Work Header

The Alex Krycek Affair

Work Text:


There's a certain sky blue that is usually achieved only in certain paintings- pure, deep, clear, promising endless possibilities, marred by not a single cloud. Yet sometimes there is a rare day where the sky itself actually comes close to these endless possibilities. The day it started was such a day- blazing hot, considering it was mere days from October, but the sky was a solid, deep cerulean, just like a painting, not faded out from pollution or as it sometimes seems, just bleached out by the heat of the sun. The whole city, The City, New York, New York, center of everything, seemed, even more so than normal, to crackle and simmer, as if waiting for something extraordinary to happen.

As it was, nothing much of anything was happening. Trafficwise at least. As traditional for this time of day, the broad streets and avenues of the City were packed with cars that hardly moved more than a few inches at a time. The pedestrians that packed the sidewalks of the city were making discernibly better time. Alex Krycek snapped shut his expensive, custom briefcase which he had been checking one last time, then spoke to his driver. "Jimmy, I think I'll walk the rest of the way."

"Right you are, Mr. Krycek. Do you want me to take your briefcase?"

"No, I'll carry it. Take the rest of the day off, Jimmy. I'll take a taxi home."

Alex Krycek got out of the Aston-Martin, like everything else he owned, the finest of its kind, and walked into the middle of what was, for all intents and purposes, a parking lot. Oh, yes, it was a very fine day, very fine indeed, he thought, as he strolled with purpose up the block to the temple-like limestone building that was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That building, unlike so many others in the city, he did not own. However, with all the money and art he donated to the Museum, he might as well have.

He walked right past the ticket boothes, the lines for coat and baggage check, and walked past the first security guard with a nod of the head.

"Morning, Mr. Krycek."

Krycek, as was often his morning custom, bypassed the Egyptian, the Greek, the Renaissance wings, heading straight for the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, European. Once there, he passed the haystacks, the fuzzy, brightly lit country scenes in pinks and blues, the agreeable women of a Paris that no longer existed, the hazy train stations. The Impressionists were not for him. No, he found his way to the paintings of a Dutchman who very possibly had been mad, but if he was mad, it was with the divine madness of angels and devils. The colors danced with a liveliness never before seen in art, the brushstrokes spoke of inner visions of heaven and hell. Alex Krycek sat at the end of one of the broad benches that lined the white, bright gallery. There his painting sat- the bedroom. A simple iron bedstead, a chair, a wooden floor and walls, nothing else. It was a small bedroom, room only for one. It spoke to him of longing, and love, and feeling trapped all at once.

To Alex Krycek's side was the famous Van Gogh- the irises, purple and white. It had brought an immense sum at auction just before it had been donated to the museum. A school group came through. Alex didn't listen to the spiel. He'd heard it all before, about the brushstrokes and how it was an allegory for Jesus and his apostles. The hoi polloi were not impressed, not until the middle aged volunteer said, "How about this. That painting is worth a hundred million bucks."

Alex anticipated the susurrus of gasps and 'wow's that came from the audience of middle school children. He was not disappointed. Ah, yes. Money. A subject, so boring to him, that never failed to grab people's attention by the balls and hold them there. Money, he'd learned the hard way, was never enough, not by itself. Still, better to wallow in luxury than in misery.

Once the children had gone, he remained, looking at Vincent's bedroom. Eventually, he heard a familiar voice behind him. This was George, the florid and fleshy head security guard for this section. He was long familiar with Alex's foibles and they'd had an easy banter for some time. "You never look at the irises, do you?"

"I like my bedroom, George," Alex said, continuing to stare. After George had left, Alex carefully stowed his briefcase under the bench. He sat a few minutes longer, then stood and walked away, apparently forgetting his briefcase.

The walk cross town a few blocks to the Krycek Acquisitions office building took only five minutes. As with everything he owned, the building was the finest of its kind. Its tall form was like a knife in the sky. Its broad silvery windows shimmered with the perfect blue that they'd stolen from the sky. The pink granite that trimmed the plinths between the window was a perfect contrast. Alex crossed the broad plaza with the fountains to the foyer. The bright, glass foyer was full of people crossing, coming, going. His employees moved purposefully through this, the center of his empire. One young man in a suit pulled another out of Alex's way. Alex didn't catch what the second one said, but the first responded, "Yes, as a matter of fact, he does own the building."

Alex Krycek took the elevator up to his penthouse office suite and began what looked to be yet another perfect, exhilarating day of corporate piracy, all perfectly legal too boot.

In the delivery rooms, a junior curator was giving the receiving clerks all the different kinds of hell that his narrow, little mind could muster up. The curator straightened his fussy, foulard print tie, then pointed at the large bronze sculpture that still sat in its large wooden crate. He pointed. "Gentlemen," he snipped prissily. "While you admittedly have not studied art history, I suspect that even you can tell that that is a horse. A Greco-Asian bronze horse to be precise, which is decidedly not the object on the bill of lading, which is the Etruscan sarcophagus I have been waiting for for months."

The pair of clerks shuffled their feet and then the bolder of the two spoke up, "Not our fault. It's a shipment from KDM Seaways, leaving port of Athens, sent to us. You wanted us to send it back to Athens?"

The fussy, little man threw his hands up in the air and stalked off saying, "It's Friday!"

When he was out of ear shot, the shyer clerk said to the other, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Means, come Monday, there'll be hell to pay. Luckily, I'm going on vacation tomorrow."

They left the horse to its own devices. There was plenty of other work to be done, small packages to be received, routed to the appropriate departments. No one was around to see or hear the small saw and the pile of dust. Nor to see the belly of the Greco-Asian horse eventually split open, then a small cadre of dangerous looking men drop out of its belly. They melted into the darkness of big room, heading into the bowels of the museum.

He left the office early, at 4:30, as was his prerogative, because it was the weekend. And because he had plans. Big plans.

First stop, the museum. For all that it was still early in the day, the throngs of tourists were deserting the museum. Once he was inside, Alex Krycek understood why. The air conditioning was obviously off for some reason. The galleries were nearly eighty-five degrees, maybe warmer. Even though his exquisitely tailored suit was of the lightest tropical-weight wool crepe, Alex was uncomfortable. Still, he had plans.

As he made his way to the impressionists and post-impressionists, the galleries were already beginning to be cleared out, by security guards that, even though they wore the usual burgundy blazer, seemed burlier, more dangerous and much less couth than the usual ones. "This gallery is closing," he was told by a big bruiser that looked like he might have come straight out of the Russian mafia. The galleries were almost empty, though the halls between were still filled with milling, confused tourists, a sure-fire recipe for chaos.

Alex found his favorite guard, George, off on the other side of the galleries, nearby the later post-impressionists- the Fauvists, Matisse, and the early Picasso. "They're throwing us out," he said.

George reacted with alarm, rushed to the section that Krycek had indicated and confronted the new security guards. "What's this all about?" he asked.

"We're clearing the section out. They have some people coming through. You can talk to upstairs if you want," said one of them. His accent was very clearly eastern European.

"I've heard nothing of the kind. I'm the head of this section."

"It's very last minute. Like I said, call upstairs," the new guard said.

George seemed inclined to pick up the phone for a moment then he shrugged. "You're right. They've been having people through here all week."

He was about to walk away when he caught sight of something. The light coming through the big skylight, normally a soft wash on the wooden floors, was flickering. George looked up and saw the helicopter.

That was when all chaos broke loose.

Everything was proceeding according to plan. Alex was within a few feet of the gate to the Van Gogh room as the security gates started to slam down, locking the precious paintings away safely. He shoved his briefcase under the gate just in time. The briefcase buckled, but it held and the gate was suspended about a foot off the floor. Just enough room for him to shimmy under it. He rolled up to his feet and quickly retrieved his other briefcase from where he'd left it under the bench earlier in the day. He set it on top of the bench then opened it.

He grabbed the Van Gogh irises off the wall. He pulled it out of the gaudy gilt frame and tossed the frame aside. The Van Gogh went into the briefcase, the briefcase snapped shut and he was through the gate again before anyone noticed. All was still chaos outside. The guards, the real ones, were desperately trying to both escort the museum goers to the exit, while trying to apprehend the faux guards using only tasers. One of the faux guards ran past Alex and it was an easy thing for him to stick out a foot and trip the man. Soon enough, all was calm again. The faux guards were in hand, and Alex Krycek walked right out of the front doors of the museum, under the watchful, friendly, even appreciative eyes of the guard with a cool hundred million dollars in oil paint in his briefcase.

Yes, today was a most excellent day indeed.

John Doggett crossed the marble great hall of the museum, looking around him all the while, searching for things that probably had already been noted, discovered, written down. But he prided himself on a job well done, and that meant you didn't miss anything. He quickly covered the distance to the stairs where he was met by his partner, a distinctive redhead who was a good foot shorter than he was. He never made the mistake of underestimating her.

"Johnny!" She greeted him, as she started guiding him up the grand carved staircase. "Good. You're here."

"They find the helicopter?" he asked.

"Like you thought, ditched in Queens. Stolen, of course," she said with a near smile. They worked well together. She did well on the forensic side of things, and she was a marvel when it came to just making a call and coming out with the right information. He knew the streets, watched their backs and handled most of the departmental politicking. "The owner's out of the country at the moment. The helipad where he was storing it reported it missing last night."

They walked upstairs and he muttered, "Gotta love this neighborhood. Some of these ladies are wearing my salary."

Scully shot him a look, letting him know she understood, more than that. Hell, he'd always thought the business-like redhead would clean up real nice. Look worlds better in those fancy clothes than the society hags that were flustering around the museum. They bought themselves a place here with their money. Upstairs, in the galleries, the first thing they showed him was the briefcase.

Now, that was what you'd call a real custom job. Not a place in the world you could buy something like that off the shelf, not even a fancy gadget place like Hammacher-Schlemer. They'd pried it open, revealing a very sturdy looking grid of metal that had been only partially crushed. "Titanium," someone told him.

Scully leaned down to look at the object in question. "I'd say that in order to stop those gates, the thing would have to absorb at least ten thousand pounds of force. Let's run it for prints."

Then the forensics teams were there to take it away. He walked all over the place, looking from here to there. He'd heard the preliminary reports. And something just wasn't gelling. Something wasn't right. He stopped again at the arch from the main gallery into the Van Gogh room and squatted down to look at the floor where the briefcase had been, lost in thoughts, trying to parse this all down to something that would make good sense, with an easy explanation, something that would give him a hook to follow. Biggest damn theft in the city in just about forever and it would have to be in his precinct. He was about ready to start popping rolaids from it already. The spot where the painting had been was a big, blank spot on the wall, only a little placard stating its title and the donor left behind.

Doggett was aware suddenly, of a pair of long, lean legs, clothed in very fine suit pants, belonging to a body standing right next to him. He looked up and he was greeted with a sarcastic smile on a face that was all the more handsome for its outsized nose and unusual features. The rest of the suit was just as good as the pants and the whole of it was designed to show off to the world just how good a body its occupant had. It clung in just the right places. Only the tie was atrocious, with wild splashes of green all over it.

"Doesn't make sense, does it?" the newcomer said, looking over the scene with his arms crossed. He stood with an easy, sexy casualness that Doggett could only envy. Doggett had a feeling that in another context, without this pit of worry from the case taking residence in his stomach, his cock would be standing up and paying very close attention to anything this man said. And that bothered Doggett. He didn't want to like this man, didn't want to be attracted, whoever the hell he was.

Scully, sniffing a rival of some kind, was at Doggett's side instantly. "They turned the air conditioning off to drive out the tourists, start escorting out the rest of them. Set off the alarm to drop the gates so that they can work undisturbed. The skylight was rigged to go off any second. Up and away with several hundred million of impressionist masters. Only they got made a few minutes too soon and failed."

"Uh-uh," said the interloper, shaking his head with a languid, easy grace. "Why pull the alarm before all the tourists are out of the gallery. Why bother with the air conditioning at all? They could have just cleared the gallery anyway. Furthermore, they didn't fail. One of them waltzed right out of here with a hundred million dollars under his arms."

"How'd they get in again?" some latecomer towards the back asked.

"They smuggled themselves in using a large, Bronze Greco-Asian statue. The place's own security brought them in," the interloper explained.

"Don't tell me," Doggett said, inwardly groaning, even as he was growing more and more irritated at this intrusion. This was his investigation and he wasn't about to have it interfered with. "A horse. A Trojan horse. Someone's got a sense of humor. Only, I'm not too clear on who you are."

"Fox Mulder. With Zurich Underwriters," he said, holding out a hand. Scully took it and shook it.

Doggett conveniently happened to step out of range as Mulder said this. "Insurance," he grumbled. Of course. When something big like this was stolen, the insurance people didn't just happily cut a check for a cool hundred mil and say, 'don't spend it all in one place, kids.' Doggett was going to be stuck with the bastard until the damn painting was found.

Okay, soon it was time for the next step, going through the surveillance tapes. They sat around the small, crowded security office and watched long minutes of poor quality video as the officer in charge went through different galleries and times. "This is the Van Gogh gallery this morning," he finally said. Then the tape fast forwarded. "This is from the time of the robbery."

The screen was nothing but a blur of white.

"Those cameras need a temperature difference, right?" Scully asked.

"That's right," the security officer said. "They aren't simple video cams. They pick up infrared for at night. They need at least ten degrees temperature differential to work right. Otherwise, they can't tell the difference between people and the walls."

"So, that's why they cut the air," Doggett said.

"No, then why is this room different than the other rooms he showed us?" Mulder said, pointing over to another screen where an image of crowded confusion was paused, people caught in the act of fleeing. The images were significantly fuzzy, but still visible. Running them through the latest computer enhancements would probably yield clear pictures. "Hold on."

Then Mulder got out of his chair and started out for the galleries again. Doggett was close behind. "It's not right. Something's just not right," Mulder said. He stared at the room, looking around as if he might see something no one else had.

After a few minutes of this routine, Doggett couldn't stop himself from snapping, "So, what? Are we channeling now?"

Mulder graced him with a withering glare, then said, "The skylight is rigged to blow at any minute. They had nets ready and they were going to load, what, eight hundred pounds of men, and conservatively a thousand pounds of paintings and statues onto a chopper with a six hundred pound lift limit. No, they were never meant to succeed. They were a diversion from the main event."

Mulder turned around on his heels and rushed back to the security room, Doggett trailing him, trying valiantly to catch up, both physically and mentally. Back in front of the screens, Mulder ordered the security chief, "Back up to the Van Gogh room from this morning."

The picture formed on the screen. Mulder pointed, "Okay, count the number of legs on the bench."

"Three," said Doggett, wondering just what the hell this Mulder character was getting at.

"And the number that you just saw out in the gallery?" Mulder asked.

Then it clicked. "Two. Son of a bitch," Doggett said.

"There wasn't just one briefcase, there were two," Mulder added, sounding thoroughly impressed with himself. "I think it's possible that the second may have been just as custom as the first. Probably a heater to raise the ambient temperature of the area to closer to ninety, ninety-five degrees. Oh, that's good. Really good. Have you heard from forensics yet? Were you able to lift any prints off the case?"

Scully piped up. "No, no prints. Clean as a baby from its bath."

"I didn't think you would," Mulder said. "This guy is good."

They gathered up as much as they could. Doggett took the videotapes. He had some buddies in the Bureau and he thought maybe they could do something with the tapes. They had all the latest technology. To his surprise, Mulder got into the passenger side of his car. Doggett shrugged and started the Chevy and pulled out into traffic.

"You want to do lunch?" he asked. "I know a great pizza place."

"I'm on London time," Mulder said, slouching down into his seat, seeming to indicate that the thought of pizza made him nauseous.

"Okay, you don't like pizza? You want me to drop you off at your hotel or something?" Doggett asked.

"First of all, I keep an apartment here. Second of all, I'm going to your office," Mulder said.

Swell, Doggett thought, grinding his teeth. They rode in silence for a while, Doggett's silence the mulling over the irritation of it all. Of working on Saturday. Of this know-it-all, sexy as hell asshole sitting here beside him in the car. Mulder's silence seemed mere indifference. After a while, Doggett couldn't help but let some of his irritation rumble to the surface, "So, I'm stuck with you riding my ass for the next however many weeks."

