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Playing The Angel

Chapter Text

WASHINGTON, DC
MARCH 1ST, 2016

So this is the end of the world, thought Mulder dully, peering out the grimy window on his left.

He could see glimpses of the Potomac through the trees, its wide, muddy expanse flowing placidly in the early spring sunshine. If he kept looking out that side, the opposite roadway of the George Washington Memorial Parkway just below his line of sight, Mulder could almost kid himself that everything was fine, that it was the old days again, when he would pick Scully up at the hospital on the way into town, go for dinner or to a movie, spend the night at her place. That they weren’t squeezed together on a school bus requisitioned to ferry those who had recovered back to their homes, to free up hospital beds for the people who were still sick.

But on the other side of the bus, he could see the outer lanes of the highway still clogged with cars abandoned at the height of the crisis. He noticed it was also now lined with army personnel, a stark reminder of the state of emergency declared when the virus hit two weeks earlier. The contagion was under control, at least in DC, but the world was still turned upside down and inside out.

“It’s not over, Scully,” he said.

“I know,” she agreed wearily. “But we must focus on getting you cured. Let others worry about that for now.”

Scully was looking straight ahead, her heavy-lidded eyes focused on nothing in particular. In profile, her Roman nose and prominent chin gave her a severe look which he knew others found intimidating, but all he could see now was exhaustion. She had worked tirelessly to produce the vaccine and save people’s lives. The CDC doctors now in charge of controlling the epidemic had all but ordered her to go home and get some rest.

Mulder turned to look out the window again. He thought about the spaceship that had appeared just before he passed out. Nobody mentioned it when he woke up at Our Lady of Sorrows a few days later, and he assumed he had imagined it until he saw pictures of it on TV. The official explanation, even though no one saw it again, was that it was a secret military aircraft co-opted to help get people to the hospitals. Mulder suspected it was a secret military aircraft that had been co-opted just to take him to the hospital. He was ready to bet there had been no aliens on board either.

“I can tell you one thing, Scully: when this is all over, I’m taking all the pictures people took of that UFO, and I’m going on national TV to say ‘I told you so’. There’s no way humans designed that propulsion system.”

This earned him a tired smile, and she squeezed his hand. “Vindicated at last.”

“You never know, people might even buy my book,” he added with a chuckle. He knew what would really happen: the military-industrial complex would acknowledge the existence of the vessel, but continue to claim it was entirely man-made. “We should go to the house as soon as we can. I have food stocks and a generator. And a satellite dish. Everything we need.”

“We also need a cure.” Scully’s hard features softened, and he could sense her desperation. “Provided you go through it every three days, the blood filtration will lessen your symptoms, but you will continue to get progressively worse until we find a more radical treatment.”

“Stem cell therapy from William. Right.” He tried not to let any emotion show as he added, “So we’ll get our friends at the FBI to unseal the adoption records and hope his adoptive parents are in a helpful mood. That shouldn’t take too long.”

“Mulder…”

She paused for too long. When he turned to look at her, she fixed her large, tired eyes on his and Mulder’s heart sank into his stomach. He knew something terrible had happened.

“I already asked Skinner to unseal the adoption records,” she said finally, in a low voice. “There—There were none. Just the original transfer of care when we—I gave him up.”

“So he wasn’t adopted?” asked Mulder, confused and fearful. He had always assumed their son William had been adopted into a caring, normal family. That thought was about the only thing that had helped him accept the situation. “Is he in a foster home, then?

Again Scully was silent, her eyes shining. She shook her head.

“The only record after that is a death certificate. Blood poisoning, apparently caused by an injection with a contaminated needle.”

Mulder stared at her. He knew he should say something. He had to think of something to say. He was supposed to be the child’s father, after all. The man for whom Scully had abandoned all hope of the normal family life she once craved. He was supposed to be supportive of Scully’s decision all those years ago. He was supposed to provide strength and support to this woman who had been his touchstone and savior for over twenty years.

In the end, “I’m sorry,” was all that came out, because that was what he’d been trained to say once upon a time. The catch-all social balm when announcing a death to the families of victims.

“Mulder, I took him to the hospital after Jeffrey Spender injected him,” said Scully, her sharp chin raised in determination. “The syringe and its contents were analyzed. There was nothing wrong with the needle. And I sure as hell would have noticed if he’d been ill before I took him to the adoption center! I’ve—I’ve asked Agent Miller to double-check the records.”

They sat in silence for a long time. Mulder had been a talkative man once. He could still get worked up enough for a verbal diatribe on some subjects, but not this one. He’d never felt that there was anything he could say.

“The cell network is down again,” said Scully after a long pause. It was typical of their relationship over the past fifteen years that one of them should change the subject whenever it touched upon their son. “Oh, I hope Daggoo is all right. I couldn’t get through to the dog sitter. I’ll have to go there as soon as you’re safe at my place.”

He squeezed her hand, small and delicate in his. There was a distinct possibility the dog sitter was dead. So many people had died that it would take months, maybe even years to tally the death count. Mulder gritted his teeth at the thought of the bastard who had done this. He wished once again that he had killed the son of a bitch when he had the chance. It felt better than dwelling on what Scully had told him.

The bus wound its way up onto the Key Bridge and dropped them off at the foot of the hill leading to Georgetown. Even though Scully was the one carrying the blood filtration machine, Mulder felt weak as a kitten, and it took way longer than it should to reach her block. When they did, they found the door to the building smashed in, with garbage and people’s personal belongings strewn across the front steps.

Mulder dug out his service revolver from his bag. The prospect of a fight gave him a boost of energy; he held the weapon at the ready, all senses alert, when they turned the corner leading to Scully’s apartment. They exchanged a grim look when they saw her door. Someone had tried to break the lock with a heavy implement, though the door was still shut.

Scully pulled out her keys and glanced at Mulder. He raised his gun, then nodded, and she cautiously unlocked the door and pushed it open.

The blinds and curtains in the living room were closed, plunging the apartment into semi darkness. They left their bags by the front door. Mulder let Scully go first, gun drawn, and followed, leaving the door open to provide light and the means of a quick escape. There was a haphazard stack of cans on the kitchen table to their left, along with half a six-pack of beer, some bottles of water and a couple of bags of flour and sugar. Someone was camping out here.

Advancing into the living room, they found a man lying on Scully’s couch, curled up in a fetal position under a comforter. There was a bottle of Coke and what looked like a photo album open on the coffee table, on top of some other magazines and papers that Mulder couldn’t make out clearly in the dim light. The man was snoring lightly, his face concealed under the covers. His feet stuck out the end; they were bare and blistered, their soles filthy as if he had walked barefoot through the city, even though there was a pair of worn sneakers on the floor.

The man had fallen asleep holding a gun, but it was lying beside him on the edge of the seat now, an inch from his relaxed fingers. Mulder exchanged a look with Scully and gestured from himself to the gun; she was closer, but he had a longer reach. Scully nodded. She moved around the coffee table to cover him from the other side. With her gun pointed at the man, she stood by her desk in the window alcove and placed her hand on the lamp switch.

Holding his breath and willing his tired muscles not to let him down, Mulder leaned over the coffee table to pick up the gun on the couch. It was Captain Scully’s old service revolver, and he could tell by the weight that it was loaded. Scully always kept the gun and its ammunition in separate boxes in her closet, and he felt a sharp stab of anger at the realization that the stranger had foraged through her bedroom. Pocketing the revolver, Mulder gave Scully a thumbs up and she switched on the lamp.

“Federal agents!” he shouted. “Sit up slowly and put your hands on your head!”

The man momentarily struggled with the covers, his movements groggy and confused, before emerging and placing his right hand on his head. His left arm remained caught under the comforter for a moment before he pulled it up too and blinked at them owlishly.

His dark hair was overgrown and unkempt, and a short, patchy beard covered the lower half of his face, but when Mulder looked more closely, there was no mistaking the thin nose and dark-rimmed eyes that looked up at them.

“Oh my God!” said Scully in a hushed tone.

Mulder stared in disbelief. “Krycek?”

Chapter Text

USMC BASE BRIG
QUANTICO, VIRGINIA
JANUARY 2002

“Don’t talk. You’re being watched.”

Mulder was standing in a prison interrogation room and staring at something that looked a lot like Alex Krycek. Except that wasn’t possible, because Krycek was dead.

Scully and Skinner couldn’t see him, so he had to be in Mulder’s head. That made sense. After all the torture and sleep deprivation, Mulder’s grasp on reality wasn’t the best these days. It wasn’t as if this was the first time Mulder had started seeing things either. Usually, he had visions of Deep Throat. That was more logical. Deep Throat was his Obi-Wan Kenobi, the man who had helped him when Scully joined the X-Files. Krycek was—He wasn’t sure what Krycek was. Something complicated he didn’t want to think about. He’d always regretted Deep Throat’s death. He didn’t regret Krycek’s. At least, he didn’t think he did.

“I don’t understand,” he whispered when Skinner and Scully had left. “Why are you helping me?”

Krycek’s voice was low and husky, just as he remembered it. “Because you can’t do this alone.”

* * * * *

GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON DC
PRESENT DAY

“You see him too, right?” asked Mulder, exchanging a worried look with Scully.

She nodded slowly. Lowering her gun, she went to shut the front door and turn the lights on. The man flinched; he closed his eyes, a horizontal crease appearing on the bridge of his nose. In the brighter light, it was plain to see this was Alex Krycek, or an extremely good facsimile; but one more akin to the desperate man Mulder once found in Hong Kong than the confident, mature killer he last saw in the flesh fifteen years earlier.

Mulder sank heavily into the armchair opposite the couch, his gun still pointed at the man’s chest. Their impromptu visitor continued to sit with his hands on his head, trembling slightly, his reddened eyes now wide with what appeared to be a mix of confusion and genuine fear.

Well, given what had happened last time they met, Mulder couldn’t blame him.

Given what had happened last time they met, Mulder was feeling scared and confused, too.

Scully lifted the comforter to check for weapons and instructed the man to lower his arms. She went back to sit on the edge of her desk and observed him thoughtfully.

“Who are you?” she asked.

The man turned to look at her and frowned. He swallowed a couple times before his voice came out in a croak. “I’m—I’m Alex Krycek. You know me.”

Over the years, Mulder’s memories of Alex Krycek had coalesced into the image of a handsome man in black, prosthetic arm clad in a leather glove; a determined assassin, ruthless in the face of adversity; a lying, duplicitous traitor who never let the loss of his left arm slow him down; a trickster who enjoyed playing mind games with Mulder and his friends. The man who murdered Mulder’s father, who tortured Skinner, who betrayed Mulder’s trust, and who handed Scully over to the Consortium. The most dangerous, devious, exhilarating man Mulder had ever met.

Then again, maybe he had romanticized him a little.

This man was quite different, absentmindedly rubbing his bearded cheek on a flowery comforter, eyelashes fluttering as if he was about to go back to sleep. He looked like hell: pale, bruised, and wearing clothes that were too big for him, the sweatpants wide around his legs, the brown woolen sweater hanging loosely over his shoulders and down his arms. Both his arms. Mulder stared at the grimy pale fingers at the end of his left sleeve.

“Well, he does look like Alex Krycek,” said Mulder thoughtfully. “Krycek as a hobo, anyway. And with an extra limb.”

“Yes.” Scully took a picture of the man on her phone. “But let’s see what we can find out through the wonders of modern technology.”

Krycek blinked when the flash went off. He watched Scully sit at her desk and unlock her drawer to pull out her laptop, his brow furrowed as if he was working something out. He seemed to be staring at her phone.

Mulder removed Captain Scully’s revolver from his pocket to get more comfortable and leaned back in the chair, keeping his gun pointed in Krycek’s direction.

“Have to say, I never thought I’d see him again,” Mulder commented. Not in the flesh, at any rate, he thought wryly.

At the sound of Mulder’s voice, Krycek looked him over with a worried expression. Mulder could guess what was bothering him; Mulder was no longer the good-looking young man he was when they knew each other in the Nineties. He met Krycek’s gaze defiantly, refusing to be ashamed of being a man in his mid-fifties. He expected Krycek to make some cutting remark, but the man lowered his eyes and said nothing. He had a defeated air that didn’t sit well with what Mulder remembered of Alex Krycek. Still had the stupid-ass eyelashes, though.

“Well, I’ve managed to connect to GovCloud, and a reverse image search on the FBI database confirms what we already know: this man appears to be Alex Krycek. I’ll need to examine him to check he isn’t a clone or an alien replacement,” said Scully, rising from her desk. “Looks as if he has some injuries I should look at. I’ll record my findings in case we need to report to Skinner later.”

She got a medical kit from a cupboard and brought it over to the couch with her phone and laptop. Then she snapped on a pair of gloves and held her phone up to record her voice.

“Subject appears to be—” She checked the screen. “—Alexander Victor Krycek. Born June 22nd, 1965, in Tukwila, Washington State. Deceased May 20th, 2001...” Mulder noticed the pause and a brief tightening of her lips as she recognized the date. William’s birthdate. “…in Washington, DC. Lean forward, please.”

Krycek frowned when she mentioned the date of his death but after a moment’s hesitation, he pushed the comforter off and did as he was told. Scully examined the back of his neck with clinical detachment. His eyes fluttered shut and he leaned almost imperceptibly into her touch as she palpated the area, but before Mulder could tell him to cut it out, he came to his senses and sat more rigidly, his forearms resting on his knees.

“Back of the neck normal, no sign of implants or mutations,” commented Scully. She touched his right shoulder. “Roll up your sleeve.” She lifted his arm and looked it over, noting the smear of blood in the crook of his elbow with disapproval. “You should have taken more care before you ripped out the IV.” She slid two fingers under his chin to raise his face to the light. “Judging by the smell and the bruising on your face, I assume you were in a hospital, on life support?”

“Yeah,” said Krycek, his voice coming out as a husky whisper. “I was in a hospital or lab, I don’t know. Lying on an examination table, like I was some kind of—”

“Corpse?” suggested Mulder.

“—test subject. I don’t know, man. I was lying there with all these tubes and wires. I don’t know what they were doing to me. I don’t want to know what they were doing to me.” Krycek pulled the comforter close again. “The lab was on fire and everyone was running around screaming. There were people lying on the floor, so I took these clothes from a guy who was lying there—then I ran for it. Hurt like hell but I just pulled everything out and ran.”

Scully’s expression softened a little and Mulder felt a twinge of sympathy. He had woken up in intensive care often enough to know what it felt like to regain consciousness and become aware of all the hard tubes and sharp needles inserted in practically every vein and orifice, forcing air into the lungs, pumping drugs and nutrients into the bloodstream, and draining out waste. He didn’t want to imagine the damage Krycek must have done to himself yanking the tubes out in a panic.

“I’ll let you clean up in a minute, and then I can examine your injuries,” said Scully more gently. “Now, I’m going to examine your teeth and compare them to your dental records. A clone is unlikely to have the same pattern of fillings, so this should definitely confirm your identity. Then we’ll have a look at your left arm. Lift your head and open your mouth.”

Scully gestured at the lamp and, catching her meaning, Mulder heaved himself out of the armchair and held the lamp close to Krycek’s face. There was a smell of dirt and sweat coming off him, a very human smell mixed with the stench of iodine and antiseptic. Mulder turned away as Scully inspected Krycek’s teeth. He could feel tiredness tug at his eyelids. It had been a busy few weeks, from their unexpected reinstatement, to the terrorist investigation in Texas, the sudden pandemic, and the confrontation with Cancerman. Added to the small matter of the Spartan virus that opened his system to every little infection, and the retroviral drugs that left him feeling sluggish and uncomfortable, it took a lot for him to hold up the lamp and the gun at the same time.

“With the exception of one chipped tooth, his teeth match the last dental records on file, dated…March 1994,” said Scully after a short pause, leaning over to double-check the X-rays on the laptop screen. “Thank you, Mulder.”

Dismissed, Mulder put the lamp back on the desk and returned gratefully to sit in the chair. “So you’re saying this is definitely Krycek?”

“Yes.” Scully nodded. “Unlikely as it may seem, I think this is the original Alex Krycek.”

“Of course I’m the original Alex Krycek!” said Krycek. “I mean, I know you thought I was dead, but—”

“I know you were dead,” interrupted Mulder. “Last time I saw you, you had a bullet in your brain. You were definitely dead.”

Krycek stared at him and blinked. “You shot me?”

“No, Skinner did. To be fair, you were threatening to kill me at the time.”

“I don’t remember that.” Krycek’s eyes were wide and despite the man’s past history of fabrication, Mulder had a feeling he was telling the truth this time.

“Well, I do.”

* * * * *

FBI PARKING GARAGE
MAY 2001

“I could’ve killed you so many times, Mulder. You’ve got to know that. I’m the one that kept you alive.” Krycek lowered his voice a little, the gun wavering as he spoke. “Praying you’d win somehow.”

Mulder slowly made his way around the car. He was sorely tempted to roll his eyes, but shrugged instead, keeping his gaze on the gun pointed at him. “Then there really is no God.”

“You think I’m bad. That I’m a killer. We wanted the same thing, brother. That’s what you don’t understand.”

“I wanted to stop them,” argued Mulder. “All you wanted was to save your own ass.”

“No. I tried to stop them.” Krycek’s voice was barely more than a whisper, filled with regret. “Tried to kill Scully’s baby to stop them. It’s too late. The tragedy is that you—you wouldn’t let it go. That’s why I have to do this,” he continued, as if convincing himself. “‘Cause you know how deep it goes. Right into the FBI.”

“You want to kill me, Alex, kill me,” said Mulder calmly, walking toward him. Krycek’s finger twitched on the trigger but Mulder could read the indecision in his eyes. “Like you killed my father. Just don’t insult me trying to make me understand.”

He knew Krycek wouldn’t shoot. Whatever crap Rohrer had fed the man, he wasn’t going to shoot Mulder like this, point blank in the face in a parking garage. He held Krycek’s gaze and started to count to ten. That should be enough for the dumb bastard to realize he might as well let Mulder go.

The sound of a shot interrupted his count. Krycek cried out and dropped his gun; blood was oozing from a hole in his right sleeve. Mulder turned to find Skinner walking toward them, his face set with grim determination. Krycek dropped to one knee to retrieve his gun. Skinner fired again; there was a sharp crack and the sound of bone snapping as the shot tore into Krycek’s arm. This time, he screamed in pain and fell to the ground. He tried to grab the gun with his fake arm. Or maybe push it towards Skinner.

“It’s going to take more bullets than you can ever fire to win this game. But one bullet...and I can give you a thousand lives.” He looked at Mulder, then back at Skinner. “Shoot Mulder,” he whispered.

Mulder assumed Skinner was going to stop there. They would arrest Krycek, tie him up, and hand him over to someone else so Mulder could get back to finding Scully, who was god knows where giving birth to god knows what.

Instead, Skinner fixed Mulder with an intense look, as if trying to communicate something. Seeking permission, perhaps. Mulder didn’t understand until Skinner raised his gun and fired one last time.

A sudden splash of red colored Krycek’s forehead as the bullet lodged itself between his eyes. He collapsed onto his back, his green eyes open and unseeing beneath the long lashes, the living, breathing man he had been only a moment before abruptly reduced to a corpse lying on the filthy concrete floor of a parking garage.

Skinner was free of his tormentor. Mulder was…Mulder wasn’t sure what he was. Free to find the woman he loved, at any rate. That was all that mattered right then.

Krycek deserved it, he thought. He never thought that memory would haunt him. He certainly never thought he would ever see him again.

Chapter Text

GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON DC
PRESENT DAY

“Why don’t I remember Skinner shooting me?” asked Krycek, his voice still rough. “I remember Skinner. I remember you. Working with you both at the FBI. Mom was so proud when I was accepted.” A smile almost crossed his lips before he frowned again. “You were in prison, in a pair of those awful orange pajamas. Or was that another time?” Mulder’s mouth went dry but Krycek shook his head. “No, I think that must have been someone else. I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s all a blur with some scattered images. There’s lots of stuff I can’t remember.”

