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How to throw a Curve Ball
Part 4: Double Play
by Courtney Gray


Title: How to throw a Curve Ball - Part 4: Double Play
Author: Courtney Gray
Author's Website: Courtney's Fanfic
Fandom: The X-Files
Pairing: Fox Mulder / Alex Krycek
Rating: PG-13 (m/m interaction)
Author's Disclaimer: They don't belong to me...
Series/Sequel: Story IV in the "How to throw a Curve Ball" Series



IV.



Krycek raised his gun slowly and readjusted his stance. He paused a moment, feeling the weight of the Glock in his hand. His thumb gently stroked the smooth metal before he squeezed the trigger. With a soft pop, a small, ragged hole appeared in the bright red center of the bullseye, some distance away. He pulled the trigger again and again until his clip was empty and a cluster of holes peppered the center of the target. He released the clip, put in a full one, and removed the silencer. Then he pressed a button on the console in front of him, raising a new target screen, this one the silhouette of a man. He started firing again. The staccato sound echoed through the firing range. When he stopped, he eyed the tight pattern of holes in the chest and head of the dark silhouette.

The scent of cordite drifted in the air.

A heavy door opened behind him and one of the First Elder's 'assistants' poked his head inside. "Hey, Krycek, they want you to come up and join the meeting now." The man paused, glancing at the target at the far end of the range. His eyes widened just enough to bring a cold, satisfied smile to Krycek's lips.

"About time," he whispered. He reloaded and secured his weapon, put on his jacket, and followed the other man to the elevator.

***

Mulder watched the blond man's face as the long, thick cock pushed slowly into his asshole. He assumed the grimace and groan of pain was faked since it turned immediately into an ecstatic sigh. He didn't have a chance to check since the camera was now focused elsewhere. Even if he wasn't familiar with the gay variety, Mulder knew that porn flicks were not renowned for their facial angles.

The other guy's cock was huge. His buddies probably call him 'Redwood'. Mulder glanced down at his own penis in all its bored and flaccid glory. While he didn't have anything to be ashamed of in the size department, it didn't hold a Roman candle to the guy in the video. The guy also had more body hair than the average gorilla. It made his bushy moustache seem excessive. Mulder kept watching, more curious about the mechanics than anything else. He raised his remote and stopped the video. Grabbing another box off the short stack on the coffee table, he got up and ejected the tape, popping in another.

A few minutes later, he popped that one out and tried yet another. He started fast-forwarding, then jammed his finger on the play button. He stared at the handsome young man sinking down to his knees to reverently kiss a very erect cock. The guy had dark hair, pale skin, a hairless chest, build about the same... And two nicely muscled arms. Mulder squinted, imagining a different kind of left arm. His cock began to get hard.

***

It was snowing very lightly. The flakes were almost transparent against the deep night sky. Krycek's breath misted in the winter air. He turned up the collar of his long wool coat and burrowed his gloved hand into his pocket. His boots crunched against a bit of loose gravel along the path. The shadows were thick around him as he headed into the multi-storied garage. He knew someone was following him. Had been for several blocks.

He should've parked closer. He hadn't thought the meeting would take so much time, or that he'd spend most of it waiting. Fucking old pricks. And now... what?

He made his way up the second set of stairs, the hairs on the back of his neck tingling. He stopped and listened. He sensed more than heard it: a movement on the landing below. He peered down over the metal railing. The lighting was poor, the walls grimy dark. Most people took the elevator, even during the day. The shadows below seemed to flicker for a moment. He gritted his teeth and drew out his gun. He continued to walk up the few steps to the steel-gray door to the third floor. It opened with a short squeal of a rusty joint. He paused and went through. He watched until it clanged shut behind him, then hurried to slip behind a van parked nearby.

A few moments later, the door opened again and Krycek watched through a corner of the van's tinted windows as a man emerged. He seemed to hesitate, looking one way and then the other. Krycek crept silently around the back of the van as the man started walking slowly away from him, towards a row of cars.

Seconds later, Krycek had the man down flat on the concrete, his knee pressing hard against the base of the man's spine and the barrel of the Glock jamming into the base of his scull. "Looking for me?" he asked.

A grunt answered him as the man tried to shift slightly. "Yes, Mr. Krycek, I am." He moved his head the fraction that Krycek allowed. "Your gun can't kill me. Please let me up. I only want to talk to you. It's very important."

Krycek's eyes narrowed as he stared at the back of the man's neck. He stood up quickly and took a step back. "Get up." He watched the man carefully as he rose and turned to face him.

The man looked vaguely familiar. Krycek searched his memory. No, he'd never met him. Then he remembered the face from one of the old Brit's files that recounted the Smoker's dealings with this man. This... alien.

"My name is Jeremiah Smith," the Alien told him.

***

Mulder wiped the semen off his groin and belly with a kitchen towel and tossed it on the floor. The video was still going and so were the five guys tangled in an orgy of bumping and grinding bodies. Last time he looked, there'd only been two. He couldn't even find the Krycek lookalike in the sea of sucking and fucking flesh. He turned off the tape and sank back into the couch. He threw his head back against the cool black leather and wondered how sex had become such a thorny problem in his life. One stormy night. Before then it had been, at worst, a non-problem. Perhaps, at best, a hoped-for problem. Ah, be careful what you wish for. Clichés were so... annoyingly true. He sighed and closed his eyes.

Scully wasn't too happy with him, not that 'happy' was exactly the right word. She was pissed at him over the Ridley papers. She had agreed to help, but she was pissed. If she knew that Krycek was involved, pissed would be the most he could hope for. As it was, she was reviewing Ridley's notes and, fortunately, she was intrigued by them. With some luck, a good deal of luck, Scully might find something in the papers that would tie in with the missing biotech specialists and the sixth man mentioned in Ridley's journals. It was all they had left now, since the Gunmen's last trace on the sixth man seemed to have evaporated on the Island of Mindanao.

In the meantime, the X-files were still out there. Mulder thought back to the expression on Scully's face when he had told her that he wanted to finish their current investigation and be back before Friday. He'd already pegged the case as a badly disguised homicide anyway. Scully's delicate auburn eyebrows had risen to her hairline. "What's the matter, Mulder, do you have a hot date waiting for you?"

For once, his snappy repartee had failed him and he'd stared at her with his mouth open.

"You really do have a date, Mulder?" she had asked, blue eyes widening.

"No. I, uh, was thinking of reviewing that background search that the Gunmen are running on those scientists." And, as he'd said it, he realized that was what he should've been doing. Instead, he was thinking about something quite different.

Tomorrow would be the first Friday of the "arrangement." Such a masterful plan. Or so it seemed the last time he stood in front of Alex Krycek. Hell, it even seemed logical to him at the time. Now, it seemed only self-indulgent and maybe even dangerously reckless.

So, naturally, Mulder had ever intention of going through with it.

***

Krycek checked the security system and went into the living room. After 30 seconds of consideration, he walked over to the liquor cabinet and surveyed the small array of fancy labels and decanters. The vodka wasn't cold. He grabbed a crystal tumbler and poured himself a shot of Laphroaig instead. He took a quick swallow, grimacing as the smoky whisky hit the back of his throat. He didn't usually go for the hard stuff. Too dulling. After meeting with Jeremiah Smith, though, he needed it.

Tossing his coat on one of the wingchairs, he stretched out on the suede-covered sofa, the Scotch cradled against his chest, and wondered how much longer Smith would stay alive.

It had been mildly reassuring to learn that he was not Smith's first choice of contact. He wasn't even the second. He just wished he hadn't been the third.

Now, he had to decide whether he believed Smith and, if he did, should he give the information to Mulder.

He had the feeling that Mulder would swallow Smith's story whole. Then he'd start running in ten different directions to try and act on it, and probably draw some very unfriendly attention in the process. Maybe it was just as well that Smith felt contacting Mulder directly again would be too dangerous, more for Mulder than himself.

Smith knew that Krycek had access to the Syndicate's top circle now. He also knew that Krycek was helping the Rebels. How he knew, he wouldn't say. That made Krycek very nervous. The rest of what Smith told him troubled him even more.

The aliens were dying. At least, that's what Jeremiah Smith told him. The primary aim of the hybridization project was not to enslave humankind, but to find a way of stopping an insidious malignancy that had begun slowly spreading throughout the alien population almost since their arrival. The disease was gaining momentum and the only viable option left for survival was hybridization. Of course, if it meant obliterating the human race in the process, so be it.

Well, that would explain the frenzy of activity over the past few years, why the Syndicate had been directed to cover up vastly different lines of experimentation taking place simultaneously. It was as if the aliens were trying everything and anything, and pushing their human collaborators to do the same. The horrible mutations, the careless cruelty. The aliens didn't have the luxury or inclination to be careful. They no longer had the time.

"The hybridization project has to be stopped, Mr. Krycek. We have been here a very long time. We did not evolve. We absorbed. Destroyed. We turned ourselves into monsters. And now, our own DNA is killing us." Smith had looked at him then, with a steady, probing gaze that disturbed him. "You understand the need to survive. That need is driving them -- the Colonists and the Rebels. It doesn't matter which of them wins, you see. That desperate need to survive has even driven us against each other. They fight for the right to own you. The Rebels will realize they cannot escape our disease, no matter how they try to mutilate themselves to guard against it. None of us can return home. You must realize that, in the end, the result would be the same whether the Colonists or the Rebels win: humanity will lose."