"Relax, Lieutenant. You might find you like me riding your ass," Mulder said. Doggett only clenched the wheel tighter, then suppressed a profanity as someone cut him off. "Aww, what's the matter? She leave you for a stock broker?"

This was just about all a man could be expected to take. To make matters worse, his cock was starting to wake up and pay attention. And if anything, the antipathy between them was an aphrodisiac as far as it was concerned. Easy, Johnny, he told himself. Think with the big head. Still, he couldn't help snapping, "Not that it's any of your damn business, but he left me for an actress."

They got back to the station just in time to be there for one of the witnesses facing the line-up of the usual suspects. The witness was one Alex Krycek, better known to the world from the financial pages. Rumor was, he owned or had his fingers in just about every pie in the city. He started out with real estate and the futures market. Made a damn lucky killing on derivatives one day and got out of that toute suite. After that, he went on to corporate acquisitions. It seemed like everyday, you heard he was buying some company or another.

Krycek was calmly, cooly pointing to the would-be art thief that he'd helped trip. They went through the whole usual rigamarole, making sure that the guy would testify in court to that, yadda yadda. Someone, some lieutenant, said to him, "You know, these kind of people. They have dangerous friends who might take offense to you testifying."

Krycek just nodded. He didn't quite smile, but he seemed to liven up, as if pleased somehow. His hair, Doggett noticed, was so well groomed it was almost obsessive. The man smelled like. God. Like a combination of the inside of the best menswear shop, and pipe smoke and sex. Must be some really expensive cologne. Damn, he was one handsome bastard too, with a face that looked younger than his years and perfect cheekbones. The man's green eyes danced with amusement as he said, "I think I'll take my chances."

Doggett managed to keep it professional as he thanked the man for coming down and saw him out of the station house. When he got back, Mulder was sitting at his desk, using the computer. Mulder had taken the time while Doggett had been with Krycek at the lineup to interrogate the other suspects. "Give me the quiet one," he had said.

"Don't tell me you speak Romanian too," Doggett had said in disbelief. They hadn't gotten a peep out of the perps and they were waiting for the PD to dig them an interpreter from somewhere. Romanian interpreters didn't exactly crawl out of the woodwork on Saturday afternoon.

"Oh, God, no. Who bothers with Romanian?" Mulder had said, then gone into the interrogation room with the suspect he'd requested. Doggett somehow didn't want to know what had gone on, so long as it remained within the technicalities of being still legal. Scully had gone in with Mulder to make sure of that.

Mulder sitting at the desk was all but smirking. "They speak English, Lieutenant," he said. That smile was definitely triumphant, but a petty kind of triumph, Doggett thought.

"Detective. First class," he corrected for the first time. He grabbed a chair from a nearby desk. He didn't rate his own office. He shared the bullpen with all the rest at the station, one big, grubby room filled mostly with barely functional office equipment and overflowing trashbaskets. And coworkers who seemed to be working overtime to make sure they were fulfilling every Goddamn cop stereotype. Right down to the box of jelly doughnuts sitting next to the coffeemaker.

"So, what did you find? And what are you doing on my computer?" Doggett asked.

"They speak English. They were set up. Hired straight out of Little Odessa," Mulder said.

"One shot deal. No wonder they failed," Scully added. She was sitting on the corner of her desk, kicking her heels against the metal.

"But they didn't fail. They did exactly what they were intended to do. Provide a smokescreen while someone else waltzed right out of there with a hundred million dollars in broad daylight," Mulder said. He was rapidly clicking his way through some website as he talked, not looking at either of them, but scanning the screen rapidly as he navigated from one page to another.

"So, who hired them?" Doggett asked.

"You don't think they ever met him, do you? There were intermediaries. Probably several layers. I doubt we'll ever track him down that way. It was an elegant crime, planned by an elegant mind. A quick profile says it's an art lover, someone with money, lots of it and someone who believes that anything is for sale. Here," Mulder said, pointing at the screen. "That's our man."

It was a list of recent auctions of Van Gogh's work. Alex Krycek's name was plastered all over it. And that was the name that Mulder was pointing at.

"Jesus, do you have any idea of what kind of juju that guy's got?" Doggett said when he could breathe again. "The connections. The power."

Mulder just got up and walked over to the window. He watched as Alex Krycek finally managed to hail a cab and climb into it. He smiled with something that was like animal cunning and suddenly seemed very dark and dangerous. Hell with that it was at work. Thank God for his suit jacket because Doggett's cock had definitely woken up and was taking a very close, in depth look around. This did not bode well. Not at all. He didn't even like this Mulder character, so why the hell was he suddenly all hot for him?

"Oh, you don't need to tell me that, Lieutenant," Mulder said.

"Detective," Doggett snapped.

"So, you still think you'll get your man," Scully asked.

"I always do," Mulder said, but it was Doggett he was looking at, staring him straight in the eyes. Oh, shit. He knew. The bastard knew exactly the effect he was having on Doggett. At least for small mercies, he seemed more interested than amused. Doggett could not have handled if Mulder thought it was some kind of big joke or decided to use it to jerk him around.

A few hours later, Scully approached him with a file. She had a slight grin on her face, a sure sign that she'd gone digging and found something interesting buried underneath whatever rocks she'd been turning over. She just planted her ass on top of his desk and smirked at him, not saying anything.

"Okay, enough already," Doggett said. "Give."

"I've got the skinny on your pal Fox there," she said. He reached for the file, but she held it out of reach, for a minute. Then she passed it to him. She continued, "He's the real thing. Father in the State Department. Spent his childhood in one European country after another. Oxford educated in psychology, including his Ph.D. Recruited by the FBI after that. Tops in his class at Quantico, then a couple of years as the golden boy of the Behavioral Science Unit. I talked to a couple of connections I have there. His nickname there was 'Spooky', because of how often he was right about things he couldn't have known. What nobody knows is why he suddenly resigned one day.

"What we do know is that the next fall, he's enrolled at NYU, in the art history department, focusing on artists who were or were thought to be insane."

"I thought that was all of them," Doggett said, glancing through the file. It was just as Scully was saying. This guy had been a hot-shot agent for the FBI, commendations up the ying-yang, and he'd just walked out one day and apparently never looked back.

"Not quite, but it's safe to say that Fox Mulder is an expert when it comes to Van Gogh. Anyway five years and one PhD later, he's working for Zurich Underwriters."

"And being a big pain in our ass," Doggett concluded. "Thanks, Scully, can I take you out to dinner? Pizza?"

"Sure, Johnny," Scully said. "Just let me powder my nose first."

Mulder technically wasn't invited to this little shin-dig for the museum's top donors but he always found ways around things like that. A few well-placed words here and there, the fact that he was well-dressed, well-spoken, that counted for a lot. He circulated around the crowd of the well-heeled while the president of the Museum's board and the executive director presented the painting that one Alex Krycek was loaning to the Museum. Until the Van Gogh could be recovered.

It was a nice enough painting. A Gauguin from the time he was living with Vincent in Arles. Gauguin had definitely been a late bloomer, not coming into his own until later in life, painting in Tahiti. This painting though, one could see clearly the lazy tendencies in the man, the way that it seemed almost unfinished, as if he were more concerned about getting to the tavern than concentrating on the quality of light in the landscape. Especially side by side with Vincent. There was some inconclusive talk that the pair had been lovers for a time, that Vincent's ear had come off as part of a lovers spat carried too far. Mulder could definitely see why Gauguin might be jealous of the more talented Van Gogh. Yes, a nice painting, but it hardly held a candle to the masterpiece that had been taken.

Once the presentation, typical in its praise of the already vainglorious donors, Mulder made his way to where Alex Krycek was standing. He was going to make the man tonight, come hell or high water. Oh, yes, there was his opening. He spoke a completely forgettable line, as bad as any pickup line from a bar, but it got the notice of his prey.

"I'm sorry, do I know you?" Krycek asked, looking Mulder up and down, making Mulder very glad that he'd stopped by his apartment and changed into his best suit. Krycek was using the minute to evaluate, judge, calculate the value of any further interactions. It was obvious, and flattering only in that in ten seconds or less, Krycek had come to the conclusion that this was a very valuable acquaintance to make. Yes, he liked what he saw in an animalistic, greedy way. It made Fox Mulder weak in the knees for the first time since he was a boy. There was sudden, electric connection between his eyes and his cock. The way Doggett had responded to him earlier was...endearing. This went straight to the pit of his stomach and turned him inside out.

"I'm in the art world," Mulder said, getting himself under control. He couldn't afford to let this Krycek get the upper hand here.

"Gallery owner? Curator?" Krycek asked.

"Neither. Fox Mulder. Insurance," Mulder said, holding out his hand. Krycek took it. His touch was smooth, assured. This close, Mulder could smell Krycek's very good cologne. His manner told Mulder that this predator pretty much expected that his prey would throw themselves at him and be happy to do so. And wouldn't Krycek be surprised to find the tables turned? That the prey was really a predator. He was a man used to chasing after exactly whatever it was he wanted, and always getting it, always being the one to make that killing blow, to bring down the antelope on the plain with teeth and claws that turned red with blood.

"I'm covered," Krycek said.

You're certainly about to be, Mulder thought. Instead, he said, "Not for this. I'm with Zurich Underwriters. You don't expect those Swiss gentlemen to just happily write a check and say, 'Don't spend it all in one place,' do you? When something like this happens, they send me. I bring them things back."

"And what do you bring them?" Krycek asked. His voice was like ripples of silk on the breeze, easy, soft. A man who never had to speak loudly to get what he wanted.

"In cases this big, usually heads," Mulder said, smiling a predatory smile. He closed the distance to the bar and ordered, "Ketel One neat for the gentleman and I'll have tonic water."

"You know what I drink?"

"I've been reading about you," Mulder said.

"Where, may I ask?"

"In a file," Mulder accepted their drinks and handed Krycek his chilled vodka. It was a high class bar for a donor event and they'd even kept the good vodka on ice, in little test tube shaped shot glasses. Mulder lifted his tonic in a toasting motion and sipped. The other man's eyes darkened for a while as he calculated and reconsidered everything Mulder had said. Okay. Bait swallowed, time for him to play out the line and give the prey a little time to consider his situation. Mulder took one last sip of the fizzy, bitter soda and set his glass down. "Goodnight, I'm sure we'll be seeing each other. Soon."

Mulder headed across the great hall of the museum with Alex Krycek following him. It took all his will not to yelp in triumph. Yes. Bring it on. The guy was hooked and it was just a matter of time before he could reel him in.

"Are you trying to imply somehow that I'm involved with the missing painting?" Krycek demanded.

"I'm not implying anything," Mulder said as he reached the brass and glass doors of the museum and pushed through them out into a night that was glorious. The heat from Friday had started to fade, blown out of town by a breeze off the sea. A nearly full moon shone in a sky that was deep blue velvet, and the lights of Manhattan spread out before him. He breathed in deeply, then headed down the broad marble steps to the valet parking stand, Krycek at his heels.

"Will you let me drive you home? Somewhere else?" Krycek asked when he caught up.

"I've got a car here," Mulder said, indicating the BMW that was pulling up. The valet got out and held the door for Mulder, though he got out of the way as Krycek stepped up. Mulder got in the car, smiled what he thought of as a pretty smile. The one designed to put people at ease.

"How about tomorrow then? Dinner?"

"Oh, a date?"

"Yes, a date. Is seven good for you?"

"Just fine, Mr. Krycek. Pick me up at my place," Mulder said, as he pulled his own door closed. Some rebellious part of him was saying, 'Forget tomorrow. Now. Just throw me over the hood of this borrowed car and fuck me stupid. Now.' Luckily, that part wasn't making the decisions at the moment. Mulder put the bimmer in gear and pulled out. Back home, a bit of porn and his own right hand should help appease that rebellious part of him, letting him get back to the real work at hand- figuring out how to haul Krycek in.

When Mulder waltzed into the station house at nine the next morning, still finishing his breakfast, Doggett was furious. He'd been waiting for Mulder to show up and he'd jumped out of his desk chair and marched across the room as soon as he saw Mulder. Mulder didn't even make it past the coffee maker before he was confronted with a face full of irate NYPD cop about six inches away, all but pointing his finger right into Mulder's chest. It was almost sweet the way the man sublimated his attraction with anger, so predictable. Mulder couldn't, wouldn't make a move on the man. It would be too easy. One slight push and Mulder would be on top of him, Doggett's legs draped over his shoulders. Mulder liked the guy, thought he was sexy in a rough kind of way, but he liked a challenge better. Still, any attention was good attention, as they say. "Seed?" he offered the packet of sunflower seeds to Doggett.

"No, I don't want a damn sunflower seed. I want to know what the hell you thought you were doing, just waltzing in there last night, letting him know that he's our suspect."

"I was just jump starting the investigation."

"Squelching it you mean."

"Look, Detective," Mulder said, tucking the packet of seeds into his jacket pocket. He poured himself a cup of coffee and looked disdainfully at the non-dairy creamer. Powder at that. He should have remembered to stop on his way in and gotten real coffee. "You're looking at tailing him for weeks. Weeks of phone tap. If you can talk a judge into it. I had him made in less than five minutes. He's our man."

"And did you get anything? Besides a date? Any single thing that would stand up in court?"

Scully had been watching nearby, eating her little cup of yogurt with bee pollen. She raised an eyebrow and said, "Hey, Johnny. I think we have probable cause. Why don't we run it past the judge?"

Mulder left to go follow up on his leads, or get a manicure or whatever the hell else he was doing, leaving Doggett to simmer and gather up his files in preparation to asking the judge for a search warrant. He couldn't find the crucial file with the list of Van Gogh auctions and he dug furiously through the piles on his desk looking for it, kicking the desk when he couldn't find it. Just once, but it was a serious outburst for him. Suddenly, Scully was in his face. "Relax, Johnny," she said, kindly.

"Easy for you to say. You don't have fucking Fox Mulder riding your ass every chance he gets, sticking his fingers where they don't belong."

"Oh, poor Johnny. You got it bad. And that ain't good," she said. She sat down on the corner of his desk. She was a good partner. And at moments like these, he even remembered that she was a girl. That is, someone with a finer sense of feelings and sympathy than his usual companions. Not that Scully couldn't kick ass with the best of them. She was pretty, a redhead, and whether by choice or birth, it looked real good on her. Funny. Smart. She could have graduated from medical school, but decided to drop out instead, when as she put it, 'I realized in anatomy class when I was dissecting a corpse, that I'd probably go into pathology, and I'd probably spend all my days working with corpses, and maybe there was a better way to stop some of them from becoming corpses in the first place.' She was one of the few women that made him regret that he was queer as a three dollar bill.

"I understand. If that man doesn't turn you on, you don't have switches," she continued. "But you don't have to be alone. I could set you up. No, don't give me that look. I'm sorry. I know that blind date with my brother Charlie was a bad idea. I should have known better than to match Navy with Marine. I know lots of guys. Funny, smart, sexy guys."

"Like who?" he asked. He wasn't going to tell her that he hated dating. That when he felt horny, it was just as easy to go to the bar, pick someone up and get taken care of, safely of course, and not even have to do more than exchange first names.

"Pendrell down in evidence? Okay, not Pendrell," she said when she saw him wrinkle his brow at that. "My neighbor Chuck? He's a librarian. Daniel over in the next precinct. My friend Tom? He's an actuary by day, gym bunny by night. Or that FBI agent we worked with last month, Jeff Spender? He keeps asking for your phone number you know."

"You give him my number, I'll give your number to my buddy, Knowle," he threatened.

"You wouldn't!"

"Don't try me, Scully."

"Okay, so Agent Spender's a no go. I know a couple of cute lawyers. My hairdresser?"

"Scully," he said, finally able smile again, at her desperate measures. "I am not making the mistake of dating the only man on earth who knows for sure if you do or if you don't."

"Vinny would never tell. C'mon, let's not keep the judge waiting," she said, grabbing the correct pile from the middle of a stack that'd been right on his desk all along.