“Given the circumstances of your death, I’m not surprised your memory is poor,” said Scully quietly. “I’m going to take your blood pressure. Hold out your arm.”

“Why did you come here?” Mulder asked as Scully fitted the cuff on Krycek’s right arm. “Why not look up some of your old Syndicate pals? Or the super soldiers. You were working for them. I’m sure they’d be glad to help out their old flunky.”

Krycek didn’t take the bait. He gestured helplessly and stared at his left hand a moment as it moved into his line of sight, wriggling his fingers as if he’d only just noticed it. He grabbed the Coke bottle from the coffee table and made a face when he realized it was empty.

“Can’t remember any phone numbers. I don’t have a phone or money anyway. So I just walked. I don’t know, everything’s jumbled in my head. Can’t even remember where the lab was. I guess I walked for a while. Then I realized I was in Alexandria, near your old place. So I went there but the building is gone.”

“Yeah, they knocked it down and redeveloped a few years ago,” said Mulder. “I didn’t live there anymore. Landlord was sick of people breaking in all the time.”

“Right.” Krycek paused a moment. “Then I remembered Scully’s place. Don’t know how I knew where it was. Maybe I came here once?”

“Yes, I think you did,” said Scully coldly, though she didn’t mention her sister’s murder.

She removed the blood pressure cuff and pulled a stethoscope out of the medical kit. At her request, Krycek held up his oatmeal-colored sweater, baring a stretch of pale skin dotted with light moles and a few tufts of dark hair above the loose waistband of his sweatpants.

“Shoes didn’t fit so I had to take them off.” He gasped when she pressed the cold chest piece to his skin, but then continued. “By the time I got here, it was, I don’t know, noon, maybe. Some guys were trying to break down the door. I chased them away and took their stuff, so we have some food. I guess we’ll need food.”

Scully told him to stop talking and Krycek docilely sat in silence while she listened to his heart and lungs.

“I knew it was the right place when I found the photo album,” he continued when she was done. “I guess congratulations are in order?”

He pointed at the album lying beside the empty Coke bottle on the coffee table. It was William’s baby album; Mulder had only seen it once, when he was hiding in Scully’s closet, back when he was still on the run. At the time, he noticed Maggie’s best copperplate handwriting under the dust on the front and promised himself he would look at it some day when the feelings were less raw. In the end, he never did.

It was open to the first page, displaying pictures taken with Frohike’s camera in this very room, when Scully and William were discharged from the hospital and Mulder came to join them. The one he could see most clearly was a group photograph: Frohike was standing behind Scully’s old brown couch, looking into the camera with a frown as if wondering when the timer would take the picture; Langley and Byers were sitting at either end of the couch with their best “say cheese” smiles; the happy family was sitting in the middle. Mulder’s arm was around Scully’s shoulder, his eyes on the tiny baby in her arms, the very image of a doting father. Scully was looking at the camera, smiling widely; not the Mona Lisa smile she had cultivated over the years, that turned up the corners of her mouth but didn’t reach her eyes, but a broad, sincere smile of happiness that uncovered all her even teeth and creased the freckled skin around her beautiful blue eyes.

The loss hit Mulder like a punch in the gut. The loss of the child, yes, but more than that, the loss of his best friends and the Scully who could smile like that. He snapped the album shut in a cloud of dust.

“Cut the amnesia crap, Krycek! Why the hell did you come here?” he demanded.

“I told you, I didn’t know where to go!” said Krycek. His voice had cleared a little, though it was higher than Mulder remembered. “What the hell is going on out there? It’s like there’s a war going on! The highway is one big parking lot, the Metro is closed, and everything is locked down around the Pentagon like they’re expecting an attack. There were signs all around the airport saying all the flights are grounded.”

“Yeah, it’s like 9/11 all over again.”

“What’s 9/11?” asked Krycek.

Mulder caught Scully’s eye. “Something we can explain later.”

Scully was typing up her findings onto the laptop, but she observed Krycek with curiosity. “Krycek, do you know what year it is?”

Krycek opened his mouth, but his eyes darted from Mulder’s face to Scully’s and then to Scully’s phone, and he shook his head. “Um, no, I guess it’s not 2001 anymore?”

“It’s 2016,” said Mulder. “Welcome to the future, Krycek. America has a black president, gay people can officially get married, and the Apocalypse is upon us.” He paused. “No connection, though, whatever some people might say.”

“2016?” Krycek looked devastated. “Shit.”

Scully’s expression softened a little. “I imagine that must come as a shock. I’d like to continue examining you, if that’s all right? It might answer some of our questions about what happened to you.”

When Krycek nodded, Scully raised her phone to continue her recording. “As recorded in the file, blood pressure is slightly elevated but heart and lung functions appear normal.” She gently pushed Krycek’s head forward so she could lift his sweater again and inspect his back. “Decubitus ulcers and some light bruising on the subject’s back, consistent with being in a prone position for a prolonged period of time, but probably not fifteen years. Mild dehydration. Any diarrhea or vomiting? Or discomfort where the catheters were?”

“No, I’m fine,” he said shortly.

He lowered his eyes, embarrassed, and Mulder guessed that he was lying. But then, Krycek’s features took on a sardonic expression that felt more familiar.

“I should have known it had been a long time,” he said, deliberately looking from Mulder to Scully. “You look old, and you look weird.”

“Why, thank you,” said Scully, her tone gently sarcastic. “I can see why Mulder liked you so much.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” said Krycek, giving Mulder a crooked smile as Scully moved to his other side to examine his left arm.

Mulder glared at him. “You know she can examine the bottom half next.”

Krycek chuckled, a pale shadow of his former cocky self.

“You’ve certainly aged well for a man who should be fifty years old,” commented Scully. “Do you remember your last birthday?”

“I—I remember being thirty-four. I think it was thirty-four.”

“Ah, yes. I remember being thirty-four,” said Mulder wistfully. He didn’t really; his thirties were a blur of frantic monster chasing and relentless tragedy that had almost seemed like a dream until Scully and Skinner dragged him back into the X-Files at Tad O’Malley’s request. He wondered idly where O’Malley was now, then reflected with some satisfaction that he didn’t care.

Scully spoke into her phone. “I’m now going to examine the subject’s left arm which was originally—amputated, right? To prevent infection by the black oil?”

Krycek’s momentary joviality vanished instantly and he stared at his arm, his brow creased in confusion. “I don’t—Oh.” The worried expression turned into a frown and then wide-eyed horror. “I do remember that. It was hacked off with a red-hot knife. They held me down and just started slicing and then—”

His voice trailed off and he stared into space, his breathing speeding up as his memories came back. Scully winced at his description of the amputation. Mulder remembered the Russian truck driver and his son, and their offer to do the same to him. He had never found out exactly how Krycek had come to suffer that fate. Now was probably not the time to ask.

“Krycek,” said Scully softly. She placed her hand on his left shoulder at the juncture of his neck so that her gloved fingers touched his skin. “Alex.”

He turned to look up at her in a daze. “I didn’t have an arm. It was just a stump,” he said in a low voice. He rolled up the sleeve and pointed to a spot halfway between the elbow and the shoulder. “About here. Above the smallpox scar. I missed having an elbow. You always think about fingers, not having a hand, but you have no idea how useful elbows are.” As if subconsciously, he flexed his arm, watching the forearm rise as the biceps contracted. “I mean, I’m not going to complain, but where the hell did this come from? Is it a transplant?”

“It’s possible,” said Scully, though she didn’t sound convinced. “There have been many successful arm transplants in recent years, either using limbs from donors or reattaching the patient’s own arm.”

“I don’t suppose you kept the arm?” asked Mulder with amusement.

Krycek scowled at him. “No. For some reason, after they’d carved it off, I didn’t think to ask them if I could have it back. Never thought I should carry it around with me so someone could reattach it twenty years later.” He laughed humorlessly. “Spent thirty years growing the damn thing and they threw it in a campfire!”

Mulder hadn’t even thought about what the driver would have done with the severed limb if he’d amputated Mulder’s arm. He had to resist the temptation to grab his own left arm to reassure himself it was still there. Even the suggestion had been enough to give him nightmares for years. In his current state, Krycek seemed less concerned about appearing cool than Mulder, and curled his left arm protectively against his body, cradling it in his right arm as if they might try to take it away. It gave him the air of a defiant child and Mulder felt a sickening wave of pity.

“In any case, there would be significant scarring where the arm was reattached, and I don’t see any at all. Can I examine it?” asked Scully gently, placing her gloved hand on his upper arm. Krycek gasped when she touched him. “Does it hurt?”

“No, it’s more, uh, kinda sensitive.” Krycek uncurled his arm and held it out for her. “It’s fine. Go ahead.”

“Well, it’s the same skin color, maybe a little paler and with less muscle mass than the other one, but a good match.” She took both Krycek’s hands in hers and turned them over to look at the backs. “A visual comparison shows that the hands and arms are the same shape and size, with a similar pattern of hair growth. There are no scars on the arm at all. I think it’s more than a good match. As unlikely as it seems, if I didn’t know better, I would say it was the arm that’s supposed to be there.”

“It grew back?” He looked at them both again with an uncertain look, his hands still in Scully’s. “Can they do that nowadays?”

“Depends which ‘they’ you mean,” said Mulder. “We’ve seen cases of grafted limbs in clandestine labs, even entire bodies. There have been reports of people and artifacts with miraculous healing powers too. Haven’t heard of anyone’s limbs growing back unless they were a super soldier. But then I guess that’s the thing about clandestine labs. You never know what they’re working on.”

“I think we can assume the process used to bring you back to life also restored your arm,” said Scully kindly. “Maybe we can work out how that happened when your memory improves.”

She rubbed Krycek’s arm reassuringly. Krycek’s lips parted and he stared at her with a wide-eyed look of wonder that made Mulder think he was enjoying that a lot more than he should. Scully didn’t appear to notice and turned away to retrieve a blood testing meter from her medical kit. After a word of warning, she pricked Krycek’s finger and observed the readings. She also inspected some of his scratches and bruises, as well as the blisters on his feet, giving him an antibacterial gel and some Band-Aids to apply on his own. Finally, she snapped off the gloves and returned to the desk to type on her laptop.

“Ideally, I’d take him to a hospital and run some more tests with an MRI and a full DNA profile. But it’s not easy to get around right now, so we’ll have to make do with my observations. All I can say is this is Alex Krycek, and he’s a healthy man in his mid-thirties.”

“A healthy man who died fifteen years ago,” said Mulder.

Krycek toyed with the gel and Band-Aids Scully had given him. “Uh, can I go to the bathroom? You know, clean up and stuff?”

Mulder exchanged a quick look with Scully. He waved his gun at Krycek, who rolled his eyes and stood up, a ghost of his past attitude returning in the insolent look he gave Mulder. They headed down the hall to the bathroom. The bathroom windows in Scully’s building had been fitted with external metal bars some years ago to stop a rash of break-ins, but Mulder wanted to make sure Krycek didn’t take this opportunity to slip out through one of the bedroom windows.

When they reached the bathroom, Krycek turned around so abruptly that Mulder bumped into him and almost dropped the gun.

“You gonna hold it for me, Mulder?” growled Krycek, his breath tickling Mulder’s lips.

He reeked of sweat, iodine and unwashed clothes, but the sound of his voice and the intense look in his dark green eyes, level with Mulder’s, brought back a visceral memory that caught him by surprise.

He took a step back. “Take a bath while you’re in there. You stink. And try not to let any aliens crawl up your ass.”

“Heh.” Krycek’s bared teeth momentarily flashed in the semi-darkness. “Yeah. I do remember that.”

He slid into the bathroom and locked the door with an emphatic click. Mulder breathed in deeply and leaned against the wall for a moment, cursing his age and his illness before heading back to the living room, where Scully was still typing rapidly on her laptop.

“Why does it have to be Krycek?” he grumbled, sinking into the chair once more. “Of all the people we’ve known who have died over the years, why does it have to be Alex Krycek who comes back from the dead?”

“And unlike CGB Spender, we’re positive Krycek was dead fifteen years ago.” Scully took off her reading glasses. “I’ve looked at the report John and Monica filed a couple days after Krycek died. John also saw the body after you left. However, there’s nothing to explain what happened to it next. There are two lines saying Skinner shot Krycek to protect you and that’s it. There was no further investigation and no autopsy. Given the situation with Kersh and the cover-up surrounding Rohrer, Krycek’s death didn’t get a large amount of attention.”

“When we were partners, he used to complain nobody took him seriously,” said Mulder with amusement. “Turns out even his death was a non-event. I’d almost feel sorry for him if it wasn’t for all the crap he pulled back in the day.”

He remembered kneeling on the blood-stained carpet on his parents’ bathroom floor, clutching his father’s rapidly cooling corpse, his drug-heightened senses telling him against all reason that the scent in the air was that of Krycek’s aftershave. No, he didn’t feel sorry for him.

“I’ll text Susan at the coroner’s office and see if she can find out what happened to the body,” said Scully. “I’ve also texted Skinner to let him know the situation. He might remember something more. Do you know if Krycek had any family?”

“Yeah, he did,” said Mulder, casting his mind back twenty years. “They’ll be listed in his file. I tracked them all down when we were looking for him after you were abducted.”

Scully paused thoughtfully. “I never thought about Krycek having family. I wonder what they knew of the life he led.”

“Probably not a lot.” Mulder shrugged. “As I recall, they didn’t like him any more than the rest of us.”

Chapter Text

BELLINGHAM, WA
SEPTEMBER 1994

“I always knew he would be trouble,” said Mrs. Morrison wearily, stubbing out her cigarette. “Always getting into fights with other kids, coming home from school with bruises. I threw out most of the stuff he left behind when he moved out. Sarah needed the bedroom.” She took a shoebox from the sideboard. “There are some photographs in here if that helps.”

Mulder opened the box and rifled through the photographs. This was always the part where his sympathies faltered. With very few exceptions, every criminal he had ever profiled in Violent Crimes had had photographs like this: black and white snaps of happy childhood moments with siblings, unflattering yellowed Polaroids of long hair and wide lapels, stilted graduation and yearbook photographs. Beaten, neglected, criminally insane or victim of tragic circumstance; every child in this country had smiled for a camera at some point in their young lives, and each time, it broke his heart to look at the once guiltless little face and think of the path that had led to this, to an FBI man turning over every aspect of their broken grown-up lives.

He pulled out a Kodak photo envelope that still contained the original run of photographs; square snapshots of a family posing in their garden, their shiny faces and bright clothes combining with the picket fence and small suburban house in the background to produce a resplendent illustration of 1960s Americana. Mrs. Morrison, an attractive young woman with a blonde beehive and large blue eyes, was standing in the arms of a man who was not Mr. Morrison. She was carrying a small dark-haired boy who smiled happily at the camera. The two other boys were older, on the cusp of adolescence. Looking up, Mulder realized that the grown-up faces of Mrs. Morrison’s three sons were all beaming down at him from the wall opposite; professional photographs of them in their Air Force uniforms, one with a black ribbon across the frame.

“Is this your first husband?” asked Mulder, pointing at the photograph in his hand. The man looked like a middle-aged version of the little boy with the long eyelashes.

Mrs. Morrison lit another cigarette and nodded. “Janek was a good man. He wanted us to make a new life here, to become true Americans. But then he lost his job. We had to move. We—He had to move out in the end. He died a few years after that picture was taken.”

There was little in this house to suggest that they’d ever been anything other than true Americans. Mrs. Morrison’s accent was barely discernible. The only sign that she’d been born anywhere else was a handful of books on the shelf in a language Mulder didn’t recognize, half hidden behind a collection of porcelain shepherdesses and sheep. But he wasn’t interested in where she had come from; he wanted to profile her son to work out where he might have gone.

He looked through the later pictures, the primary colors of the sixties giving way to the earth tones of the seventies, and another baby in the newly re-married Mrs. Morrison’s arms. Now the little boy was a long-haired adolescent posing awkwardly on a couch with his toddler sister and step-siblings. The pictures told a story all their own. The odd one out, the accidental, unwanted baby in his mother’s first family and the surly, lingering leftover of her previous life in the second, lost in a tide of siblings and half-siblings who were too much older or younger to ever feel close. Mulder had caught a glimpse of that lonely little boy once. He was sure not everything he had deduced during the few weeks of their partnership had been fake.

“What did he do exactly?” asked Mrs. Morrison, a waft of tobacco assaulting his nostrils as she spoke. “Why are you looking for him?”

“He’s wanted in connection with the kidnapping of an FBI agent and the murder of a suspect in custody,” said Mulder in a monotone.

He hoped he was outwardly calm and professional, but his stomach lurched, a sudden bout of nausea rising to his throat, tears stinging his eyes. The kidnapping and possible murder of an FBI agent. His mind cruelly replayed Scully’s message left on his answering machine just over a week ago, her helpless cries while he was distracted, oblivious to the terror his partner was experiencing across town.

If he ever saw Krycek again, he was going to kill him.

“Oh God,” sighed Mrs. Morrison. “I should have known. He was always strange. A loner, you know?”

He clenched his jaw and willed himself not to snap at the woman. Maybe if you’d paid more attention to him, if you hadn’t ignored the little boy you made by accident, if you’d helped him deal with your divorce and his father’s death, if you’d found out why he was getting beaten up at school, Scully would still be safe, Duane Barry would be alive, and Krycek might have fulfilled his potential and become an efficient FBI agent with a talent for the X-Files. But Mulder’s eyes fell on the photograph of the former Mrs. Krycek holding the little boy in her arms. As a trained psychologist, he knew the reasons for Krycek’s actions would be more complex than childhood trauma and unresolved maternal affection. He asked if he could take a couple of the pictures for his files. Careful not to crumple them, he placed the rest of the photographs back in the box.

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Morrison,” he said, handing her his card. “If he tries to contact you, please get in touch.”

“I love this country, Mr. Mulder,” she blurted out, her fingers stroking the picture with the picket fence. “If my son has broken the law, then he is no longer my son.”

* * * * *

GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON DC
PRESENT DAY

“Hey, Mulder!”

Mulder woke up with a start. He reached for his gun when he realized Krycek was standing over him, but was relieved to find that the weapon was still by his side and his erstwhile enemy was unarmed. And half naked. His earlier reminiscences still in mind, Mulder briefly considered what he knew of the journey that had turned the little boy in the suburban garden into this multiple murderer, resurrected for reasons as yet unknown. He'd never thought he would get a chance to fill in the gaps.

Krycek had clearly just come out of the shower; he was wearing the stolen sweatpants but carrying the sweater in his hand, and he had a towel wrapped around his shoulders.

“You were gone a long time,” grumbled Mulder, trying to look as if he hadn’t dozed off in the armchair like some senile old fart. He could hear Scully in the kitchen. “Trying out your new hand?”

“Something like that,” said Krycek with a smile that was all white teeth. He seemed to have recovered some of his old self-confidence. He had shaved off the patchy beard and combed his overgrown hair to one side, in a style not unlike the one he had sported as an FBI agent. It made him look younger. “I feel like a new man!”

He lifted the towel to wipe some water off his face, uncovering more of his hairless torso than Mulder wanted to see at this point. He wasn’t as fit as Mulder had imagined back in the day; not overweight, but the muscles in his wide chest were undefined, the rivulets of water trickling down soft curves to the sparse dark hairs above the waistband of his pants.

“Say, Mulder, you got any clothes I can borrow?” asked Krycek. “These stink and they don’t even fit.”

“They’re certainly a new look for you,” said Mulder with amusement. The sweatpants were large enough that the material hung in loose folds from the drawstring belt. Mulder wondered if Krycek had stolen any underwear. Given his description of fleeing the lab in a panic, probably not.

Scully came in from the kitchen. “Mulder has some clothes in his bag. I’m sure he can find you something that’s a better fit.”