Smith had drawn in a breath, his features stamped with weariness. "There were a few of us who wanted the killing to stop, for our existence here to be different. Most have been discovered and eliminated. I've been running a long time, Mr. Krycek. I'm tired. They think I'm dead. I will be, soon. The Englishman, I wanted to tell him, warn him. He's not like the rest of them but they suspect him already. He must be very careful now. I fear he has little time left."

Krycek had felt a knot of fear tighten in his belly at the Alien's words. "So what do you expect from me?" he had asked.

"The hybridization experiments may be very close to succeeding. I have no means to stop them. I do not even know where they are taking place. But if they succeed, it will be the end of your race, Mr. Krycek. Those men in your Syndicate, they're fools. They will not be spared. I have discovered one last piece of information that the few of us who remain have been able to confirm. It has cost us dearly. It's the only thing left that I can give. It must be used to end this madness." Smith drew in a breath. "I have learned that a human scientist has discovered a means of accelerating our disease. Find him and you will have what you need to save your world."

Krycek looked at the Alien suspiciously. "You want the Colonists to die? You want to die?"

Smith gazed back at him with the ghost of a smile. "There are worse things than death. I've always wanted to be a Healer. For a long time, I did nothing but what I was told. I was too afraid to do anything. The first time I... helped one of your people, I finally felt alive. Since then I've wanted the torture and destruction to stop. My own life is of no consequence otherwise."

"Do you know the name of this scientist?"

"Yes. His name is Ridley, Joseph Ridley."

Krycek studied Smith's face for a long moment. "Joseph Ridley is dead. He died a few years ago."

Smith's surprise seemed genuine. His brows drew together in a deep frown and he lowered his head. When he looked up again, the lines had deepened across his forehead. "Then, you knew about him? Did the Colonists find him?"

Krycek recalled what the Brit had told him and what he'd read himself in Ridley's papers. "No. He used himself as a guinea pig for one of his experiments. He died from it. But his work had nothing to do with the Project. He had no knowledge of your existence. His research papers had been stolen by one of his patients, who's also dead."

Smith pinned Krycek with his stare. "Is your Syndicate looking for his data?"

Krycek nodded reluctantly.

"The answer is there, in Ridley's research data. You must find it before they do or all your people will die..."

The soft chimes of the grandfather clock brought Krycek out of his reverie and he took one last swallow of his drink before setting it aside. He had a long night ahead of him and a lot of thinking to do.

***

Mulder glanced at the food displays as he walked down the aisle. He grabbed a couple of boxes of Stouffer's Macaroni and Cheese but grimaced at the frozen pizza. A few cans of Campbell's soup, a couple of bags of sunflower seeds, a quart of orange juice, and a four-roll pack of toilet paper later, he found himself staring at the lubricants in the Personal Hygiene section. He used hand lotion to jackoff. With aloe, of course. He still had plenty at home. So you don't need any of this, now do you? He plucked a tube of KY from the shelf and threw it into his shopping basket. As he started to turn, he grabbed a gold box of Trojans, too. He had a few rubbers in the apartment but they had probably expired during Clinton's first term. It was always prudent to keep a fresh supply.

His state of denial lasted until he reached the checkout counter. That's when he quit kidding himself and thought about fucking Alex Krycek. No. He realized, with a disturbing start, that fucking Krycek was his second thought. The first image that had entered his mind was of kissing Alex Krycek. Along with the clear memory of how well their lips fit together. For some reason, this thought bothered him a lot more than the fucking.

As he dumped his bag of groceries in the passenger seat and got in the car, he reached in and tore open one of the bags of sunflower seeds. He crunched on a few and spit the shells into his hand. He looked through the windshield and realized it was snowing. It was light, the flakes dusting the hood of his car and melting away. Snowflakes were very cold. Krycek's body was very warm. With this non sequitur firmly in mind, he started the engine and headed home.

He'd left work on time.

"Are Frohike and the others expecting you to go over there already?" Scully had asked him with a curious frown, her head tilted in that way she had.

"I need to pick up some things from the store first." Lame, but true.

As he was getting into his coat, she had asked him again to consider turning over the Ridley material to Skinner. "We need the Bureau's resources on this, Mulder."

"I know he'd try, but Skinner wouldn't be able to keep it in the Bureau. The NSA was willing to give John Barnett, a psychopathic murderer, anything he wanted in exchange for the location of Ridley's research papers. I don't think they'd be any less interested in getting their hands on it now. We'd lose it all, Scully."

His partner had given him a familiar look that was part frustration and part resignation. "Okay, Mulder, but if we hit nothing but deadends, if we need help--"

"We'll deal with it then. C'mon, Scully, just give me a little more time."

And he needed more time with Krycek. Just before a wave of guilt could hit him, Mulder reminded himself that Krycek was the one who had given him the Ridley papers. He was a player in the Syndicate. He had access to those shadow men, perhaps to the Colonists, the Rebels. All of it. It would be stupid to give up a source like that.

So, here he was driving along with his tube of lube and a box of condoms. Oh, yeah, he had his priorities, all right. He fingers clutched the steering wheel in a bruising grip. Okay. Maybe he couldn't ignore the obsessive attraction that had built between them, but maybe he could put it to use. He just had to stay in control. Keep his emotions in check. If he handled it right, he could get a lot more out of Krycek than a good fuck.

***

Krycek pushed the food around his plate one more time before giving up. He walked over to the window and stood looking out at the winter-stripped garden, at the tiny flakes of snow falling against the darkness.

He still wasn't sure what he would do with or about the information that Jeremiah Smith had given him.

According to the old Brit's files, Smith was just one of the many low level workers assigned to catalog the humans for the Project, a drone gone bad. Or insane. Smith shouldn't have had any way of accessing the kind of information he seemed to possess, just as he shouldn't have had the extraordinary healing powers he had somehow attained.

"Can you give me back my arm?" Krycek had asked him pointblank at the end of their strange meeting, throwing out the question like a challenge.

Smith had answered him with a penetrating look that had slowly changed into something gentler. His eyes looked almost warm. He seemed unnervingly human. "I do not know. I can try." Slowly, he stepped closer, his arm lifting, his fingers brushing Krycek's left shoulder, touching the exact place where his arm ended and the prosthetic began. The contact felt like a tiny electrical shock.

And Krycek had instinctively jumped back. He didn't want to be at the mercy of another Alien. He'd lost himself once before. Lost all control. He wasn't ready to risk that again. Not even if Smith could really do it. So, he had just shaken his head 'no.'

Krycek quickly shoved the disquieting memory aside.

The Colonists considered Jeremiah Smith a rogue and a traitor. As far as Krycek was concerned, it was the most compelling point in Smith's favor. It was certainly something he could relate to. But was that enough to gamble on? If what Smith had told him about the aliens and Ridley was legitimate, it would change the entire game.

That is, if what Jeremiah Smith had told him was true. Ironically, the truth was of dubious value to Krycek. In his experience, the nature of truth seemed to depend on whoever was defining it. He didn't really believe in objective truth and, unlike Mulder, he understood that knowing too much was usually far worse than knowing nothing at all.

Nevertheless, there was one fact he couldn't ignore: Mulder had the Ridley papers. And, if they contained the key to destroying the Alien threat, then he couldn't afford not to tell him.

Damn Mulder. Stalker of his thoughts. Stalker of his dreams. In the week since he'd seen him, Krycek had had to come to grips with his one deadly weakness. There was, after all, only so much denial he could afford, and he'd already gone well over his quota where Fox Mulder was concerned.

It was wiser, safer, for him not to be anywhere near Mulder. Distance helped. At least if Mulder was out of sight, if not out of mind, that allowed him to go about his business, to focus on his objectives. To push his own need into the background.

Need. It was a costly admission for Krycek. He'd spent years making himself into someone who would never need anyone. He'd taught himself to bury every soft feeling that might get in his way. Until the old Brit's schemes had interfered with his own plans. Until the night of that fateful storm when Mulder had forced him to remember what it meant to care too much.

Krycek gathered the remainder of his meal and dumped it down the garbage disposal. He went into the living room and stood by the mantle, staring down into the empty fireplace. He knew Mulder was going to show. He'd be here, tonight, to keep his insane arrangement. After all, Mulder couldn't let it go. He was as drawn to Krycek as Krycek was to him, but Krycek had no illusions. Mulder hated him. They desired each other and Mulder hated him for it. Krycek was Mulder's unfortunate obsession, an aberrant attraction that had to be confronted and dealt with and, finally, overcome. Mulder needed to exorcise Alex Krycek from his life.

Unfortunately for Krycek, Mulder was something altogether different. Mulder made him want a future he couldn't have and regret a past he couldn't change. Yet, even though he couldn't understand it, he knew, knew deep down, that he would take whatever Mulder would give him. It was pathetic, and he knew that, too.

He gripped the edge of the mantle with his fingers, his eyes moving to settle on his left hand, hanging limp at his side. In the muted light of the room, it looked real. It almost looked warm, not like the cold, dead thing that it was.

"We make our own fate, Alex." His father had said those prophetic words to him when he was only a boy. Krycek closed his eyes and felt the old sorrow touch him, mingling with the new.

***

Mulder listened to the soft whoosh of the wiper blades and wondered if he'd left his oven on. So much for eidetic memory. It only worked if you were paying attention, and his attention hadn't been on his dinner or the oven temperature, which he hadn't bothered setting to anything in particular, which was why his macaroni and cheese had emerged looking like wheat toast.