Documents in hand, Doggett gathered his troops and descended on the elegant townhome on the upper east side. Up a few steps, then he knocked at the door, the heavy, official rap that meant business. The door opened, revealing a slim, elegant young man and the kind of interior that you only ever saw in the thick, glossy magazines you found in doctor's offices. Marble floor. Fifteen foot ceilings. And art. Art everywhere.

"Hi," Doggett said to the tasteful young man who somehow managed to seem like just another accessory to the whole setup. He held out the folded sheet of paper that this whole shin-dig depended on. Get a signature from a judge and you could walk right into just about anywhere in the country, including places like this. "This is a search warrant. We're here to conduct a legal search of the premises. I'd suggest you let us."

The tasteful young man swallowed, but didn't stand in their way. Doggett walked rapidly through the foyer, towards the back of the place, where he'd heard some voices, his people spread out behind him. The tasteful young man trailed him, first through a parlor with red and white striped furniture that looked more expensive than Doggett's house. Then into a dining room filled with a Chippendale dining room set, that were it original, was definitely more expensive than Doggett's house. And all the while, more and more paintings- most from the post Impressionist and early modern era. It irritated him, this whole concentration of wealth. Made him want to bring the bastard down even more.

Alex Krycek himself walked from his kitchen into his dining room, wearing an apron, apparently actually cooking for himself. Even the damn apron was in excellent taste- navy blue and sized for a tall man, so it adequately covered his clothes. "May I ask what this is about?" he asked, utterly failing to look flustered.

"You'll recognize this," Doggett said, holding up the search warrant. "If you don't. I'm sure your lawyer can tell you."

"Walter!" Krycek called out, just loudly enough to penetrate to the kitchen. A few seconds later, a second man walked out of the kitchen. This one only slightly taller than Krycek, but with a physique that his crisp pinpoint oxford shirt did nothing to hide. Lawyer by day, gym bunny by night? The man was balding, nothing left but a fringe of steel gray hair, and he wore glasses, but that seemed only to enhance his good looks, as, oddly, did the apron. Krycek continued once this 'Walter' was standing at his side, looking quizzically at the intruders, "This is my attorney, Walter Skinner."

Skinner spared a look for Doggett before taking the offered papers. It was a stare intense enough that for a brief moment, Doggett felt like one of those beetles in the natural history, stuck in place forever with a little pin right through his middle. Then the lawyer attended to the papers and Doggett could breathe again. Skinner skimmed rapidly and said, "This is the real thing, Lexi. You'll have to let them search."

Mulder was waiting in the car, eating seeds, inwardly laughing, knowing that they were going to find precisely jack in their legal search. Krycek was far more clever than that. The painting was somewhere else by now, or so well hidden within the house that ordinary police would never find it. Mulder was certain he'd find it, but he wasn't police. He hadn't been able to come along for the search. The powers that a search warrant gave were fairly broad, but they decidedly did not allow the police to bring along what was basically a private citizen to ransack another private citizen's house.

Eventually, Doggett conceded defeat and stalked back to the car. He opened his door, sat down and slammed the door behind him.

"Don't worry, Detective," Mulder said. "I'll get in there."

"That's what I'm worried about."

Mulder grinned slyly, just like the fox he was named for. He knew exactly how he'd get the keys to the chicken coop and walk right in that carved nineteenth century door. "Take me home, Detective. I have a date to primp for."

"We'll be tailing you, you know."

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

Mulder chose his clothes for the date more carefully than some full-scale invasions were planned. If he were a woman, this would be much easier to pull off. This would definitely be the occasion for that proverbial little black dress, were he a woman. The one that went down to there and was cut up to there, worn with fuck me pumps. As it was, a similar effect was not impossible for a man to achieve. It just took much more consideration, especially if his plan was going to succede.

He chose a summer-weight suit, linen and silk blend, with a shirt of the finest, damn closest to transparent linen you could buy. The suit was a brown that he knew made his eyes look greener, the shirt a warm white that enhanced his skin-tone, making him look almost tan. No tie, not tonight. He carefully calculated the risk of not wearing one and decided that tonight he needed to appear at ease, sexy, and perhaps a bit easy. Krycek, without a doubt, would be in a formal wool suit and tie, Mulder was sure of that much. And there was no way Mulder, as good as he was at what he did, could afford to out dress Krycek. Therefore, the game was to wear his clothes better, to look like a model out of some magazine.

There was no direct male equivalent for fuck me pumps, but Mulder chose hand-sewn loafers he'd bought in Italy. To Mulder's mind, they looked like they'd be easy to kick off for rapid undressing, therefore, like sex might be on his mind. As for jewelry, Mulder wore only a watch. Again, there was no way that Mulder could hope to outspend Krycek, therefore here he chose a simple classic that could never be outdated or in poor taste- stainless steel from Movado. His hair was simple enough- he'd had a very good cut, no, a great cut about two weeks ago- so all he had to do was wash and dry, then run his fingers through it just so. Margaux back in London had taken care of it so that the bangs would fall just so over his forehead and that over all it would look perfect in that I've just been fucked kind of way.

He took one last look at himself in the full-length mirror before heading out. Yes, the suit fit perfectly, his hair was just so and over all the effect was just exactly as he'd intended. "I'd fuck me," he told the reflection in the mirror.

The intercom buzzed. Mulder pressed the button and said, "I'll be right down."

Mulder shut the door on the little apartment. Nearly half a mil it had cost him to buy and it was still little more than a glorified broom closet. But it had the right address, it had room for his couch and television and it had a closet nearly as big as the living room. Besides, it wasn't like he was going to use the kitchen anyway, so it didn't matter if some of those toy kitchen sets for kids had more usable working area than the apartment's kitchen.

Waiting on the stoop for him was Alex Krycek himself. Mulder hadn't been sure if the man wouldn't have sent a driver. Apparently this Krycek was a hands-on kind of guy. "Good evening, Mr. Mulder," he said, taking in every detail of Mulder, from the suit to the cologne he wore. He smiled larger, apparently liking what he saw.

"Evening, Mr. Krycek," Mulder said, smiling just so. The pretty smile again, but with a touch of dangerousness to it, showing just a little bit of his teeth.

"Please, it's Lexi," Krycek said.

"Then just Mulder."

"Not Fox?"

"I even make my mother call me Mulder," Mulder said, knowing that wasn't exactly true. But he did use that name anytime he could get away with it. And in this case, he definitely didn't want his game reminded of the fact that he was a Fox, cunning and clever, ruthless and vicious in the hunt. No, tonight was about disarming him, finding his cracks and weaknesses.

"Well, Mulder, shall we?" Krycek said, indicating a sweet little silver Porsche coupe waiting, double-parked in the street.

Mulder went to the passenger side of the coupe and settled himself onto the black leather seat, admiring the German engineering. Krycek took the drivers seat and they pulled out into traffic. Unseen, waiting a few addresses up the block, Scully was waiting in an unmarked car. She pulled out behind them, on their tail. Unknown to her, Mulder had his own tail, of sorts, in place. A turquoise and white VW van wove its elderly and unsure way into traffic after the pair of them.

Doggett paced up and down the bullpen, waiting for word from Scully. He didn't like this Krycek character, he didn't like this whole set-up, the fact that Mulder was going out on a date with the perp, and he didn't like that he couldn't be the one doing the tail. But Krycek knew him, would spot him in an instant. So Scully, who'd been in an interrogation room while Krycek had been at the station had to do it, with a partner borrowed for the evening, some woman named Monica Reyes. But most of all, Doggett didn't trust Mulder not to screw this up royally.

The phone rang and Doggett jumped. He grabbed it. Scully was on the other end of the line. "What's going on?" he asked her.

"They're going to the Museum," she said.

"He's taking him to the fucking museum?"

"I think it's kind of sweet," she said. Her voice went all soft and girly on him. She was almost cooing for God's sake. "You know, for a first date."

"Get a hold of yourself, Scully," he said. "This ain't the movies."

It was a risky thing. He might not be able to convince Krycek to do it, being as men didn't instill the chivalrous response in other men that women did. Still, it was worth a try. If it didn't work, Mulder had other plans. Mulder let himself shiver, rubbed his arms through the gossamer linen shirt then said, "Looks like they got the air conditioning working again. I shouldn't have left my jacket in the car."

Krycek shrugged off his jacket and offered it to Mulder. Bingo! As they wandered through the museum galleries, Mulder looked first to the side to see that his own tail, John Byers, was behind him. Byers wore a suit, that while cheap, didn't stand out. He looked entirely natural in this environment, walking from here to there, nonchalantly appearing to look at paintings. Mulder reached into the jacket pocket and found what he was looking for- Krycek's keys. He lingered behind just long enough to set the keys on a convenient table meant to hold flyers. Following right behind him, Byers scooped the keys up and put them in his own pocket. Then he was out of the gallery, smoothly heading into the 18th century European masters.

Before long, they were in the Van Gogh room, looking at the Gauguin that hung in place of the irises.

"So, were you just bored with it?" Mulder asked.

"No, not at all," Krycek said. "It just seemed to fit the space."

"You know, out of the paintings in this room, that's not the one I would have picked," Mulder said, looking around at sunflowers and Provencal landscapes and portraits.

"Which one would you have?"

"For my own personal collection?" Mulder asked. Krycek nodded. Mulder moved to the far wall and pointed out a scene of a cafe at night. The cafe glowed a refulgent yellow against the deep and dark blue of the night, a shimmering spot of brightness in an uncertain world, an oasis against the storm of madness that Van Gogh must have felt gathering around him. "That one. Why? Would you get it for me?"

"Anything's obtainable," Krycek said.

"How would you get it?" Mulder sparred, not that he hoped he could get Krycek to admit to anything.

"A good quality print. They make some very good reproductions," Krycek said, with a smile as he led them away from the room. "You can see that one, can't you? Because it's primarily yellow and blue. So much of Van Gogh's work is in red and green and must appear like interestingly textured mud to you."

"How did you know I'm red-green colorblind?"

"I've been reading files," Krycek said, smugly.

"Well, you're right about the colorblindness," Mulder said. "But that's not why that one's my favorite."

Later, they walked past a painting by Magritte. Mulder stopped in front of it for a moment, as if admiring it, but he said, "Look, it's a portrait of you. The faceless, anonymous business man in a bowler hat. All it needs is a briefcase."

The painting in question was indeed of a man in a gray suit, complete with a bowler hat, done in an almost hyper-realistic style. Assuming one ignored the fact that the giant apple floating in midair in front of the man, obscuring the man's face completely was something that didn't usually happen in reality. Magritte was one of the premiere surrealists.

Once he knew he had Krycek's attention, Mulder continued, "Did you have to sit for the artist long?"

"Actually, I own another version of that," Krycek said.

Of course you do, Lexi, Mulder thought. Best of everything for you, right? "You'll have to let me see it sometime," he said.

Doggett was on the phone with Scully again. "What are they doing now?"

"They're walking into Nobu," Scully said.

"Nobu? I thought they had reservations for Le Cirque?"

"Well, they're walking into Nobu."

"They're walking right into Nobu? No reservation?"

"If you have money like he does, you don't need reservations, Johnny," Scully said. "Gotta go. Damn, accountings going to love this expense."

The remains of their meal had been taken away some time ago. The delicate scallops of half-raw sole, cooked only in heated sesame oil, arranged in such a beautiful rosette pattern on his plate had disappeared all too fast, so had the ceviche, with its delicate little curls of octopus. All that remained was dessert and lingering over espresso and conversation.

"Do you want anything else? Dessert? A cheese tray? Port?"

"Do you want a deal?" Mulder interrupted. When Krycek didn't answer back immediately, Mulder said, "You don't think we're going to give up do you? We'll tail you into the men's room. We'll just get more search warrants. It'll mess up your carpets."

"My life is under glass already," Krycek said. At that point, the quietly deferential waiter chose to approach and ask if they wanted anything else. Krycek said, "I'd like to order champagne for the two ladies at that table over there."

Mulder looked over his shoulder circumspectly. Seated about three tables away was Doggett's partner, Dana Scully and a dark haired woman.

Once the waiter was gone, Krycek added, "At least this pair is presentable. You should see some of them."

Krycek had also placed an order for dessert- souffles, and while they lingered over them, he asked, "So I'm curious, why you left the FBI. You were the best."

For the first time during the evening, Mulder was caught off guard. He found himself talking honestly, not caring how much of himself it gave away, "You know I was a profiler. The head of a serial killer is not a very...comfortable place to live."

"And the head of an art thief is more comfortable?"

"Oh...much. Do you know everything about me?"

"I'm sure your files are much thicker than mine," Krycek said.

"I'm sure they are, Abraham Alexei Kravchuk, born right across the river in Brooklyn. I guess it's true that you can take the boychik out of the hood. What's most impressive is the boxing scholarship to Yale."

"Maybe just a little," Krycek said, allowing himself to slip back into the yiddish influenced accent of Hasidic Jewish neighborhood he'd been raised in. "None of you rich goy know how to fight." Then he slipped into his cultured, WASP, might have spent a few years in England voice and said, "What was hard was learning to talk like one. Do you know everything about me?"

"What we don't know is why you did it?" Mulder said, leaning across the table, with a smile. "Were you bored? The killings you were making in the market getting old? Is getting it more fun than keeping it?"

"It's the same for you, isn't it?" Krycek asked. "The chase is the exciting thing. That French film star. The CEO of a top insurance firm which is not the one you're working for. The publisher of England's largest circulating magazine. A certain famous painter I'm sure would not appreciate us dropping his name in public. The German ambassador's son. You obviously like men. You've chased and caught an impressive handful of the top minds in Europe. So, why haven't you kept any of them?"

"Commitment...makes life messy," Mulder said. The truth was, most of that handful would have been more than glad to keep him around for longer than he'd been willing to stay, but he didn't think that any of them, except the ambassador's son, had thought of him as a possible permanent companion.

"Well, then, can I ask you a personal question?" Krycek asked.

"Okay," Mulder said.

"Can I interest you in another hit of espresso?" Krycek asked, holding up his now empty espresso demitasse.

"That's your personal question?" Mulder asked. "Can I ask you one?"

When Krycek nodded, Mulder asked, "You don't seriously think I'm going to sleep with a man I'm investigating, do you?"

"You want me to answer that when you won't even seriously commit to my espresso?" Krycek asked, looking at his demitasse again, as if espresso might just appear on its own. Something about the look, the lift of an eyebrow at the right moment, the half grin, in combination with the perfection of the evening, and Mulder was wishing that he could do just what he said he couldn't- sleep with this utterly gorgeous, wily, beautiful man.

"Okay, I'll commit to your espresso," Mulder said. At that moment, his phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and unfolded it. It was Frohike, saying, "Byers is waiting, where are you?"

"Hold on a minute. I'll be right back," Mulder said, with an apologetic look to Krycek. He stood up from the table and walked over to the hall where the restrooms were.

Mulder walked like he was going into the men's room. Byers brushed right past him, seemingly accidentally. A set of keys was pressed into Mulder's hands. "Okay, I'll get back to you on that, Mel," Mulder said as he walked into the restroom. He hung up the phone and got on with the business of finishing this evening. Dating as a tightrope walk, that ought to make a big hit as the latest reality TV show, he thought as he went back to the table.

Later, they were standing on the stoop outside of Mulder's graystone. He looked at the door and said, "I'd invite you up..."

"But everyone is watching. And besides, you don't have any furniture other than a couch."

Mulder couldn't help his smile at that. "Oh, you're good."

He leaned forward and kissed Krycek on the cheek, using the opportunity to slip Krycek's original keyring back into his jacket pocket, silently.

"I'm sure we'll be seeing more of each other," he said, turning to go.

"No doubt," Krycek said.

Across town, Doggett's phone rang again. He answered, then listened. When the speaker was finished, Doggett said, relief obvious in his voice, "He went up alone? You're sure?"

"Yes, Johnny," Scully said. She sounded amused. "Definitely alone. You know, it's not too late for me to call Vinny."

"Scully," he said, warningly.

"Go home, Johnny. You shouldn't be working so late," she told him.

