away with a reluctance he couldn't have imagined. Krycek's eyes were open, staring up at the ceiling.

It was very quiet. Glancing at the windows, it looked as if the rain had stopped. "What time is it?"

"The clock is on your side."

Mulder shifted and peered at the gold antique clock on the end table. 5:25. "That can't be right." Insomnia rarely let him sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, unless he was drugged or totally exhausted. He didn't feel drugged, and he wasn't tired either. In fact, he felt remarkably rested. "That can't be the right time," he said again.

"You slept most of the night. The storm's over. Why don't you leave now, Mulder."

The ice in the husky voice made Mulder turn back towards Krycek, asking the first question that popped into his head. "Did you sleep?"

Silence.

"Krycek?"

"Just leave, Mulder."

He frowned at the stony silhouette beside him. He wondered why Krycek hadn't just left the room. Or taken his gun. Or... any number of possibilities. Mulder would've woken up. He was sure of that. Maybe that was it. Or maybe Krycek had fallen asleep, too. He just happened to be the kind of guy who slept without moving a muscle. Mulder smirked into the dimness. He reached out and put his hand over Krycek's cock. It was half-hard and pulsed against his palm. Krycek let out a hiss and flinched.

"Relax, Krycek," he said with more nonchalance than he felt, curling his fingers around the lengthening column of flesh. His stomach suddenly felt like the Bulls were running a full court press in it. His erection was even livelier.

He wished he had an off switch on his brain, or his cock. It seemed they weren't communicating very well at the moment, and both wanted his immediate attention. Apparently, his penis still had the edge. It would be reassuring to blame it on his pathetically solitary sex life, except he knew better. There were two real driving forces in his life. The first was to find the Truth, the second was to avoid boredom at all costs. The X-files gave him the perfect vehicle for both. And, in his own flawed and dangerous way, Alex Krycek did the same.

The only drawback was that, with Krycek, Mulder knew he'd probably hate himself for it later. His brain told him that, his gut told him that. His cock, however, was insistently guilt-free.

He stroked Krycek's erection, from base to tip and back again. His index finger played over the wet, glistening slit in a teasing zigzag. He felt it strain, grow even harder.

Krycek's fingers locked around his wrist. "Why?"

A dozen different answers flashed before him, each containing bits of truth and deception. He chose the one he could live with. "It's only sex." He paused, squeezed the hot flesh pulsing in his hand, and smiled. "It doesn't mean anything." He could see Krycek's eyes, bright against the shadows. "When I walk out of here, it'll mean even less."

The vise-like grip eased and Krycek's hand fell away from his wrist. Mulder watched Krycek's face through the shadows as he drew in a long, deep breath and exhaled it as if it pained him, and then, just as slowly, nodded his head. Krycek raised his hand again and hooked it around Mulder's neck, bringing their heads together, kissing Mulder with slow, almost tender deliberation.

The greater the intimacy, the greater the danger, physical and emotional. Still, Mulder wished for more. He wished Krycek would suck his cock. He wanted to feel that mouth on him. He wanted even more than that, but he knew it would be insane.

He had the sudden urge to rip Krycek's stupid shirt off and expose that fake arm, expose Alex Krycek completely. He rose to his knees and straddled Krycek's chest, his erection jutting out, his balls rubbing against the warm, green cotton. Krycek's nipples were hard peaks against the material of his shirt. Mulder massaged them through the thin cloth with his fingertips. Krycek's breathing quickened, a tiny moan escaping. Mulder shifted a little, taking more weight on his knees. His cock was inches from Krycek's lips. Mulder wanted... oh, he wanted... Waited.

Krycek turned his head away slightly, eyes still bright in the dimness. Mulder reached behind him, took hold of Krycek's erection and stroked it firmly, reveling in the narcissistic thrill of touching another man's penis, velvet hard and hot in his hand. Krycek began to squirm. Mulder stopped and inched forward until the tip of his cock nudged the side of Krycek's face. Mulder rubbed his cock back and forth along the edge of the lightly stubbled jaw, feeling an erotic charge at the rough contact against his sensitive flesh. He bit down on his lip to keep from begging Krycek. His body was doing enough of that already. His cock hovered like a hungry snake in front of Krycek's mouth. Yeah, the cobra before the mongoose. If he weren't aching so badly, Mulder would've laughed.