“He’s not borrowing my clothes,” said Mulder. The last thing he wanted was to swap clothes with Krycek like they were at some slumber party. “He can wear the ones he’s got until we get him a nice orange jumpsuit.”

Scully raised an eyebrow at him, and it was such a typical Scully expression that it almost made him laugh. “Well, I can’t help with pants or shoes,” she said, “but I’m sure I have a shirt or two from one of my many exes in my closet. Mulder, keep an eye on dinner.”

“He’s not getting the Knicks shirt!” called out Mulder as Scully led Krycek toward her bedroom.

As he watched them leave, he noticed the way the large sweatpants clung to Krycek’s rear and decided that he was definitely not wearing underwear. He also felt a twinge of sympathy at the bed sores he saw on his back.

After a moment, he decided to follow them; Scully was wearing her holster and he knew she could defend herself, but he’d never known Krycek not to have some hidden agenda. Looking through the open bedroom door, though, all he saw was Krycek sitting on Scully’s bed, an innocuous look of interest on his features while she pulled out the men’s shirts she kept in her closet. Mulder’s old shirts.

He thought about the years he and Scully had spent together and how it had all ended, and shuffled back to the living room with a sigh. He rummaged in his bag, still lying by the front door, and reluctantly went back to give Krycek a pair of sweatpants, then went into the kitchen to stir the dinner as instructed.

* * * * *

SIXTEEN YEARS EARLIER

“It was my last chance,” sobbed Scully, clutching him in the semi-darkness of her living-room.

Feeling utterly helpless in the face of her despair, Mulder held her tight, just as he had done so many times before; when her sister died, when she was dying of cancer, when she was bruised and battered after some punk had kidnapped her. So many times he’d held her petite body in his arms and wished she’d never met him. She’d probably be married by now, a successful FBI agent with maybe a kid or two for Grandma Maggie and Auntie Missy to dote on, and she’d be happy.

But she had met him all those years ago, and she had chosen to stay. And for all the horrors they had both faced, he remained convinced that there was hope. When she pulled away, he kissed her forehead.

“Never give up on a miracle,” he said, resting his forehead against hers.

Her hand curled around his neck and she leaned in as if to kiss his mouth, before kissing his right cheek instead. In a flash, he remembered the last time someone had touched him like that. That bizarre moment when Krycek broke into his apartment and kissed him was seared in his memory. He hadn’t seen Krycek since, though he had thought about him a lot. He’d even hallucinated that he saw Krycek step over him once, when he was lying on the ground, afflicted by the alien artifact from Côte d’Ivoire. It occurred to him that this was the worst possible moment to be thinking about him again.

Scully’s hand slid up into his hair and her lips moved back toward his mouth. There was nothing tentative about the kiss she placed on his lips or the way her mouth opened against his. He responded readily, seven years of guilty fantasies and repressed passion spilling out into a surge of animalistic desire. She clawed at his clothes, pulling him toward her bedroom, her lips never leaving his skin, and he followed, not caring in this instant why this was happening now when she thought all hope was lost of her ever having a child.

* * * * *

She’d had the child and then given him away and now he was dead and it was over. Mulder sighed again, feeling incredibly old and tired. He wondered why he’d ever believed that the darkness that dogged his life would let him and those close to him live in peace.

When Scully and Krycek returned to the kitchen, Krycek was wearing Mulder’s grey pants and a salmon pink shirt that Mulder wasn’t sure had ever been his. They ate in silence; a simple meal of pasta and Bolognese sauce from a jar. Despite Scully’s warning to pace himself, Krycek wolfed down all his food and was then violently sick in the bathroom.

“I think it’ll take a few days for the flora in your gut to stabilize,” said Scully, preparing some dry toast for him afterward. “It looks like you were on an IV when you woke up. It’s possible it all died off if you haven’t eaten anything solid for fifteen years.”

“How come he isn’t thinner if he’s been in a coma?” asked Mulder. “He was skinnier than that when he was working with me.”

“Maybe the body was kept in storage prior to revival. Good refrigeration can prevent decomposition for years.”

“Embalming works pretty well too,” suggested Mulder. “Look at Lenin and Evita.”

“Yes, but that’s an intrusive, irreversible process. None of it explains how his neural processes appear to be intact, especially given the original damage to his brain.”

“He’s also sitting right here and not completely deaf,” said Krycek, glaring at them. “I don’t think I was, uh, unconscious the whole time. I remember things. I think I remember things…” His forehead creased into worry lines. “Maybe they were just dreams. And nightmares.”

Scully nodded. “The sores on your back suggest you were lying on a hard surface for several days, maybe even a couple of weeks, after blood circulation was restored. You may have been semi-conscious some of that time.”

Krycek made a noncommittal sound. He paused and then put his bread down. “This thing that’s happening. This apocalypse. Is—is it the black oil?”

“No,” said Mulder shortly. He remembered the speech about the alien conflict that had preceded Krycek’s kiss a lifetime ago. “And before you ask, there’s no sign of an alien invasion either.”

“Oh, so that was true,” said Krycek with a sheepish smile that deepened the fine lines around his eyes. “I remembered something about aliens but I thought maybe I was mixing it up with a movie.”

They fell into silence again, Mulder and Scully watching as Krycek slowly ate his bread. As it dried, his longer hair was curling unevenly around his ears and a lock fell onto his forehead. He pushed it back impatiently. After a couple minutes, Scully got up and declared she needed a shower. Under different circumstances, Mulder would have gone straight to bed, but he decided to stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on Krycek. He watched him eating, fascinated by the play of muscles on his thick forearms, the way his eyelashes lifted and lowered as he glanced up at Mulder and then looked down at his plate.

“I’m sorry about the kid,” said Krycek suddenly. Surprised by the change of subject, Mulder said nothing and Krycek continued. “Just worked it out. The photos in that album stop when he was only a few months old, and you were so angry… Shit, I’m sorry, man. I mean, I don’t even want to imagine what that must feel like. Losing a kid is the worst thing that can happen to you.” There was a long pause before Krycek spoke again. “I remember something about that. He wasn’t supposed to be born. Someone wanted him dead.”

“Yeah. That would have been you,” said Mulder coldly.

“Ah. I don’t remember why.” Krycek looked down at the table a moment, then raised his gaze to look at Mulder with something that looked a lot like fear. “I—I didn’t succeed, did I?”

Mulder felt his anger rising. He was tempted to lie, just to see how long Krycek’s fake amnesia would last, but decided against it. “No. You tried to torture Skinner into killing him for you, but you didn’t succeed.”

“Then is he still alive?” asked Krycek, an incongruous look of wide-eyed relief brightening his features. “What happened?”

“That’s none of your goddamn business, Krycek!”

Krycek rolled his eyes with a calm that made Mulder wish he could smack him without Scully finding out. Krycek already had a bruise on his lip, possibly from a respirator tube, so if Mulder hit him in just the right—

“I had a dream about him, you know,” said Krycek, his voice taking on a vague, dreamlike quality. “Your son. I don’t know when, but I remember he was with his friends and there was a car with Wyoming plates. You know, with the bucking horse, which I thought was really funny because why would you two be living in cowboy country? He had Scully’s coloring, but he looked a lot like you. In fact, I thought he was you. But then I didn’t know—”

“What the hell are you on about, Krycek?” interrupted Mulder.

“Don’t know. Just strange that I had a dream about him. Him as a teenager. I think it was a dream. Anyway, when I saw the album, I thought, ‘hey, there’s that kid I saw.’”

The irrational hope that arose in Mulder’s mind was followed almost as swiftly by a sudden rage at the thought that Krycek had to be tricking him. He reached across the table and grabbed the front of Krycek’s shirt, pulling him halfway across the table.

“Listen, you son of a bitch,” he hissed. “You do not talk to Scully about the boy. If you upset her, I swear you’ll find out I’m not as old as I look.”

“Oh yeah?” Krycek growled, grabbing Mulder’s wrist to pull out of his grip. “Wanna go head to head and test that theory, gramps?”

Mulder pushed him back hard enough that he fell onto the chair. Krycek swore as it nearly tipped backward. He regained his balance and swept his hair out of his eyes to glare at Mulder.

“Bet that’s not the only thing you don’t want me to tell Scully,” he spat. “You sure as hell haven’t changed.”

“Don’t pretend you have either, Krycek.”

Chapter Text

When Mulder woke up the next morning, he fully expected Krycek to be gone. In fact, he expected to find that the events of the previous night had all been another hallucination. His night in Scully’s spare room—William’s old nursery—had been filled with convoluted dreams about Krycek and William, none of which he remembered clearly, but which left him with the feeling that Krycek’s return from the dead must have been a dream too.

He was therefore momentarily astonished to find Krycek in Scully’s living room, still very much alive. He then remembered that Scully had offered Krycek the sofa bed for the night and provided him with bedding, since he seemed to have nowhere else to go; Mulder had left them setting it up together when Scully ordered him to go sleep.

Right now, Krycek was lying on his front on the bed with his head resting on his folded arms, still wearing Mulder’s light grey sweatpants, but barefoot and stripped to the waist. Scully was sitting on the edge of the bed beside him, doing something to his back. Neither of them noticed Mulder.

“I can have a look if you want,” Scully was saying. “Any pain sounds worrying.”

“Hmm. ‘s not that painful,” mumbled Krycek.

As he approached, Mulder realized that Scully was treating the bed sores on Krycek’s back. Krycek’s eyes were closed and his even features had that blissful look Mulder had noticed the previous day when Scully touched him.

“Enjoying yourself, Krycek?” he snapped.

Krycek’s eyes opened and he glared silently at Mulder. Scully leaned back and lifted her gloved hands like a surgeon preparing for an operation. She was fully dressed and made up, though Mulder thought she still looked tired. Like Mulder, she was wearing her holster and he was relieved that for all her hospitality, she hadn’t forgotten how dangerous Krycek was. Even if he was looking more like an overgrown teenager with bed hair right now.

“I’m done,” she said. “Do you have any other places you need me to treat?”

“No, it’s fine. Mulder can do the ones on my ass later,” said Krycek, giving Mulder a cocky grin as he stood up.

He stretched, raising his thick arms and expanding his broad, hairless chest with a deep breath. Mulder let his gaze run over the exposed expanse of pale skin interrupted only by the dark hair under his arms, and reflected that he’d been unfair in his assessment of Krycek’s physique the previous evening. He didn’t have the chiseled torso of a gay magazine model, but there was a masculine strength to his body that Mulder found quite appealing. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and tried to chase that thought from his mind.

Krycek retrieved Mulder’s old pink shirt from the arm of the sofa; he pulled it awkwardly over one arm and then his head, as if he’d forgotten how to put it on all at once. Scully took the bedding away and Krycek folded the bed frame into the sofa. Mulder sat in the chair and watched him.

“Did you sleep all night in my pants?” he asked suddenly.

“Don’t sweat it, Mulder,” said Krycek cheerfully, placing the cushions back on the sofa. “I didn’t have any wet dreams in them. Could do with some underwear, though.”

“Not a chance.” Mulder shook his head. “You’re in a good mood,” he added with amusement.

Krycek pulled the coffee table back into place. “Yeah, I feel great! I slept really well and I don’t feel sick anymore. In fact, I’m feeling hungry. So yeah, I feel—”

“Alive?” suggested Mulder. Krycek just grinned, uncovering his even, white teeth and creasing his eyes. Mulder wasn’t sure he’d ever seen him this happy. It was weird but also kind of cute.

“Now, I guess we’ll all want breakfast?” said Scully, returning from her bedroom. “I think I have some leftover pancakes in the freezer.”

“Great, I’ll come help,” said Krycek, practically skipping into the kitchen after her.

* * * * *

“Scully explained a bit about what’s happening. It doesn’t make much sense,” said Krycek, leaning forward earnestly when they’d finished their breakfast. At least, Mulder and Scully had finished; Krycek was pouring maple syrup on his sixth defrosted pancake. “I mean, I know that was the original plan. Use the smallpox vaccine as a vector to tag and track the population, then cause an epidemic so the aliens can invade. That kind of made sense in the 80s and 90s, but they stopped the inoculation program here in 1972. I know because my sister didn’t get it. And some countries like Australia never had a program in the first place. So unless they restarted it, most adults nowadays won’t have a smallpox vaccine, right? So how did that start a global pandemic?”

“We don’t know,” said Scully with a sigh. “It might be that once someone is a carrier, they pass it on to their descendants, though practically no children have been affected. Or the vaccines might just be a red herring.”

“I know this was the plan for the black oil, back in the day,” said Krycek. “Well, one of the plans, I think. Something about the black oil and the smallpox vaccine, and an alien invasion. I don’t remember the details anymore, but that was why they took my arm.” He absentmindedly rubbed his left arm. “But I don’t understand the point of the epidemic if you say aliens aren’t involved. Do you know who is behind this?”

“Yes. That’s one thing we do know,” said Mulder, observing Krycek closely to gauge his reaction. “An old friend of yours currently living on a tobacco plantation. Decided to cut out the middleman and grow his own cigarettes, apparently. He decided humanity was a plague and needed culling.”

“You’re kidding!”

Krycek swore viciously and banged his fists on the kitchen table. He raised his hands at Scully in apology when her hand flew to her weapon, but then stood up to pace, struggling to keep his anger in check.

“I killed him!” He clenched his teeth and let out a low growl of rage. “Shit. I knew I should have put a bullet in his head!”

“Yeah, though I guess even a bullet in the head isn’t terminal these days,” said Mulder pointedly. “Why are you so mad anyway? I thought you were best buds. Wasn’t that why you betrayed us and murdered my father all those years ago?”

“Like hell we were,” spat Krycek. “He fucked up my life, tried to kill me, then fucked up my life some more. I once spent six months rotting in a Tunisian jail just dreaming of the day I could get out and kill the son of a bitch!”

Mulder shook his head wryly. “Well, for a guy who made a career out of killing people, you sure as hell did a bad job.”

“I didn’t make a career out of killing people!” protested Krycek. “But I know I killed him. I checked. He was dead. I didn’t leave that kind of thing to chance!” He ran his hand through his hair, his anger turning to dismay. “Christ, you think he’s the one who did this to me? That he brought me back?”

“That’s probably our best theory,” said Scully. “It seems too much of a coincidence for you both to come back into our lives within a couple weeks of each other.” She glanced at Mulder. “On the other hand, we thought he was dead too. Fourteen years ago, we saw two helicopters destroy the building he was in.”

“You think we were both resurrected by someone?”

“If that’s the case, you got the better Dr. Frankenstein,” said Mulder. “He doesn’t look as good as you do. But then I guess he never did.”

Krycek didn’t seem to be in the mood for compliments. He sank into the chair again. “Oh god. Why do these things keep happening to me?”

“God loves you, Krycek,” Mulder deadpanned. “You’re his own personal whipping boy.”

“It might help if you could tell us more about the lab you were in,” suggested Scully. “Any idea where it was? It must have been close to Alexandria if you walked to Mulder’s old street from there.”

Krycek shook his head and started eating again. “I walked maybe two or three hours before I got to his old place. Might have been going around in circles or it could have been miles away. I don’t know.”

Mulder listened to them talking, letting the words wash over him without participating as they continued to speculate about the location of the lab and whether Krycek retracing his steps in Google Street View would help locate it. He felt exhausted, his eyelids were drooping and he had to make an effort to rouse himself when he heard his name.

“Mulder, are you okay?” asked Scully, placing her hand on his. He turned his hand over to clasp hers and nodded, giving her a reassuring smile.

“What’s wrong with him?” asked Krycek. “Is he sick too? I thought you said there was a cure.”

Scully hesitated before answering and Mulder was momentarily worried that she might mention her plan to find William. He didn’t want Krycek to tell her his bullshit about the dream.

“We have a treatment that helps. With time, it can be developed to manage—” Scully startled at a loud crash followed by screaming and gunshots. “What was that?”

Krycek leaped off his chair and ran to the living room window. “Looters again.”

Mulder and Scully joined him. Mulder could just make out a group of teenagers on motorcycles weaving through the cars abandoned at the end of the street. A woman in the doorway of the building opposite was screaming at them while her children gathered up their belongings scattered on the sidewalk. She must have surprised them when they broke into her home.

“We need to get out of the city,” said Krycek urgently. His sharp-nosed profile was outlined against the window. “With the main roads all blocked, gas and supplies can’t get in. People are gonna start running out of food. Even with a gun each, we won’t be safe in a condo with a half broken lock. We were damn lucky last night. We need to get the hell out of here before rioting starts and the army loses control.”

“What do you mean ‘we’, Kemosabe?” asked Mulder. “We’re going to my place. The only place you’re going is the nearest police station.”

“Sure, because the U.S. justice system is gonna be real interested in a guy who died fifteen years ago with all this going down,” said Krycek, turning toward them impatiently. “You’re sick and, no offense, Scully, you’re fierce but you’re kinda small. And you’re both kinda old. Your house is in the middle of nowhere. How’re you gonna to get there? I can help you. I can protect you. I could be like—your bodyguard!”

“As long as you don’t expect me to be your long-lost pal,” quipped Mulder.

Scully sighed but Krycek narrowed his eyes a moment before grinning. “You call me ‘Al’, I’ll deck you, Mulder. So what do you think? You’ll let me help?”

“No. We have plans and they don’t involve you,” said Scully decisively. She turned away from the window and checked her phone. “The cell network is down again. I’ll need to go see Amina in case she still has Daggoo.”

“He’s probably better off with her anyway,” said Mulder, who was secretly hoping that the vicious little animal was out of their lives.

“Is Daggoo your dog? I noticed the bowl in the kitchen. I used to have a cat. She was crazy.” Krycek smiled happily. “Not really the same thing, I guess. You want me to come with you? Maybe I can get some clothes somewhere on the way.”

“Uh, sure,” said Scully, visibly surprised.

“And shoes.” Krycek nodded towards the worn sneakers he’d stolen the previous day. “I really need better shoes. Wait up, I’ll go shave!”

Scully made a noncommittal noise and watched him leave with a thoughtful expression on her sharp features.

“Who’d have thought death would turn Alex Krycek into Mr. Rogers?” said Mulder with a chuckle.

“Mr. Rogers? More like Tigger!” Scully’s smile faded and she lowered her voice. “Mulder. How does he know about the house? You were still living in Alexandria when he died.”

“Good point,” said Mulder, annoyed that he hasn’t picked up on that himself. He followed Scully into the kitchen and helped her load the dishwasher. “You think the whole amnesia thing is an act? That he’s actually been alive longer than a couple weeks?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Scully. “So much doesn’t make sense about this.”

“He’s right about one thing. We can’t stay here. We need to take him down to the FBI this morning and get rid of him; I want to pick up some files anyway. And then we can go wait out the crisis at the house or whatever you want to do.”

“Mulder, we can’t wait out the crisis,” said Scully. “I know you feel okay, but you’re dying. The blood filtration treatment is only delaying the inevitable. We need to find out what happened to William and track him down if he’s still alive.”

“I get that I’m sick, believe me!” said Mulder, his voice rising in spite of himself. “But why do you think you need William’s stem cells? I mean, that’s quite a leap. If the cure for this thing is some component from the alien DNA in your blood, but it doesn’t work on me, what makes you think William will help? Scully, is there something you aren’t telling me?”

Scully was leaning over to push the tray into the dishwasher. She glanced up but lowered her eyes and pushed the door closed before answering.

“I know you find this hard to believe, but I have been doing little else these last two weeks except trying to find another way to save you,” she said icily. “The stem cell therapy is the best theory I have!”

“But wh—what if the death certificate is real?” he said, trying a different tack. “What if he really is dead, and has been for years? Scully, we can’t put ourselves—”

Mulder interrupted himself as Krycek poked his head in. “Scully, you have a TV? I want to catch up on what’s happening while I’m waiting.”

“No,” said Scully, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as she often did when she was flustered. “But I think I have an old tablet you can use. Just give me a minute.”