The next afternoon, Krycek's housekeeper, the decorative young man, walked out of the townhouse, locking the door behind him. Immediately after, a van pulled up in front of the row of well appointed townhouses. It was a plain white van, nothing like the old VW microbus that had been tailing Mulder and Krycek last night, but on the side was painted, "The Magic Bullet Cleaners- a member of the LGM Family of Services."

Three men in anonymous blue coveralls hopped out of the van, quickly unloading what looked like carpet cleaning equipment, plus some plain tool boxes. One of the men looked plainly uncomfortable in the coverall, as if he was missing his tie. Another had a ponytail of blond hair shoved under a baseball cap. The third was much shorter than either of the others, and oddly, wore little leather half gloves.

Mulder jumped out of the van too, wearing a black leather jacket, tight jeans, sunglasses and Doc Martens. He walked right up to one of the townhouses, pulled a key out of pockets so tight he had to dig for a while. The key opened the door and Mulder let in the faux carpet cleaners. Once inside, Frohike, the short one got out a stop watch. Byers, the stuffy one helped unpack boxes, while Langly, the blond, pulled an interesting looking box out of one of the tool boxes. Its origins as a homebrew piece of electronics were betrayed by the crude case, but inside was pure high tech. In short order, it was plugged into Krycek's security system. Langly quickly worked the machine. Its progress was marked by the rapidly changing numbers on the LCD display screen.

None of them seemed to breathe for long seconds, until Langly finally said, "Done. We're in."

Frohike stopped the stopwatch. "Forty seconds. I think your kung fu is slipping, hair boy."

"Give me a break, Doohickey. The guy's got a ten digit PIN," Langly snapped. "He must be even more paranoid than you."

"Start in the basement," Mulder directed. He himself headed to the back of the building, to where he thought Krycek's study must be. Mulder passed one of Mark Rothko's smaller works. Just from a quick glance, it appeared to be authentic. Even though it was a smaller work, it was still a massive swath of luminescent color, blue of such depth and subtlety that one could hardly believe it had been produced from mere oil paint on canvas. Mulder idly thought as he lifted the painting that Rothko was another soul claimed by madness- this one a suicide.

He found Krycek's study off the dining room, a cosy room that wouldn't be out of place in a good English club. Dark wood dominated the space, big bookcases, full of what were no doubt first editions in mint condition. Across from the massive mahogany desk was hung the Magritte that Krycek had claimed to own. Also obviously authentic and perhaps better than the one owned by the museum, with more of the fine hyper-realistic detail that had distinguished Magritte. Mulder tried to life the frame to check behind it, but it was solidly attached to the wall. He approached it, fingering a pocket knife he carried. It'd be a hell of a shame to rip this masterwork out of its frame, just to check behind it. Then, he looked back at the desk. Of course. This would be where Krycek kept his prize, where he could admire it from his place of power. The only place more likely was in a similar location in his office at work. But Krycek seemed like a private man, for all that his life was public record in the newspapers. No, this would be where the painting was.

Mulder examined the desk, running his fingers on the silky smooth wood, underneath the apron. There. His fingers found a small button. He pressed it and voila. There. The Magritte slid aside on smooth, noise-less tracks. And there it was- the irises. Score.

Doggett was enjoying a nice quiet morning without Mulder around. A bit of coffee, a bit of reading through files on Krycek, and you know, the morning, it was okay.

Until there was a big cheer that rose through the whole bullpen and Fox fucking Mulder strode right in carrying what looked like a painting in a plastic bag. "We got it!" Mulder crowed, setting the painting down on Doggett's desk. He pulled the bag off to reveal the hundred million in the convenient form of a painting that they'd been assigned to find. Jesus Christ, how the hell did Mulder pull that one off? Actually, Doggett knew and it pissed him off.

"You know, I'm going to assume at some point you contracted amnesia and forgot everything you learned about the laws of the United States when you were an agent with the FBI," he said, making sure to get in Mulder's face. He could feel his face burn and he wondered if he was turning red, or maybe he had a throbbing vein or two. "We're talking breaking and entering. Theft. Jesus Christ, Mulder, you haven't got a thing here that would hold up in court and pray to God you were good enough to not leave a trail that leads to you."

"None of that matters, Detective," Mulder said. "My job is get the painting back. Job done."

Doggett retreated, not sure what else there was to say. Mulder had left them holding the bag. Sure, the museum had their painting back, the insurance people didn't have to cut their big check, and they were left with jack all for a case. Krycek got off scot free. The only good thing about this was that it meant Mulder would be back on that plane to London first thing. Mulder gloated. Doggett sulked. Meanwhile, they waited for forensics and some expert from the Museum to show up and make a pronouncement on the painting.

They got there eventually, setting up some fancy equipment. And Doggett got his payback. He just had to laugh.

"We've got a ghost here," the museum curator said, with a discernable sour note.

"Van Gogh was known to reuse canvases," Mulder countered quickly and defensively.

Doggett couldn't stop himself from taking at look at what had gotten the curator so sour. Oh, yeah, that was a good one. It was hard work, stopping himself from laughing. Krycek had really pulled a fast one here. "Of course," he said. "Van Gogh's unknown masterpiece. Dogs playing poker."

Mulder came over to look at the picture of the ghost painting under the top layer of paint. It was all almost worth it just to see the look on Mulder's face. Bastard had thought he'd had it made. He thought he'd won the game with points to spare. And here he was, trumped by his opponent. Then the shock was wiped off Mulder's face, swept right out by anger, pure and simple. "Where is he? Where is that sack of shit right now?" he demanded.

Walter Skinner picked himself up off the mat. "Lucky shot, Lexi," he said, standing.

He and Alex Krycek had been sparring partners for years, perhaps longer than he'd been Krycek's attorney. Though Krycek was smaller, they were fairly evenly matched and it wasn't very often that one of them ended up clocked and down on the mats.

"Ten thousand says it wasn't," Krycek said. All day, he'd had a wicked, distracted grin on his face, but he'd proved to be anything but distracted from his game. He never was.

"All right, I'll be glad to take your money from you," Skinner said, then popped his mouth protector back in.

A few minutes later, it was Alex Krycek picking himself up off the mats, though admittedly he'd more bounced up than anything. And still that grin on his face. His eyes were flashing as well. He was beautiful when he was this way. Skinner wondered if maybe he'd found another victim for his corporate buccaneering, one more difficult than the last one. He'd find out soon enough. It wasn't that Skinner didn't think Lexi wasn't attractive, but they'd never been lovers. Lexi seemed to need him in the role of friend and confessor almost more than attorney, or any other role, including sparring partner.

"Ten to one, Walter," he said, bouncing on his toes.

"A hundred thousand is a lot of money for one swing of the gloves, Lexi," Skinner said. "You're distracted. What is it? I know that grin. You've found a treasure ripe for the picking."

"Or a worthy adversary," Krycek said. He held up his gloved hands and danced around the ring a little. "C'mon, Walter. Less talk, more action."

Skinner sighed but put his hands up in a defensive position and started blocking the sudden peppering of blows that Krycek started to rain on him. And all the time, Krycek grinning. About the same time Skinner realized who the adversary was, putting together a solid chain of reasoning based on tidbits of information that Krycek had dropped here and there, Krycek suddenly broke through his guard and landed a good solid one to Skinner's jaw. It didn't knock him off his feet though. Skinner used the opening that Krycek had left to get in a blow of his own, one that lifted Krycek off his feet with unnecessary force and then landed him on his ass. Part of the reason that they were well matched in the ring was that Skinner was always so reluctant to use his full force like this, and only partially because he preferred his boxing to be a game of subtle give and take.

He helped Krycek to his feet, saying, "You can have one of your people deposit it in my account."

"Just a warning, eh, Walter," Krycek said, still in good spirits despite a head that must be aching already, in spite of the protective gear they wore.

"I don't know what, if anything, you've got to do with that missing painting, and as your attorney, it's better that I don't know," Skinner warned. He wondered, couldn't help it. And he knew for a fact that Krycek was getting bored with something so simple as the acquisition of mere money. "But I do know you don't want to be playing games with that insurance investigator. He's a dangerous one, Lexi."

"Warning taken," Krycek said, but the smile never left his face. It did no good. You might scold the cat, but it was still going to dip its little pink tongue into the cream any chance it got. "Are you still running your poker game tonight?"

"Every Thursday," Skinner confirmed. "Will I see you there?"

"It depends on how boring that charity event I've been roped into going is," Krycek said.

Mulder stalked past the well-heeled in their white ties and black tail coats, heading straight for his prey. He hated events like this, benefits where the rich got together to congratulate each other on the miniscule amount of money they were donating to some charity or another. The socialites stared at him as he brushed past them. Past their white covered round tables, with the little bamboo shaped chairs clustered around them, with centerpieces of hundreds of dollars of white orchids on each one, spiked with black painted curly willow twigs. Little white lights sparkled in swaths of white netting over the dance floor, and that was where Mulder was headed. The twenty piece orchestra was sliding its way through a tango. Mulder unconsciously found himself walking in time to the sensual beat.

If the way he'd dressed for his first date had been about sex on the mind, the way he was dressed now was about sex at the forefront. No doubt about intentions nor was there any room for interpretations. He'd dressed for the prowl and he was going to hook his man. The brown leather pants were skin-tight and low cut. In the front, they revealed part of the well-defined vee of muscles that led to his groin. In the back, they gave a hint that they might reveal a bit of his ass cleft, without actually revealing it. His shirt was a fine brown mesh, buttoned up the front. He'd left a few buttons undone, but that hadn't really been necessary. The London designer had made a version for the shyer crowd with strategically placed pockets, but Mulder had gotten the original version, leaving his nipples clearly visible. It made him regret again that he'd given up on the nipple rings. So, yes, compared to the identical penguin suits all the men were dressed in, he was quite the sight.

There, up ahead, he spotted his target dancing with a pretty, young woman, dressed in a shimmery white slip dress. Make that a definite emphasis on the young. Like barely not jailbait young. She was both sylph-like and dark and exotic. A lovely specimen of womanly charms and Mulder didn't buy for one minute that Krycek's bit of arm candy was his intended main course.

He walked right up to them and put his hand on her shoulder as they danced. She was thin and fragile. He could feel how sharp her bones were under his hands, with hardly any flesh to pad them. She startled as she turned.

"I'm sorry. I'm breaking in," Mulder said. "I need to talk with your dance partner."

Some silent communication happened between Krycek and his near jailbait. He then nodded at her and she slipped off the dance floor and melted into the crowd. A girl that pretty would have no problem finding a new partner. Indeed, a moment later, she was back out on the floor, on the arm of a new man.

"I'd ask you to dance," Krycek said, as he started walking them to the edge of the dance floor. "But this really isn't the right venue."

"Believe me, dancing is the last thing on my mind," Mulder said, as they found a quiet corner where they could talk mostly hidden by a couple of big potted palms.

"What am I going to do with you, Fox Mulder?" Krycek said, shaking his head in disbelief. But he also seemed very pleased to see Mulder. He looked Mulder up and down with sheer laviscious intent. He didn't exactly undress Mulder with his eyes, but that wasn't really necessary. He pointed a finger at Mulder's brown mesh shirt then added, "We can't stay here. It is a black and white ball."

"I wasn't exactly invited to this shindig," Mulder said.

"I know," Krycek said, reaching for Mulder's hand. "Come with me."

Krycek led them out from the ballroom, through the well appointed hotel lobby. The night outside was beautiful and perfect, just a bit chilly, making Mulder glad for the brown leather jacket he'd stopped to claim at the coat check.

It was just a few minutes and they were seated in the silver Porsche. Krycek drove them skillfully through busy Manhattan streets, cutting into openings that were so tight as to be almost not openings. At last he pulled up in front of a building on Lexington Ave, not far from where Mulder kept his apartment. The valet took charge of the Porsche, and said to them, "Mr. Skinner said he might be expecting you, Mr. Krycek. You and your guest go right on up."

Mulder looked around curiously as they were buzzed up into the high rise. It was a very nice place, not as nice as Krycek's place. This Mr. Skinner must be Walter Skinner, Krycek's attorney. Krycek, amazingly, had been a gentleman the whole time, thus far, despite Mulder's hopes for the contrary. Krycek was interested, but in control of himself. He was looking, big, greedy eyefulls of looking, but hadn't so much as brushed up against Mulder.

At the penthouse floor, Krycek knocked on the single door on the landing. A moment later, it was opened, by a formal looking woman, her hair up and still dressed in a pant suit, like she'd just gotten off work not long ago. She smiled easily and happily, as if she'd had a few drinks.

"Ms. Cassidy," Krycek said, holding out his hands to her. "A pleasure to see you again."

"Please, it's Jana," she said. "If nothing else, the way you strip mined my last clients, that leaves us on a first name basis. No hard feelings though."

"Of course not, Jana. Where's Walter?"

"Right here, Lexi," Walter said, stepping into the small, marble foyer. Mulder had heard about Walter Skinner, but he was unprepared for the man's sheer physical presence which dominated the little room. The man wore an almost blindingly white dress shirt, with tie still in place and suit pants. Another lawyer like Jana Cassidy, kicking back a few after work.

"Walter, Jana, this is Fox Mulder. He's in insurance," Krycek said. Mulder couldn't do anything but step forward and shake their hands. This was some part of the game, some kind of test Krycek was putting him through here. If the two lawyers thought his outfit was even slightly outre or odd, they gave no sign of it. Cassidy's hand was warm and soft, with a very lady-like grip. Skinner's hand was heavy and hot, his grip as strong as the gym bunny physique hidden by his dress clothes seemed to promise. Oh, yes, Lexi had a very promising looking friend here. If Mulder didn't already have Krycek in his sights, it just might be worth the effort to hunt down this one.

"Let's get back to the game," Skinner said, leading them into a well-appointed living room, all British club and formal without being stuffy. Exactly the sort of furnishing you'd expect a life-long bachelor to pick out on his own, unlike Krycek's showy collection of fanteuils and Chippendale. Set up in the middle of the living room was card table and seated around it were another three people, paused in the middle of a poker game, big pile of chips in the center, still unclaimed, sets of cards face out in front of each player. Skinner sat down at the empty chair with a busted flush in front of it and proceeded to claim the winnings.

"Shall we deal you in as well, Mr. Mulder?" Skinner asked. "It's a friendly hundred dollar game."

Mulder calculated quickly. At only a hundred dollars a chip, it was unlikely that he'd lose more than tens, maybe hundreds of thousands here tonight, if he lost. Neither his checking account nor his accountant would be happy with him if he lost, but he didn't see that he could afford not to play. This was definitely some kind of test. Mulder nodded.

"I can stake you if you like," Krycek said, finding two chairs and pulling them up to the table.

"I'm good for it," Mulder said, taking the chair that Krycek hadn't claimed.

"Mulder? You related to Sam Mulder at all?" the blond guy asked.

"Yeah," Mulder said, allowing himself a slight grin at the thought of his younger sister. "She's my sister."

"Hold on a minute, Walter," the blond said. "I don't think we should deal Mr. Mulder here in. This is a friendly game, after all. His sister Sam Mulder is the Sam Mulder who won the world series of poker at Binion's last year. And the year before. It might, you know, run in the family."

"Scared, Colton?" Cassidy asked. "We've told you before. If the stakes are too rich for your blood, just don't play. We're all filthy moneygrubbers here and we'll understand if you don't want to keep throwing it away."

Colton opened his mouth as if to complain further, but then he closed it again. "I wouldn't worry too much. Sam claims I don't have the mind for poker," Mulder said, picking up the cards that were being dealt to him. Actually, he did nearly as well as she did. It wasn't his mind that was lacking, or his guts. They both lived for that kind of tightrope walking. His way of reading people might even have been better. But he lacked some indefinable quality that allowed her to play at the highest levels and make a damned good living at it. Some kind of simpatico with the cards.

Skinner said, "Perhaps introductions are in order." Then without waiting, he started, as he dealt the last cards of their hands to each of them, "Tom Colton, Jana Cassidy, Yves Adele Harlow, Alvin Kersh."