He almost did cry out when he felt the first touch of Krycek's lips against the head of his cock. The touch was tentative, awkward, Krycek's mouth firmly shut as his lips simply... pressed against hard flesh. Mulder fought back the urge to thrust. Open your mouth. Take me. Lick me with your tongue. Suck me with that silky, hot mouth. I want to know how you feel. I want to know. He didn't have to say the words. They were written across ever cell of his body.

Intense green eyes looked up at him, blinking, then slowly, very slowly, Krycek opened his mouth. Mulder thought the soft, round lips were actually trembling. It was almost as if Krycek hadn't sucked a man's dick before. Mulder couldn't see how that could be true. It seemed like Krycek would be as adept at using sex, in any form, as he was at using anything and anyone else in his sorry life. To think of Krycek as a novice in anything was... unsettling. Once again, Krycek was not being what he was supposed to be.

Impatient, Mulder pushed his cock in a little too fast. Felt the sudden scrape of teeth. "Hey!" He pulled out quickly as Krycek half-wheezed, half-coughed. "Haven't you ever sucked cock, Krycek?" he asked through quick breaths.

"Have you?" came the whispered reply.

He hadn't, but that wasn't the point here, was it? "You've got a pretty mouth." Where had that come from, he wondered suddenly. Well, after all, it was true. He shifted to nudge Krycek's lips again.

Krycek's long fingers moved to touch his balls, cupping the sacs in his palm, massaging them lightly as if they were a strange, new discovery. Soft lips formed a kiss against the tip of his cock, then opened to take him in. A tongue licked shyly around the head.

It was torture. Exquisite torture. Mulder reached out and caressed the side of Krycek's face and throat with his hands. He watched as Krycek began to suck. He put his fingers near the joining of mouth and cock, feeling himself move slowly in and out of that warm, wet haven. He tried to let Krycek set the pace, but as that tongue and mouth pleasured him, he felt his tenuous control slipping. He began to thrust, watching Krycek's face, his eyes, as the sensations pulled him under.

Heat and lightning and fire rushed through him, into his cock. He threw his head back and came in Krycek's mouth.

With his heart still pounding in his ears, he opened his eyes and realized he had half-collapsed across Krycek's chest. He lifted himself up and eased himself off a little, suddenly aware that Krycek was coughing. He was trying to free his hand, trapped under Mulder's weight. Mulder shifted again and stared at the shiny trail of semen on his lips and the droplets across his chin as Krycek finally caught his breath, long fingers delicately touching his own mouth, touching the evidence of Mulder's orgasm, his green eyes wide with a kind of quiet wonder.

Mulder pulled the hand away and took Krycek's mouth in a deep kiss. He trailed his arm over Krycek's chest, stomach, groin and took hold of Krycek's straining erection, began pumping it in a firm, quickening rhythm.

He tasted himself in Krycek's mouth, tongue probing deep and slow, their mouths locked, moving and melding together. He couldn't get close enough.

Krycek cried out as he came, the sound vibrating into Mulder's throat. Krycek's body shuddered against him, his orgasm spilling over Mulder's hand. Mulder kept kissing him, feeling every trembling breath, every little moan and whimper as Krycek slowly returned to himself. It felt almost as good as coming himself. So good, it scared him.

Mulder broke away reluctantly, brought his hand up, looked intently at the pearly fluid smeared across his palm and fingers. The sight was curiously compelling. Before he knew it, he was licking it from his skin. They tasted alike, he realized. How strange that it didn't surprise him. He licked off some more and then bent to kiss Krycek again, letting him taste himself. He felt Krycek's arm curl around him, tightening their embrace, fingers running through his hair, clutching at his hair.

A moment later, Krycek shoved him away with a breathless cry. Thrown back against the pillows, Mulder stared in bewilderment as Krycek stumbled out of the bed, grabbed up some of his clothes from the floor and raced into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

Mulder sat up awkwardly. Krycek's bittersweet taste, and his own, lingered in his mouth. The bed smelled of sex. His hand was sticky. He suddenly felt cold. He fell back against the pillows again and threw his arm across his eyes. "Oh, god, what the hell am I doing? What the hell have I done?" he whispered.