Without bothering to check the street signs, he turned left into yet another tree-lined street in Arlington. When it came to the route to this particular house, his memory was unfailingly precise. He let out a sigh as the wipers cleared away another flurry of whispery snowflakes.

Maybe Krycek wouldn't be there. Or maybe Krycek was planning a trap and Mulder'd walk into that house and into a setup worthy of a lamb begging for slaughter. No. Mulder's instincts told him he wasn't the only one with unfinished business. Straightening in his seat, he applied a little more pressure to the peddle.

He parked on the street nearby and got out slowly. Tree branches cast twisted silhouettes on the sidewalk through the hazy amber light of a street lamp. Mulder looked at the house. Soft light shone through the curtained living room window, but the rest of the place looked dark. No black Mercedes in the driveway. He glanced at the neighboring houses, at the other cars parked along the street. Everything seemed quiet. The meager snowfall had stopped. He patted the sides of his jacket. Sig Sauer in one pocket, condoms and KY in the other. Could any Boy Scout be better prepared? He gazed around again and started towards the house, pausing halfway up the path to the door. He turned around and walked back a few steps towards his car. Stopped again. Turned again. Mind and body churning, he stood for another minute before clenching his fists and marching resolutely to the door. His finger was paused an inch away from the bell when he heard the click of a lock and watched as the doorknob turned and the door opened.

Alex Krycek stood in the darkened doorway, backlit by the faint light cast from the living room. Their eyes met and Krycek took a step back in silent invitation. Mulder wondered if Krycek had been watching for him. A kind of crackling, electric tension seemed to surround the man. Mulder stepped inside, the door shutting firmly behind him. Suddenly, he was pushed against it, Krycek's warm, warm mouth covering his. Krycek was making throaty, breathy little sounds. Their bodies pressed tight.

Mulder was hard in moments, shocked by the sensations that swamped him, excited by the kiss, even more by Krycek's helpless urgency. They pulled at each other's clothes. Buttons snapped off Krycek's shirt. Mulder's jacket hit the floor. Zippers hissed open. Mulder sucked at Krycek's throat, bit the tender flesh between neck and shoulder as Krycek moaned into his ear. Their cocks bumped, rubbed, slid against each other. Hands caressed and clawed over muscle and flesh. Mulder's fingers brushed over Krycek's fake arm, strangely cold and unyielding even through the thick wool of his shirtsleeve. They held each other close, mouths and bodies moving and melding rhythmically, again and again.

Mulder came with a sharp cry, his mouth still molded against Krycek's as orgasm jolted through his body. Then he felt Krycek spasm against him, heard his deep, throaty groan as climax took him as well. They clung to each other like two lost souls, trembling in a storm. They were sagging against the door, Mulder pressed against the frame, Krycek draped over him.

When Mulder finally felt his sanity return, awkwardness returned with it. Krycek's face nestled against his neck, hot breath fanning his cooling skin. The faint smell of expensive aftershave mingled with the scent of their semen and sweat. Mulder realized that he wasn't wearing his sweatshirt, glanced to the side to see it lying on top of his jacket on the floor. Krycek was still wearing his dark blue shirt, but it was half off his shoulders and his chest was bare. He knew because he could feel his hot flesh plastered against him. Mulder could almost hear the other man's heart beating in time with his own.

The warm puffs of breath slowed against his throat and he felt Krycek's body tense and stiffen, as he began to pull away. Mulder reached out and placed a hand on either side of the other man's face, held on until Krycek met his eyes. "You were waiting for me." He couldn't disguise the note of triumph in his voice.

Krycek broke his hold and stepped away, shrugging the shirt back over his shoulders, quickly zipping his black jeans. Most of the buttons were torn from his shirt and it hung open. His nipples were a dusky rose against his pale smooth skin. Smooth as a boy's. "You didn't have to come here," he answered, the tiniest tremor in his smoky voice. He turned and moved towards the stairs.

Mulder watched him walk up the steps and fade into the shadows before he bowed his head and tried to recall what in the hell he had hoped to accomplish tonight. Stay in control? He was off to a great start. His pants were bunched halfway down his thighs and drying semen smeared his exposed cock and balls and pubic hair. Half of it was Krycek's. He gazed up into the dark at the top of the stairs and began to pull his clothes together. He picked up his jacket, tapped the pockets. He left his sweatshirt on the floor and headed up the stairs, flipping on the lightswitch as he went.

Good quality construction, he thought absently, eyes scanning walls and ceiling as he made his way down the hall to Krycek's bedroom. Strong, solid walls. Top of the line insulation, he figured. Next door neighbors probably wouldn't even hear a gun going off in here. As he paused in the doorway, he could make out Krycek's silhouette in the dimness near the foot of the bed, leaning against one of the tall four posters. He moved towards a lamp and turned it on.

Krycek's right arm was wrapped loosely around one of the carved posts, his head angled against it. He didn't seem to be looking at anything in particular. The unguarded expression on his face made Mulder swallow back an unwanted mix of emotions. He waited until Krycek turned his head slightly and stared at him.

"So, ready for round two?" Krycek asked him, but the words sounded hollow. It was the wounded look in his eyes that bothered Mulder the most. It seemed too genuine.

"I might need a minute. That was quite a welcome." Krycek flinched slightly and Mulder drew in a long breath. "Actually, I think a little post-coital exchange of intimacies would be in order right about now. You know, like how about sharing your deepest feelings about government conspiracies and international cover-ups with me."

Krycek's lips pursed for a moment, then he gave Mulder a tight little smile. "I never kiss and tell."

Mulder let himself return the smile, grateful to be back on more familiar ground. He hadn't really expected Krycek to reveal anything about anything. He just felt obliged to make an effort, however minimal, to see if Krycek might. On one level, it salved his conscience and reminded him of who he was dealing with. And it made the haunted look in Krycek's eyes easier to ignore. Especially since, at the moment, all he seemed to want to do was put his arms around the man and hold on tight.

"You know, Mulder, sometimes it's easy to believe in destiny."

Mulder's mind flashbacked to a night when he had contemplated that very subject at length while he sat on his living room floor, in the dark, his gun dangling from his hand. "Sometimes it's the only answer that makes any sense."

Krycek nodded slowly, eyes lowering. He sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. Mulder tossed his leather jacket on a chair and walked over to stand in front of him, staring down at the dark cap of hair. If there was such a thing as destiny, then it had to be the product of a very twisted sense of humor. That was the only way to explain whatever it was that made Mulder lift his hand and gently stroke the silky hair. Made his fingers caress the smooth, soft skin of Krycek's temple, his cheek. Made his thumb trace lightly along the edge of his mouth before moving back to rake through the short dark hair at the nape of his neck. Krycek's arm began to slide hesitantly around his waist, pulling him forward to stand between his legs. A moment later, Mulder felt the warm lips touch his bare chest, and then Krycek's cheek rubbed shyly against his skin.

Mulder's eyes drifted shut. It felt so... good. He tried to listen to the voice whispering in the back of his mind, don't give in to it, keep the distance, use your head. The whisper faded as his arms tightened around Krycek's shoulders and he felt himself falling slowly forward, falling with Krycek onto the bed. They started to kiss, slow measured kisses as they slid further up on the bed's silk coverlet.

Mulder rose to his knees and reached out to pull off Krycek's shoes. He tossed them on the floor along with his own, and started to take off his jeans.

An instant later, Krycek began to scream, a pain-filled, guttural cry that spun Mulder back to look at him, eyes rounding in stunned surprise. Krycek was clutching at his arm, his fake arm, pitching back and forth against the pillows. Not sure what was happening, Mulder reached out, trying to hold Krycek steady.

"What's wrong? What's happening!?"

The green eyes squeezed shut, Krycek's face a grimace as he cried out again. "My... arm... fire," he choked out, bucking against Mulder's grip, throwing him off. Mulder scrambled back. Krycek was clawing at his shirtsleeve, at the spot where the prosthesis joined his flesh. It seemed as if he was fighting himself along with Mulder. Mulder managed to wrestle him into a sitting position, as Krycek kept tearing at his sleeve, his breathing labored, his teeth gritted in agony.

Mulder stripped off Krycek's heavy wool shirt and watched as the other man struggled with the thin straps of his fake arm. Krycek screamed again, falling back on the mattress, body rolling back and forth.

Krycek seemed unaware of him, the pain blinding him. He tore at his arm, pulling the prosthesis off. Only then did he seem to calm a little, gulping air, eyes closing. The tension that had gripped his body seemed to ease.

Mulder's mouth gaped open. It wasn't the sight of the amputated arm that shocked him. It was the blood. Little drops, like beads coated the stump of Krycek's arm. Mulder crouched nearer. The blood, and it truly looked like blood, didn't appear to be coming from any new cut or visible injury. The scar tissue seemed well formed, thick and solid. It was as if the area was perspiring blood, the droplets simply appearing out of the scar tissue.

Mulder glanced at Krycek's face. His eyes were still closed, the pain lines fading from his brow. His breathing was still rapid and he was trembling. Mulder looked back at the arm. "You're bleeding." When Krycek didn't respond, he said it again, louder.

Krycek opened his eyes and looked blankly at Mulder.

"Your arm."

The green eyes followed Mulder's gaze and slowly widened in horror. He struggled to sit up, right arm flailing.