Mulder took a quick look at his cards, a low three of a kind- four of hearts. Might be enough to take this round. Then he took the more important assessment of the situation. Kersh had a slightly sour look on his face that might be an important tell, or might be just his habitual expression. Krycek's expression for a fleeting moment was unguarded. He was nervous, but Mulder could tell from the way that his eyes swept quickly from Skinner, then to Mulder, that it wasn't about the cards. When Krycek's eyes came to rest on Mulder, suddenly the expression became calm again, no hint of nerves. He caught all of them, every one, sizing each other up, like big jungle cats before pouncing. Everyone gave Colton only the briefest of glances. They'd all discounted him as a possible threat long ago. Harlow's mouth was slightly upturned in amusement tinged with a little contempt. But that, Mulder thought, seemed to be her usual expression. A smile, so long as it's kept the same all the time is just as good a poker face as any. Skinner's poker face was classic, a real stone face. From the way everyone else looked to him, Mulder determined that he was the real serious threat here. He also remembered how Skinner had taken the last hand on a busted flush. He was good, that much was plain. And from Krycek's earlier slip, it was Skinner that Mulder had to impress. That said, Mulder decided he'd have to watch carefully for all of them. They were professional sharks, all of them corporate lawyers most likely.

The people observed for a moment, Mulder considered his hand again. There may have been a three of a kind there, but the other two cards were the king and queen of diamonds. It was, possibly, an incredibly stupid move. But he couldn't resist the feeling that the cards he should discard were the fours. They started making their trades. Colton took two, making a little twitch of the eyebrow as he did, obviously not liking what he'd got any better than what he'd thrown away. Cassidy took two, but her face remained impassive as ice. Harlow took one, the only change in her face a brief flick of the eyes down to her cards. Kersh didn't take any cards. Krycek took two, fanning his cards out briefly to add them to his hand, then folding them closed again, holding them face down, out of sight. Mulder all but heard his sister telling him he was being an idiot as he threw down the fours and let Skinner deal him three new cards. It had felt right though, the adrenaline of the moment spiking to an even higher level over the haze of it that colored his whole evening. It would pan out for him. He could taste it, just like he could always taste the pieces falling into place. Victory was close and he just had to reach out and grab it.

Skinner dealt the cards one at a time. Nine of diamonds. Jack of diamonds. Ten of diamonds. A straight flush. Lady Luck was smiling on him tonight.

Exactly as Mulder expected, Colton laid his cards flat on the table and said, "I fold."

Mulder wondered a moment what he was doing here at all. He obviously lacked the guts for the game. Cassidy pushed a blue chip forward and said, "Ten."

"I'll see you ten and raise you thirty," Harlow said. Her voice was silky smooth and accented with an exotic sound, making Mulder wonder just where she was from, originally.

Kersh didn't speak as he pushed a pile of chips forward. Mulder looked. He was seeing the bet and only raising ten, a cautious bet. Mulder wished that he weren't in the middle of the betting, that he could see what both Krycek and Skinner were going to do before he made his bet. Then it occurred to him that he'd been carefully maneuvered into this particular chair by subtle touches from Krycek at his elbow. Krycek wanted to see what he'd do.

Mulder saw the last bet without comment, then decided he'd play with flair, just like he had been so far. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And he had more than a good enough hand to back it up. He pushed enough of the chips he'd been given to triple the bet. He calculated the bet he'd made, according to the values he'd been told for the chips, suddenly realizing that there was already over twenty-five thousand on the table, in this one game alone.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, Krycek folded. Skinner calmly tripled Mulder's bet. The next round, suddenly Cassidy, Harlow and Kersh all folded. They played with Skinner regularly from the sound of it, and they must have known something about the way he played. Something about the way he'd bet that let them know that he thought he had a bombproof hand. That put Mulder in a dilemma. The risk here was not so much the money he'd lose if he lost, but the chance of Krycek slipping off his hook if he made a move here that Krycek thought was stupid. Now, the obvious best outcome would be an outrageous bet that panned out and cost Skinner his shirt. But assuming Skinner's hand could beat his, would Krycek be more intrigued by a risky, high-stakes failure or a cautious, sensible retreat. Of course. That wasn't even a question, Mulder decided as he pushed a handful of chips to the pot. A hundred thousand he'd be out. Danny would kill him.

Skinner doubled that bet. Mulder thought about going higher, but decided it was unnecessary. "I call," he said. Skinner laid out his hand- four aces. Pretty close to bomb-proof. Then Mulder laid his own straight flush out. That was when Skinner's face made the first twitch of the evening.

"Congratulations, Mr. Mulder," he said, just as neutrally as if Mulder wasn't raking in over three hundred thousand dollars, mostly of his money.

They played a few more hands, but they lacked the tightrope feel to them. Colton even found the nerve to stick with them. The hand that had really mattered was the first. Mulder's point had been made, he'd been judged, and not, apparently, found wanting. A short while later, Krycek stood up and said, "It's been lovely, Walter, but I'm afraid Mr. Mulder here and I have to get going."

Mulder almost protested, but then he saw Krycek's eyes, the way they were dilated with desire. Yes, time to get out of here. The look that passed between them made Mulder's cock start to strain against the confines of leather.

They made their excuses quickly, then got out of there. Krycek was on him as soon as the elevator doors closed. The first brush of Krycek's lips was a shock that traveled up and down Mulder's spine. What happened next was inevitable by that point.

Krycek shut the door behind them finally. Then he reached out for Mulder, doing what he'd obviously been hungering for since he'd laid eyes on Mulder in the sheer shirt. He pushed Mulder back against the door, holding him in place with the pressure of his hips. His lips were hot, demanding on Mulder's mouth as he unbuttoned the shirt, laid Mulder's chest bare. Mulder shivered and shuddered as Krycek's mouth left his mouth and latched on to one of his nipples.

The game had turned on him. Mulder had thought he was in pursuit. He'd been wrong, so wrong, he thought as Krycek's hands nimbly started in on the button of the leather pants, pulling the zipper down, drawing them down his body. When Krycek knelt in front of Mulder and gently grazed his teeth across the head of Mulder's cock, Mulder knew that Krycek's kneeling was in no way a submission, and that, indeed, he was being topped here. Krycek would play him like he played any of the games he played. And Mulder, as the graze became a tease of the tongue, decided he was going to play along, going to let himself, for the moment, be Krycek's plaything. He leaned back against the door and surrendered to Krycek stripping him bare of mesh and leather and all common sense.

Friday morning found them wrapped in silk robes, eating breakfast in a bright sunroom. In addition to eggs benedict, there was a dish of sunflower seeds on Mulder's tray.

"You didn't just send Paul out for these, did you?" Mulder asked as he fingered them. Paul was the decorative housekeeper, who'd made an artform of unobtrusive service, suddenly being at your elbow when you needed something and gone when you didn't.

"No," Krycek said, smiling. Smug, that was decidedly the operative word here.

"Damn," Mulder said. "I hate being a foregone conclusion."

"I wouldn't say a foregone conclusion, but certainly a chance worth a couple of dollar bet," Krycek said, sipping his coffee.

"This doesn't change anything, you know," Mulder said. "We'll still have you in our sights, twenty four hours a day."

"I'd be disappointed if it was any other way," Krycek said, archly.

Mulder was reminded, for a moment, of an old joke, of sorts. How do porcupines mate? Very carefully, is the answer. That was what this was like, the cautious lowering of shields and defensive measures just long enough for passion to take them. And now that they were looking at each other the next morning, cautiously maneuvering around each other, testing each other, wondering if they could trust the other.

I may have lowered my defenses last night, but I am certainly not going to play easy now, Mulder thought to himself. He checked his watch. "I've got to get going to work," he said, standing. "I'm sure we'll be seeing each other."

"I'm sure we will," Krycek said, remaining seated as Mulder walked away.

Doggett read through some memos as he waited for both Scully and Mulder to make their appearance. Mulder, he seemed to waltz in whenever he felt like it, and it was futile to expect anything else. But it wasn't like Scully at all to keep him waiting. They had work to do, forgers to see.

At last, Scully walked in. She was a little mussed, her hair slightly wild, as if she'd been walking in the wind. Except it wasn't a windy day out. No, that look was more about getting kissed so well that you looked as distracted as she did. Scully, Doggett decided, was suddenly getting some, and evidence pointed to it being someone who worked here in the precinct. He dropped the memo he was reading and rose to take the paper cup she was offering him.

He got a closer look at her. "Hey, you got some of your lipstick on your collar or something," he said, first. Only then did he notice something, especially as she bit her lip to hold back what was undoubtedly a few, select bad words. He decided to go for it, tease her some, rather than let it drop. "Hey, that ain't your usual shade of lipstick. And it's certainly not the one you're wearing today. There something you ain't telling me, Dana Katherine Scully?"

Just then, Detective Reyes dropped by their desks. She wore bright red lipstick that any jury out there might conclude matched the smear on Scully's collar. And there were rumors about Monica.

"You forgot this, Dana," Reyes said, handing Scully a little, black purse.

"Thanks," Scully said, weakly. But as Reyes turned away, Scully couldn't seem to help but watch the other woman's trim form, nicely displayed in a low-cut shirt and knee-length skirt that form fitted to her backside in a way that made Doggett wonder if she'd be able to run in it at all. Reyes was one fine looking woman, if Doggett had been inclined to look that way.

"See ya round, Dana," Reyes said, over her shoulder as she walked away. "Maybe we could do a stakeout again together sometime."

When Reyes was turned the corner out of sight, Scully's look of unguarded lust vanished, and she was looking down at her desk, unable to look up and face him.

"Why, butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, Dana Scully," he said. He'd wondered about Scully. He'd known she'd dated men, but she never seemed happy about any of them, none lasted beyond a month. He'd been tempted to tell her she might give the other tree a few barks and see what fell out of it. He said, cracking a big grin, "I'm guessing Vinny isn't the only one who knows if you're a natural redhead anymore."

"She ambushed me," Scully said. "Seduced me."

"And your face is so bright red that I'm going to have to conclude that the sex was fantastic."

"Jesus, Johnny. I've never been. I mean, not like that. I'm not. Or at least I don't think I am, but maybe its just her," Scully said, flustered.

Yeah, without a doubt, the sex had been fantastic. He hoped for her sake that Reyes wasn't just playing around. "Life's sure full of pleasant surprises, Scully."

"And how!" Scully said. "Oh, hey, these are the surveillance photos from last night."

He took the manila folder she was offering him and looked inside. What he saw wasn't pleasant. Nor was it quite a surprise either.

Mulder tried to sneak into the bullpen and insinuate himself into a place at a desk, as if he'd been there, unnoticed for hours. It worked at other places, in other situations. But it never worked with Doggett. The man had eyes every bit as sharp as their bright blue promised they would be.

He'd just about made it to a seat when Doggett was in his face, livid. Not exactly the sight Mulder was hoping to come into after a night that had involved very little bed and almost no sleep.

Doggett shoved a big photo under his nose, a surveillance photo, blown up to eight by ten. There was a very good, clear shot in this one, not of Krycek, but of Mulder, and in particular, Mulder's ass.

"Nice pants," Doggett said. "You have 'em painted on? I'd compliment the shirt, but it ain't entirely clear if you're wearing one or not."

Then Doggett shuffled the stack of photos. He brought another to the top. It was of Mulder and Krycek, leaving Skinner's high rise. They'd stopped on the curb to kiss, caught in the photo obviously trying to remove each other's tonsils. Mulder looked away.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Mulder?" Doggett demanded.

Mulder decided to play it cool. He had the situation, after all, in his complete control. "He likes me," he said, breezily. "I keep him on my line, keep him close to me. Keep him interested."

"And you don't care what that says about you?" Doggett asked.

Scully intervened, "So, where do we stand? What's the plan for today?"

Mulder spoke, relieved to have his personal life out of this for the moment. "I've called for the painting's edges. They're on the way."

Both of them looked at him stupidly. Of course. He'd have to explain. Not stupidity, but ignorance. He forgot sometimes that not everyone lived, breathed and dreamed art.

"Before a painting is idemnified, it's taken out of its frame and the edges are photographed. It's a way of authentication. These edges are never seen on display or while the work is at auction. If they match the edges of our faux painting, that means our forger was in the presence of the painting."

"Okay," Scully said. "Johnny?"

"Let's go talk to some forgers," he said.

They were all silent on the brief ride upstate to where their first forger was rotting away in a medium security facility.

Once there, they sat across from her in the stark visiting room. She was an imperious, blond beauty, their forger. Even in the blue prison coveralls she sat up straight, looked at them through cold, blue eyes and somehow managed to make the coverall seem like fashion. She examined the forgery they showed her with half closed eyes. Then she shook her head.

"Not my work," she pronounced. "I don't do Van Gogh. It takes no talent, Detective Doggett. Just throwing the paint at the canvas."

"Ms. Corvarubbias, do you have any insight into whose work it might be?" Doggett asked.

She motioned like she wanted to take a closer look. Doggett pushed the painting at her. She examined it more closely this time, looking for brush marks. Eventually, she pronounced, "The Nicaraguan."

"Who?" Doggett said. "Who's that?"

Mulder half chuckled. "I should have guessed," he said. "Luis Cardinale. He's infamous. From a long line of forgers, originally from Spain. He got caught trying to unload a Goya contemporary as the real thing, but his own work has a certain measure of renown as well.

Three hours later, they were further upstate, this time at a federal prison camp, across the table from a little, dark skinned man. Doggett would have taken him for a common drug runner rather than a forger if he hadn't known better.

Again, they pushed the painting across the table to the forger. A brief expression lit his face for a moment, before he controlled it. Then he said, "A good job, very nice. Who did it?"

"We heard you might be the one," Doggett said.

"Not me," Cardinale denied. "This paint is fresh, not more than a couple of weeks old. Barely dry. I've been in here five years. You think maybe they just let me have paint and brushes and call it therapy? It can't be mine."

"The Austrian says it is," Mulder said. He'd been towards the back of the room, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest.

"Bah, what does that hack know?" Cardinale said.

"She seemed to know a lot, Mr. Cardinale," Mulder said.

"Well, it's not mine. It couldn't be."

"Then whose is it, Cardinale?" Doggett asked.

"I don't know. Are you done with me?"

In the parking lot afterwards, Mulder said, "There's some connection there. Between him and Krycek. I'm sure of it. He's a key somehow."

"We'll look into that," Scully said.

Once back in the city, Mulder tried to get some work done, but failed mostly. Between Doggett's glares when he thought Mulder wasn't looking and Mulder's own musing about what had happened last night, his concentration was about zero. He stood up and said, "I'm done for the day."

He was met by Krycek on the steps of the precinct building. "Busy this afternoon?" he asked.

Mulder couldn't stop one corner of his mouth going up into a smile. The day was still young, the sunlight perfect, just a little chilly, and he certainly was up for a repeat performance of last night. Krycek was gorgeous today, looking even more delicious in his casual sweater and jeans than he had in white tie.

"Not at all," Mulder said.

Mulder had assumed that Krycek had been planning to take him to bed. The last place he'd expected on ending up was high in the air over the Connecticut hills, suspended only by the lift of the air in a paraglider. No engine, nothing but slender wings that hardly seemed like they'd be able to buoy them on the breeze. They'd been towed up into the air by a small plane, and when they were high enough, they were set lose.

The hills below were warming to browns and yellows and reds, the fall colors. The sky was perfect, unflawed blue. The ride was like nothing else Mulder had ever experienced. Thrilling. As good as any of the tightrope walking he'd ever done in his life. They were carried on thermals just over the hills. Sometimes there was a small jolt as if the warm air had gone, was no longer lifting them, but they caught the next updraft.

"Okay," Krycek said after a while, "You do it now."

They were crowded into the small cockpit of the glider. Krycek's legs were to either side of him practically. Krycek leaned closer, so he was touching Mulder's back, and with hands on top of Mulder's, showed him how to use the control stick to steer the glider.

Suddenly, even more, he could feel the updraft like it was a separate animal whose back they were rolling on. It tossed them as if they were just feathers. And he couldn't help but laugh at the feel of its awesome power, knowing it was all that kept them from plummetting to the ground.

Hours later, it seemed, as the sun started to set, painting the world with gold, they came to a gliding stop in a cow pasture. Krycek popped the canopy and they crawled out.

They both laughed hysterically at the cow nearby, who they'd failed to fluster.