Krycek looked a bit confused and it occurred to Mulder that he might not know what a tablet was. “Okay. Sorry to interrupt your, uh, marital argument,” he said, backing out again.

“We’re not married!” said Mulder irritably.

Scully, meanwhile, was looking in the direction of the living room with a worried look on her face. “Oh God. I was so tired last night, I didn’t even think… Mulder,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper. “Where did you put my father’s gun?”

“I thought I...” his voice trailed off as he realized he couldn’t remember seeing it after his nap in the chair the previous evening.

They had no time to do more than exchange a worried look before there was a loud knock on the front door. Placing his hand on his weapon, Mulder checked the peephole, though he smiled when he saw who it was. Krycek was sitting in the armchair opposite the door, idly leafing through one of Scully’s medical journals; he looked up with wary curiosity as Mulder opened the door.

“I got your message last night, Agent Scully. I came as soon as I could. I had to see this with my own eyes,” said Skinner as he walked in. His lip curled when he saw Krycek and he sighed like a man whose cat has brought in a particularly disgusting sewer rat. “You really are a cockroach, Krycek. Every time I think we’ve stamped you out for good, you’re back again.”

There was only one split second where Krycek was merely looking up at Skinner under his brows, a murderous glint in his eyes, but it was enough to make Mulder realize what was going to happen.

“Skinner!” warned Mulder, unholstering his weapon.

It was already too late. With surprising speed, Krycek sprang off the chair and aimed Captain Scully’s pistol at Skinner’s head.

“Well, if it isn’t Grandpa Skinner himself,” he sneered, cocking the gun. “Don’t tell me you still work for the FBI. Do they have standard-issue walkers these days?”

Skinner raised his hands and let out a dry laugh. “Who the hell thought it was a good idea to bring you back to life?” he scoffed, sounding only mildly irritated to be staring down the barrel of a gun. He glanced at Mulder and Scully behind him. “You’re outnumbered, Krycek. Put the weapon down.”

“What, so you can gun me down like an animal again?” Krycek’s hand holding the revolver trembled with rage. “I was wounded. You knew I couldn’t shoot Mulder. You fucking murdered me, man!”

“Guess that convenient amnesia is all better now,” said Mulder, edging his way around the sofa, his gun aimed at Krycek’s head.

“You know, Krycek, I might have let you live if you hadn’t tried to torture me into killing Scully’s baby.” Skinner shook his head. “I never liked you. I thought you were a shifty little shit even before you ruined Agent Scully’s life. And unlike some other people, I don’t forget and I don’t forgive. I made the right call fifteen years ago. I have no case to answer to you.”

“Put down your weapon, Krycek,” said Scully. She advanced, gun in hand, and placed herself at the other end of the sofa, so that he was covered from two directions, Mulder almost behind and Scully to his right. “There’s no way you can shoot Skinner and get out of this alive.”

A flicker of despair in Krycek’s eyes showed he understood that he was cornered. Then his expression hardened again.

“What, you fix me up so you can let them take me out in your living room, Doctor Scully?” he sneered. “What happened to ‘do no harm’?”

Scully’s hand tightened on her gun. “If your memory’s back, you’ll remember what happened last time you were here. And why I might not want to help you now.”

“Yeah. I remember.” Krycek nodded toward the cabinet by her front door. “I was standing there, arguing with that dickhead Luis. He wanted to get you first, before I did. Like it was some dumb pissing contest. Pulled the trigger soon as she opened the door. It wasn’t my fault, you have to believe that. But I guess you don’t care about that now.”

“You’re damn right I don’t.”

Mulder had slowly worked his way around the coffee table during the brief conversation until he was directly behind Krycek. He now stepped forward and pressed the muzzle of his gun to the back of Krycek’s head. Krycek turned to look at him out of the corner of his eye. His thick eyelashes fluttered closed a moment and he exhaled slowly. He clicked the safety back into place and let go of the gun, letting it slide down to hang from his index finger. Mulder grabbed the gun and tucked it into his belt.

Skinner pulled out a pair of handcuffs and fastened them none too gently to Krycek’s wrists. He then gave him a punch in the stomach that made him cry out in pain and sink to his knees. Skinner pulled out his gun.

"Get up!” he ordered. “You’re coming with me to get what you deserve, Krycek.”

“No, no. Please, no!” Krycek raised his cuffed hands in panic and tried to crawl backward on the floor. Mulder had never seen him this terrified. “Don't! Listen I—Scully! Scully, I’m sorry about your sister! But I can help you! Don't let him do this again!”

“Why would I want your help, Krycek?” said Scully coldly.

“Because your son is alive and I know where he is,” said Krycek breathlessly, his eyes wide and still fixed on the gun.

This appeal to Scully’s current concerns made Mulder see red. “You son of a bitch! Our son is dead.” He backhanded Krycek with sufficient force to send him flying against the coffee table. “Don’t you dare use that against us, just to save your miserable skin!”

“No, it’s true. I—I don’t know how, but when I was dead, I could see things. Real things!” cried out Krycek, the words tumbling over each other in his desperation. “Mulder! You know! You saw me. It was like the courtroom. Like Skinner interrogating Marita and I told you to stop him, I told you to save her life and I know you heard me that time and the other times. I know you saw me! You could feel me. I touched you. You know it’s true. I don’t know what the hell happened to me or how I could do that but I swear I saw your son and I can help you! Please!”

Mulder took a step back, staring at Krycek with horror. He remembered talking to Krycek’s ghost in the prison. And all the other times. But that was a hallucination. Surely it was a hallucination. Krycek couldn’t have been—

“Okay,” said Scully quietly, though she was looking at Mulder rather than Krycek.

“Don’t listen to him, Scully!” Skinner kept his gun aimed at Krycek’s head. “He’s practically shitting himself. He’d say anything. Don’t tell me you actually believe him!”

“No, but I think Mulder does.”

Chapter Text

The road was perfectly straight, lined on either side with green fields dotted with trees and snow, and bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. Positioned in the middle of the road, Alex could just make out the outline of a house and farmyard in the distance, and a flag fluttering in the wind. He tried to remember what wind was. Differing atmospheric pressures rubbing together? That sounded right. He’d known what wind felt like once but that was such a long time ago he couldn’t remember the sensation. It didn’t matter. He looked down at the farm and savored the rare joy of simply existing again for a moment.

A cluster of faint lights flickered into sight, moving rapidly toward him. As they drew nearer, he realized they belonged to half a dozen bicycles, ridden by a group of teenage boys and girls, some of whom were carrying flashlights. One of the boys had fallen behind and was catching up with the rest.

“Come on, Spooky, keep up. You’re going to miss all the fun!” called a boy as he sped past the spot where Alex was standing. “It’d be shit without you!”

The rest of the group went through him, but the last boy began to slow down before he had fully caught up with the rest. Alex realized with amazement that the boy was looking at him. Not accidentally looking in his direction, but actually looking at him.

“Fox?” asked Alex, because he’d only ever known one person with the nickname “Spooky” and it seemed weird to call a young boy “Mulder”. He thought maybe he’d ended up in the past. Nothing would surprise him at this point. “Fox Mulder?”

The boy said nothing, his large blue eyes still riveted to Alex, his forehead a maze of soft lines as he frowned thoughtfully. Close up, Alex could see that this wasn’t Mulder: his eyes were the wrong color and his hair was a lighter shade of red-tinted brown.

A large SUV with Wyoming plates surged out of the side road and swept through Alex. The driver’s face flew by an inch from his sight; a young man with a preoccupied look on his face, completely oblivious to the boy on the bicycle. Had the boy not slowed down to stare at Alex, the car would have hit him.

The other kids stopped when the SUV overtook them and called their friend again. Alex turned to watch them. In the far distance, profiled against the golden red sky, he saw a flat-topped structure, like a concrete industrial chimney at the top of a small hill.

“Mashed potatoes,” he said.

The boy raised a flat metallic device and flashed it at Alex. The world went dark again.

* * * * *

“That’s it?” scoffed Mulder. “That’s your big reveal?”

Despite both being nominally on leave due to Mulder’s condition, Mulder and Scully had accompanied Skinner back to the FBI headquarters to participate in Krycek’s interrogation. The walk to the Hoover Building was strange; except for abandoned cars and the omnipresent troops, the streets were practically empty. Anyone who could had fled and those who weren’t involved in looting were staying indoors. It gave the city an eerie feeling Mulder remembered from the only other time he had seen it deserted, when the genie he met shortly before his abduction interpreted “world peace” a little too literally. The FBI building was also unusually empty for a Wednesday morning; most of the agents who weren’t sick had been assigned to law enforcement duties.

They were in the Assistant Director’s office, Krycek sitting on the chair opposite Mulder and Scully on the couch, while Skinner leaned against his desk. The similarity with the last day of his life wasn’t lost on Krycek, who sat slumped with his cuffed hands clasped protectively against his chest. Mulder had reluctantly loaned him his spare sweatshirt and socks since the temperature had dropped overnight, but Krycek was trembling slightly, much as he had done when they first found him on the couch the previous evening. He had kicked off the ill-fitting shoes and was absentmindedly rubbing his chin on the back of his left hand, a shadow of his former self once again.

“Why mashed potatoes?” asked Scully.

“Devils Tower,” said Mulder immediately. “Richard Dreyfuss made a model of it in mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s in Wyoming.”

Skinner scowled at them. “So he’s telling us your son is alive based on a crossover between Ghost and Close Encounters? I gotta give you points for creativity, Krycek.”

“I remembered the movie, just not what the place was called!” explained Krycek tensely, his downbeat manner a sharp contrast with his earlier joie-de-vivre. He raised his eyes and gave Mulder a desperate look. “C’mon, Mulder, you know I was—whatever I was. You gotta believe me. Tell them!”

“I’ve believed a lot of things that didn’t turn out to be true,” said Mulder, unwilling to lie but equally unwilling to back Krycek up. He glanced at Scully sitting beside him. “Scully, just because I saw him in the courtroom doesn’t mean—”

“I know.” She gave him a reassuring smile. “It doesn’t mean he saw William. But you did see him after he died.”

“Yeah,” he conceded. “It’s possible he wasn’t quite as dead as we thought.”

“He was dead. He had no pulse,” said Skinner firmly. “The body stayed right where it was until the coroner’s team came and took it away a few hours later.”

“You just left me there?” exclaimed Krycek angrily, the meek facade suddenly slipping. “I was an organ donor! It was on my file. You weren’t supposed to just leave me to rot!”

“Maybe you should have been more careful how you died. What was I supposed to do? Take you up here and stick you in my minibar?” Skinner turned towards Mulder and Scully. “Listen, I don’t know if Krycek was a ghost or not. That’s your department. But I do know he didn’t see your son.” He went to pull something out of his desk drawer and approached the couch with a file in his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to show you this, but this is a copy of the autopsy report. They sent it over last week. And there are no adoption records. Your son died in 2002 while still in the care of the adoption agency. It’s obvious Krycek is bullshitting you.”

Scully took the file and leafed through it. Mulder didn’t want to look at it; after all these years, it seemed too cruel a twist of fate to find out their son had been dead for so long. He focused on Krycek instead.

“You overheard us,” he said angrily. “We were talking about William this morning. You decided to make up this bullshit based on one of my favorite movies to manipulate us.”

“Sure. So that’s why I told you about it last night, right?” growled Krycek, glaring at him under his prominent brow. His untidy hair felt onto his forehead and he brushed it back impatiently. “I should have known you wouldn’t believe me. I know it’s one of your favorite movies. But I wouldn’t make up something that crappy. I’d make something up that you’d believe. I should have made something up that you’d believe,” he added under his breath.

“Maybe try Plan 9 from Outer Space next time?” suggested Mulder sarcastically. “Since you’re such an expert on my favorite movies.”

“I don’t have time for this.” Skinner sighed impatiently and returned to sit at his desk. “I have a meeting at 11. I’ll call someone to take him down to the cells.”

“No,” said Scully, who had been dividing her attention between the conversation and the file. She put the autopsy file down on the table in front of her. “Sir, I think Mulder and I should investigate Krycek’s reappearance as part of the X-Files.”

“You’re on leave,” said Skinner. He leaned back in his chair. “You told me your priority was to find a cure for Agent Mulder. You shouldn’t let this distract you from that. I have plenty of other agents who can handle Krycek once this crisis is over. Agents who don’t have a personal interest in this case.”

“And agents who used to work for my former boss. Maybe some who still do.” Krycek closed his eyes for a moment, then gave Scully a pleading look. “I wouldn’t last a week.”

Mulder almost laughed at the idea of Krycek being unable to defend himself. Then again, given that he had ended up dead last time he was here, maybe it wasn’t so funny anymore. Or improbable. With his eyes wide and his eyebrows raised, dressed in Mulder’s spare clothes and clasping his cuffed hands to his chest, Krycek looked deceptively innocent and vulnerable.

“I think we need to discuss this in private,” said Scully, observing Krycek thoughtfully.

* * * * *

“Sir, you’re right. Mulder and I do have a personal interest in this matter,” said Scully in a low voice once they were in the front office. They had left Krycek securely cuffed to the chair in Skinner’s office. “And that’s why I’m asking you to let us handle this case. Krycek has answers to some of the questions we were asking twenty years ago. He knows why I was taken and what was done to me. He knows why the super soldiers wanted William to die. I want to hear those answers for myself, before anyone has a chance to silence him again.”

“Are you suggesting Krycek won’t be safe in custody here, Agent Scully?” asked Skinner sharply.

“Luis Cardinal wasn’t. And in the end, neither was Krycek. I imagine there are still plenty of people both outside and within the FBI who would like to keep him quiet. He’s right; he wouldn’t last a week.”

Skinner’s mouth tightened as if he wouldn’t mind if Krycek was found murdered in his cell like his erstwhile colleague, but Scully raised her head and gave him a defiant look.

“Sir, I’m not questioning your motives for shooting him. I know he was threatening Mulder and after everything he’d done, especially everything he had done to you, he had it coming. I’m just pointing out that we lost an opportunity to find out everything he knows back in the day and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

“So what are you suggesting?” asked Mulder. “We find him a safe house somewhere and keep him there until he can stand trial? You have anywhere in mind?”

“Yes. Your place,” said Scully. She looked up at them both; in her flat walking shoes, she only reached Mulder’s chest. “It’s remote enough to be easy to secure and as long as Krycek is kept restrained in some way, he’ll find it hard to escape.”

“You want me to keep Krycek in custody at my place.” An odd image of Krycek handcuffed to the pipes in his basement came to mind. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“It’s not like Mulder has a good track record of keeping a hold of Krycek,” said Skinner grimly. He rubbed his bald head and groaned. He was generally well preserved for a man in his sixties, but right now, he was looking every bit his age. “Why did he have to come back now? The FBI is dealing with the worst crisis since 9/11 and don’t get me wrong, the last thing I need is to be diverting resources to keeping that turd alive. But your priority should be finding a cure for Mulder. I’m sure we can keep him safe here. I don’t see how having Krycek under your feet is going to help you.”

“Actually, sir, it might. A friend emailed me the coroner’s report for Krycek’s death last night,” said Scully. “The body was in excellent condition but he had a bullet in his head, his left arm had been amputated several years earlier and his right humerus was shattered by two bullets. And yet here he is sitting in your office right now, a healthy young man with two arms and a functioning brain!” Scully’s voice rose and Mulder could see her enthusiasm for the scientific curiosity Krycek’s resurrection represented. “Whoever was able to do this to Krycek might well have a cure for Mulder as well. And given his past association with the man responsible for this crisis, it might even give us the key to what’s been happening over the last two weeks.”

Skinner turned to Mulder and sighed. “And I suppose you agree with her?”

“Well, I, uh—”

Mulder hesitated, still wrapping his head around all the ramifications of having Krycek living in his house. He remembered Krycek’s thinly veiled threat the previous night—Bet that’s not the only thing you don’t want me to tell Scully—and felt a momentary sympathy with all these theoretical people who wanted to keep Krycek quiet.

But he lowered his eyes to meet Scully’s gaze; he had probably spent years like this by now, looking down at her face tilted up toward his, her brow creased into a frown above her clear blue eyes. He could see hope in those eyes and that clinched it for him.

“I guess I do agree. It’s definitely an X-File.” He smiled wryly. “Hanging out with that scumbag. It’ll be just like old times.”

“Yeah. The bad old times,” grumbled Skinner. “I hope you know what you’re getting yourselves into.”

* * * * *

FBI HEADQUARTERS
JUNE 1994

The fax machine pulled in the cover page and whirred and beeped in the usual way. But just as Mulder was beginning to relax and trust it to finish the job, it pulled in half the first page of the report, seemed to think better of it and tried to push it out again. Then, with a heart-stopping crunch of Mulder’s carefully filled-in transcript, it declared that it had a paper jam and refused to do anything more. Great, now the Organized Crime office would have a cover sheet and half a page, and probably thought he didn’t know how to use a fax machine.

Mulder disengaged the mangled paper, belatedly noticing a Post-It that had fallen on the floor.

Fax bewitched again. Maintenance called for exorcism.

“Thanks for nothing,” grumbled Mulder, sticking the Post-It back on the machine. He was still trying to smooth out the mashed up page as he left the copy room and nearly bumped into Skinner in the corridor.

“Ah, Agent Mulder,” growled Skinner by way of greeting. Mulder was sure the gruff exterior hid a heart of gold or something, but it sure as hell wasn’t evident from the man’s manner. “Bellini from Organized Crime called me this morning. Wants to know where your transcript is.”

“I’m on it, sir,” said Mulder, waving the mangled fax. “Just sending it now. I, uh, was busy writing up the Augustus Cole case.”

“Hmm, which you also haven’t filed, I notice. Agent Krycek’s report was on my desk yesterday. Probably sucking up to impress me,” commented Skinner in a tone that indicated he remained unimpressed. “He loves you, by the way. Had nothing but good things to say about your handling of the Cole case. Maybe he can join your fan club with Agent Scully.” Skinner observed Mulder through narrowed eyes as if trying in vain to discern what they saw in him. “O.P.C. wants to see you this afternoon. If they clear Krycek for duty, maybe you can take him on that ghost hunt I sent your way this morning. If that’s his thing. Just tell him not to shoot any more suspects.”

“Sure,” said Mulder, though he wasn’t certain he wanted to partner with Krycek. He had enjoyed the man’s company on the case, but working with him again might be awkward.

He pondered the thought as he went to look for a working fax machine. There was a small group of people standing in the hallway outside the other copy room around the corner. Colton from Violent Crimes was holding court, surrounded by several of his cronies and a couple of young agents, presumably all on their way to lunch. Standing at the back, wearing a polyester suit that made him look like a kid dressed up for Sunday School, Krycek was listening intently to what Colton was saying. Mulder hadn’t exactly been avoiding Krycek, because they weren’t officially partners and Krycek’s desk was in this section and not his own, but he also hadn’t sought him out since they parted ways in New York. Given the conversation with Skinner, he thought he should at least try to talk to him later. Now was definitely not a good time.

“And then, I grabbed her hair and it came off in my hand,” said Colton. “Turned out it was a fucking faggot all along!”

Mulder felt a surprisingly sharp stab of disappointment at the sight of Krycek laughing sycophantically with the others. He walked past them into the photocopier room without comment. Or tried to, at any rate.

“Hi, Spooky. Found any little green men? Sorry, little gray men!” Colton’s posse laughed heartily.

“Sure.” Mulder smiled good-naturedly. “They were telling me all about your hot date last night. I didn’t know you were into that kind of thing.”

As expected, Colton didn’t find that funny at all. He waved the 302 he was holding. “Come on, guys, let’s go get lunch and get this son of a bitch before he kills again!” He turned and came practically nose to nose with Krycek. He looked him over, taking in the cheap suit and greased hairstyle. “Hey, Pee-wee, you can come too if you want.”

“Oh. No, I can’t. Sorry. I—I’m meeting my girlfriend,” stammered Krycek.