"Easy, don't move. I'm going to get something to wipe away the blood." He pressed his hand against Krycek's bare chest, forcing him back down into the pillows. He could almost feel the other man's heart pounding against his palm. Krycek just stared silently, unblinkingly, at the tiny, red droplets on his truncated arm, his face pale as ivory.

Mulder quickly retrieved a towel from the bathroom. He dabbed gently at the scar tissue. "Has this ever happened before?" he asked quietly. As he wiped away the blood, a few droplets reappeared. "Are you still in pain? Does it hurt?" He looked into Krycek's eyes when he didn't answer. "Has this happened before?" he repeated, intent now on getting some sort of response.

The word was barely audible. "No."

Mulder looked back at the arm. There were fewer drops reappearing. He wiped them away. "It doesn't look like there's any injury. The blood seems to be coming right from the scar tissue. What's happened to you, Krycek? Do you know?"

Krycek kept staring at his arm. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. "He barely touched me."

The words were so soft, Mulder had to strain to hear them. He? "Who are you talking about?"

Krycek looked away, back down at his arm. The blood was gone. Mulder threw the stained towel aside and settled himself on the bed beside Krycek. Curiosity gripped him, along with that peculiar spark of anticipation that lit him up whenever he encountered a tantalizing unknown. "Someone did this to you? How?" He chewed at his lip as the silence grew. Krycek turned his face towards the ceiling. "Alex, please tell me."

The long, dark lashes lowered at the name, Krycek turning his head to lock gazes with him. For a moment, Mulder thought he saw a flash of anger, but then it was gone. A small, resigned smile flitted over Krycek's mouth and he let out a sigh. "Jeremiah Smith."

"What?!" Mulder's arm locked around Krycek's waist as he drew closer. "Jeremiah Smith? You know who he is? You saw Smith? When, why?"

Krycek looked dazedly back up at the ceiling. "He followed me. Last night."

"I thought they'd killed him." Mulder burrowed his face against the warm neck, his body half-covering Krycek's right side. His arm tightened possessively around Krycek's waist, He couldn't see the puzzled frown that grew over the other man's face. He didn't even realize that his cock was getting hard again. "Tell me, Alex, tell me."

***

Krycek hadn't known it was possible to feel so many different emotions at the same time. The mind-numbing fear was the worst. What had Smith done to him? The blood on his arm. The pain, the horrible, excruciating pain. It was just like the knife, the searing hot blade that had cut away his arm. He'd never thought he'd feel that kind of pain again. Didn't think it was possible. What was happening to him? Was Smith trying to kill him? Or was he trying to give him back his arm?

He heard Mulder murmuring his name, moist lips pressed against his neck. It burned another feeling into him, gave him a very different kind of pain. Mulder was wrapped around him, holding him tight, his growing erection pressed against Krycek's side. Krycek was scared and angry with himself. He needed Mulder's touch, yearned desperately for the comfort of it.

"Alex."

The sound of his name felt like a fist squeezing his heart. The old Brit was right. Dangle the inexplicable in front of him, and Mulder was hooked like the sorriest junkie. Krycek had dreamed of being with Mulder like this, held close, as someone other than a hated enemy. And, now he was. Now, he was another one of Mulder's X-files.

He turned his head away, glanced at his arm. No more blood. The fear lifted a fraction, but the effect of Mulder's touch only sharpened. He fought to push the emotions away, but it was like being in a vortex, all his feelings, mixed and muddled, whirling and whirling through him, pulling him under.

God, he hadn't wanted Mulder to see his arm, the ugliness of it. He could barely stand to look at it himself. He wanted to cover himself. Wanted to hide it. Too late now. Always too late. But Mulder didn't seem to be bothered by it.

"Why did Smith contact you?" Mulder's voice whispered against his skin, lips softly nuzzling his neck. Krycek could hear the curious fascination in the question.

He hadn't intended to blurt it out like that. He tried to consider the consequences, weigh the liabilities one more time, but it was so hard to think. It was always so difficult when Mulder was this close. "Smith told me he was dying." He felt the shift of Mulder's body against his own, the rapt attention. "He said they're all dying, the Aliens. Some kind of gene mutation, causing a disease that's been spreading through their population ever since they arrived here. Over the last decade, it's been accelerating. The hybridization experiments are their last chance at survival." He swallowed hard as Mulder's excited breath touched a spot just below his ear. "I'm not sure I believe him." He had to say it though he doubted that it made any difference to Mulder.

Mulder propped himself up on an elbow, his other hand unconsciously stroking over Krycek's chest and shoulder. "Jeremiah Smith tried to help me. He put himself at grave risk because he wanted me to know what they were planning. He tried to show me--" He faltered, his eyes darkening with some memory. "He's different from the others. He's a healer. He has extraordinary power. You said he touched your arm?"

"I stopped him."

"Stopped him? Why?"

Krycek stared into the insatiably curious eyes and knew he would never be able to tell Mulder enough to satisfy him unless he stripped his own soul bare, and probably not even then. He felt raw and open. He'd exposed too much of himself already, in every conceivable way. Given too much to Mulder as it was. Besides, all the secrets in the world wouldn't give him what he truly wanted from Mulder. Wouldn't give him Mulder's lo--. He stopped himself before his mind could conjure the word. "I told you I wasn't sure I believed Smith," he answered evasively.

Mulder studied him for a moment. "I don't think Jeremiah Smith would lie about that. What I don't understand is why he didn't try to contact me? Why did he want to talk to you?"

"You mean, why would he trust someone like me?" He could read the question in Mulder's eyes. It was hardly a surprise. "I don't know," he continued. "Smith didn't want to risk trying to meet with you again. He knows I'm in contact with the Rebels. Maybe he thought I had a better chance of making use of what he knew." He realized he might as well tell Mulder the rest. "He had something else he wanted to tell me. He said it was the last piece of information he could give us."

"What?" Mulder's arms closed around him again. His teeth raked across his full lower lip.

Krycek drew in a breath and repeated what Smith had told him about Ridley.

"Shit. It's there, in the data. We can beat them." Mulder pulled away and sat up. Krycek could almost see the wheels turning, sense the barely contained eagerness. "Did Smith tell you anything more? What is it we should be looking for in the papers?"

Krycek just shook his head. "He said he didn't know exactly what it is, only that it's something Ridley knew, that it must be in his research."

"But what could it be? A formula? A process connected with his Progeria research? A component of one of his failed experiments? Something to do with his cell grafting? A doodle in the margin?" Mulder stopped, wiped a hand over his mouth.

"Damn it. I've looked through that data a dozen times." A slow smile spread over Mulder's face. "It's like one of those trick drawings; do you see a vase or a double profile. The object's right there but until you know what you're looking for, you can't see it or you see something completely different. At least now, we know what we're looking for. And we know the clock is ticking for them as well as us."

"We?" asked Krycek softly.

The smile faded as Mulder turned towards him. "If the hybridization project succeeds before we can decipher the data, it'll be too late. We have to work both sides of this. We have to slow them down, give ourselves the time we might need to decipher the data. The Centers that you and the Old Man talked about, that's were they're doing the experiments, isn't that what you said?"

"Yes."

"We have to locate them, at least one of them to start. I'm going to--"

"You're not going to do anything, Mulder. You hear me?" Krycek's voice was a harsh whisper as he shifted in the bed. "I have a better chance of getting that information my way than you ever will. Leave it alone. You work on Ridley's data. That's why we gave it to you. The Old Man knew there was something valuable in there because the Colonists want it so badly. Now we know why. Don't jeopardize the advantage we have by running around, poking your nose into--"

"You're the one who told me to get my head out of the sand. Well, it's out. You can't expect me not to try and do everything I can to--"

"I expect you to use that fuckin' brilliant mind of yours. I can go where you can't. Do what you can't. Smith knew that. Even after everything you've seen, everything you've been through, you don't understand who you're dealing with, how deep and how high it goes. Well, I do. Leave this part of it to me."

"You expect me to trust you?" Mulder's words had that old icy edge, cutting through Krycek like shards of glass.

"No. I don't expect anything from you." Krycek cursed the tremor in his voice and started to roll away, to get out of the bed. The emotions were roiling through him again, anger, regret, fear, and that ever present, painful need. He gasped as Mulder grabbed him from behind and pulled him down. The silk coverlet bunched as they grappled, legs twisting together.

It was Mulder's mouth that finally stopped him. That cool, plush mouth descending over his, moving like a finely honed weapon over his lips, his tongue, marking him. Starting wildfires in his brain and his groin. A corner of his mind shuddered at his exposed arm and he flinched as Mulder's fingers caressed his neck and traveled down his left shoulder. Mulder held him fast, sensual mouth continuing its relentless assault. When the long fingers brushed over his ruined flesh, he froze.

Mulder's mouth grew gentle, then lifted just far enough to allow speech. "Am I hurting you?" he asked, with a softness that was so disturbing that Krycek had to move a little to look into the hazel eyes to see if it was real. It shook him to see that it was.

Always, thought Krycek in silent answer, but he wrapped his arm around Mulder's neck and brought their lips together again. If only. Those truly were the saddest words of all. He pushed the thought away, and let his senses wallow in the matchless pleasure of Mulder's body. The rest of their clothes were thrown aside and Krycek didn't tense again when he felt Mulder touch his arm. He just kept looking into his eyes.