"That was amazing," Mulder said. "Except for we're now like three states away from your car."

Krycek pulled a cell phone out of his pocket with a flourish and a smile. Less than half an hour later, they were on Krycek's private plane. No, Krycek's private jet.

Krycek distracted them with drinks, then kissed him, and what with one thing leading to another, it was hours before Mulder realized they should have touched down hours ago. Indeed, they were already approaching an island by the time Mulder thought to look out the window. In the dark, a scanty handful of lights shone out against velvety, black darkness. There was one big cluster of lights by a cove, then only small points scattered here and there over the rest of the island.

"I don't think that island is Manhattan," Mulder said.

Krycek just smiled.

They stopped in the small town they landed in just long enough for Krycek to pick up the jeep he kept garaged there. They drove out into the darkness, down roads that very shortly didn't have streetlights. And it wasn't long before they turned off the paved road, down a dirt road that would be all but impassible during heavy rains. The road turned sharply up, narrowing as they headed up the side of a hill until palm fronds and tree branches were hitting the side of the jeep. Krycek stopped the vehicle in front of a little beach shack. It wasn't much more than that, really. Not some lush vacation mansion that Krycek described as a shack, but a mere few rooms under a tin roof. A large, roofed veranda sheltered the building on all sides.

Mulder hopped out of the jeep following Krycek's lead. "Nice place. Who do you usually bring here?"

"No one," Krycek said, stepping up onto the veranda. He dug into his pocket and brought out his keyring. He opened the door and walked in, gesturing Mulder to follow.

Mulder suspected that there had to be someone Krycek used to take care of the place, maybe even he'd placed a call ahead during Mulder's post-coital nap to have them stock the place with groceries. The place was just too well maintained otherwise. Krycek led them through the small living room, with its wicker furniture, then to the one bedroom directly off the living room. He opened a closet, and indicating the small selection of shorts, bathing trunks, and various shirts, he said, "Help yourself. Change into something a little more comfortable."

Mulder was grateful for that. If New York was having a warm fall, then this Caribbean island was sweltering, and he was terribly overdressed. The suit jacket and tie he'd put on this morning had been left on the plane, but the wool pants, for all they were tropical weight, seemed wilted and his white dress shirt was limp with sweat.

"I'll go start dinner," Krycek said.

Mulder rummaged through the clothes, finding a pair of cut off jeans that would be very short and very tight on him. Nothing else. He shucked his working clothes, stripping his underwear off even. Only the fact that Krycek seemed to expect him to dress in something induced him to put on even the scanty shorts. For all that Krycek had stated that he didn't bring people here, these shorts simply couldn't belong to him. All evidence pointed to the fact that they were too tight, too small. Mulder was smaller, slimmer in build, tinier around the waist, and even he had trouble zipping them closed. He left the top button undone.

Dressed, or something like it, he went in search of Krycek. Some kind of caretaker must have been here, because Krycek was grilling a red snapper over a perfect bed of coals on a grill on the back deck. There was also a fire going in a fire pit near the edge of the deck. This was the only source of illumination and it cast Krycek in a warm glow. Mulder could hear and smell the sea, but not see it. The day would certainly reveal that they were right on the ocean, probably looking out over a private beach.

"Go pick a bottle of wine from the pantry," Krycek said.

A couple of hours later, they were still sitting on the deck, listening to the sounds of the fire pit crackling and the ocean rushing against the shore. Empty plates and an empty wine bottle waited on the table. They'd taken their second bottle of wine and their glasses to lounge chairs they'd dragged near the fire pit. Most of that bottle was gone as well, all but half a glass each or so. Mulder was feeling not just tipsy from most of a bottle of wine, but drunk on the simple exhilaration of being with Krycek, from a nearly whole day of peak experiences, from the tropical climate. Mulder was drunk, that could be the only explanation for what he did next. Krycek got up to get another log for the fire out of the storage shed at the edge of the deck. It was then that Mulder noticed the crate. Definitely about the right size for the missing painting.

"Is that it?" he said, getting up to pull the crate from the storage shed. "No, you wouldn't keep it in a beach shack that's empty most of the year, would you? No, you wouldn't."

He didn't give Krycek a chance to explain, but when he suddenly had the crate in his hands, he was struck by the idea- if this was it, if this was the painting, then it was all over between Krycek and himself.

The thought of the painting that might or might not be in the crate kept nagging at Mulder. He stopped to pour the last of the burgundy in his glass, then drank it down quickly.

"That painting isn't really in there," Mulder said, and struck by a sudden fit of what he could only call madness, he dragged the crate over to the fire pit and put it in. Krycek did nothing to stop him and the flames quickly licked up the sides, consuming the kiln-dried wood and whatever had been inside.

Krycek sort of laughed and snorted at the same time, then smiled that inimitable smile of his. "I'd better open another bottle of wine," he said. "That last burgundy wasn't very good, was it."

"No, it wasn't," Mulder said, unable to stop himself from smiling back at Krycek despite everything. Krycek got up and disappeared into the little house for a few moments. When he came back with another green bottle, Mulder asked, "What was in the crate?"

"Lovely little piece by Gabriela Munter," he said.

"Really?" Mulder was appalled at what he'd done, but what with Krycek's intoxicating smile, and the wine and everything, it'd seemed only natural. Krycek certainly didn't seem upset about it.

"We'll never know, will we?" Krycek said, indicating the crate with the wine bottle. It almost entirely consumed already, and as they looked, the sides crumbled down into the coals. Krycek dealt with the bottle cork just like he did all things- not just expertly, but with a certain flair, so that you knew that no more than the essential motions had been made to complete the task. The man was an artist, Mulder decided, but not one of the canvas and paint that he collected. Krycek was an artist at life.

Meanwhile, Krycek had poured them both another glass and lifted his own. "To art," he toasted. "And to that fine madness she inspires in us all."

Mulder could definitely drink to that.

Mulder woke sometime mid the next morning. He heard low voices, definitely the sounds of serious, important conversations. Ones he wasn't meant to overhear no doubt. He looked briefly out the window to their source. Krycek was on the deck, splendid in Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt. He was talking with two men in suits. Definitely serious business for them, whoever they were, to have made the hike up here in their corporate drag.

Mulder grabbed the shorts he'd been wearing last night and pulled them on. Then he found a towel in the beach shack's bathroom. He took the front entrance of the house, and explored the tropical yard until he found a path that looked like it led down to the beach. Down close to the shore, he found a little cabana, hardly more than a hut. Inside were beach chairs, other useful things for a day at the water. He grabbed a chair, one of the bottles of sunscreen and set himself up to sunbathe in the intense, bright light of a Caribbean morning.

A while later, Krycek joined him. "You'll burn," he said, motioning to Mulder's bare chest.

Mulder smiled and held up the tube of sunscreen. He tanned easily, but in sunlight this intense, this tropical, at this time of day, he'd burn for sure. Even with the sunscreen, he was sure to pick up some sun. "You must trust me," he said. "The suits. They're bankers. You're transferring money. You're preparing to bolt, aren't you?"

Krycek didn't answer. Instead he changed the topic. "What's your cut?" he asked.


"Your cut? I know how you insurance people operate. You're going for a percentage," he said.

"One percent of the recovered value," Mulder said. That might not have sounded like much, but it would add up to a tidy chunk, and it was his biggest case ever.

"What if i were to pay you more? Two percent," Krycek asked.

Oh, but temptation comes in many forms and guises. And right now it was in the form of the handsomest devil Fox Mulder had ever set his sights for. It was another moment where Mulder had to catch his breath and remember that he was the predator here, Krycek his game. And after all, two million was pocket change to this man.

"You think I'd throw my case for money," Mulder said. "Not going to happen. And those Swiss gentlemen would be awfully curious to see my bank account grow so rapidly."

"I'd show you how to hide it," Krycek promised. "Come run away with me."

"We'd be fugitives," Mulder said.

"Fugitives with means," Krycek said. "That makes all the difference."

If Krycek only knew just how tempted he was. Too tempted. The picture of them hiding in luxury hotels in Paris and Venice, on exotic beaches in Thailand and Tahiti, in Ipanema and Sydney was just perfect. Too perfect. Suddenly Mulder was distrustful. This was just a game to Krycek. He was being played. Another bluff, another feint. He was being lured off the scent. Oh, that was good, very good, but Mulder could play too.

"Do you think they have happy endings for people like us?" he asked.

"Nice tan," Doggett snarled as Mulder walked in Monday morning. He wasn't exactly sure where Mulder and Krycek had gotten to this weekend. Someplace tropical from the look of it. Jurisdiction and all that had foiled their tailing him, and nobody had told Krycek that they had to remain in the country. On the one hand, they had a real close witness, on the other, Doggett was beginning to doubt just how much Mulder was really on their side and if it was really the painting he was looking for here.

As was getting to be almost a pattern here, Scully stepped up and separated them. God but Scully looked good. Color in her cheeks, little smiles stealing onto her face when she thought people weren't looking. Not so much smiles but satisfied smirks. Jesus, was everyone around here but him getting laid? And getting laid good. Both Mulder and Scully had that well-fucked looked about them. He didn't want to think about what Scully and Reyes were getting on with, and he couldn't stop thinking about what Mulder and Krycek were doing. He had to start thinking clearly. And with the big head, not the little one. He needed some rational perspective.

Meanwhile, he hardly listened as Scully was telling Mulder, "It's almost spooky. You were right. There is a connection between Krycek and Cardinale."

She got out the file, and showed records and news clippings as she spoke, "They owned a couple of galleries together. In Berlin, from 1990 through 1994. In Milan from 1985 through 1987. I wasn't able to prove a connection between Krycek and the gallery that Cardinale owned here in New York from 1995 through 1996, when he was arrested for trying to pass the fake Goya, but signs point to the fact that Cardinale had a silent partner, one with big financial guns."

Meanwhile, Mulder, though listening, had taken the file and was riffling through it with the intensity that Doggett had come to recognize as a precursor to some gem or another. And Doggett wasn't disappointed. Mulder surfaced with a news clipping in hand. He held it up triumphantly. "Ah, that explains the look. Did you notice? When we handed over the forgery, something crossed his face. A kind of pride. I thought at first it might be at his own work, but it wasn't. Look. It was paternal pride. He has a son."

Doggett looked at the newpaper clipping and saw one brief mention of a Ramone L. Cardinale. "So, we look for the son," he said. "He's bound to be around somewhere. Krycek had to keep him close to get the forgery done that quickly."

The week passed without much progress. Cardinale's son was nowhere to be found, but Doggett had the NYPD out pounding the pavement on that one, and Mulder had no doubt that the man would be found eventually. Mulder spent his time combing auction records, the annual reports of any museums that Krycek might have donated art to, anything that looked like it was work but would keep him from coming to the undeniable proof that Krycek was his thief. He didn't hear from Krycek, but he wasn't surprised by that. The man was busy, and he was playing out some line for Mulder to tangle himself up in. But Mulder wasn't playing, wasn't letting himself worry about the absence.

On Thursday, Doggett came to him, with another file. He opened it and started to show Mulder the pages inside, saying, even as Mulder turned his head, not wanting to see what was on them, "No, I think you need to see these."

Mulder looked. He recognized the woman that Krycek was with immediately. The arm candy that he'd gone to the black and white ball with. The slim, exotic jailbait. She looked just as beautiful here on Krycek's arm. In one photo, he was kissing her. It was hard to tell from the angle and the captured moment if it was a chaste peck on the cheek or a full out kiss.

"This was Monday night," Doggett said. He pulled out more photos. Same woman with Krycek, different dress. "Tuesday. And Wednesday. Three dates in three nights. He must be pretty serious about this woman."

At Mulder's silence, Doggett continued digging in and twisting until he had to know it hurt, even when Mulder was denying to himself that any of this mattered, "He's been playing you, Mulder. Look, I'm sorry, but you need to see this."

When Mulder's stunned silence continued into long minutes, Doggett asked, "Are you okay?"

Mulder was then able to draw himself up, pull himself together and say, "I'm fine."

Then he walked away from Doggett, who couldn't, it appeared, be ditched so easily. Doggett caught up quickly, then it was he who was guiding the pair of them, out of the precinct building, and across the street into a little diner. He motioned Mulder into a stool at the counter and ordered coffee for the both of them.

"What is this?" Mulder asked. "I told you. I'm fine."

"Let me tell you something about fine, Mulder," Doggett said. "One night, my lover, a man I'd been living with for three years went out by himself on Friday night. When he came back on Monday morning, it was to pack his bags. He was married, to this actress. Even had her name tattooed on his bicep. Everyone was real concerned about me, kept asking me how I was. I told them all I didn't care. Didn't bother me. I was fine. So fine that in the space of the next seventy-two hours I flipped my car at a freeway exit, beat a suspect until he was unconscious, got a month long suspension, then went out, got good and drunk and got fucked by ten, twelve strangers. I'm not sure. I lost count after a while, and I'm not even sure if any of them used condoms. But I was just fine."

For a minute, Mulder could forget all of the wild, accusatory thoughts he was attempting to suppress, and picture the detective hurt, crazy and in denial about much he was hurting. It awoke a great tenderness in Mulder, made him wish for a minute that this was the man that sent his blood boiling. He suppressed an urge to reach out and stroke the other man along his fine, strong jawline. Instead, he looked Doggett in the eye, and confidently said, "But I really am fine. I've got this under control."

He was about to say more, and he even found his hand raising, as if he was going to touch the proud detective, who was really, Mulder noticed for the first time, quite handsome. But then his cell phone rang. He sighed and silenced its irritating jangle, then spoke into it.

"Mulder," he said.

"It's Lexi," the voice on the other end of the line spoke. "Are you free for dinner tonight?"

"I think I could make that," Mulder said, still looking at Doggett. The moment had passed.

The last remains of a superlative meal at an exclusive looking little bistro that had all of the hallmarks of an undiscovered treasure had just been cleared away. They were staring at each other over demitasses of perfect espresso when Krycek reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a leather covered box. Even the box looked expensive. "Just a little something I wanted you to have," Krycek said. He presented it to Mulder.

Mulder opened it and it took all his control not to let his jaw drop. It was a gold Patek Philippe watch, something that outclassed the Movado he was wearing by far.

"You're not going to say that you couldn't possibly or anything like that, are you?" Krycek asked.

"Oh, no. I would never say something so boring," Mulder said. "Of course not. It's beautiful. Thank you."

Even as he tucked the precious watch away in his breast pocket, he told himself that it was just more bait, that it was another part of Krycek's game.

Later that evening, they were speeding past Central park on their way down to midtown. Krycek said, "A friend of mine wanted me to drop by and see his new Fragonard. I'd hoped you'd come with. I know Fragonard is a little...florid, but I just might be able to bear it if you were with me."

The images of Krycek with that beautiful woman kept flashing before Mulder's eyes, no matter how he worked to suppress them. She really was beautiful, perhaps in a way that was too fragile for her to make it as a fashion model, but it must have made her even more precious to Krycek. Honestly, he had nothing to compare with her in the looks department. That and the fact that as a powerful man, Krycek would always want some female trophy to complete the picture could lead Mulder to only further to the same conclusion- he was being played.

"I think I'd rather go home," Mulder said. He spoke up to the driver of Krycek's Bently, "Jimmy, take me home."

"No, Jimmy, keep going," Krycek said.

"Jimmy! Stop the car. Now," Mulder insisted.

Jimmy pulled the car over as soon as the right most lane was clear. Mulder opened the door and stumbled out of the Bentley onto the sidewalk, then straight into the park. He was intending, despite the late hour, to walk until his head was clear and he could think with the appropriate organ.

Krycek got out of the car as well, hurrying after Mulder, who snapped, "You can take your armcandy to go look at your friend's pictures of naked fat women."

"Fox, I let them take those pictures," Krycek said, almost pleadingly.

"Oh, sure, so you could play more of your little head games with me."

"You're upset. Don't you see? I had to known if it would make you angry," Krycek said. "I had to know if it was just all about the damn painting."

There was such an air of sincerity and earnest hurt in his voice that Mulder wondered, perhaps for the first time, if this might not be a game afterall. Because that voice, and the way that voice was affecting Mulder, made him wonder if they both just might have made the stupidest possible move in this big poker game of theirs- falling in love.