“Make sure you shower before you come back!” laughed Colton as the men walked away.

Krycek stared at him with a puzzled crease on the bridge of his thin nose. He was skinnier back in those days, his face all angles and sharp edges, and except for the fact he was as tall as Mulder, he looked about twelve years old. He turned away without looking at Mulder and headed toward his desk.

Mulder shrugged and went into the copy room. He checked that there were no Post-It notes on the fax machine and carefully aligned the paper in the feeder, then slowly entered the number and turned the speaker on low to listen to the high-pitched whine of the remote machine answering. He turned the sound off again once he was satisfied there was a connection. When he turned away, he found Krycek standing directly behind him in the small room. He hadn’t even heard him come in.

“Damn, you scared me,” laughed Mulder. “I see I’ll have to watch my back with you around!”

Krycek’s eyes narrowed. “Right,” he said a little coldly.

“I have a meeting with O.P.C. this afternoon,” said Mulder, belatedly kicking himself as he reviewed what he’d said. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Skinner doesn’t put us both on wiretap.” He pointed at the transcript he was faxing.

“Oh, thanks. Yeah, I’ve already submitted my report,” said Krycek, brightening up. He did give off an eager puppy vibe when he was happy. “I think Skinner will be satisfied that we have enough evidence to conclude that Cole murdered his former squad members using a strong power of hypnosis acquired as a result of his experimental training during the Vietnam War. I guess I just need you to tell O.P.C. the truth about the shooting. That he made us believe he had a gun.”

“Yeah,” said Mulder with a nod. He assumed that Krycek was summarizing his own report to make sure Mulder’s would corroborate his version of events.

“I was meaning to come talk to you but, uh—” Krycek gestured vaguely and Mulder guessed he’d been sort of not deliberately avoiding him too. “I’m sorry about, you know. I don’t normally drink, and, well—”

“Krycek, it’s fine. Seriously, I’m flattered,” Mulder assured him, putting his hand on his shoulder. “Listen, um, I have another case, possible ghost sightings in San Diego, and I could do with a hand. Call me when you’re done with lunch and I’ll tell you about it.”

“Great. I’d be interested to hear about the case.” Krycek gave him a bright smile full of unnaturally white teeth. “That’s—Yeah, that’s great.”

“It’s a date,” said Mulder, turning back to the fax machine, which had just beeped to announce it had finished. He swore; it had disconnected before it sent the last page. Organized Crime were going to think he was a moron.

* * * * *

FBI HEADQUARTERS
MARCH 2016

It was strange to think of everything that had happened to Krycek since then, all the tragic twists and turns of his previous life, and the as yet unknown events that had led to this one. Mulder observed Krycek’s face, more seasoned and rounded than it had been in his FBI days, as Skinner explained in a growl that he was going to be placed into the custody of Mulder and Scully.

Krycek’s eyes widened and his lips parted in surprise before curling into a smile. He immediately schooled his features into a more sober expression, probably trying to look grateful rather than delighted. However, he was unable to suppress a sardonic smile when Skinner mentioned Mulder’s house, and his ill-concealed delight made Mulder want to slap him. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a terrible idea.

“Let’s just get one thing straight, Krycek,” said Scully severely. She apparently hadn’t missed his reaction either. “We are not doing this for you. We are not doing this because we feel sorry for you or because of the information you claim to have about our son. You are a suspect in half a dozen murders and a participant to numerous criminal acts. We are only protecting you long enough to extract the information we need and find out why you were brought back. The slightest sign of trouble from you and we will bring you back here to take your chances with A.D. Skinner. If you escape, we will make you public enemy number one and hunt you down until we find you. This is not a vacation. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Krycek earnestly. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“You sure as hell should thank her,” grumbled Skinner. “You’re a lucky man, Krycek.”

Mulder couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “Bet you haven’t heard that very often!”

Chapter Text

FBI HEADQUARTERS
MARCH 2ND, 2016

“Oh, so that’s 9/11. I see why everyone is still talking about it.”

Mulder had been studiously ignoring Krycek for the past few minutes, but he raised his head and looked at the young man on the other side of the office. Krycek was staring at the widescreen TV, the crease across his nose deepening as he read the screen. He kept asking questions as they came down to the basement office, so Mulder had decided that not having to explain every event since mid-2001 far outweighed the risk of Krycek hacking into the FBI servers; he had hooked up his work laptop to the TV and given Krycek the wireless keyboard. The fact that the only browser available to the guest account was Internet Explorer made him feel better about this act of near generosity.

“So basically a bunch of Saudis destroyed the World Trade Center so the US invaded—Iraq?” commented Krycek. “Kinda like bombing Poland because you’ve been attacked by Germans.”

“Well, they also invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban backed Al-Qaeda,” said Mulder, feeling an unreasonable urge to defend American foreign policy just so he could contradict Krycek. “That’s where they got Osama bin Laden in the end.”

“Says here he was killed in Pakistan.”

“Oh, right.” Mulder was pleased Scully wasn’t there; she was always complaining about his lack of interest in international affairs. Or geography. On the other hand, he’d heard quite a few theories about 9/11 in the intervening years, so he considered himself reasonably well informed. “A lot of people don’t believe Al-Qaeda did it on their own. The collapse of the Twin Towers and adjacent buildings was so rapid that it’s possible a controlled demolition was involved, and there’s strong evidence that the CIA and the NSA, possibly under instruction from George W. Bush himself, actually aided Al-Qaeda by failing to report their well-documented activities to other agencies like the FBI. Think about it, this was the ideal excuse to avenge Bush’s family honor after his father’s failure to topple Saddam Hussein while distracting the American public from more important matters like the creation of the super soldiers and the imminent alien invasion. In fact, most UFO forums on the Internet believed the attacks were the precursor to the invasion. A warning shot, if you will, that humanity completely failed to identify.”

Krycek stared at Mulder for a moment, his eyebrows raised and his lips slowly curling into a smile that creased his eyes. It was an almost tender smile, but reminiscent of a parent indulging a child’s fantasies.

“I see the tinfoil hat is still firmly in place after all these years,” he said softly. “Mulder, I met a couple Al-Qaeda sympathizers in Tunisia in the ’90s, and I can tell you they had a long list of grievances against the United States. I also worked with the CIA and the NSA, and they were definitely incompetent and petty enough to let something like this happen because they hated the FBI. I know it’s easier to blame aliens and monsters, but the truth is horrible things usually happen simply because people are stupid and hate each other.”

Mulder bristled at Krycek’s lecture, doubly annoyed because he knew the man was right. Alien invaders had always seemed so much simpler to deal with than man’s inhumanity to man; he had long since given up trying to comprehend how human beings like the would-be suicide bomber they’d seen in Texas a couple weeks earlier could do the things they did. Mulder’s feelings about the state of the world weren’t improved by the fact that the aliens’ no-show after a decade of him trying to alert humanity had made a complete ass of him and his conspiracy theories.

“Fine words coming from a murderer,” he snapped.

“Well, there you go,” said Krycek, his eyes on the screen again. “Take it from an expert on doing horrible things.”

When Krycek silently started typing and clicking again, Mulder put the box he’d been working on away and got another box labelled “J-L” off the shelf. Smiling, he rifled through it and pulled out a thick folder from the middle; he was glad he’d kept this particular file safe through the years.

“How come you never call Scully Diana?” asked Krycek suddenly.

“Because her name is ‘Dana’.” Mulder laughed out loud. “You seriously don’t know Scully’s first name?”

“Of course I do. Dr. Dana Scully.” Krycek’s face remained impassive but Mulder noticed him clenching and unclenching his hands on the keyboard. He focused on the TV again. “Who was Diana, then?”

“Someone else,” said Mulder curtly. “A long time ago.”

Krycek gave a little shrug. “Everything I remember about anything was a long time ago.”

“Yeah, it was,” agreed Mulder. “You sure as hell don’t look like this anymore.”

He threw one of the items from the file toward him. Krycek caught it in his shackled hands and stared at it: it was his old FBI badge. Mulder expected him to say something flippant or maybe throw it back, but he just looked at his own thin face on the photograph for a moment, his face unemotional.

“You left it behind when you ran away,” said Mulder rather pointlessly.

“Yeah.”

* * * * *

AUGUST 11TH, 1994

“He’s paid up until the end of the month but I guess I should find another renter as soon as possible. Damn shame. He was a good tenant. Sweet boy. Never any trouble. Check always on time. Bit of loud music in the evenings some days, but always off by 11. He had a few friends and family around sometimes but they were usually quiet.”

“Can you describe his friends?” asked Skinner, waving his hand at a junior agent to take notes. Scully’s abduction was serious enough that Skinner was conducting the investigation on Krycek himself.

“Well, there was this one gentleman who came around a few times,” said the landlady, a tiny old woman who had to crane her neck to look up at Skinner. “Morley smoker. Gave me a light once. Very nice, a real gentleman. I thought he had to be his boss at first, but I guess he was some kind of relative. An uncle or something. He was very tall, with greying hair and—”

“Yes, we’re familiar with that gentleman,” said Skinner through clenched teeth. “What about his other visitors?”

While the landlady tried to remember what any of Krycek’s other friends looked like, Mulder continued to look through the small apartment. There wasn’t much to look at; it was a studio, with a convertible couch on one side of the room and a TV on the other, and a table and two chairs in the kitchen corner. The room was tidy and reasonably clean. There was a cassette/CD stereo by the TV and a rack with a couple dozen CDs; all contemporary pop, sorted by artist. A 14-inch computer monitor took up half the kitchen table; the base unit underneath had been opened, the beige metal casing put aside and screws left scattered on the floor.

“He took out the hard drive,” said one of the other agents, indicating the flat gray cable hanging out of the case. “That’s the IDE cable.”

“Must have disconnected it and taken it with him,” said Colton gravely, as if he knew what the guy was talking about.

Mulder was irritated at Colton muscling in on the investigation, even though Skinner had pointed out in his usual irascible manner that Colton had been Scully’s classmate at the Academy and had therefore known her far longer than Mulder, and that he had also briefly worked with Krycek on a case in Violent Crimes. The Assistant Director wanted everyone they could get to work on finding Scully. But Mulder couldn’t help feeling that this was his case; Krycek’s connection to the Smoking Man combined with Duane Barry’s alleged abduction experiences put this squarely in his territory. Besides, he was ready to bet his connection to Scully, and indeed to Krycek, was considerably stronger than Colton’s.

“What about you, Spooky, you found anything interesting?” asked Colton aggressively when he realized Mulder was standing nearby. “Maybe the aliens that you say abducted Dana?”

“Duane Barry’s the one who said aliens abducted her,” snapped Mulder, annoyed by Colton’s use of Scully’s first name. “Right now, I’m just interested in finding that son of a bitch Krycek.”

Turning away from Colton before the urge to punch him in the face became too strong, Mulder took a closer look at an incongruous construction at the other end of the room. It turned out to be two cardboard boxes connected by a short tunnel, probably something Krycek had made himself. The leftmost box had an opening carved roughly into it. Mulder got down on his hands and knees to look in but it was empty except for a couple cat toys and a piece of string. He pushed the entire structure out of the way and inspected the floorboards underneath. As he had expected, one was loose, but when he lifted it, the gap beneath was empty; whatever had been in there, Krycek had taken it with him along with the hard drive.

“What happened to the cat?” he asked, getting up and brushing off his knees.

“She’s at my place. I figured with you guys around, she’d be less upset downstairs,” said the landlady. She wrung her hands. “I knew something was up when I saw he’d paid me this month’s rent in cash instead of his usual check. He’d even put in extra for feeding Tallulah which he never does when he’s on a mission. He always leaves her food in the kitchen cupboard here. Then he left me a note this morning and you guys turned up, and I feared the worst. Did I mention he wrote me a note? Here, I’ll show you.”

She led Skinner out of the room. Mulder considered following, but decided Skinner would let him know if the note contained anything important. He looked in the closet; Krycek’s suits were still there, though half a dozen hangers were empty. He had left a pair of dress shoes alongside some socks and underwear in a shoebox, and there was a gap in the light dust on the floor of the closet where Krycek had probably stored the bag or suitcase he’d used to take his other clothes. Kneeling down to pull out another box from the back of the closet, Mulder reflected that working for the Smoking Man didn’t seem to pay very well; everything about this apartment was consistent with a man who lived only on the pay of a junior FBI agent. Then again, maybe all this was for show, a decoy apartment to conceal his nefarious work from any visitors.

“Hey, look at this,” said an agent, coming out of the bathroom. He waved a box of condoms at Colton. “Guess he was hoping to get lucky some time. Found some KY jelly too. What’d you think—bet he was gay?”

“Nah, even fairies wouldn’t fuck that rat-faced son of a bitch,” said Colton. “I would’ve sensed it when we worked together anyway. Besides, I saw him with his girlfriend once. Ugly fat girl, looked like a pig. I got Johnson and Crane looking for her.”

Mulder was inspecting the contents of the box from the closet. “This the girl you mean?”

He showed Colton a photograph of Krycek with a slightly overweight blonde girl. There was a series of photos of them in an envelope, posing in front of various monuments in Washington DC, including the FBI building. Even though Krycek had his arm around the girl in a couple of the pictures, Mulder had a hunch that this wasn’t a girlfriend.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Colton, snatching the box of photographs from Mulder. Mulder shrugged; he had already established that most of the pictures in the box were of the cat, a dark calico with yellow eyes that didn’t photograph very well. He didn’t think it would tell them anything useful.

While the other agents looked through the photos, Mulder returned to the kitchen area where the computer was and started looking through the drawers. The ones closest to the table were full of papers: bills, receipts, pay stubs, bank statements, all roughly sorted by date and type. He also found Krycek’s FBI badge and a couple notebooks, including the one Krycek had used on the cases he’d worked with Mulder. Pages of neat handwriting with disconnected pieces of information, lists of drinks people had asked him to get, and doodles around the edges, mostly symmetric patterns and an occasional drawing of a cat.

Mulder recognized his own cell number on one of the pages, and wondered if a circled “Samantha” on another page was a reference to his sister. He’d told Krycek about her once; maybe the bastard had taken notes so he could manipulate Mulder later. He sure as hell knew how to pull the wool over Mulder’s eyes. And for what? He looked around the small room crawling with FBI agents and wondered what Krycek had gotten out of his deal with Cancerman. Was he a willing agent, motivated by spite or money, donning a mask every time he smiled at Mulder, secretly biding his time to return to his true life as a criminal? Or was he really an FBI agent struggling with college debts, coerced into his role and then wrenched away from his settled life, forced to abandon his cat and the surrogate mother downstairs when he was discovered? Whatever the answer, any sympathy Mulder might have begun to feel vanished when he flicked through another notepad and saw Scully’s home address.

* * * * *

PRESENT DAY

The page with Scully’s address was still in Krycek’s file. It brought back the memories of that dark time and Mulder felt his anger rising. The tiredness he’d been feeling since the onset of the disease was coming over him again and combined with the memories of Scully’s abduction, he was feeling irritable. He looked over at Krycek, hoping the man would give him an excuse to vent his anger, but Krycek was just staring at the television; he had put his old badge in his pocket and judging by the audio, he was watching a news clip about a girl who’d been kidnapped in the midst of all the chaos.

Mulder leafed through the file, looking at the pictures: the photo he’d gotten from Krycek’s mother, showing Krycek and his family when he was a little boy; one of the tourist shots of him grinning in front of the FBI building, his arm around the girl Mulder had eventually established was his little sister; and, incongruously, a picture of his cat, which had been filed because it had a phone number jotted down on the back. Mulder couldn’t remember where the phone number had led; the bewildered owner of a Chinese restaurant, maybe. Krycek had been extremely careful not to leave anything important behind.

“Hey, Mulder. You and Scully split up, right?”

“That’s none of your business, Krycek.”

Krycek smirked but said nothing for a moment. Mulder wondered what was taking Scully so long; they had left her completing some paperwork with Skinner, but he couldn’t imagine that would be a very complicated process. Unless of course there was some special procedure for people who came back from the dead.

“You two seeing anyone else?” asked Krycek. “You’re kind of past it, but I guess Scully could still score if she wanted to.”

Mulder remembered Scully’s kind of date with Tad O’Malley and glared at him. “You’ll be seeing my fist if you don’t shut up.”

“It’s not like you were ever a great catch,” continued Krycek, now leaning back in his chair, feet planted apart in a confident pose. “But damn, man, you haven’t aged well. You’re the best ad for moisturizer I’ve ever seen!”

“You’re standing on very thin ice, Krycek,” warned Mulder.

“Of course, if Scully is working for a plastic surgeon, I guess she could have had some work done—”

Mulder crossed the space between them in a couple of strides and grabbed the front of the sweatshirt Krycek was wearing. To his surprise, Krycek sprang to his feet and there was an unmistakable glint of excitement in his eyes. He bared his teeth and raised his cuffed hands in defense as Mulder pulled him closer.

“I don’t think you appreciate the situation here. You heard Scully earlier, you scum-sucking pond dweller,” snarled Mulder. “This is not a vacation and I’m damn sure going see to it you don’t forget that.”

Krycek smiled unpleasantly and leaned in so their faces were only a few inches apart. “Go on then, show me. Wanna shove me against that wall? Prove you’ve still got it?”

Mulder lost his temper and pushed Krycek back, past the chair and up against a filing cabinet. Krycek gasped in pain as the hard metal hit the sores on his back, but he recovered almost immediately and stared Mulder in the eye. Mulder was suddenly aware of the other man’s proximity; the warmth of his breath, the intense look in his long-lashed eyes, the large, hard body against his. He remembered that Krycek was wearing no underwear under his sweatpants and the rush of warmth he felt made him even angrier. He abruptly pushed Krycek against the cabinet again and backed away.

“Watch yourself, Krycek,” said Mulder breathlessly, trying to regain control of himself. “There’s an A.D. upstairs who’d love to put you back in the ground, and the FBI has a far more relaxed attitude to torture since 9/11.”

Krycek hissed in pain and looked at him with a scowl that soon turned into a nasty smile, as if Mulder’s out of control reaction was exactly what he’d wanted. Mulder glared at him, certain that the man was up to no good.

* * * * *

When Scully returned a few minutes later, the men had put some distance between them again. Krycek was sitting down and using the computer, and Mulder was in the back office, where he had returned to the task of picking the paper files he wanted to take home with him. He was now regretting his decision to bring some of the alien-related ones he’d been keeping at home back to the FBI. With the roads blocked and both their cars elsewhere, he wasn’t sure how he and Scully were going to get to the house, let alone carry what they needed while keeping an eye on Krycek. The two and a half mile walk from Scully’s apartment to the Hoover Building that morning had been a reminder of how unfit he was. Krycek was right when he said he hadn’t aged well.

Then again, maybe he wouldn’t have to carry them himself. He looked over at Krycek, still a strong man in his prime, and added a few more files to the pile. If they were going to be dragging him around, Krycek might as well make himself useful and carry the files. Krycek noticed him looking and scowled at him.

Scully seemed oblivious to the atmosphere between the two men as she entered. She was holding a folder and looking more cheerful than she had since the start of the crisis. Combined with her casual clothes and flat shoes, her demeanor made her look younger and Mulder felt a surge of tenderness, his bad mood dissipating. It was strange to see her in casual pants and a turtleneck in the office; he realized that in the short time they’d been back, he’d grown used to her pencil skirts and unnecessarily tight blouses. He liked the tight blouses.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “We were getting worried.”

“Sorry, the cell network is back so I had to make some calls,” explained Scully. “Skinner and I have filed all the paperwork; we’re officially investigating the link between Spender and this epidemic, so we’ll get some expenses paid and the help of local FBI offices if we need it. As for Krycek, Skinner is still very determined to make him stand trial as soon as this crisis is over, but in the interest of keeping him alive until then, his name won’t appear on the file.”

“Thanks,” said Krycek, putting on his grateful and humble demeanor.