They used their mouths on each other, and at the last, there was a kind of strange tenderness in their touches that almost matched their raw physical need. For Krycek, the world spun and burst into hot white light. When he blinked back into awareness, he was nestled in Mulder's arms. Raising his head from Mulder's shoulder, he gazed into the half-lidded eyes. For a moment, just a moment, he thought he saw his own absolute contentment, his soul-deep joy, mirrored in those golden eyes. It was a moment caught between dreams and reality, pure and precise and impossible to keep.

Abruptly, Mulder let him go and rolled away, too fast. He drew his long legs over the side of the bed and sat up, back towards Krycek. Then he hunched forward, his head in his hands. It made Krycek shiver as if from a sudden chill. He waited for Mulder to say something. He felt like pulling a corner of the bedspread and covering himself with it, but instead he just stared at the smooth lean torso, now taut with tension. The silence stretched uneasily. Finally, Mulder stood up and started walking towards the bathroom, hands still rubbing at his face.

***

Mulder stopped, his fingers moving up to rake again and again through his hair.

What the hell was happening now? How the hell was he going to make it stop? He stood in the doorway of the bathroom, sensing Krycek's eyes on his back. He could visualize those long black lashes blinking open and the clear green of those irises, eyes that seemed to reveal everything Krycek's face tried to hide. Funny, Mulder usually had trouble seeing most shades of green. Except the green of Alex Krycek's eyes. It was one more irony on the pile of ironies that formed his inconceivable relationship with the man.

Mulder let his arms fall to his sides. Took a deep, long breath. His whole body felt like he'd taken a trip to heaven and back. It felt so good to hold Krycek, as good as the shatteringly sweet orgasm that echoed between them. Coming down from that bone-melting high to see everything he felt reflected in those green eyes had scared the shit out of him. For that one indescribable moment, nothing else had mattered. Not the Aliens, not the X-files, not the world. Not even the Truth. All he had wanted in that singular moment was to be with Alex Krycek like that... forever.

Close call. He swallowed hard and threw back his shoulders. It was just the sex, just a crazy reaction to another truly superlative, Krycek-generated fuck. It had just confused him, blindsided him for a moment into thinking he felt... Mulder shook the thought off. Maybe it was just as well that he hadn't had the chance to use the lube and condoms. If a little mutual fellatio could have that kind of aftereffect on him, he shuddered to think what he would have felt if there had been even more.

But he was all right now. A moment's reaction didn't last forever. It was over and he was grateful for that. Grateful that he hadn't lost what little sanity he had left. Now, he just had to focus on what Krycek had told him about Jeremiah Smith and the Ridley papers, and what he had to do about it. Yeah, that was the important thing.

And Krycek's arm, now that was fascinating. Mulder felt his breathing return to normal as he thought about the little drops of blood on the end of Krycek's mutilated arm. He tried to recall any other kind of similar phenomenon from his Files. Well, there was Leonard Betts. As extreme a case of tissue regeneration as anyone could imagine. Then there was Joe Ridley himself, who'd managed a kind of pseudo restoration of Barnett's hand with his salamander cell transfers.

Mulder drew in another deep breath. Was Krycek's sudden painful attack and the strange bleeding some sort of aborted regenerative state? If such brief contact with Smith could have caused that degree of reaction, he wondered what would have happened if Krycek had really let the Alien try to heal his arm. He still couldn't understand why Krycek had refused. Mulder knew that if he had been in the same situation, he wouldn't have hesitated.

Finally feeling more in command of himself, Mulder began to relax. He became aware of the sticky trails of semen across his groin and stomach. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Krycek had pulled a corner of the bedspread partially over his left side as if he was cold, or...

"Can I use the shower? I feel like a sperm bank exploded on me," quipped Mulder, forcing a grin. At Krycek's brief nod, he started to turn, paused. "You wanna join me?" He found himself concentrating on the little frown line deepening across the bridge of Krycek's nose because he didn't want to look into his eyes just then.

He shouldn't let Krycek too far out of his sight, he told himself. He really didn't want to be near him. He just had to prove to himself that it didn't matter, one way or the other. Whatever he thought he felt in that earlier moment when he'd looked into Krycek's eyes didn't really mean anything.

When Krycek made no move to get out of the bed, Mulder felt a little more control flowing back his way and held out his hand towards the other man. "C'mon Krycek, you're just messing up that nice silk bedspread like that. You need the shower as much as me. We'll do our bit for water conservation. C'mon." He gestured again, with a hint of impatience. He looked into Krycek's eyes then, relieved when the intense green gaze dropped away from him in confusion. Another minute passed and Krycek slowly rose from the bed and padded towards him.

If the loss of his arm affected Krycek's balance, he certainly didn't let it show. He moved with a masculine grace that Mulder had only been peripherally aware of before. He wished he wasn't so acutely aware of it now.

The rose and cream colored bathroom was large and well appointed, but there was no separate shower stall. Instead, there was a fancy showerhead in the oversized, curtained tub. Mulder ran the water and got in, glancing at the built in shelves that contained soaps and several different shampoos, along with face cloths and bath sponges. "All the amenities," he murmured, sighing as the warm water cascaded over him.

He blinked at the shadow on the other side of the curtain and, after a moment, he drew the curtain aside a little. Krycek was just standing there. Mulder pointed a thumb towards the showerhead. "The water's on this side."

Krycek bit down on his lower lip. Mulder noticed that he was standing with his left side angled away from him. "Is this part of the exorcism, Mulder?" he asked in that low, husky voice.

Mulder frowned into Krycek's stormy eyes and then something clicked in his head. He understood. Angrily, he swallowed back a twinge of guilt. He already had plenty enough to carry around. If Krycek wanted to look at their little arrangement like that, so much the better. Hell, of course he wanted to get Krycek out of his system. The crazy sexual attraction between them was enough of an aberration without the unwanted emotional sidetrips. "Get in here, Krycek, before there's more water outside the tub than in." As the other man continued to hesitate, he reached out and took hold of his hand, tugging him forward.

Fortunately, Krycek didn't say any more and he didn't resist. He stepped into the tub and stood with his right side to Mulder, as far away as the space allowed. Mulder almost rolled his eyes, but stopped himself. The sight of Krycek's amputated arm certainly didn't bother him. He would have liked to examine it more closely to see if Smith's contact had had any other effect on the tissue. Krycek's self-consciousness only helped to put a little more mental distance between them. That was fine by Mulder.

He grabbed one of the bottles of shampoo and sniffed it. Green apples. He put it down and picked up another. It smelled faintly of citrus. It was the same scent as Krycek's hair. He poured a little out into his palm and lathered it into his scalp. Krycek was blocking most of the spray, so Mulder poured some more of the shampoo, reached out and started lathering it into Krycek's hair. As soon as he touched him, Krycek flinched, his whole body tensing.

"It'll be faster this way," explained Mulder matter-of-factly as he proceeded to massage the shampoo through Krycek's hair, maneuvering their bodies at the same time so they were facing each other. Green eyes blinked and gazed at him in a mixture of amazement and wariness. It was the same kind of look that Scully gave him from time to time when he was behaving more unpredictably than usual. And, as with Scully, he just kept on doing what he was doing. It felt good. Mindless. He absently noted that Krycek's ears were small and pixyish, slightly pointed at the tip. His upturned nose was small, too. But his eyes. The dark eyelashes were long and spiky, glistening from the water. It reminded Mulder of how they looked when Krycek was crying, that first night during the storm.

By the time Mulder rinsed the shampoo out of their hair, Krycek was a bit more relaxed but he grabbed Mulder's wrist when he picked up a bar of soap and reached out again. "I can wash myself," Krycek told him firmly.

"Fine." Mulder waited, but Krycek didn't let go of his wrist. He realized that Krycek was staring at his mouth. The water streamed over their faces, warm rivulets over their bodies. Mulder glanced down at Krycek's rosy cock, at his balls, the dark pubic hair that framed them. Slowly, he brushed the back of his free hand up the length of that cock, and watched it twitch slightly at his touch.

Mulder smiled and looked at Krycek's hand, still wrapped around his wrist. "I'll scrub your back if you'll scrub mine."

Krycek blinked away the water rolling down his face. "You have me at a disadvantage, Mulder." Lips parting slightly, a gleam grew in his eyes and he leaned forward and kissed Mulder gently on the mouth, and then he dropped his arm and turned around. "Fair enough," he answered.

Mulder wanted another kiss. He wanted it so much, he almost felt like running right out of the room. There comes a time when a man has got to face his demons. He'd said that once to Scully. At the time, he had been talking about his fear of fire and, perhaps, of Phoebe Green. Demons came in the strangest shapes, he thought to himself, for here was the personification of Fire and Trust Betrayed, all in one deadly package, right in front of him. He licked the water drops off his lips but the sweet aftertaste of Krycek's kiss remained.

He picked up a washcloth and began soaping Krycek's back. He let his eyes travel as he rubbed the washcloth over the broad shoulders and down the length of the spinal column to the narrow hips. The soap ran in glistening trails over the firm, round buttocks. Mulder reached out and skimmed the tips of his fingers along the crack between the smooth, slick mounds.

Krycek spun around. "Your anatomy classes must've been lousy. That's not my back."

Mulder raised an eyebrow at the sudden cold edge in Krycek's voice. "Just took a slight detour. Didn't realize I was crossing into No Man's Land."