When he heard the door open sometime later, he looked up and squinted as the light from the bathroom shafted across the bed. Krycek stood in the doorway. He'd put on his pants and a dark gray sweatshirt that Mulder had seen hanging on a hook in the bathroom. Mulder sat up as the other man walked slowly into the room, and turned on one of the lamps.

They looked at each other silently, awkwardly. Krycek turned away first and walked to the bureau. Mulder noticed that he was barefoot. Even his feet looked good. Krycek rummaged through a drawer, pulled something black out and threw it on the bed.

"Socks. The rest of your clothes aren't that wet. You have to leave, Mulder. Now." He walked over to the desk, bent and picked up Mulder's Sig and put it in the canvas bag. Then he pulled his own gun out of Mulder's trenchcoat pocket. He finally looked at Mulder, the gun dangling at his side. His mouth looked swollen. From the kissing. His eyes betrayed the cool, unyielding expression on his face. They were red-rimmed and... defenseless.

Mulder swallowed hard and got out of bed, moving mechanically, picking up his clothes, throwing them on quickly. He pulled on the black socks. He stuffed his tie into his jacket pocket, barely buttoned his shirt. His shoes were still wet, but he it didn't matter.

They didn't say a word to each other. The tension hung thick in the air between them. Mulder heard a soft thunk. Krycek had dropped his gun on the desk blotter. He held the canvas bag out to Mulder who took it silently. Their fingers brushed and Krycek jerked his hand back.

Mulder clutched the handle of the canvas bag and paused. Krycek was looking at the top of the desk, at his gun, but his eyes seemed to be staring at something much, much farther away, at his ultimate fate, perhaps.

Mulder couldn't think of anything to say. 'Thanks for the stolen information. I hope it doesn't screw me over. Oh, by the way, I really enjoyed the humping and blowjob. Really. Let's do it again soon because if made me feel--. It made me feel.'

No. No, there was nothing to say. Krycek knew it, too. Mulder realized from the painful tug and pull inside him at that very moment that it would be best if they never saw each other again.

Mulder started to turn towards the door and paused again, sighing. He walked the few steps to Krycek, who looked up at him in surprise. Mulder leaned forward and brushed their lips together. It was a gentle, sad kiss that tasted of lost dreams. When he pulled away, he thought, at the last, he had sensed a small, defiant hope in it as well. He would've been sure had he seen it in Krycek's eyes, but Krycek kept his eyes closed. There was nothing to see except the dark sweep of his lashes. Mulder stared at every feature of the closed face and wondered, yet again, what he and Krycek were to each other.

Krycek's eyes were still closed as Mulder turned and walked out of the room. He went down the stairs quickly, feeling suddenly, oddly, as if he was running away, as if he had to run or be trapped forever. He closed the front door behind him with a swift click. The autumn morning chill wrapped around him. The sky was a deep blue-gray. The night was dying. It would be dawn soon. There was nothing left of the storm but a clean, cold scent and a fine mist. Dead leaves littered the street in soggy clumps. Mulder's breath frosted in the air as he unlocked the car door and tossed the canvas bag on the floor of the passenger seat. He started to get in, was stopped by an irresistible need to turn and look up at the bedroom windows. A dark shadow was visible behind the gauzy white curtains. Mulder felt that same, curious tug and pull, that sharp, fragile pain in his chest that was not at all physical. His throat felt constricted. He tore his eyes away from the window with effort, got into his car, and drove away.

***

In a car parked behind several other cars further along the tree-lined street, a man lowered his high-powered binoculars and jotted something down in a small notebook. As Mulder's sedan drove away, he raised the binoculars again and focused on the bedroom window. The indistinct shadow behind the curtains remained unmoving long after Mulder's car disappeared around the corner. For a moment, the man with the binoculars was afraid that he might have been spotted. He certainly didn't want to be caught, certainly not by the shadow in that window. He knew it would be a mistake he would never outlive. But then, slowly, the shadow moved away. The man lowered his binoculars and waited, just to be sure. He made another short entry in his notebook, adding the time. He waited a little longer until the sky began to turn gray. Only then did he start his car and drive away, sedately, in the opposite direction.

***

In Somerset, England, the late afternoon sun was shining weakly through a thickening bank of clouds. The Well-Manicured Man glanced at his Rolex and walked into his study. His grandchildren would be home soon and he did not want to deal with any more business that day. His operative was told to call either early that morning or now, as appropriate. As appropriate. Harris hadn't called in the morning. It was a good sign.