"She's the daughter of an old friend," Krycek said. "I keep an eye on her when she's in town for him. And I am as gay as you are, afterall, Fox."

He stepped closer to Mulder, until they were almost touching. His aftershave was even more noticeable now than usual- all sex and smoke. Mulder swallowed hard. He didn't want to do this. He didn't want to be attracted to Krycek, didn't want to do what he knew would be almost inevitable. That he would break down and go home with Krycek and that would be the end of it.

"I don't think I could be faking this," Krycek said. He reached for Mulder's hand and placed it on top of his fine wool trousers. Krycek pressed Mulder's hand down slightly, so that he could feel the hard cock waiting there. Next, his lips were on Mulder's, his passionate kiss blocking out most of Mulder's moan. That moan was equal parts agony at his defeat, frustration and desire. After mere seconds of this deliciously arousing contact, Krycek stepped away from him, back towards the vehicle. "I'll reschedule with my friend," he said.

Mulder followed him back into the car, strangely obedient, as if Krycek had found the little string that connected directly to his dick and was pulling him along by it.

"Home, Jimmy," Krycek said, as soon as the car door was shut.

Later that night, lazing naked on Krycek's six-hundred thread count Italian sheets, they held each other and talked.

"I'll put the painting back, and then both of us will be free," Krycek said, murmuring the words between nuzzling Mulder's skin with lips that felt like velvet.

Mulder would have sat bolt upright in the bed, except for Krycek's distracting attentions. Feather strokes of fingers on his belly and a lazy sweep of Krycek's leg on his own complimented the touches of his lip on Mulder's chest. He did manage to get out, "You're going to put it back? What? On the wall of the museum?"

"Yes, back where it belongs. Then we'll go away together. Fall in Paris can be so beautiful. Or Australia. We'll go to Australia. It's spring there."

"It's not that simple," Mulder protested as best as he was able, considering the distraction that Krycek was using on him. "It can't be that simple."

"It can be. Just trust me, Fox," he said. "Meet me Saturday at five at the Wall Street heliport and it will all be taken care of."

Then he changed tactics from a simple diversionary nuzzle to a full out frontal attack. His lips found Mulder's nipple and latched on. Mulder suddenly couldn't think. Not about the damn painting, certainly not about the job he was supposed to be doing. Nothing for the moment mattered but the way his back arched with pleasure at the alternately harsh and gentle play Krycek was inflicting on his nipples. Though they'd both come just a little while ago, Mulder was achingly hard again, and breathing heavily. He was needing to be fucked again but not willing to say how much he needed it. It didn't matter. Krycek reached for the package of condoms again. Mulder's cock twitched as he heard the condom wrapper tear, then there was a long, impossible moment of hesitation as Krycek rolled it on. Krycek pushed at Mulder until he was up on his knees, then without hesitation, mounted him. Mulder was still slick from their lovemaking earlier. Krycek slid right home as if he'd never left.

"Please," Mulder murmured, not even to Krycek in particular, but just because he could hardly bear the way he lost himself in the feel of Krycek's weight on his back, the slight prickle of Krycek's stubbly chin, a little overdue for a shave on the back of his sensitive neck, the rich, musky smell of earlier sex and semen. At Mulder's whispers, Krycek just increased his intensity, taking it as a cue to thrust deeper. Every moment, every motion of Krycek's seemed drawn out to hours and it was an eternity later that Mulder was surprised by the sudden way his body seemed to draw up into itself, then wrench any last conscious control from him. He managed to bury his face in a pillow to silence the groan he held back as much as he could. It hadn't seemed like it was going to end, this love making. He didn't want this, didn't want it to be so earth-shattering. If only it could have been two bodies touching, like any two strangers in a back room. He didn't want to admit that it meant more to him than just another way to keep Krycek close. As soon as he came back to himself, Mulder could feel the tense fury of Krycek's body suddenly release itself. He felt on the back of his neck more than heard Krycek's gasp.

Afterwards, after Krycek had released him, and they'd cleaned themselves, then Krycek spoke to him again, "It really can be that simple. You'll see."

Tomorrow came more quickly than Mulder expected it, and in the morning light, what had seemed so easy to promise seemed impossible and the words that flowed so freely from his lips were like birds of regret, flown away and impossible to recall. Mulder stole away before Krycek stirred. Reluctantly he pulled himself out of the firmly plush bed covered with the silky high thread count cotton sheets and started dressing in the clothes he'd discarded with such abandon the night before.

Krycek didn't wake, but Mulder passed Paul, the housekeeper in the hall. "I won't be staying for breakfast, Paul," Mulder told him, then lied. "I have an early meeting. You'll let Mr. Krycek know?"

"Very good, sir," Paul said, then faded down the hall as softly as if he'd never been there.

At work, there was nothing left to do but face the piper. He'd been dancing along nicely to this merry little tune, but time always comes when its time to pay up.

The brown envelope was still waiting for him on his desk. He had to open it. He'd been putting it off long enough. He'd already cut open and discarded the outer plastic envelope from Fed Ex. These pictures of the edges had been rushed to him overnight, but he'd deliberately avoided opening them until now, for fear that they could be damning.

He stood up from his desk and went in search of either Scully or Doggett. Since he wasn't NYPD, he just couldn't go to the evidence room himself and check something out. He had to get one of the pair of them to do it for him. His luck had him laying his eyes on Doggett first. Doggett was pouring himself a cup of coffee and considering the box of donuts someone had left beside the coffee maker. Mulder went up to him and held up the brown paper envelope.

"What's this?" Doggett asked as he abandoned the idea of a donut. All that was left by this time was plain and glazed.

"The edges I requested," Mulder said. "I'd like to compare them against our faux painting."

"That's what that envelope was?" Doggett asked, sounding annoyed. "How long have they been sitting here unopened, Mulder?"

"Well, they're open now," Mulder snapped. "Can we go down to the evidence room?"

A short while later, they were standing around a desk, the full size stripes of pictures lying next to the forgery. Mulder sighed, "I'd want to scan in the picture and do a computer comparison before I'd testify, but I'd say we've got a match here. Whoever painted this was in the presence of the original."

"Oh, hey, did I tell you? We picked up the guy who hired those guys from Little Odessa. He claims someone set him up to it for a cut, but he doesn't know the guy's name. We've got enough priors on him though that I'm sure a little friendly persuasion will get him singing a different tune."

Shit. They were getting closer. The chain of evidence was getting stronger and surer. Considering his method of acquiring it, the painting might or might not be admissible as evidence, but if it were, that and the strips, and of course, his subpoenaed testimony as a material witness would make good, hard convicting evidence.

Doggett cleared his throat, paused a minute and spoke, "You know, I owe you an apology. I didn't think you had the chops to see this thing through."

"Well, you don't know me," Mulder said.

"I should have. You'd go right up to the pearly gate and kick St. Peter in the teeth before you'd let someone play you," Doggett said, then turned back to their evidence. All Mulder could do was swallow hard.

As soon as they could check the forgery back in, and log the photo edges in as new evidence, Mulder excused himself. He stepped out into the hallway and pressed one of the quick dial buttons on his phone.

"Look, Danny, it's Mulder," he said. "Yeah, I know that. That doesn't matter. Just listen to me. What I need you to tell me is if I had to disappear quickly, like by the end of the day, how much could I take with me? No, I mean really disappear. Yes, I know I'd be losing a hell of a lot of money, but I need to know."

Danny named a figure. It wasn't impressive, but it would be supplemented nicely by the bundle of cash he'd won off Walter Skinner in the poker game. That sat in his safe deposit box. He should be able to get there before he had to take off. Still, it hurt that he'd probably have to write both the New York apartment and the London flat off as a total loss, same for a lot of his long term investments.

Once he was sure that he could walk away with at least enough to survive, he walked out of the precinct house. He had to know something, had to find it out before he took this crucial step. Even if so far, he'd done nothing that was particularly illegal, as unethical as he'd been playing, once his actions came out, as they would, his career would be in shreds. Ribbons.

He flagged down the first empty cab he came across and gave the cabbie Krycek's address. The crawl uptown was simply agonizing in its slowness. It was one of those times of day where the pedestrians were making better time than the cars. At length, he just shoved a bill at the cabbie, not even knowing if it was fifty or a twenty. Then he got out of the car and started walking uptown.

It had started out as one of those perfect fall days, with a brilliant blue sky, but as he walked, clouds began to gather in the sky, for the moment only hinting at the rains to come. The wind was blowing cold off the sea. One almost forgets until times like this that Manhattan was a maritime island, only protected from the ocean by the tip of Long Island.

He reached Krycek's door more quickly than he'd expected. He knocked on the door and was let in by Paul. "Where is he? I need to see him?" he demanded.

Mulder's eye fell immediately on a small pile of luggage waiting by the stairs. It was beautiful luggage really, Louis Vuitton.

"He's in a meeting. If you'll just wait in the sitting room, he'll be right in," Paul said.

"Where is he?" Mulder asked. He looked up the stairs and turned towards them, as if he was going to start climbing them. Paul closed his mouth tightly, not quite a clench of the jaw, but it was the closest thing to emotion that had ever crossed his smooth, decorative face. Yes, Krycek was upstairs, and Paul was under express orders that he not be disturbed for some reason. Mulder made as if he was going to go up the stairs, earning him a nearly panicked response from Paul.

"Sir, just a minute. If you wait here, I'll get him for you," Paul said as he tried to insert himself between Mulder and the stairs.

It didn't matter. Krycek was walking down the stairs, and he was not alone.

Walking just in front of him was the jailbait armcandy. Krycek had his hand protectively and possessively on her back as they walked down the stairs.

"Just had to see if it was all about the painting," Mulder accused. "You bastard. You're the one who's been stringing me along. It's all a game with you."

The arm candy's eyes widened, as if she was frightened by Mulder. She turned to Krycek, who kissed her on the cheek, softly and briefly, then told her, "Perhaps you'd better go now."

When she was gone, Krycek turned to Mulder and said, "I told you the truth. She is the daughter of an old friend of mine. She was also doing some important work for me. I had to make sure she was paid before I left."

"Oh, is that what they're calling it these days?" Mulder snapped. He pointed to the luggage. "You're running away with her. Aren't you?"

"I'm leaving with you," Krycek said. "That was our plan. Don't you remember? I'm going to put the painting back on the wall at the museum tomorrow. You can meet me at the heliport at five, or you can have them there waiting for me. I'm trusting you. Isn't that what you want? But you have to trust me, Fox."

Krycek tried to take Mulder into his arms to kiss him. At first, Mulder couldn't help responding to the still new touch, the choking, arousing feel of adrenaline that flowed through him. Every time he kissed this man, it was like that, this desire mixed with fear.

"How can I?" Mulder said, turning on his heel and fleeing.

Not long after he'd started his walk back downtown, the storm broke, suddenly pouring its pitchers of rain down on him, wilting the wool suit he'd worn for work that day. His trench coat was still hanging in the precinct house, next to Doggett's. Mulder could picture them side by side, black and gray.

He snapped open his phone and dialed another one of his quick dial numbers. It was answered only after being bounced back and forth between lines for a minute.

"Lone Gunmen," answered a distorted voice on the other end of the line.

"Frohike, it's me, turn off the tape," Mulder said.

After a few seconds, the voice was replaced by a more normal sounding voice. Frohike in his usual empathic and understanding mood.

"What do you need now, Mulder?" he asked.

"I just need an address," Mulder said. "Detective John Doggett."

"Ah," Frohike said. "Your pal from the NYPD. Sure, here goes. He lives in Queens."

Then Frohike rattled off an address, finishing with, "You got that?"

"Yeah, I got it. Thanks," Mulder said.

It was dark already by the time Doggett heard the knock on his door. He almost didn't answer. Probably just the Jehovah's Witnesses again. Instead, he stirred his can of soup on the stove and wondered where the hell Mulder had gotten himself to. The knock came again, more insistent. Doggett turned the soup down to a simmer and went out to the hall. He switched on the porchlight and looked out the peephole. The distorted picture showed a downtrodden man, dark hair, dark suit. Sodden. Damn, that was Mulder. Doggett opened the door immediately.

Mulder stumbled inside. "I'm not fine, John. I need to talk to you."

Doggett put a hand on Mulder's shoulder and all but dragged him far enough inside the front hall to shut the storm door, blocking the wind.

"I owe you an apology. I let you think that I'd never let anyone play me," Mulder said. "He played me but good, John."

"We'll talk about that later," Doggett said. "Let's get you out of these wet clothes."

Mulder didn't move, but stood there shivering, as if he were almost in shock. Doggett sighed and put his arm around Mulder's shoulder, then started steering him up the stairs. Mulder was quietly obedient, for probably the only time that he'd see it, Doggett thought.

Upstairs, Doggett maneuvered Mulder into his own bedroom, sat him down on the bed and started digging in a drawer for a dry pair of sweats. He tossed them at Mulder, who didn't catch them, but let them land on his lap.

"Mulder, you're not doing anyone, much less yourself any good by letting your balls freeze like this," Doggett said.

Some glimmer of life in Mulder's eyes was stoked into a small flame. Mulder started undoing his tie. He struggled with the wet fabric for a while, but at last he was able to untie it and drape the limp strip of silk over the end of the bed. Doggett turned to go, give Mulder some privacy, but then Mulder said, "Wait." Doggett stood still as Mulder rose from the bed undressing himself, nimble fingers now unbuttoning his shirt. He shed the shirt and his jacket at the same time, and when he was bare-chested, he walked over to Doggett.

Doggett wasn't quite sure where this was leading, but he figured that he might want to get out of here right about now. Before he could move, Mulder had put restraining hands on his shoulders and gently, tentatively touched his lips to Doggett's.

It was like a current, a torrent passing through him, that subtle, delicate touch and he couldn't help opening his mouth a little, responding to Mulder, melting against him. It took all his willpower to turn away from this kiss, but he did, pushing Mulder away with firm, but gentle hands on his chest.

"Uh-uh," Doggett said. "Not such a good idea."

Mulder hadn't realized how much he really wanted to do this until Doggett had pushed him away. It was natural, almost inevitable for him to want the only thing that was denied to him. He suddenly craved that tender, responsive kiss that he'd stolen from Doggett. At first, he'd made his move in hopes that it would drive all thoughts of Lexi from his mind. It hadn't. It was something else all together, a new taste, a new want.

"Please, John," he said, amazed to hear himself pleading like this. "I need this. I need you."

He insinuated himself closer to Doggett, reaching out for the man's belt buckle. He undid it, thinking that the other man would surely brush his hands away. He didn't. Mulder quickly undid the zipper and top button of his pants. Doggett just moaned at the touch and closed his eyes, encouraging Mulder to go further. Mulder hesitated when he saw how abandoned and wild the man looked. Doggett opened his eyes again.

"What's wrong?" he asked, gently. It struck Mulder as incongruous to hear him speak that way with his cock sticking out of the fly of his gray knit boxers that way.

Still, he managed to speak, to make what he needed known. "I need you to make me forget him, John. I need you to top me."

Doggett was completely lost when he heard Mulder whisper those words, as if he wasn't lost the instant the man had showed up on his porch. He let his pants slide all the way down to the floor, adding his boxers to them. It was the work of a moment to do the same to Mulder's pants, then to push him onto the bed and fall on top of him. He spent a long time kissing Mulder, exploring his mouth. Mulder would grind his hips against Doggett's, insinuate his leg between Doggett's. But Doggett wasn't going to stand for that. For some reason, this rare and precious creature had come to alight in his bed for what was probably this one time only. Doggett was going to treasure it and make it last. "Stop topping me from the bottom, Mulder," he said as he rolled himself on top of Mulder again. "You want to be topped, we do it my way."

In the end, it was the gentle, tender things that he did, rather than any dominant topping, that made Mulder gasp the hardest. When he finally was ready to penetrate Mulder and he turned him, not onto his back or his stomach, but onto his side directing him to pull one knee up to his chest, that made Mulder shudder. During the act, when Mulder's hands were grasping at the bedsheets for something to hang on to, Doggett grabbed them both and pulled them close, holding Mulder around the chest. That made Mulder turn his head and gasp a hard breath in. And afterwards, Mulder seemed surprised when Doggett didn't immediately pull away, but stayed to hold him as they fell asleep together. It was as if Mulder had a harder time accepting tenderness than he did sheer, rough fucking. Doggett allowed himself to fall asleep as he pondered this.