"Nice phrasing, Mulder. Take it literally."

"I get the distinct impression that it wasn't always No Man's Land."

"It is now." Krycek tilted his head back, letting the spray roll down his body, and then he drew aside the shower curtain and got out. "On second thought, you can wash your own back." With a quick, grim smile, he flicked the curtain closed again.

Mulder was left staring blankly at the beads of water streaming down the rose-colored curtain. "Damn." He finished up and turned off the shower. The bathroom door was partially closed and aside from a wet towel draped across the laundry hamper, there was no sign of Krycek. Mulder dried himself quickly, put on the dark blue terrycloth robe that he found in an alcove and walked into the bedroom.

Krycek was sitting on a corner of the bed, near the full-length mirror, dressed only in gray sweatpants. He was wearing the prosthesis and staring intently at the place where it joined his arm.

Sensing something, Mulder approached the bed. He could see that the thin straps of the prosthesis were still undone. "What is it? Is it your arm again?" He couldn't see anything different.

"It's tingling," replied Krycek. "Like pins and needles, right at the... at the end." The pale face looked up at him anxiously. "It healed over long ago, dead scar tissue. I don't feel anything there anymore. I mean, I shouldn't."

"A form of phantom pain?"

"No, it's not like that at all. Wh-what's happening, Mulder?"

"Maybe you should take it off?" he said pointing to the fake arm.

"No." It was clear to Mulder that if it hadn't been for the pain attack, Krycek wouldn't have revealed his amputated arm, but what difference did it make now?

Mulder moved closer, sat down on the bed beside him. "Are you going to see Smith again?"

Krycek shook his head.

"Did he say where he was going or what he intended to do?"

Krycek let out a long breath. "No, and I didn't ask. At that point, I just wanted him to get away from me."

They were both quiet then, Mulder watching thoughtfully as Krycek began securing the straps of his prosthetic. " I think Jeremiah Smith can give you back your arm," he said finally.

Krycek gave him a sidewise glance. "My arm is gone, Mulder. It's a piece of rotting flesh buried somewhere in a Russian forest. What, do you think Smith had the power to grow it back for me?" The question was laced with bitter sarcasm.

"I've seen stranger things, believe me. I've seen what Smith has done, and I believe he does have the power. You're already feeling the effects of it and he barely touched you. If you had really let him heal you, you might be sitting there with a new arm right now. What's the matter, Krycek, I had the impression that you believed in extreme possibilities?"

"Oh, I believe all right. There've been moments when I've felt like I was the walking definition. I just don't believe in this particular extreme possibility." His lips pressed into a tight line for a moment and he stared at the cold hard plastic of his arm. "I won't let an Alien control my body ever again."

"Even if Smith can--"

"Even if he can."

"That doesn't make any sense and you know it."

"That's rich coming from you, Mulder. You're not exactly famous for your sound and prudent approach to life." Krycek jumped up and walked across the room to the large cherrywood bureau. He opened a drawer and pulled out a shirt, very like the thick wool shirt he'd worn earlier, only this one was black. He put it on carefully over his prosthesis first. Mulder absently noted that it was probably harder for Krycek to get into a sweatshirt. He also realized that Krycek's experience with the black oil had left a much deeper scar on the man's psyche than he had ever imagined. Of course, Mulder was becoming increasingly aware, if grudgingly, of how very little he really knew about Krycek. The few facts and multitude of conjectures he did have still stood like a wall of enmity between them, but it seemed like the cracks were beginning to show. Mulder had to concede to himself that the wall was much easier to deal with than the cracks.

It wouldn't work to push Krycek. They both had a lot to think about and a helluva a lot to do that involved far more than just their personal needs. As he looked at Krycek's tense back, Mulder wondered if this might be their last night together, in this strangely private little world of theirs. It could be both the beginning and the end of his dubious arrangement. A surprisingly sad and hollow feeling spread through him at the prospect.

Mulder got up and headed for the bedroom door, struggling with his thoughts. "I need a drink, some food, too. Do you have anything down there?"

Krycek's expression was just short of bewildered. "You want to eat?"

"Yeah, sure, why not? I've hardly had anything today. Saving the world is a bitch on an empty stomach." With that, he cinched up his borrowed robe and went downstairs.

He was standing in front of the open refrigerator, eyes flicking curiously over three quart bottles of chocolate milk. He was reaching for a plate of roast chicken and a container of salad when he heard Krycek behind him.

"You're actually just going to sit here and eat?"

Mulder found a grin tugging at his lips. "In the greater context of our situation, I realize it may seem a little absurd. But then, I'm used to Absurd. Absurd and I are old friends. Besides, there's a certain comfort in indulging in mundane practicalities." He let the grin blossom. "Care to join me?" He ignored Krycek's gaping expression and jerked his head towards the refrigerator. "By the way, what's with all the chocolate milk?"

The line crinkled across the bridge of Krycek's nose again as a hint of defensiveness crept into his voice. "I like it."

"I figured. Somehow I couldn't picture the old Brit chug-a-lugging the stuff."

"He doesn't live here."

Mulder smiled. "Mind if I have some?" He brought the food to the kitchen table and went back for the milk. After a quick forage for plates and cutlery, he settled down to eat. "This chicken is pretty good," he said, waving a drumstick at Krycek's. He picked up the bottle of chocolate milk and took a long swig.

"I thought you wanted something stronger," commented Krycek finally, as he sank down heavily in the chair opposite Mulder .

"This is fine. Haven't had cold chocolate milk in... a long time. Not bad."

"What's going on here, Mulder? What the hell are we doing?"

"Seventh inning stretch." Mulder held out the bottle of milk. "A break in the game, Krycek. Better yet, call it a temporary state of normalcy. Well, as normal as anything can ever be between you and me."

Krycek's head lowered, lashes veiling his eyes. When he looked up again, his expression was closed. He reached out, took the chocolate milk from Mulder's hand and drank down a large swallow. He put the bottle back down on the table between them and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

They spent the next half hour sitting at the table, passing the bottle of chocolate milk back and forth, not saying much of anything. Mulder ate up three large pieces of roast chicken and half of the potato salad. Krycek didn't eat anything. By the time Mulder was finished, the bottle was empty. He sat back in his chair and glanced around the kitchen, at the stained glass window. "Irises, aren't they?" he asked, gazing at the delicate blue and green glass and the spots of topaz. "Unusual for a kitchen window." He turned back to Krycek. "By the way, in case you're not sure, that's my attempt at innocuous conversation."

Krycek was looking at the window in question as if it was some kind of private test. At least, that's what it seemed like to Mulder. "Tell me, Krycek, is there anything innocuous in your life?"

Krycek picked up the empty bottle, tilted it back and forth for a moment and put it down again. "Chocolate milk." Then he rose slowly from the table and left the room.

Mulder sat in the kitchen for a while longer, thinking about whether he should leave or stay. He could probably review the Ridley material again tonight. It was too late to barge in on Scully. The Gunmen probably wouldn't mind. Mulder rested his elbows on the table, fingers tented against his mouth. He would be better off if he could get some sleep first. Oh, cut the crap, asshole, he told himself finally. A shaky smile grew and faded over his face as he got up and headed for the stairs, stopping by the front door to grab his sweatshirt.

***

Krycek was coming out of the bathroom as Mulder walked into the bedroom, sweatshirt in his hand. Krycek waited, expecting Mulder to dress, get his leather jacket and go.

But Mulder draped his sweatshirt over the back of a chair and then took off his borrowed robe, too. Krycek drank in the sight of Mulder's naked body like a kid in front of a toy store. He swallowed as Mulder threw the stained, silk bedcover on the floor and climbed into the four poster. Mulder punched up the pillows and settled the soft down comforter up around his waist. His skin was a pale honey color against the muted rose and gray of the duvet. Strands of shiny, chestnut colored hair fell over his wide forehead. His eyes had a sleepy, sexy look. And his mouth...

Krycek couldn't look away. It was Mulder's voice that jarred him out of his trance.

"We better get some sleep," he said. "Get into bed."

It was only then that Krycek registered the fact that Mulder was going to stay for the night. He took a step towards the bed and paused, glancing down at his left arm.

"Is it tingling again?" Mulder asked.

"No."

"Maybe you should take the prosthesis off."

Krycek met Mulder's eyes reluctantly. It wasn't comfortable to sleep with the prosthesis. He'd done it often enough for practical purposes, and he'd kept it on with Mulder for reasons that weren't practical at all. Even though Mulder had already seen what was left of his real arm, he hesitated to reveal it again. He moved to the other side of the bed and turned off the lamp. "No lights," he said. The faint glow of a street lamp illuminated the windows. He could make out Mulder's face in the dimness, see the brightness of his eyes.

Mulder nodded, "No lights."

After another moment, Krycek began taking off his clothes and then, slowly, the prosthetic arm. He was used to the shadows. When he was ready, he slipped into the bed, having made sure his right side would be towards Mulder. There was less than a foot of space between them in the large bed. Krycek began to pull the comforter up around his shoulder when he felt Mulder turning onto his side, facing him, raising the comforter a little and shifting it over them both.

Krycek was lying on his back, looking up at the ceiling. He wondered how long it would take for Mulder to fall asleep this time.

"Do you like that painting?"

Mulder's voice was low and dreamy. It made him shiver. "Wh-what?"

"The oil on the wall over there. The foxhunt."