He sat behind his desk and sifted through some papers. Harris would call momentarily. Either that or he was not as careful as he should have been. In which case, he would be dead. That would be something of an inconvenience. He was considering his options given that possibility when the phone began to ring. He touched the knot of his silk tie, a hint of a smile on his lips, and picked up the receiver.

"Yes?"

"Harris, sir."

"Please report." The Well-Manicured Man listened as Harris gave him the kind of detailed report he expected. He was told the time of Mulder's arrival at the Arlington house, his hesitation, not ringing the bell or knocking, the gun visible in Krycek's waistband when he opened the door.

There were no listening devices in the house; he didn't allow them in any of his personal properties. In any case, Krycek would have found them. He was an extremely suspicious and distrustful young man, which was sometimes quite useful. He was the quintessential survivor.

Harris reported on the number of times he had seen a shadow or two cross before the upstairs window. The bedroom window. He told him when the light went out in that window and when it went on again. Most interesting was Mulder's departure, close to dawn. He carried the canvas bag, as expected, but he was not dressed the same. His tie was missing, his shirt partially unbuttoned. Harris told him how Mulder had stood staring up at the shadow in the window. These were small details. Important, revealing details.

"Shall I continue surveillance on the house, sir?"

The Well-Manicured Man smiled. "That will not be necessary. Destroy any of your notes and take the next plane to London. Contact me when you arrive. I have some other matters I need you to take care of here."

"Yes, sir." The line clicked off.

That's what he liked best about Harris. The man never questioned orders, never asked about the purpose of an assignment. He was a highly efficient, reliable drone. He was not in Krycek's class, but he was certainly infinitely easier to manage. The Well-Manicured Man hoped that would not change. He was growing very weary of the necessity of death.

He rose and walked to the window, staring out at the gardens through the beveled diamond panes. Some of the trees were almost bare, their remaining leaves falling, one by one, in the cool autumn breeze. Little pools of red and gold dotted the crisp mown grass where they fell. Another season was passing, and soon another year would be gone. He was running out of time, and there was still so much to do. The game was still in play. He thought about his grandchildren and a future that seemed to grow only bleaker with each passing day.

The Well-Manicured Man considered his underling's report. Reviewed those telling details once again. It seemed that his suspicions were correct. There was something between Krycek and Mulder. Something beyond the hostility and distrust. Something far more complicated, perhaps terribly intimate and inescapable. He certainly hoped so. He wanted that alliance forged, on whatever terms.

Mulder was a strong man, much stronger than the Syndicate had ever expected him to be. His own father had underestimated him, which in retrospective, did not particularly surprise the Well-Manicured Man. But Mulder still had his one critical weakness: Scully. As formidable as the two were together, they were also each other's greatest vulnerability. That was a fact the Syndicate was now willing to exploit to the maximum degree.

The Well Manicured Man watched a leaf tremble in the wind, sever from its branch and spiral slowly to the ground. He wondered if he would see another autumn and shivered with a sudden chill.

He needed Mulder. Needed him to find and use the truth about the Colonists, and fight the very real prospect of a war that humankind could not possibly win. For all his tortured self-doubts, Mulder was a True Believer. Scully, as gifted as she was, would never be. She would never have that particular brand of faith.

He needed Krycek. Needed a renegade who could break all the rules. Krycek was an outlaw, but he was a True Believer, too. Had been even before the Syndicate had claimed him. Strangely enough, Krycek had not turned out to be what the Syndicate had expected either. For all his posing, Krycek, like Mulder, belonged to no one but himself. In yet another example of life's peculiar ironies, they were mirror images of each other, Krycek shaped by a nurtured darkness, and Mulder by his own harsh light. Instead of being pawns in one game, they had turned themselves into wild cards in a game of their own making.

It would be a volatile alliance, at best. For those two young men, the cost could be very high, in ways neither of them could now imagine. For every choice, one must pay the price, good or bad. The old man knew that lesson all too well.

The sound of approaching voices drifted in from the hallway. His daughter and grandchildren had come home. The Well-Manicured Man sighed. So little time, and so many variables. He would do what he could, for as long as he was able. He had placed his wild cards on the board. Perhaps that would be enough.

He turned away from window and the darkening afternoon sky, and walked toward the sound of children's laughter.


~ End of Part II ~


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