“You can thank me when they put you away for twenty years,” said Scully. “We have orders to bring you back here in two weeks at the latest.” Her stern expression softened a little as she looked at him more closely. “How are you feeling?”

“Okay,” he said with a little nod. “My back’s still a little sore. Mulder was demonstrating the FBI’s post-9/11 attitude to torture.” He gave Mulder a dirty look, like a defiant child telling Mommy his big brother had been mean. “But the nausea and, uh, other stuff seems to be gone.”

“Good. I’ve talked to a friend at Georgetown and she might be able to arrange an MRI scan this morning. She said the lab has some spare capacity now that people are being taken home, so I hope I can get them to run a full blood work too.”

“MRI scan sounds like a good idea,” said Mulder with amusement. “Krycek’s memory isn’t all there yet. He couldn’t remember your first name earlier.”

“It’s not like we’ve ever been close,” grumbled Krycek.

Scully made a non-committal sound and asked Krycek to look up so she could look at his pupils. “Yes, I think I need to check you out. It’s hard to imagine you won’t suffer some long-term effects of whatever was done to you.”

“Gee, and there I was all happy I was alive again,” said Krycek with a sneer that didn’t quite conceal the fear in his voice. “I guess you can write a nice fat scientific paper on me some day.”

“I also talked to a friend at the coroner’s office,” continued Scully. “She said your body was donated to science and taken by the research department at Georgetown University. The papers were signed by a Sarah Morrison. Do you know who that might be?”

Krycek’s lips curled into a little smile and he nodded. “My half-sister.”

“I remember her,” said Mulder. He pulled out the picture from Krycek’s file and showed it to Scully. “Here she is. Feisty little thing.”

“Yeah, she remembered you too, stalking her in her dorm,” snarled Krycek. “Trying to scare her into telling you where I was!”

“I knew she was lying to me when she said you hadn’t been in touch after you left the FBI!” exclaimed Mulder, pleased to hear that his hunch had been correct twenty years ago. “Your mom was sick. Of course you’d been in touch. I wanted to know where you were. You were wanted for what, three or four murders by then, and you were walking around with an alien up your ass and the Syndicate after you. I needed to find you!”

“Shame you suddenly stopped looking when I was stuck in that silo,” snapped Krycek, his eyes downcast. He swallowed and his face became impassive again. “So my body was donated to research. How do we find out what happened next?”

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to talk to anyone at Georgetown University,” said Scully. “We’ll have to go there when we visit the hospital today.”

“What about that program you said could help me show you where I was? I think I remember more now, I might be able to retrace my steps, if you think that would help?”

Scully pulled up a chair and loaded up Google Street View, then Krycek tried to work his way back from Hegel Place. Mulder sat at his desk so he could watch the television. After a while, he started to watch Krycek and Scully instead, idly admiring the contrast between their handsome faces; Scully’s all hard, strong lines like a classical statue, Krycek’s softer, his heart-shaped face framed with uneven dark curls. After a moment, Mulder closed his eyes and let the tiredness overcome him

Chapter Text

“Mulder, look! This is where Krycek was being kept!”

Mulder woke up with a start at the sound of Scully’s voice. He opened his eyes and sat up to feign alertness, annoyed that he had fallen asleep again and hoping she hadn’t noticed. When he looked over at them, he found that Krycek was watching him with concern, but Scully’s eyes were still on the screen.

Following her gaze, it took Mulder a moment to realize that he recognized the building in Google Street View. Its name was blurred out and it had been photographed on a bright sunny day in 2015, but he clearly remembered standing outside it one night two months earlier as the police cordoned off the area.

“That’s Nugenics Technologies!” he exclaimed. He turned towards Krycek. “Are you sure that’s where you were?”

“Uh, I think that’s the building I was in, yeah,” said Krycek. He leaned out of the chair and pointed at a blurry area on the screen. “It was on fire so it looked kind of different, but I think that emergency exit in the basement area there is where I came out.”

Scully switched to another tab in the browser and did a news search. “It definitely fits. It says here that Nugenics Technologies’ main lab burned to the ground two days ago. The firemen couldn’t get through because of the gridlock and nothing was left of it when they got there. So far, they say seven people are unaccounted for.”

“I’m getting déjà-vu,” said Mulder. “That’s exactly what happened to Zeus Industries fifteen years ago.”

“Well, we know they were in the same business,” said Scully thoughtfully. She turned to Krycek sitting on the chair beside her. “We worked on a case involving Nugenics in January. One of the company’s employees committed suicide in suspicious circumstances, and it led us to investigate the company’s founder. We discovered that he’d been experimenting on children with genetic abnormalities, including his own offspring, possibly trying to create a new race of improved humans using alien DNA.”

“A new race of improved humans,” repeated Krycek, his nose wrinkling in disgust. “That sounds—” His voice trailed off and he stared at the screen in horror.

“Familiar?” suggested Mulder. “We thought so too. Shame his son made his head explode and we can’t ask Dr. Goldman some more questions; I’m wiling to bet he was working with Lev and Parenti on the Consortium’s alien hybrid program back in the day.”

Krycek stared at Mulder a moment and then at the picture of the burned out building on the news report Scully had found, his eyes wide. “Dr. Goldman—Augustus Goldman? The geneticist?”

When Mulder nodded, Krycek swore and stood up. Struggling to calm himself, he banged his shackled hands on the filing cabinet, then kicked it for good measure. Mulder was amused to see him wince as his ill-fitting shoe slid off.

“I take it you knew Dr. Goldman?” said Scully, raising an eyebrow at Krycek’s display of anger.

“Friend of yours?” quipped Mulder, who was feeling wide awake now.

Krycek was still facing the filing cabinet with his back to Scully, but Mulder could see his profile. He was frowning thoughtfully, probably trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle in his head. Or thinking up some good lie.

Finally, he turned to face them, his expression dark and his head bowed. He clasped and unclasped his cuffed hands.

“I only met him once,” he started. “But yeah, I knew him.”

* * * * *

“I thought I told you not to bother me!” snapped Goldman. “I’m busy!”

He was leaning over the corpse of a child laid out on the autopsy slab, inspecting its exposed entrails. He glared up at Knowle Rohrer with unconcealed irritation, though there was a flicker of curiosity in his expression when he saw Alex standing behind him.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“Dr. Goldman, this is Alex Krycek,” said Rohrer. “He wanted to see you.”

Alex had long since learned that eagerly offering your hand when you were introduced to someone just made you look like a moron. Goldman seemed to be of a similar school of thought and made no attempt at courtesy. Alex stayed just outside the bright circle created by the light above the autopsy table, conscious that Goldman wouldn’t be able to see his features clearly. Illuminated by the lamp above him, Goldman looked like most of the Syndicate doctors Alex had met; another pasty-faced, bespectacled man playing God to compensate for whatever the hell mad scientists compensated for. Small dick? Mommy didn’t love him? Sweetheart ditched him at the prom? The Syndicate had been crawling with these creeps back in the day. Where were the Alien Rebels when you needed them?

Goldman scowled at Alex skulking in the shadows, irritated by his inability to see him properly. Alex waited until the man pretended to return to his autopsy before taking a step forward into the light. Goldman immediately looked up again, too curious to resist. Alex smirked confidently as Goldman’s gaze took in his dark clothes and the bent-armed, gloved prosthesis.

“Oh. I thought you’d look more Russian,” said Goldman finally. When Alex still said nothing, Goldman looked at him sharply. “Well, what do you want?”

“Santa’s Little Helper here said you had a job for me.” Alex tilted his head towards Rohrer and bared his teeth in a semblance of a smile. He got a kick out of the fact the man’s given name was just a fancy spelling of “Noel”. “So you tell me what you want, Dr. Goldman.”

Goldman reached for a wicked looking pair of rib cutters. Alex gritted his teeth and forced himself to watch as the scientist cut open the child’s chest with a series of sickening crunches. The child was a girl with an abnormally large head; her face was uncovered, her blue eyes staring at nothing. Her head rolled a little as Goldman continued cutting. Alex took a few deep breaths, firmly suppressing all the thoughts rushing into his mind. He guessed that whatever this guy wanted was not going to be pleasant. But what the hell, it probably wasn’t much worse than everything Alex had done already.

“I need some failed experiments cleaned up,” said Goldman after another pause. “Some of the women we worked on in the mid-nineties are getting pregnant. This was not supposed to happen. The last thing we need is an epidemic of alien hybrids out in the wild. I suspect some of my ex-colleagues—” He interrupted himself with a sour look. “Anyway. After El Rico, someone either took or destroyed all the records that would have told us who the women were.” He raised his eyes to meet Alex’s. “Agent Crane said you were involved in some of the abductions. You should be able to track the women down.”

“Just track them down?” asked Alex, keeping his voice low and quiet.

He was pleased when Goldman pursed his lips and paused. Damn all these assholes who expected him to go out and kill people but couldn’t even bring themselves to say so. Trying to pretend their hands were clean because Alex was the one who pulled the trigger.

“Agent Crane seemed to feel you were the kind of person who would have no qualms carrying out this kind of task,” said Goldman finally.

Agent Crane was a blabber mouth who was going to get a bullet in the head as soon as Alex cornered him alone. Alex stared at Goldman a moment, his mind working rapidly. “What’s in it for me?”

“Money, of course.” Goldman looked Alex over slowly, his gaze lingering on the prosthetic arm again; there was a glint in his eye which Alex didn’t like at all. “And maybe I can fix you up. Human upgrades are a specialty of mine.”

“An eye for an eye, an arm for a… baby?” said Alex sardonically. “This isn’t the best arm I’ve had, but I’m not desperate enough to turn into Dr. Strangelove just yet.”

“Oh, I don’t just mean a new arm. A whole new body. Your thoughts and memories, but in a far superior vessel, courtesy of our off-world friends.” He nodded toward Krycek’s artificial arm. “A vessel that isn’t so easily maimed. Why don’t you give him a little demonstration, Mr. Rohrer?”

Grinning wickedly, Rohrer grabbed the rib cutters and to Alex’s horror, clipped off one of his own fingers. It started to grow back almost immediately.

“Nice party trick. Do you do your dick on first dates?” asked Alex, keeping his tone neutral even though his heart was racing.

The severed finger just lay on the autopsy table beside the child’s lifeless head and the flames of a forest campfire licked at the edges of Alex’s sanity. He fixed his gaze on Goldman, focusing on here and now, and the way out, as usual.

“Killing pregnant women could get messy. It’s the kind of thing people get sentimental about. Even people who don’t give a crap about women. It’s unlikely to go unnoticed.” He glanced from one to the other with practiced calm. “What if I’m not interested in cleaning up your mess?”

“Then we’ll see what other parts of you I can chop off,” said Rohrer menacingly. “See how well you adapt to having no arms.”

“I see.” Alex gave him a bright smile. “In that case, I’ll take the money, Regis.”

* * * * *

FBI HEADQUARTERS
MARCH 2016, 11:06 A.M.

“If Goldman was the one who wanted her dead fifteen years ago, how come he didn’t recognize Scully’s name when we met him a couple months ago?” asked Mulder suspiciously.

“I told you, he didn’t know who the women were,” said Krycek impatiently, resting his elbow on the filing cabinet. “He didn’t want a list; he just wanted the problem gone.”

“So how many other women did you kill?” asked Scully, leaning over the back of her chair to look up at Krycek.

“None.” Krycek looked down at her and smiled wryly. “Crane was talking out of his ass. The only abduction I was ever involved in was yours. I investigated a couple women I thought had been abductees, but they were either dead already or they weren’t pregnant anyway.”

“Oh, so you didn’t spare anyone’s life out of principle,” said Mulder. “Just because you couldn’t find any victims who fit the bill.”

“Why didn’t you kill me?” asked Scully, gazing intently up at Krycek. “You knew I was one of the women Goldman wanted you to eliminate. That he didn’t want my son to be born.”

“Goldman not paying you enough?” suggested Mulder with amusement.

“No, he wasn’t, actually,” said Krycek with a grin. Mulder was struck by how easily he’d slipped back into his sexy killer persona. “I know you think I’m a scumbag, but you’d given me a free pass when I came back from Tunisia, when I told you about the spaceship Old Smokey wanted me to find. I figured I owed you one, so I let you and Fox Jr. live. But then your partner Hatchet Face told his army buddy Rohrer about you, and he worked out you were supposed to be on Goldman’s list. We, uh, had a little talk and I decided maybe I needed to do my job.”

“So that’s when you came and tried to blackmail Skinner into killing me.”

Krycek laughed unpleasantly. “Yeah. No offense, but I was more attached to my remaining body parts than I was to you.”

Mulder shifted uncomfortably in his chair; the idea that Krycek had been threatened bothered him more than he thought it should. For all his excellent profiling skills, he had never gotten to the bottom of why Krycek had started working for the Consortium and had therefore assumed that Krycek was motivated by the usual: money and/or personal power. Assumed, or maybe subconsciously hoped.

"But you still didn't kill me," insisted Scully. "You helped me escape when Billy Miles was after us."

"And tried to kill me instead," Mulder reminded them with bitterness. He remembered watching Krycek talking to Rohrer in the parking garage just before Krycek threatened him and wondered if Rohrer had reiterated his threats in order to force Krycek to kill Mulder. “What the hell was all that about?”

“A miscalculation. We saw how well that turned out for me.” Krycek gave him an unconvincing nonchalant smile and shrugged as if it were nothing. He turned away to stare at the screen with a worried look. “You think they wanted to turn me, like Billy Miles and Knowle Rohrer?”

“Yes, and probably for the same reason they chose people like Knowle Rohrer and Sharon MacMahon,” said Scully, accepting the change of topic, though she exchanged a curious look with Mulder. “They were making super soldiers. They picked people with training, acclimatized to violence, and who already knew how to fight.”

Mulder was going to say that as far as he remembered, Krycek fought like a girl, but thought better of it, both because Scully would find the wording offensive, and because it was possible that Krycek wasn’t trying very hard the couple times they’d fought. He suddenly remembered something and opened Krycek’s file in front of him.

“That’s right, I forgot Krycek was in the Air Force before he joined the FBI: ROTC, then four years’ active service,” he said. He pulled out a photograph of a young and skinny Krycek in his Second Lieutenant uniform and showed it to Scully. “He does fit the profile for a super soldier.”

“I only joined the Air Force for the scholarship,” grumbled Krycek. He looked at the picture of his younger self. “And to see the world, I guess.”

He now had the same stricken look he’d had when he remembered losing his arm. His gaze drifted off the photo and onto the items on Mulder’s desk, including a Stanley knife Mulder had used to cut open boxes when he moved back into the basement office. Before Mulder could stop him, Krycek had grabbed it and cut a gash in his left index finger. A drop of red blood rose to the surface; Krycek licked it off impatiently and observed the wound.

“Krycek, I already checked that you weren’t an alien replacement or a clone,” said Scully, rolling her eyes. She went to get a Band-Aid from her jacket and applied it to his finger. “Whatever they were planning to do with your body when they took it in 2001, I know they didn’t turn you into a super soldier. You wouldn’t have those sores on your back, for a start. I’ll do a full check on you when we go to the hospital.”

Before she could say anything more, a man walked in. Krycek immediately tensed, eyeing the stranger with suspicion; given his fear of being murdered in the FBI building, Mulder couldn’t entirely blame him for being jumpy.

“Hi,” said Agent Miller, leaning over Mulder’s desk to shake his hand. “Glad to see you back on your feet, sir!”

Mulder wondered if he should tell Miller to call him Mulder or just enjoy the sensation of being someone’s superior, in age if not in rank. Miller greeted Scully and gave Krycek a curious look.

“Agent Miller, this is Alex Krycek,” explained Scully. “He’s helping us with our current investigation.”

“Alex Krycek?” Miller stared at him with amazement. “Not the Alex Krycek—the one Proctor at the Academy keeps talking about, who became a criminal?”

“Sounds like me,” said Krycek, his glum demeanor now gone. He raised his cuffed hands and smiled. “They got me in the end, as you can see. So Proctor’s still a firearms instructor at the Academy? I remember him. I was top of his class.”

“Yes, he remembers you too. He said you became a professional hit man.”

Krycek’s smile darkened. “I learned from the best.”

“He also thought you were dead.”

“So did I,” said Krycek without missing a beat. He leaned casually on the filing cabinet and looked Miller over slowly. “So where’d they find you, Ken? Same male model agency as Mulder here?”

“Look who’s talking,” muttered Mulder.

“Actually, it’s Kyd,” said Miller seriously.

“Kyd?” repeated Krycek.

“Yes, my name is Kyd, not Ken.”

“Kyd.” Krycek’s eyes were sparkling with amusement. “As in ‘here’s lookin’ at you, Kyd’?”

Miller stared at Krycek a moment and then turned to Mulder and Scully. “Anyway, I came down to see you both since A.D. Skinner said you were back on the case. I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is I went back to the plantation with a team but your cigarette-smoking friend was gone.”

“Yeah, he’s always been good at pulling a disappearing act,” commented Krycek.

Miller gave Krycek a puzzled look but continued in a low voice, addressing Scully. “The good news is that I talked to a friend about that other matter you asked me to look into.”

“About their son?” asked Krycek with sudden interest.

“Uh, yes,” said Miller. “My friend is sure the death certificate is fake. There’s a discrepancy in the database that suggests it was tampered with. Someone added that death certificate after the fact.”

“That makes sense, because the autopsy report Skinner got is also a fake,” said Scully, extracting it from the papers she had brought down from Skinner’s office. Mulder realized this must have been the reason for her earlier good mood. “It’s good but it wasn’t written by a pathologist.”

Krycek leaned over her shoulder to look at the report. “So that means your son is alive,” he said brightly. “So the boy I saw was him.”

“Assuming you did see a boy and weren’t simply dreaming after you were revived,” said Scully cautiously. “It’s possible.”

“I don’t understand. Who would go to the trouble of faking your son’s death?” asked Miller.

“Someone who wanted to keep him safe from people like Goldman,” said Krycek immediately. “Adoption records aren’t exactly difficult to obtain. Giving him away wouldn’t have been enough to keep him hidden.”

“No, I guess not,” said Scully softly, and Mulder wished they didn’t have to deal with this. Scully had spent quite enough of the last fourteen years agonizing over the decision to give William up for adoption without Krycek of all people telling her it was a stupid decision.

“It was the best decision under the circumstances,” said Mulder loyally.

Scully acknowledged his remark with a smile and looked up at Miller. “It’s a long story, but we’ve been assigned to investigate Krycek’s reappearance because it might be connected to the plague. Do you think your friend would be willing to help us with that as well?”

As Mulder listened to them talking about the circumstances of Krycek’s resurrection, he thought about the little baby he had once held in his arms and allowed himself to feel the first glimmer of hope in a long time.

Chapter Text

Krycek was running hard, his breathing labored and his damp shirt clinging to his heaving chest. Scully increased the speed of the treadmill again and he frowned, concentrating on the effort, bending his arms to find a better rhythm and keep up with the machine. Sitting in the cardiology department, Mulder watched him and decided Krycek was not a runner. He seemed to have forgotten whatever techniques he must have been taught in his military training and was no longer used to maintaining a sustained rhythm for such a long time. Still, Mulder watched the play of his muscles under the loose pink top and sweatpants, and thought he didn’t look bad at all for a man who’d been brought back from the dead.

Under normal circumstances, Mulder would have insisted that they visit the Nugenics site or Miller’s hacker friend immediately. But even with the Metro running again, it was difficult to get to Nugenics from the center of DC, and Miller’s friend couldn’t see them until the next day, so he had caved in to Scully’s desire to examine Krycek at Georgetown Hospital instead. The hospital was still partially closed after the crisis; treating thousands of people all at once had put a severe strain on the sanitary conditions in the building and it was now waiting to be restored to the degree of cleanliness required. However, Scully knew one of the administrators from somewhere—Mulder had missed her explanation—and they were therefore able to use its facilities; so long as they didn’t mind the garbage piled in the corridors. And didn’t want to use the bathrooms.