Krycek turned his head and glanced at the painting through the dimness. He sighed. "Yes. The fox beat the odds. He got away. I like that." The darkness was comforting. Secrets were easier to tell in the dark. Perhaps he should've left the light on after all.

He felt Mulder's answering sigh against his cheek as Mulder leaned towards him and brushed the edge of his jaw in a brief, soft kiss. When Mulder spoke again his voice was drowsy. "Did you ever hear of Godel's Theorem?"

Krycek frowned, turning his head towards Mulder, finding the bright eyes in the shadows though the lids drooped a little. He seemed to be fighting against sleep. Only Fox Mulder could come up with a bizarre question like that. "I vaguely remember something from a college math class. It was a theorem in advanced logic, wasn't it?"

Mulder's lips turned upward in a pleased smile as his eyes closed. "Yeah, yeah. It always bothered me, you know." He shifted closer until there was barely an inch between them. "Are you the human proof of Godel's Theorem, Alex? Are you true and false at the same time? Will I ever know? I wish... I wish I understood... you. Understood... me." Mulder sounded like he was half asleep already, the words coming out slow and halting towards the end.

Their bodies were touching now and Mulder's forehead rested against the side of his face. Krycek listened silently to Mulder's breathing. He thought about Mulder's question but he didn't know if he could answer it, even to himself.

He was surprised to hear Mulder's muffled voice again. "Go to sleep, Alex. Sleep... with... me." Slowly, Mulder's arm slipped around his waist, anchoring them together. Mulder snuggled even closer, warm breath fanning his face, cool body molding against his heat. Krycek swallowed hard and listened to Mulder's breathing deepen into sleep.

Krycek squeezed his eyes shut, feeling them burn behind his lids. Every time, it was the same sublime torture, this closeness. Ironically, in some ways, it was even better than the sex. Lying quietly with Mulder like this, he could make himself believe that they really belonged together.

He didn't want to sleep. He wanted to feel every second and store away every sound Mulder made, every movement. He wanted to keep the memory safe in his mind and heart, so he could call it up when he needed it, in that inevitable future of bleak nights, when everything else was gone.

He turned slightly so Mulder's head was cradled against his shoulder and kissed the soft strands of hair against his mouth. He lay like that for a long time, until he felt Mulder move, a long leg bumping against his thigh. Then he heard a faint snoring vibrating against the top of his shoulder. Krycek smiled into the darkness. It all seemed so... normal. That was the torture of it.

Mulder wanted him to sleep. Maybe he should try. He couldn't hold on to the sweet torment anyway. The hours would slip away no matter what he did. He couldn't hold on to the closeness, couldn't suspend it in time. And Mulder wanted them to sleep together. Like... lovers? His voice had been so wistful. Krycek could still hear it in his head.

Krycek found it easier to fall asleep on his stomach, but that meant he'd have to turn over and he didn't want to wake Mulder. It also meant his left arm would be against Mulder's side. He didn't want Mulder to feel it touching him, to feel how ugly he was. It was irrational, he knew. Mulder had already seen his arm, already touched it.

Krycek drew in a steadying breath and carefully started to ease out of Mulder's embrace. It took a long time, but he managed to draw away and roll onto his side. Mulder's arm moved against the empty space, as if seeking out his warmth. Krycek turned on his stomach and shifted towards Mulder. Within moments, Mulder was wrapped around his side, arm flung over his back. He turned his head towards Mulder and stared at his sleeping face for a long time before he finally closed his eyes and tried to sleep...

He was standing in a field of irises that stretched out around him in all directions. The tall stalks swayed in the cold breeze, creating rippling waves of blue and green as far as he could see.

He looked around, trying to find him. Day turned into night and the moon appeared like a sharp pearl in the sky, its light silvering the landscape. He looked down at his hands, shimmering silver white in the moonlight. Hands. He raised his left hand and wriggled his fingers, clasped the hand into a fist until he felt the nails bite into his palm. His hand was warm flesh. He trembled as he touched his right hand to his left. His eyes blurred.

When he looked up again, he saw him in the distance. Slowly, he started to walk towards him, wondering if he would wait for him. When the tall figure didn't move, he started to run, the tall irises parting for him as he ran faster and faster, his lungs heaving with the effort. It seemed to take forever to reach him.

"Mulder," he said, the name a whisper as he fought to catch his breath. He held out his left hand to the only person in his life that truly mattered. "I can hold you now." And Mulder smiled at him, soft and gentle as he took the final step to close the distance between them.

He wrapped both arms around Mulder, hugging him tight. Then he raised his left hand and brushed it through Mulder hair, feeling the strands slipping through his fingers like silk. He touched Mulder's face, traced an eyebrow and drew a fingertip down his nose and outlined the tender mouth. Mulder kissed his fingertips.

Mulder took hold of his hand and looked down at it with a suddenly intense, unblinking stare. Following his gaze, Krycek gasped as a deep cut appeared in the middle of his palm. Blood started to flow from the cut. Green, green blood.

Terror gripping him, Krycek looked up as Mulder met his gaze. With a scream rising in his throat, he watched Mulder's expressive eyes fade into darkness as the black oil covered them completely.

"Nooo! NO, NO!"

"Wake up, Krycek." Mulder's voice seemed muffled, distant.

He was shaking. All he could see were those soulless black eyes. "No!"

"Alex, wake up!" Someone was shaking him.

He started to thrash, felt arms clamp him against a warm chest. His eyes popped open. He was lying on top of Mulder. "M-Mulder." He blinked hard, struggling to focus on the other man's face, on his eyes. The room was still dark, but he could see the whites of Mulder's eyes. Relief soared through him. He gulped in a breath, and then another.

"You had a nightmare," said Mulder after a moment, his arms still circling Krycek's back, one hand lightly rubbing up and down his spine. "You all right now?"

Krycek struggled to calm himself. "Only a dream. It was only a dream," he muttered.

"Helluva dream."

Krycek shifted, sitting up and pulling away from Mulder a little. He felt Mulder propping the pillows up behind them as he sat up, too. Krycek wiped his hand over his face. "Just another one to add to my collection," he finally replied, glad at least that his voice was steady.

"I have a pretty extensive set myself. Want to tell me about it?"

He turned his head and searched Mulder's face in the dimness. He couldn't even remember the last time anyone had been with him when he'd had a nightmare. So naturally, after all these years, that person would have to be Mulder. And, of course, he'd have to go one better and be in the nightmare as well. Krycek could still picture the terrifying black oil swallowing up Mulder's eyes. It sent a shiver through him. Unconsciously, his fingers gripped the soft folds of the comforter. Mulder's hand reached out and covered his. He lowered his gaze and watched their fingers entwine.

"It was just the usual 'we turn into Aliens' dream, you know." He'd meant to shrug it off. No big deal, he was about to add, but the words seemed to catch in his throat. He felt the pressure of Mulder's hand gently squeezing his and bit down on his lip.

It was Mulder's caring that unnerved him. He didn't know how to take it or what it meant. Was it because they were in this house, this room, where it was so easy to pretend they could be different people to each other? Or was it real? Were Mulder's feelings changing towards him? Would it all vanish with the dawn?

"They won't win. We'll beat them." Mulder's voice caressed him in the darkness. "Do you want to try and get a little more sleep?"

Krycek shook his head firmly. "No. I--I can't sleep. You sleep." He peered at the clock on the nightstand, its face faintly illuminated. It was not quite 5. "It's early yet." He slid out of the bed and padded to the tall windows. Beyond the ivory voile curtains, the snow was falling again. It was as if nature was building a delicate white cocoon around them, insulating them from the world. It was a foolish fantasy, but he found it wistfully enticing all the same. He stood there for a long time, staring through the curtains at the soft and silent blur of snow.

He'd always tried to be ready for anything. Life had taught him that lesson hard and early on. He'd honed his survival instincts ever since and they had served him well. But now he had the oddest feeling that Mulder was in the center of an impending convergence of startling changes and that Krycek had been drawn into that center with him. The future was rushing headlong towards them, and for once, Krycek wasn't sure if he would be able to finish what he had to do, or if his instincts would be enough to save him from whatever pitfalls lay ahead. His strange new relationship with Mulder had thrown him off-balance, pressed him down with the weight of a new kind of responsibility. The feeling prickled over his skin, sank into his bones.

With a vague sense of foreboding, he glanced down at his amputated arm. Suddenly, Mulder's "arrangement" seemed as idyllic a fantasy to him as the cocoon of falling snow around them. He walked back to the bed and got in again. Mulder was looking at him. Had he been watching him all this time, Krycek wondered. "Go back to sleep, Mulder. I'm okay." It was only half a lie. Right now, he felt better just being with Mulder than he would have being alone. It was a sign of how much he was changing that he didn't even think of it as a weakness any more.

He sank down into the pillows and pulled the comforter up over his shoulders. A moment later, Mulder leaned over and kissed him softly on the mouth. Krycek paused long enough for one shaky breath before he pulled Mulder down on top of him and kissed him back.

***

The morning sunlight flickered through the curtains, casting patterns across the delicate rose and gray wallpaper. It danced over the bookshelves and the polished antique writing desk and glinted off the oil painting's rosewood frame.

Mulder gazed around the room, noting details here and there, but he was most aware of the silence. It had a tranquil quality about it that was rare for him. He glanced sideways at the dark cap of hair pillowed against his shoulder. He could tell that Krycek was finally asleep. Mulder brushed his lips against the soft hair.