Mulder woke to a gentle nudge of his shoulder. He opened his eyes reluctantly and saw Doggett standing beside the bed with a tray. Two bowls and two plates were on the tray, on the plates were grilled cheese sandwiches, golden brown and crispy looking.

"As they say," Doggett said. "You can eat crackers in my bed any time. Or in this case, grilled cheese"

Mulder opened his mouth, to protest that Doggett shouldn't treat him so well but before he could, Doggett said, "It's okay. You don't gotta go into full color and four part harmony. You're just using me to forget him. It's okay. Now eat some dinner and tell me what you came to tell me."

Mulder had only a moment of hesitation before he said, "We have a chance to nail the bastard."

He was going to say more, but before he did, Doggett interrupted, "Now, think carefully if you really want to do this." Doggett said. "Because you know if you give me anything, I've got to act on it."

"I'm sure," Mulder said, even though he wasn't. "He says he's going to put the painting back on the wall at the museum tomorrow at four."

"So, we'll be there and we'll nail him. You eat, I'm going to go make some calls."

Krycek and Skinner weren't boxing this evening, but cooking together again. He hadn't told Skinner he was leaving yet, and he wasn't going to. The other man would find out only after he was gone. Krycek was cutting onions and his knife slipped. There was a sudden flush of red and a stinging pain from his finger. Skinner took charge, rinsing the cut and bandaging it.

"What's wrong with you, Lexi?" Skinner asked as he wrapped the bandage around Krycek's finger. "You're not paying attention. What's going on with you?"

"I love him, Walter," Krycek admitted. "And he doesn't trust me. I'm afraid I've lost him."

Krycek didn't say much more. He didn't need to. Skinner laughed for a moment then stopped himself. "That's rich, Lexi. That's really rich. Peter Pan decides to grow up and he finds there's no place to land. But the sad thing is if Mulder's anything like you, he won't realize what he's given up until it's gone."

"You're not being particularly helpful, Walter," Krycek complained. They started to work again, this time Skinner taking up the knife and the onions.

"You're a pirate," Skinner said. "Asking someone to trust you is like the spider asking the fly to trust it."

"And you? Do you trust me?" Krycek asked.

"I'm a fellow spider," Skinner said. "Get to work on that salad. I'm starving."

They were crowded, as many of them as could fit in the museum's small security room, watching the video monitors, waiting for something to happen. Four o'clock had crept past with no sign of Krycek and it was coming on four fifteen.

Mulder was towards the back of the room, close enough so he could see the screen, but considering this was supposed to be the highlight of his career, he felt curiously disengaged from the action. He just wanted this to be over with.

Doggett's phone jangled and he answered it. "What do you mean she got away?" he said. Then, "Well go look for her. The airports, the bus station, all the usual places."

"What?" Mulder asked when Doggett was done.

"The forger. You don't think we dropped that, did you?" Doggett said. "It was a misprint in the article. An e instead of an a. Cardinale has a daughter, not a son. Ramona Luisa Cardinale. Chip off the old block apparently. Krycek has known her since she was a little kid and he became her guardian when her old dad got sent upstate. You've met her, I think. The little chickadee in those photos."

Mulder suddenly felt sick to his stomach. The girl was all but Krycek's daughter, not his armcandy. And, as illegal as it was, he must have legitimately been paying her for the forgery. It was a test, all a test. Well, screw that.

That was when Krycek stepped into the museum lobby. Doggett caught sight of him on the monitors first and said into his walkie-talkie, "There he is, Scully. Move in quietly, we don't want a scene."

Doggett's partner, Scully, along with Monica Reyes and about twenty more of New York's finest were scattered throughout the lobby and the first couple of rooms of the museum.

"Bring it on," Mulder murmured to himself in the back of the room. Krycek seemed unconcerned. Oddly unconcerned. He was still standing in the lobby. He all but looked up at the security camera and waved.

"What's he doing?" Doggett asked. "It's like he wants to make sure we see him."

That was when Krycek reached behind him and put on the bowler had that he'd been carrying. Bowler hat, gray overcoat, where had Mulder seen those before. Then he knew. The Magritte. He couldn't help smiling.

Krycek started moving. He'd only gone twenty feet or so when another man, wearing overcoat and bowler, carrying an identical black briefcase to the one Krycek was carrying. They walked close to each other, then exchanged briefcases.

"He's switching briefcases," Doggett said. He was starting to sound worried. "Stay with the painting. Stay with the briefcase. Is the post-Impressionist wing locked up tight?"

"Gates are down," some museum security guard said. "If he's going to hang it back on a wall, it won't be in there."

That was when things got confusing.

Suddenly there were ten, no dozens of the faux Kryceks, all in bowlers and overcoats. All carrying identical briefcases.

Mulder could hear Scully speak through Doggett's walkie-talkie, "What do we do now, Johnny? There must be fifty of them."

"Start arresting people," Doggett ordered.

Mulder couldn't help grinning as he caught the police arresting one of the faux Kryceks. His briefcase fell open and dozens of prints of the Magritte businessman fell out.

"You warned him," Doggett accused. "Did you warn him?"

"No, of course not," Mulder said. How could he have? He'd spent most of the last eighteen hours in Doggett's company, only leaving his side long enough to change clothes.

That was when the fire alarms went off.

"Sprinklers are going off in the post impressionist wing," someone said.

"Okay," Doggett ordered. "Let's concentrate on getting the civilians out safely."

It took a good ten minutes before the people were cleared from the museum and the fire alarm system, including the sprinklers could be turned off. They went to go look at the damage, if any, to the post impressionist wing.

Somehow, one of the gates had been lifted, just enough to put one of the briefcases under it. They checked it. It was another one of the briefcases with a titanium grate in it. Mulder walked into the room with the others. A black cylinder caught his eye immediately. He picked it up.

"Smoke bombs," he pronounced.

He looked all around the room. Metal shutters had closed around all the paintings. Except one. The Van Gogh irises, now back in its place on the wall. Underneath it, the white wall was stained with a dripping mess of wet paint. Doggett reached out and touched that, "Watercolor of some kind."

"That painting has been there since, what, one or two days after it was stolen," Scully said. "That's good. He put it back in place right under everyone's nose. Look, there's something blocking the track."

Then Scully pulled a pair of latex gloves out of her pocket and put one on. She carefully pried the object out of the track, then turned it, so that they all could see that it was pencil, imprinted with the logo of Krycek Acquisitions. They started to retract the metal shutters, exposing the rest of the paintings. They were, all of the, safe and sound in their places, not even wet. Except for one. The Cafe Terrace, Arles at Night was missing. Mulder's favorite. He remembered their first date, in this very room, him teasing Krycek, "Will you get it for me?"

Then Krycek saying, "Anything's obtainable."

It was the most romantic, impossible, infuriating, unbelievable thing anyone had done for him. He swallowed hard, wondering if possibly, in some impossible way if it wasn't too late. He checked his watch, the gold Patek Philippe Krycek had given him. Just past four thirty.

He turned to go, hoping to sneak out while everyone's attention was on the crime scene. Doggett's eye, as always, was sharper than that. He followed Mulder a short distance, until they were out of the ear shot of the others. "Going somewhere?" he asked.

"Oh, just back to the office to write up the report," Mulder said.

"You're done, the painting's back in place," he said.

"The new one missing isn't covered by my people," Mulder said. "The case is done for me. But not you."

"I could give a shit. Oh, I'll do what they tell me," Doggett said. "Look, the week before I met you, I busted two crooked real estate agents who were stealing from old people and a guy who was beating his foster kids to death. So if someone wants to steal pieces of canvas covered with swirls of paint that are only really important to some very rich people, I could care less. Go on, tell him I said hi."

Mulder leaned in closely, planted a brief kiss on Doggett's lips, then backed away just as quickly. "You're a good man, Johnny," he said.

Doggett turned to go back to the crime scene, and said, gruffly, "And don't stiff us for your phone bill."

Mulder grabbed the first cab he could flag down. He pushed a hundred at the driver. "Just go. There's another one of these if you get me to the Wall St. Heliport before five."

That, through Manhattan traffic at rush hour, was a tall order, but the cabbie had a certain crazy gleam to his eye that made Mulder trust that this one believed that the city was his own personal motor speedway. And though he swore he heard bumpers kissing bumpers several times, and at least once his life flashed in front of his eyes as they merged in front of a speeding semi, they made it.

They made it there with only a minute to spare. Mulder thrust another hundred at the driver and climbed out of the cab. He ran through the heliport, right through the doors onto the tarmac even though personnel tried to stop him. He caught sight of a lone figure looking out over the harbor, from the edge of the tarmac. It was a man, dressed in a gray overcoat, wearing a bowler.

"Lexi!" Mulder shouted as he approached, his heart soaring. he hadn't been too late.

Then his hopes plummeted to the bottom of the chasm as the man turned. It wasn't Krycek. It was just a man. A stranger. But he was carrying a big, leather portfolio. This he thrust out at Mulder asking, "You must be Fox?"

Mulder nodded.

"Mr. Krycek wanted you to have this," he said. Then he handed off the portfolio. He tipped his bowler and left Mulder alone on the tarmac.

Mulder was almost afraid to open up the portfolio. He was sure what was inside. He forced himself to peek, and a flash of blue and gold confirmed his fears. Of all the impossible, incredible burdens to leave him with. And yet, he could only cry as he understood how wrong he had been and how much Krycek must love him, and how badly he'd betrayed that love.

Wiping tears from his face, and then grabbing his sunglasses from his pocket to cover his eyes, he trudged back through the heliport. He caught the first cab he saw, and told the driver to take him to the airport. He called an airline en route, just dialing the first number of one that came to his mind. Where did he want to go? Was any place on earth not going to be a hell, knowing what he had lost. Smart money was on going home and squaring things away with the insurance company, then looking for his next gig. But he couldn't stop thinking of that enchanted weekend in the Caribbean with Krycek. "The Caicos," he told the reservationist.

Then he placed another call, this number also coming out of memory. When the other line was picked up at long last he said, in response to the familiar hello, "Byers, this Mulder. I need you guys to run one last errand for me. Meet me at JFK."

They arranged a meeting place and time. Then Mulder sat back and started to stop thinking about the rest of his life.

Mulder had expected to see all three of the Gunmen in the airport, but it was just Byers, in his awkward, awful suit and ugly striped tie. But he seemed glad to see Mulder and had come without complaint.

"Are you all right, Mulder?" he asked, his normally soft voice full of concern.

"No, here," Mulder said. He shoved the portfolio at Byers. "I need you to get this to Detective Doggett as soon as you can, at police headquarters. With this note."

Byers took the portfolio. He looked inside, and though he didn't say anything, his eyebrows lifted, and he whistled. "Right away. And Mulder?" he asked.


"I don't think he would have given up on you this easily. I saw how he was looking at you in the museum."

"I wish you were right, Byers," Mulder said. "I've got to go or I'll miss my flight."

Even with a drink or three for solace, Mulder broke down in tears on the plane, brushing them away from his face, stifling the useless, wrenching sobs that kept trying to escape him. It was humiliating to cry in near public like this, even though it was the relative privacy of first class.

The person in the seat behind him pushed a linen handkerchief at him. He took it, but he stared when he caught sight of the hand that offered it. It couldn't be, yet it was so familiar. He stood up in his seat and turned around. There, big grin on his face, daring him to do something about it almost, was Krycek.

"Krycek! Did you set this up?" Mulder demanded. He almost levitated over the seat back, landing on Krycek bodily. The stewardess made a few preliminary sounds about the fuss Mulder was making, as if she thought he was starting a fight, but by the time she got a really good look at what was going on, they were kissing.

Mulder stopped himself from plastering desperate kisses all over Krycek's face just long enough to ask, whispering now, "Did you set this up?"

Krycek just grinned and held Mulder closer.

"Tell you what," Mulder whispered. "You set anything like this up again and I'll break both your arms."

It was spring in New York, and the blue sky had decided to make the effort of breaking through the cloud cover. Everything smelled fresh, new, hardly like a city at all. The air seemed full of promises, new possibilities. The blue sky was that deep, flawless blue seen so rarely in the city.

Doggett was running in Central Park, not something he usually did, but today seemed to demand something special when he'd woken this morning. Monica and Scully had been to dinner last night and they'd both been threatening to set him up if he didn't make some effort to find someone sometime soon. So, maybe he'd go looking sometime. Maybe not. Life was normal, and this brilliant blue morning had made him remember how for a few weeks, last fall, everything had seemed impossible, brilliant, like he'd been tightrope walking.

Now, step after step, he was so caught up in his own thoughts that he hardly realized that someone had caught up to him until he heard a person beside him say, "Detective Doggett, I was hoping I'd run into you sometime."

Doggett, startled out of his thoughts, turned towards the source of the noise. It was Alex Krycek's attorney, the gym bunny by night, lawyer by day. And he didn't appear to have given up his gym bunny tendencies either. He was just as built as he'd been the last time Doggett had laid his eyes on the man. The USMC t-shirt revealed the man's build even better than the shirt he'd been wearing last time had. Doggett swallowed, remembering more than anything for some reason the stare that Skinner had pinned him with. It was like that now- a potentially possessive, immobilizing stare. Doggett stopped running and turned to face the other man dead on.

"Walter Skinner," the man said. "I don't think we were introduced formally last time."

"What can I do for you, Mr. Skinner?" Doggett asked.

"Nothing," Skinner said. "And please, it's Walter. I was just hoping to get better acquainted with you. I've been thinking about you ever since I saw you in Lexi's apartment. I've never seen anyone who delivers a search warrant quite like you."

"Search warrants, huh?"

Skinner didn't answer, but smiled slightly and said, "I'm good for another couple of more miles. You?"

"Sure," Doggett said, warily. He started to run again, Skinner keeping up easily. They must look like some kind of matched pair, because they kept getting odd glances. It was then he realized they were both wearing old Marine corps T-shirts.

"You know," Doggett said. "You could probably tell them they can come back. Both paintings are back in place. Considering his generous donations, the Museum seems inclined to forget it. Someone with a lot of influence somewhere told my superiors to tell me to drop it. No charges. Hell, I can't even figure what I'd charge him with. Practical joke carried too far?"

"Lexi said they might come back in the fall. I think they're too busy honeymooning right now."

"Where are they?"

"Last I talked to Lexi, they were trying to decided if they should stay on in Bali or go back to Paris," Skinner said. "Look, we've come to the museum. Do you want to go in and see the new pictures Lexi donated."

Doggett looked at the big white building, its decorative columns and broad porticos looking almost inviting. He'd been meaning to get in and see exactly how much it'd taken to soothe the museum's ruffled feathers, but he just never had.

"I'd like that," he said. "But I ain't exactly dressed for art appreciation."

"Nor am I," Skinner said. "Not that there is a dress code or any of that to appreciate art. Or, if you're not comfortable, we could make a date to come back tomorrow afternoon."

"A date?" Doggett said, unable to stop the slight grin that was creeping onto his face. "I think I'd like that."

"It's a date then," Skinner pronounced, sounding satisfied.

This, Doggett thought, should be interesting.


Author's notes:

Before any of my fellow art geeks out there get fussy at me, I'll make a few disclaimers. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as depicted in this story is not the real one, but rather, the one as portrayed in the movie I based this story on, which wasn't filmed in a museum at all. As far as I know, none of the security measures as described have any basis in reality. And for that matter, if one were really looking for Van Goghs and other post impressionists in New York, there are much better museums to go looking in, say the MoMA.

As for the paintings described, none of them are in the Met. The red and green bedroom is in the Art Institute of Chicago. The purple and white irises are in the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Cafe Terrace, Arles at night is in the Collection of the State Museum Kroller-Muller in the Netherlands. And the particular version of the sunflowers I was thinking of is in the National Gallery in London. The Met might have a copy of the Magritte, but I don't recall seeing it last time I was there.