“I think that will do,” said Scully, gradually turning down the machine until Krycek could walk off. She handed him a towel. “I’ll review your EKG results with Dr. Ramachandran. He’s much more of a specialist on living people than I am.”

Her colleague smiled modestly. He was a good-looking Indian man and Mulder thought about Dr. Sanjay’s boyfriend Gupta on his knees in the janitor’s cupboard at the gay bar. He had yanked Gupta to his feet at the time, horrified at the misunderstanding about his intentions. But he’d thought about that moment quite a lot since, in the privacy of his own bedroom, imagining the possibilities offered by this unwitting reenactment of a porn video trope. He firmly dismissed the thought; this was definitely not the place to start fantasizing.

Dr. Ramachandran checked the time. “Dr. Marcus said the MRI machine would be ready in about twenty minutes. Perhaps we will let you have a break, Alex, while Dr. Scully and I talk about your EKG.”

“Thanks,” said Krycek, wiping his brow. He lifted his shirt to let Dr. Ramachandran remove the EKG sensors and gave him a charming smile. “I’m beat. I think I’ll go sit beside Gramps over there and we can yell at the kids to get off our lawn.”

He let Scully put the handcuffs on again, then came over and dropped heavily onto the seat next to Mulder. He was hot and sweaty from the exercise, and giving off an odor which was strong but not entirely unpleasant. Mulder decided to ignore him by looking at his phone.

“What are you doing?” asked Krycek.

“Investigating Nugenics,” said Mulder, which was nearly true; he had been looking at responses to his inquiries before he was distracted by a thread on one of the UFO forums he followed.

“These little computers are really cool,” said Krycek with enthusiasm, pointing at Mulder’s phone. “Does everybody have one?”

“They’re called smartphones and yes, most people have one, I guess.”

“Those are phones? I remember when cellphones were getting smaller and smaller back in the day. These things are more like something out of Star Trek. Can I take a look?”

He leaned over to look at Mulder’s phone, his smell filling Mulder’s senses; Mulder shifted away and lowered the phone. Krycek pursed his lips.

“So did you find out anything about Nugenics?” he asked more coldly.

“I’ll let you know when I find out something you need to know.”

Krycek gave a dramatic sigh and Mulder was suddenly reminded of lying in the Siberian mud, looking down at the gulag-style prison camp and listening to Krycek complaining that Mulder wasn’t telling him why they were there. He also remembered how it later transpired that Krycek not only knew why they were there but had probably deliberately manipulated Mulder into coming there in the first place.

“This does involve me too, you know, Mulder,” said Krycek angrily. “If you woke up somewhere and couldn’t remember what had happened, and it’s fifteen fucking years in the future, I’m guessing you’d want answers too!” He raised his cuffed hands. “C’mon, man, it’s not like I can do the research myself. You can’t keep me in the dark!”

“Sure I can,” retorted Mulder, though he relented and turned toward him again. Krycek’s features cleared into an expression of hope when Mulder tilted his phone to show him the emails. “I haven’t gotten much so far. I’ve managed to contact three people we talked to in January. One of them confirmed that Nugenics used cadavers donated to medical science for some of their experiments. She also said one of the teams was working on limb replacements, but she didn’t think they were making very good progress.”

“Well, they sure as hell did okay with this.” Krycek flexed his left arm. It was still glistening with sweat and the little cotton pad taped to the crook of his elbow folded in on itself. “I wonder how much I can bench with it.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe 20 pounds, judging by how you run. I bet Scully could outrun you in three-inch heels,” said Mulder with amusement.

“Hey, I’ve been dead!” protested Krycek.

“Sure. I’ve been dead too and I was still a better runner than you are when I came back.”

“You were buried alive, not the same thing,” pointed out Krycek, though his eyes unfocused for a moment and creased into a smile as if he were recalling a fond memory. “That was so long ago. Fifteen years, shit.” He gave Mulder a searching look. “Mulder, you really did see me in the courtroom—that was real?”

He seemed to be looking for reassurance so Mulder grudgingly nodded. “Yeah.”

“How’s that even possible?” Krycek shook his head. “I mean, the arm, the head, even the whole bringing me back to life thing, I get that. That’s all science. The aliens could do that. It makes sense that the guys who worked with them back in the ‘80s and ‘90s worked out how to do it too. Like, I don’t know, the Soviet Union and the atom bomb. Once you know something is possible, you can just keep going until you crack the code. And if I wasn’t dead the whole time, then maybe I could have been dreaming. All the things I remember from after I died could just be things I overheard that became subconscious dreams. But you saw me, your son saw me—how?”

Mulder shook his head. “I don’t know. I saw other people too, people who were also dead. My friends.” His heart sank as he remembered the brief glimpse he thought he had seen of the Lone Gunmen on his mushroom trip in Texas. God, he missed them so much. Why was Krycek the one brought back from the dead and not them?

“I guess you were a ghost. I know you don’t believe in ghosts,” he said, raising his hand. “I remember you lecturing me on how it wasn’t possible once. But you fit the bill perfectly. A murdered man coming back as a ghost to seek revenge. I can show you a dozen cases like that in the X-Files.”

“I know you can,” said Krycek softly.

“I mean, look at this one,” insisted Mulder. He logged into the FBI server on his phone and brought up the electronic copy of some of his own case files. “Neech Manley was executed in the electric chair but came back to seek revenge on the five men who tormented him in prison. And then there’s Charlie Morris, who possessed a little girl after he died so he could kill the man who murdered him and took his wife. And this is Howard Graves, who came back and haunted his secretary to reveal that her current boss had murdered him. See that photograph, taken at Lauren Kyte’s house in Philadelphia two weeks after he died!”

Realizing that Krycek hadn’t said anything for a while, Mulder raised his eyes to look at him and discovered that Krycek wasn’t looking at the phone at all.

“I remember you telling me about some of those cases when we were partners,” said Krycek with a smile. “Twenty years on and you’re still chasing ghosts.”

“Yeah. And sometimes the ghosts break into my partner’s apartment.”

Krycek took Mulder’s free hand and held it on his knee. “Except I’m not a ghost anymore, Mulder.”

Krycek’s thigh felt warm and solid through the soft material of the sweatpants. Mulder resisted the temptation to give it a squeeze and pulled away his hand. “I noticed. You were a hell of a lot less trouble as a ghost.”

* * * * *

JUNE 1994

“I don’t believe in ghosts, Mulder,” said Krycek. “I hope this is worth it.”

“She says the spirit of her murdered husband appears about here every night,” said Mulder, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. It was a hot evening; a heat wave, the guy at the motel had called it, hotter than usual even for San Diego. “If we lay low in here and watch, we might see it. You might even get a photo.”

Mulder looked Krycek over with amusement. In the orange light of the streetlamps, he could make out Krycek’s pristine white short-sleeved shirt and short dark tie, and the large camera he was carrying. Except for the camera, he looked like the young missionaries who would occasionally turn up on the doorstep in Martha’s Vineyard, a book under one arm and “Elder Johnson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” on a badge on their chest.

“Why’d you bring the camera anyway?” asked Mulder. “You look like a Mormon tourist.”

Krycek smirked at him. “You said you got a picture of that ghost in Philadelphia last October. I figure if it’s a ghost, I’ll get you some proof, and if it’s something else, I can capture the evidence and prove your psychic lady is wrong.”

He raised the camera; amused, Mulder struck a pose and Krycek took a photograph, blinding him with the flash.

“Do you even know how to use that thing?” asked Mulder, blinking to clear the red rectangle obscuring his vision.

“Sure. I borrowed it from a friend, but my roommate in Salt Lake City was an amateur photographer, so I’m not completely clueless.”

Mulder stared at Krycek through the dissipating blur. “Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offense, you know, about the Mormon thing.”

Krycek laughed. “I’m not a Mormon. The FBI sent me there when I graduated from Quantico.” He shook his head and looked out through the windscreen. “You know, we could give up on this investigation and go back to the motel, Mulder. Raid the vending machine, order in some pizzas, maybe watch some crappy movie on TV. Jump in the pool if it stays this hot. I promise not to take any compromising photos.”

“Sounds like my last date,” said Mulder with a chuckle.

“If that’s your idea of a date, I can see why it was your last.”

“Why, what was your last date like?”

“Amazing.” Krycek lowered his head and raised his eyebrows to look up at Mulder through his lashes; Mulder guessed this was a ‘cute’ look he switched on when he wanted to look appealing. “Nice little restaurant downtown, played it smooth, was a perfect gentleman. She’ll be like putty in my hands next time.”

Mulder suspected one or more of the details in Krycek’s little story was a lie, but this was only their second case together and he didn’t want to lose a third partner in as many years by voicing his opinion. He expressed generic approval of what Krycek had said, and the two of them sat in silence for a while until Krycek put a cassette into the car radio. Up-tempo electronic music rang out from the tinny speakers, starting in the middle of a song. The dull male voice sounded vaguely familiar.

Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
And forgettable

“Is that New Order?” asked Mulder, though he already suspected that wasn’t the band he was thinking of.

“Depeche Mode,” said Krycek with a chuckle.

Mulder watched Krycek fiddling with the camera and tried to imagine him on a date with a woman in a nice little restaurant. Krycek was a good-looking guy but he gave off a Pee-Wee vibe that was hard to reconcile with the idea of grown-up dating. Then again, there had been that moment in the bar when the goodie-two-shoes mask had slipped; Mulder wondered if that was just a momentary lapse due to alcohol, as Krycek had claimed, or if the squeaky-clean image really did conceal a wild side.

Mulder’s imagination suddenly skipped from Krycek being the perfect gentleman in a restaurant to him having sex. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence; in fact, Mulder whiled away a fair amount of his idle time at work imagining other people having sex, much as he spent a fair amount of his spare time at home watching videos of people having sex. But he found the idea of Krycek having an unexpected wild side surprisingly appealing. Shit. He hoped this wouldn’t turn into a go-to fantasy. That had made working with Diana awkward; he’d find himself sitting in meetings or on stakeouts with her and imagining her naked, her handsome dark features alive with lust, her hands and mouth on his body.

He sighed and turned his attention back to the street. This was exactly why he enjoyed working with Scully; she was a sweet girl with an amazing intellect and a personality he admired, but she was short and plain—not at all his type—which made it easy for him to relate to her as a person without thinking with his pants.

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do haaaarm

The music warbled and slowed down before the auto-reverse cassette deck switched directions with a loud click. It played a couple of seconds of music from the other side, followed by the clunk of another change of direction, and a scrunching noise.

“Ah, shit,” swore Krycek as he tried to convince the stereo to eject the cassette. When it finally did, the magnetic tape was hanging out of the plastic casing, crimped into a neat accordion pattern. Krycek held the tape up with disgust. “It’s only a mix tape I made, but it was the only one I brought.”

“I guess there’s a lesson there about trusting a rental car’s stereo,” said Mulder with amusement.

He looked at Krycek’s clean-shaven face and the man’s wholesome demeanor and disgusted scowl obliterated the mental image of him having sex. He decided the incident at the station probably was due to alcohol; Krycek really didn’t look like someone who harbored a secret wild side. Feeling better, Mulder grinned.

“You know, I have a dozen X-Files that say you’re wrong about ghosts. So much for you being open-minded.”

Krycek sighed, throwing the ruined cassette onto the floor. “Listen, I can believe there’s more to learn than we currently know about the universe we live in. I sure as hell believe in aliens and I’ve seen enough of the military to believe they’d take away a man’s ability to sleep and turn him into a monster.”

“But not ghosts?”

“I can accept they’re something people think they’ve seen because of electromagnetic energy, carbon monoxide poisoning, or things like that. But actual ghosts? I mean that implies that your personality, everything that makes you you is something you can detach from your body and that can exist independently of it after death. But your personality is the result of the neural pathways in your brain, both the ones it’s born with and the ones that develop throughout your life. The proof is that if I brained you right now, you would become a different person. Like that guy back in the 1800s who got a metal rod in his head. Hit the right place and you might become a psychopath. Or, I don’t know, start writing poetry or mistaking your wife for a hat. Ever read Oliver Sacks?”

“Should I be worried that you want to hit me on the head?” asked Mulder with a laugh. “I’m not a doctor but I am a psych major, I know something about how brains work. But that detachable thing you’re describing is a soul and whether you believe it goes to heaven or is reincarnated in a new body after death, this is something most people believe in. I believe in souls. A ghost is just a lost soul seeking something.”

“A way to annoy the living?” suggested Krycek. “If everyone has a soul that can come back after death, why aren’t we all haunted by, I don’t know, our grandmas criticizing our girlfriends and telling us to bundle up when it’s cold outside? But we aren’t, Mulder. It’s like Houdini, you know. He said if there was a life after death and if spirits really could come back to speak to the living, he promised he would come back after he died. He never did. People just make up these stories to deflect attention from their own crimes or make themselves feel better about losing their loved ones.”

“Glad to hear you won’t be haunting me when you die,” said Mulder. He caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. “Hey, look sharp.”

A vaguely human shape appeared in front of the car. Krycek raised the camera and took a photograph. “Holy shit.”

Then he lowered the camera again. “Do ghosts usually wear Nikes, Mulder?”

* * * * *

MARCH 2016

The case had been a bust as far as the X-file was concerned, but Skinner had been very pleased when they arrested the not-so-dead husband who was trying to trick his gullible wife into revealing where she’d hidden their share of a heist. Still, Mulder remembered Krycek taking pictures with his friend’s camera while Mulder did a few lengths in the pool before their flight the next day, so they’d gotten a vacation out of it.

Mulder shook off the memory and tried to concentrate on what Scully was telling Krycek now that the three of them were crowded in Dr. Ramachandran’s office. The hot doctor had been called to a more urgent matter.

“Your blood and urine samples showed no sign of bacterial infection and we ran standard tests for viruses including HIV, hepatitis and the Spartan virus, which all came back negative,” said Scully, pointing at the results on the screen.

She was wearing her black-rimmed reading glasses and had tied her hair into a ponytail. Mulder thought she looked gorgeous.

“Still feels good to hear I don’t have AIDS,” said Krycek lightly.

“Why, is that a surprise?” asked Mulder.

Krycek tilted his head to give Mulder a cocky smile. “What, you worried, Mulder?”

“Dr. Ramachandran will run some more tests when he has time, but so far, you have a clean bill of health,” continued Scully, ignoring them. “You’re a little out of shape, which is to be expected if you haven’t exercised for fifteen years, but your BMI is within the normal range and nothing else stands out—” Her voice trailed off as she read through the results in front of her. “Heart rate … lung capacity … renal and hepatic function. No, nothing out of the ordinary, just as I expected. Some mild dehydration, a touch of anemia, slightly elevated protein in the urine, but nothing serious...” She turned to Krycek and gave him a reassuring smile, before switching to a different screen. “However, the x-rays and MRI scan are a lot more interesting.”

She switched to a color picture of Krycek’s body lying supine in the FBI parking garage and pointed at the head wound. “This is from the coroner’s report. They didn’t perform an autopsy but they did photograph the body and record some superficial observations to aid the investigation into the shooting. This photo clearly shows an entry wound in the middle of the forehead. You can see it here.”

Mulder had seen plenty of dead bodies, but seeing Krycek’s dead body on the screen affected him more than expected. Perhaps it was because he’d lived with the memory of that moment for nearly fifteen years, a recollection tinged if not with guilt, at least with regret. Or perhaps it was simply because that former corpse was right now sitting on the edge of the seat beside him, his chest rising and falling in even breaths, his long lashes fluttering rapidly as he stared at his own dead body. Mulder saw Krycek’s Adam’s apple bob up and down once, before his features relaxed into his usual sardonic expression.

“My death in technicolor,” he said. “Yeah, I guess that’s where Skinner shot me. But I don’t have a scar.”

Mulder looked at Krycek’s forehead. It was by no means unblemished; marked with worry lines and open pores, and indistinct shallow scars left by chicken pox and adolescent acne. But there was indeed no sign of a bullet wound.

“No. When we performed the MRI scan,” said Scully, starting to play a video of the scan on the computer, “we found that the brain is completely intact too.”

Mulder shifted on his seat to get a better view, but the brain scan didn’t tell him anything except that it looked like every other brain scan he’d ever seen. Leaning forward was tiring and uncomfortable; he leaned back again and decided to leave the explanation to Scully, who was pointing at the scan with enthusiasm.

“Look, there’s no sign of lesions, no unusual activity when we asked him some control questions—”

“Mind you, I was pretty high on that stuff you gave me,” said Krycek, his eyes creasing with a smile.

“Well, you were right to warn us. I’m not claustrophobic, and even I find my checkup MRI scans stressful,” said Scully reassuringly. “I’ve emailed the scan to my neuro-oncologist in case she has any further comments, but our conclusion is that whatever else Goldman and his team were doing with your body, they healed the bullet wound in your head completely. There’s no sign of scarring on the brain, the cranium, or the skin on your forehead.”

Krycek nodded gravely, then startled when Scully switched to a gory shot of his right arm post mortem. He recovered his composure rapidly though, the sardonic mask falling into place again.

“Where things get really interesting,” said Scully eagerly, “is when we look at your right arm. According to the report, it was shot twice and the humerus was broken.”

Mulder was feeling sleepy and it was a struggle to concentrate, but when he looked at the picture, he remembered Krycek on his knees in the parking garage, crying out in pain as Skinner shot his remaining arm a second time. Now that he saw it exposed in the picture, Mulder was surprised Krycek had been able to formulate any intelligible sentences at all; no wonder he wasn’t making much sense. Then again, maybe it wasn’t worse than having his other arm actually chopped off.

“On the x-ray here, I see regrowth on the bone consistent with the injuries described in the report. There’s only minimal scarring on the skin, which is why I didn’t notice it last night.” Scully frowned at the x-ray. “The thing is, this looks old. In fact, in the absence of any other information, I would say your arm healed naturally at least a decade ago.”

“So I was alive after I died, I mean, back in the early 2000s?” Krycek looked at her. “You’re saying they didn’t revive me recently. But how come I haven’t aged? I should be fifty years old, right? So why don’t I look like Mulder? And what the hell did they do with me for fifteen years?”

“That’s still a mystery,” admitted Scully. “It may be that in the absence of stimuli and stored in a controlled environment, your body didn’t undergo the same aging process as the rest of us. I can’t say for certain how they managed to maintain your body weight either.”

“Okay, so then we have the elephant in the room. What about this?” said Krycek, raising his left arm. His right arm, cuffed to it, rose as well. Mulder thought he had nice arms; strong and manly looking. He considered saying something to that effect but it felt like too much effort.

“I don’t know.” Scully shook her head. “The tests we ran only confirmed what my visual inspection told us yesterday. Except for the fingerprints, which are similar but not identical to the ones on file, it’s a perfect replica of your original arm. We’ve established without a doubt that you’re not a super soldier, but the last time I saw something like that—an arm that looked like the original but with different fingerprints—it was attached to Billy Miles.”

Krycek nodded. He rubbed his left arm absentmindedly; the idea of being an alien replacement or a super soldier seemed to bother him a lot. Scully placed her hand on his shoulder, a practiced gesture of comfort that made Krycek smile.

“The rest of you is the original,” said Scully. “They may have used a similar technique to the one the aliens developed to regrow your arm, but your DNA is unchanged. Even the sample we took from your arm is the same as the one on file from the 1990s.”

That seemed to perk Krycek up a bit. “I guess this all makes a hell of a lot more sense than me seeing things when I was actually dead,” he said. “Maybe it was like that case you had where a guy was cryogenically frozen but managed to manipulate his brother by some kind of, I don’t know, telepathy. Maybe Mulder is susceptible to that kind of thing like the guy’s autistic brother, and that’s why he saw me.”

Mulder roused himself a little to look at him, but didn’t have the energy to join the conversation. His head felt heavy and muddled.