He didn't hate Krycek anymore. He couldn't be with him like this and hate him. He wasn't even sure if he ever really did. Hatred had never brought Mulder any closer to the truth, so he didn't think it was much of a loss. Maybe, all along, it was just that he felt the obligation to hate him. He still did. He could dredge up the anger, the distrust, perhaps even the rage, by just recalling the past between them, the death and betrayal. The difference was that now, he didn't want to. It was a meaningful difference.

If the hatred was gone, what was taking its place? Fascination? Lust? That was the obvious answer and true enough, but far too simple. Some current of sexual attraction had always been there between them. Mulder could admit it now. It seemed the least of it now. It was the rest that bothered him. He knew he wasn't ready to face all that, to turn it over in his mind and give it a name. Maybe he never would be.

Avoidance? Denial? It wasn't exactly his preferred method of dealing with problems, but it seemed to have become the path of least resistance when it came to his ever more complicated relationship with Alex.

Alex. Mulder squeezed his eyes shut in a wince. He could feel "Krycek" slowly fading and "Alex" taking his place. They almost seemed like two different men in his head. Each one straddled past and present. But what about the future? Which man would Mulder find there?

Krycek stirred in his arms and lifted his head, eyes wide open and alert. He glanced at the sunlight streaming through the windows and looked back at Mulder. There was something distant in his expression. Just as Mulder began to reach out, Krycek turned away and sat up in the bed.

"Another new day, Mulder," he said, his voice husky, his gaze on the windows. "Looks like it stopped snowing. You better leave while it's clear."

"Why? You in a rush?"

"Aren't you?"

"I think we can spare ourselves another hour or so. I thought we could have breakfast, talk a little." Mulder watched the green eyes widen in surprise. "What, don't you eat breakfast?"

"Since when do you?"

"You know, you're really getting the hang of this 'answer a question with a question' thing."

Krycek blinked, lips pressing tight for a moment. "I usually just have coffee."

Mulder shook his head solemnly. "Not good. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

They sat there looking at each other until Krycek let out an exasperated sigh. "I just can't figure you, Mulder." Then, a slow, sweet smile drifted across his mouth and lit his eyes to a clear, open green.

Mulder liked it, liked what it did to Alex's face. "If it's any consolation, I can't figure me either," he replied, returning the smile.

So, they had breakfast together. Mulder sat at the tidy kitchen table, drinking fresh ground coffee from a gold-rimmed china mug, as Krycek made them scrambled eggs and toast. They talked about the weather and the baseball season and he found out that once upon a time, Alex was a Mets fan, and that briefly, as a kid, he'd played right field, too, just like Mulder.

Krycek was wearing his prosthesis and handled the cooking chores with a calculated ease that almost made Mulder forget he had only one working arm. His black shirt and jeans added another note of incongruity to their weird, little domestic scene.

From the expression he caught on Krycek's face, the man probably thought this was as normal as having a picnic in the middle of a minefield. Mulder smiled inwardly at the appropriateness of the analogy. Maybe it was a telling statement about the nature of his life that Mulder found it all rather relaxing.

Mulder spread some more orange marmalade on his toast. "This is the best marmalade I've ever tasted." He finished it in a few quick bites and went back to his eggs.

Krycek sipped at his coffee and added a little more sugar. "The Old Man has several jars of the stuff here. He has it made to order for him in some village in Somerset. A family recipe from when he was a boy or something."

Mulder glanced around him. "The old guy's really loaded, isn't he?" He paused, then asked." Are they all rich?" He could see that Krycek knew who he meant.

"You don't get that kind of power and not have the money to go with it. The funny thing is, all these years they've been using both on a Project that'll end up taking it all away from them."

"What changed the old Brit's mind?"

"I don't know. Maybe he just realized that the price he'd pay was even more than that." Krycek looked down at his plate. "His family means a lot to him. He's very different from the others that way."

The comment reminded Mulder uncomfortably of his own parents and of Krycek's part in his father's death. The subject pushed its way out of the shadows of his mind. He wondered if Krycek would tell him the truth. If he asked him, straight out, here and now, would he tell him the truth? Then he realized, with a shock, that he wasn't sure he was ready to hear it. He'd lived with his assumptions, but there had always been some sliver of doubt, a part of him that was genuinely uncertain. Now, he found he wanted to cling to that uncertainty with all his might.

Suddenly, their little domestic scene wasn't relaxing any more. He pushed his plate away, his appetite vanishing.

"What's the matter?" asked Krycek.

"I think it's time for me to lea--"

The phone started ringing in another room. His expression turning guarded, Krycek rose from his chair and went to answer it. Mulder watched him go, and then he got up and followed him.

Krycek was in the study, phone to his ear, when Mulder walked into the room. He gave Mulder an irritated glance, but kept on talking. "Yes, I understand. Has the location been confirmed?" He paused, listening. "That's pretty remote. How are we supposed to--" He stopped again, listening. His lips tightened for a moment. "I can handle it. I've had training." He looked at Mulder and turned his back slightly. "We'll still need some prep time." The pause was longer before he spoke again. "Yeah, I understand. Wait, I have to talk to you. There's something you have to--" Krycek frowned as he listened again. "Okay, but when can we meet alone?" Pause. "Yes, it's important." The answer seemed to trouble him. He bit down on his lip as he listened. "All right, yeah... when I get back." He hung up the phone with a quiet click.

"Anyone I know?" asked Mulder .

Krycek looked over his shoulder and gave Mulder an assessing look. "The Old Man. I'll be going out of town for a while. Syndicate assignment."

Mulder felt as if the room temperature had dropped several degrees. The chill was in his voice when he spoke. "Places to go, people to kill?"

Krycek's smile was just as cold. "Unfortunately, no."

The regret in Krycek answer only made him angry. "Where are you going?"

"I can't tell you." Krycek put up his hand, stopping Mulder's reply. "Look, we both have things we have to do. You know that."

"How long are you going to be their lackey, their pet killer?"

"As long as it takes to get what I want. That includes the locations of those Centers, in case you've forgotten, Mulder. I do whatever I need to do for as long as it takes to bring them down. " Krycek's tone was as laced with anger as Mulder's. "You wanted to leave, didn't you? That's what you were about to say. So, leave." He brushed by Mulder and stalked out of the room towards the stairs. He took them two at a time.

Krycek was grabbing Mulder's leather jacket off the chair as Mulder stormed into the bedroom. "Here, take it and go." Krycek flung it hard towards him. Everything spilled out of the pockets. Mulder's Sig Sauer hit the thick carpet with a thud. Half of a blue and white tube peeked out from under the edge of the bunched up leather jacket and two gold-foiled packets landed on top of a sleeve.

The abrupt sight of the condoms and lube and his gun strewn across the floor jarred Mulder, his anger twisting with something else in his gut. His face felt hot.

"Guess things didn't work out like you planned," snapped Krycek, looking up slowly. "What was it going to be, Mulder? Did you expect to shoot me or fuck me?"

The silence seemed to drag out as Mulder watched Krycek's face. The emotional seesaw was moving again, faster and higher. "Shooting you wasn't my first choice."

"You know what, Mulder, I can understand the gun." Krycek stooped down and picked it up, hefting in his hand like it was an extension of his fingers. He twisted it around and offered it to Mulder, butt first.

Despite the immediate and disquieting déjà vu, Mulder ignored it and gathered up the KY and the condoms instead. He walked over to the night table and opened a drawer, tossing them inside with a flourish and slamming the drawer shut. Then he picked up his jacket and put it on.

"What are you doing?" Krycek was staring at the drawer, gun dangling at his side. He was still holding it by the barrel.

Mulder walked up to him and took the gun and stuffed it back into his jacket pocket. A mix of emotions were flowing through him like quicksilver. "We'll use them next time I'm here." He realized he meant it, wanted it. That part was clear. Maybe because sex was their easiest language, their common denominator.

Krycek shook his head as if he wasn't quite sure that he heard correctly. He opened his mouth to speak, then swallowed back the words. He looked away, released a long, deep breath, his anger seeming to evaporate with it. "I wish-- I don't know if I'm coming back here." He turned and their eyes met. "I can't give you what you want." He raked his lip with his teeth as if the admission had cost him. "It's-it's got nothing to do with you, Mulder."

Mulder studied the other man's face. The eyes were still the giveaway. He wondered if they were as revealing to everybody else. Somehow, he didn't think so. "Maybe that's the problem, Alex," he replied, feeling a sudden need to make his own indelible mark on Krycek's psyche and to wipe out whatever... or whoever... had been there before him. At the changing expression on Alex's face, he wondered what his own eyes were betraying. He glanced away. "We have plenty of problems to go around at the moment. One more would hardly be noticed. We'll get to it when we get to it."

Krycek squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and ran his hand over his face. "It's time to go, Mulder."

Mulder nodded and walked towards the bedroom door. He was almost at the doorway when he felt Krycek's hand on his shoulder. He turned as Alex's arm slid around his waist, pulling him close. Their mouths touched, opening to each other in a kiss that tasted of unspoken promises. They pulled away reluctantly. It was Krycek who took a step back, giving them both the space they needed.

"Don't get yourself killed, Alex. I'm not finished with you yet."

"I won't if you won't."

Mulder nodded again, this time with a smile that lit his eyes, and walked out of the room.


~ End of Part IV ~


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