“Well, I’ve always thought he might be at the very shallow end of the spectrum,” said Scully with a twinkle of amusement in her heavily made up eyes. Her smile faded into a look of concern. “Mulder, are you okay? You don’t look well.”

Mulder tried to say something but at that precise moment, the world turned upside down. He was suddenly leaning on something soft and damp, that smelled very strongly of Krycek. It was warm and comforting, though, and he couldn’t move a muscle anyway, so he just went with it and leaned heavily against Krycek’s chest. He heard the jangle of keys and was vaguely aware of Scully undoing Krycek’s cuffs, then strong arms were wrapped around his torso, pulling him into an upright position on his chair. Scully and Krycek were discussing something but he was too groggy to pay attention; he continued to lean against Krycek, not trusting himself to sit unaided.

“We’re done here anyway,” said Scully, her voice coming into focus as his lightheadedness abated. “I think we should go back to my place and start his treatment. Do you think you can help him walk?”

“Sure. Saving his life used to be a hobby of mine.”

Chapter Text

Mulder was back in the janitor’s closet at the gay bar, but this time, Krycek was the one on his knees before him. His dark green eyes were looking up at Mulder, his full lips parted in excitement. He was wearing the bright white shirt he’d worn in San Diego but there was nothing innocent or pious about the look on his face. His hands were on Mulder’s belt buckle. Mulder reached down and ran his fingers over the top of Krycek’s head. The short bristles brushed pleasantly against the palm of his hand as he curled it around Krycek’s scalp, pulling the man’s face toward his crotch. A dog was barking.

A dog was barking. Mulder woke with a start. The blood filtration machine was gurgling beside him, its lights throwing strange shadows on the walls of the darkened guest bedroom. As he blinked away his erotic dream, Mulder realized he could hear voices on the other side of the closed door.

“Who’s a hungry boy, huh?” asked Krycek in a high, soft voice. “You hungry, buddy, huh, you hungry? You want me to feed him, Scully?”

“Sure, the food is in there.”

“Come on, buddy, Alex is going to find you some food.” The dog barked and Mulder heard Krycek laugh. “Oh yeah, you know what’s in here, don’t you!”

As Krycek continued to talk nonsense at the dog in the kitchen, Mulder heard Scully’s light footsteps in the hallway. He pulled himself up into a seated position and tried to shake off the effects of his dream.

“Mulder, how are you feeling?” asked Scully as soon as she entered and found him sitting up.

He swallowed the “I’m fine” that instinctively rose to his lips. Scully was both his doctor and his ex; he knew he couldn’t fob her off with platitudes. “Not great,” he admitted, rubbing his face.

Scully turned on the light and sat on the bed to examine him. She took his pulse and held her hand to his forehead before checking the machine. “There are still three hours to go. You should be feeling better when it’s finished,” she said.

“I know, I’ve been through this before,” pointed out Mulder. “I take it you went and got Daggoo?”

“Yes,” said Scully with a happy smile. “Amina is okay to take him back again if we go to your place; I knew you wouldn’t want me to bring him with us. But she has to go visit one of her relatives who is still sick tonight, so I get him back for now.”

Mulder nodded, trying not to look too pleased that the vicious little creature wasn’t coming with them to the house. That reminded him who they were bringing with them.

“Wait, where’s Krycek? Is he on his own out there?”

“No, he’s with Daggoo,” said Scully calmly. “He came with me to get him. You were asleep so I thought it was safer to take him along. Mulder, I don’t think he’s going to run away.”

“Why not? When have you ever known Krycek to stay put?”

Fighting the dizziness, Mulder pulled himself to his feet and picked up the blood filtration machine. Scully made him stop so she could untangle the wires and tubes, but then followed him, holding the disconnected power cord, as he rushed out of the guest bedroom.

“So where is he?” demanded Mulder when there was no sign of either Krycek or the dog in the kitchen or living room.

“Mulder...” admonished Scully in a tone that suggested she thought he was being unreasonable, though she too looked a little puzzled. She plugged the machine into an extension lead where her television had once been. “Mulder, sit down. He’s probably in the bathroom.”

She gave him her best “I told you so” look when they heard the toilet flush. Mulder dropped heavily into the armchair where Scully was setting up the machine again. After a brief pause, Krycek appeared with Daggoo, still wiping his hands on a towel.

“You’re like a cat, you know that, Daggoo? All my cats used to do that.” He noticed Mulder and Scully staring at him in the living room and raised his eyebrows. “What? He wanted to come in with me and I figured you were busy. Scully, I guess I’ll go have a shower and change into those new clothes if that’s okay?”

“Sure,” agreed Scully. She sat down at her desk and looked through the files Mulder had insisted they bring back from the FBI. Daggoo went to sit at her feet.

Mulder turned towards her as soon as Krycek was gone. “You bought him clothes?”

“Amina’s uncle owns a store around the corner from her building. It was closed of course, but he let us buy some clothes. Mulder, he couldn’t stay in the ones he’s wearing.”

“Well, I want mine back when he gets out,” grumbled Mulder. He closed his eyes, but he didn’t feel sleepy anymore, so he pulled his phone out and checked his messages instead.

Scully leafed through Krycek’s file for a few minutes, and then suddenly laughed. “Is this Krycek’s mother?” She pulled out the photograph of the Krycek family in the late sixties. “Don’t you think she looks exactly like Marita Covarrubias?”

Mulder peered at the photo; now Scully had pointed it out, he had to admit Covarrubias and the former Mrs. Krycek did share a superficial resemblance as blonde women with blue eyes.

“He was in a relationship with a woman who looked like his mother,” continued Scully, “and murdered the man who for all we know might have been his mentor in the Syndicate. Or at least tried to murder him even if he survived. It paints an interesting picture of Krycek’s psyche.”

“Yeah, back in the day, I did think he might have a touch of an Oedipus complex, given how young he was when his father died,” said Mulder. “I profiled him years before we found out about him and Marita, so you won’t see anything about that in his file, but I did theorize that he might have joined the Syndicate due to a difficult childhood and some daddy issues.”

Scully nodded absently, absorbed in reading Krycek’s file. Mulder watched her beautiful face for a moment.

“Scully, why are you so determined to keep him with us?”

Scully looked at him over her reading glasses. “I already explained my reasons in Skinner’s office this morning. He knows a lot and his life is in danger.”

“I know, yes, but—I don’t know, it’s like you trust him. I mean, he isn’t even handcuffed anymore.”

“I’m not about to forget that he’s a murderer who was involved in the death of my sister and your father,” said Scully reasonably. “But he’s also a man who has been through a major trauma and who sought us out because he instinctively knew we could help.” She smiled. “I don’t trust him, but we had a talk while we were out.”

* * * * *

ONE HOUR EARLIER

“It’s three blocks this way,” said Scully, keeping her voice matter of fact even though her heart was racing with apprehension.

Krycek just nodded and walked alongside her. She watched him warily out of the corner of her eye, acutely aware of the potential danger. This was a man who had killed at least a dozen people; part of her had wanted to handcuff him to the bathroom pipes and leave him for Mulder to deal with when he woke up. But Mulder was seriously ill; it wasn’t fair to let him shoulder the entire burden of watching Krycek.

“Feels good,” said Krycek, inhaling deeply and closing his eyes for a moment. “I don’t remember the air being this clean back in my day.”

“That would be because all the cars are still stuck in a citywide gridlock.”

“Oh. Yeah, good point.” Krycek looked around with a laugh.

Several of the cars beside them had broken windows, their contents strewn across the sidewalk. They passed a few people as they walked down the street; life was just starting to return to normal now the peak of the crisis was over. Krycek stared at everyone with undisguised delight. There was a definite spring in his step and had he been anyone else, Scully would have felt sorry for him, freed from whatever medical prison he’d been kept in for fifteen years only to end up in Federal custody. Still, this had to be better for him than languishing in an FBI cell, regardless of whether any assassins were out to get him.

“Your dog-sitter’s name is Amina, right?” said Krycek suddenly. “Is she a Muslim?”

“No, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think they’re Episcopalians. Why?”

Krycek shrugged. “It’s an Arab name, I just wondered.”

Scully gave him a curious look, but then remembered that they had once found Krycek working with a right-wing militia group. It was quite probable that his sympathies still lay with that brand of ideology and she bristled at the idea of her sweet middle-aged dog-sitter being looked down upon by some lowlife criminal based on some knee-jerk prejudice. It reminded her not to get too comfortable with this man.

They were about to cross a road, but even though the street was covered in stationary vehicles, Scully stopped on the edge of the sidewalk. Krycek stepped off onto the street before he realized she wasn’t moving. It evened their heights a little and she was able to look him in the eye.

“Krycek. Why were you looking for Mulder?”

Krycek shook his head. “I told you, I wasn’t, I just saw the sign to Alexandria and—”

“Cut the crap,” interrupted Scully, placing her hand on her holster. “There must have been other people you knew in the DC area who you would have thought of first. Friends, associates, people who might actually want to help you. You wouldn’t pick Mulder. There’s no way you’d expect him to help you after everything you’ve done to him. You must have known the first thing we’d do is hand you over to Skinner. Which means you’ve got to be doing this for some other reason, some reason that made it worth the risk. How do I know this isn’t an elaborate plan to get revenge?”

“Revenge?” Krycek frowned; a horizontal crease appeared on the bridge of his nose, emphasizing the Neanderthal prominence of his brow. “Revenge for what?”

“For your murder,” said Scully. She tightened her grip on her gun. “Skinner shot you but from what I understand, Mulder just stood by and let him. And maybe you haven’t forgiven him for abandoning you in Siberia and in the silo in North Dakota before that. It would also explain why you were haunting him when you died. The X-Files are full of vengeful ghosts and reincarnations, seeking out the people they hold responsible for their deaths.”

Krycek laughed and shook his head. “Yeah, Mulder was showing me his life’s work earlier. I thought you didn’t believe in all that?”

“Given the evidence, I’d be crazy not to,” said Scully tensely.

Krycek ran his hand through his dark hair; Scully could see strands of silver at his temples. “Look, lady, I’m as confused as you are why Mulder was the first thing on my mind. You’re right; it’s not like we were close.” He gestured helplessly. “Maybe it’s because I saw him when I was dead, or unconscious, or whatever the hell I was. I didn’t talk to a lot of people after I died, but he was one of them, and I don’t know, maybe that’s why. When I got out of the building, when I saw the sign to Alexandria, it was like that was all I could think of, that Mulder would help me. And I don’t remember much about being a ghost, but I know I wanted to help him. It seemed important.”

Scully stared at him a moment, at this man with his weak chin and rat-like features, shivering slightly in the cold wind in Mulder’s borrowed clothes. He was looking into the distance, momentarily lost in his thoughts. Unhappy thoughts, judging by the miserable look on his face. Suddenly aware of her scrutiny, he lowered his eyes.

“I did so many bad things when I was alive,” he said in a soft voice. “Sometimes for good reasons, but still bad things. Evil things. But when I was dead or—or whatever it was, I was alone. Completely alone. I saw things, I think I saw things, but I couldn’t do anything, say anything. If those things were real. If all of them—” He interrupted himself and wrung his hands, uncharacteristically distressed. “Do you think people can change, Agent Scully?”

“Do I think people can change, or do I think you can change?”

She knew she was stalling, prevaricating because for all her piety, she didn’t want to accept that a man who had done so much wrong to herself and people she loved could be a man worthy of redemption.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said with a shrug. “You don’t have to forgive me. I’ll still help you find your son.” He flashed a bright smile at her. “And your dog.”

* * * * *

“He was conning you,” said Mulder immediately. “He knows you’re Catholic and is playing the whole redemption card to get you to be nice to him. He sure as hell didn’t look repentant this morning.”

Scully raised her eyebrows. “I know. But he did seem genuinely puzzled when I mentioned revenge. I think his explanation is as good as any we’re going to get. He was disoriented and exhausted when we found him last night; it’s unlikely that he made any plans other than to find the one human being he had talked to while he was unconscious.” She took her reading glasses off and folded them. “I wonder why he thought it was important to help you at the trial. When did he appear to you, exactly?”

“The first time was when Rohrer was after me in the military base,” said Mulder. “Then I saw him a couple times while I was in the brig and again at the trial.” And a couple times after that which he didn’t want to discuss, because they were probably just dreams. “But I saw other people, like Mr. X and the Lone Gunmen. They seemed as real as Krycek. Does that mean they’re in some lab somewhere too?”

“Given what has happened to Krycek, I can’t say anything is impossible. But a full autopsy was performed on Elijah Brown and the Lone Gunmen were cremated. The others may have been figments of your imagination. Or real ghosts where Krycek was some kind of astral projection.”

The seriousness with which Scully stated these possibilities made Mulder smile. “An astral projection. That’s an interesting theory.”

“I thought you’d like it better than my other theory.”

“Divine intervention?”

Scully laughed softly, though she gave a little shrug. “As a scientist, I know our human brains have evolved to be excellent pattern detectors, to the point that we may see connections between events that are not, objectively speaking, connected.” She sighed. “But Krycek died the day William was born. Maybe even the same moment William was born. I know it’s irrational, but I find it hard to shake the feeling that there’s a connection between his return and our need to find William.”

“You don’t think it’s a coincidence?” asked Mulder. He didn’t believe for one moment that this was the work of fate or a divine hand, but Scully had been his loyal partner for nearly 24 years; he owed her at least the courtesy of listening to her theory.

“Objectively, I think his return is adequately explained by Nugenics staff deciding to remove his body from storage either as a result of Goldman’s death, or more likely, because of the epidemic.” She fingered her glasses thoughtfully. “It’s just interesting from our point of view that he happened to seek us out and bring us information about our son.”

As she said that, the bathroom door opened and Krycek came to join them, wrapped in one of Scully’s large white towels and wearing nothing else. Water was still trickling down his bare legs. He paused in the doorway when they both turned to look at him, the light from the hallway shining behind his head.

“Forgot to take the clothes in with me,” he explained, a look of embarrassment on his handsome features. He frowned at them. “You two look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Or an angel, thought Mulder wryly. “I want my clothes back,” he said.

“Uh, sure,” said Krycek with a sly smile. He grabbed a bag lying on the floor by the sofa and went back into the bathroom.

“Well, all I can say is that God would have to be desperate if he chose Krycek as his instrument,” commented Mulder.

Krycek returned a few minutes later, now dressed in black jeans and a gray ribbed sweater that made him look a lot more like his old self, curling overgrown hair notwithstanding. He was carrying the clothes he had borrowed the previous day.

“Here,” he handed them to Mulder. “Or do you want to get them washed first?”

“I’ll deal with that at my house,” said Mulder, snatching the clothes.

He didn’t want Krycek to keep his stuff any longer than necessary. On the other hand, he was now holding a pair of pants that Krycek had worn for nearly twenty-hour hours. Pants that Krycek had worn without underwear. They emanated the sweet sweaty smell from Krycek’s earlier exertion; he dropped them onto the floor by his chair. Daggoo came over to sniff them and Mulder patted his head. The dog wagged his tail, then jumped up onto the sofa to lie beside Krycek. Krycek started to playfully scratch his side.

“Hey, who’s a good boy, huh? Ah, you like that, don’t you?” Daggoo leaned up and licked him on the mouth. Krycek wiped it off with the back of his hand. “Hey, you licked your butt with that tongue,” he protested, though he didn’t move away and earned himself a further slurp on the cheek. He gave Mulder a long-suffering look. “You know, I don’t even like dogs that much.”

“I can tell,” said Mulder sarcastically. He wondered why Daggoo had bitten him when they first met, but Krycek seemed to be the dog’s favorite person. Maybe the key was to feed him early in the relationship.

“One of my colleagues used to say she could immediately tell if someone was a cat person or a dog person based on their personality,” said Scully warmly, raising her eyes from her laptop.

“Yeah, buddy, you’re cool and all,” said Krycek, letting Daggoo lick his face again, “but I think I’m more of a cat person.”

“Yes,” muttered Mulder under his breath. “Mean and sleek, and leaving a trail of dead bodies behind you.”

* * * * *

1:24 AM

The dog was barking again, a frantic high-pitched yapping that bore into Mulder’s mind and roused him from his deep sleep. Mulder woke up and cursed. He wasn’t dragged out of a pleasant dream this time, but it was still dark, probably the middle of the night; why the hell was the damn dog making such a racket?

It took him a moment to realize that the commotion he could hear in the living room wasn’t just caused by the dog. It sounded more like a fight. He heard Krycek’s voice, and then Scully’s, and the sound of something heavy hitting the creaky frame on the sleeper sofa. He grabbed his gun and ran out to join them.

Krycek, wearing only a t-shirt and dark red briefs, was engaged in a body fight with a masked man armed with a knife. The front door was ajar; the man must have sneaked in and caught Krycek by surprise before Daggoo raised the alarm. The dog was still barking frantically, dancing around the two men as they struggled. Scully had her gun aimed at them and shouted a warning to the man, but she couldn’t get a clear shot without the risk of hitting Krycek. His assailant seemed to know this and was trying to keep Krycek in between them.

“Federal agent,” shouted Mulder, raising his gun. “Step away from him!”

Mulder’s intervention provided just enough distraction to let Krycek gain the upper hand. He landed a hard punch to the other man’s gut that sent him sprawling onto the open sofa bed. Krycek lunged forward to pin him but the man stabbed at him with the knife, slicing his chest with a shallow blow. Krycek grunted in pain and sprang away from the bed; he was still in between Scully and the man, but Mulder, standing on the other side of the living room, had a clear shot.

“Put your hands in the air and drop your weapon!” Mulder warned him.

Krycek’s assailant stood up and appeared to be complying with the order, starting to raise his hands, but then suddenly turned as Krycek approached to restrain him. Mulder instinctively fired just as the man ducked and drove the knife towards Krycek’s gut; the bullet missed and shattered a pane in the bay window. Krycek deflected the knife with his left hand, pulling it out of the other man’s grasp by the blade. Disarmed, the man ran toward the broken window and threw himself out.

“I can still get him, give me a gun!” shouted Krycek, running to the window.

He turned toward Scully just in time to catch her gun as she threw it to him. He leaned out the window and aimed for a moment, then fired. Mulder heard a cry of pain followed by the revving of a motorcycle. Krycek fired again, but then cursed and pulled his head back in.

“I hit him but he had an accomplice. They’re gone.” He looked down at the gun in his right hand for a moment before handing it back to Scully. His white T-shirt was stained with blood and he looked unnaturally pale. “I’m sorry. I knew they’d be after me but I didn’t prepare. I should have prepared. I meant to take a knife from the kitchen or something, just in case, but then I fell asleep.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Scully, grabbing her medical kit. “We shouldn’t have left you alone in here with the door lock damaged.” Mulder made a mental note that they shouldn’t have left him alone in there with a kitchen full of knives nearby either. “Let me look at your hand.”

Krycek raised his left hand and stared at it in surprise; it was covered in blood from a nasty-looking gash across the palm. He sat down on the bed. “Ow,” he groaned listlessly as Scully took his arm and disinfected the wound.

“It’s not as serious as it looks,” said Scully after inspecting the cut carefully. “No major veins or ligaments have been severed, but I’ll need to stitch it up. You won’t be able to use it for a few days.”

Mulder got the painkillers and towels she asked for, and sat helplessly beside Krycek on the edge of the sofa bed while Scully patched him up. Krycek had the dull, glazed look he’d had the previous night, and said very little.

“I guess that confirms everything we discussed this morning,” said Scully when she was done. “Mulder, we need to get Krycek to your place as soon as possible. I’ll make some calls in the morning and see if we can arrange some transportation after we’ve seen Miller’s friend. In the meantime, I think Krycek will be safer if he sleeps in the guest bedroom with you.”

Chapter Text

2:22 AM

“Oh god, no!”

The brief exclamation cut through the night and into Mulder’s slumber; he opened his eyes—not that it made much difference since it was still dark—and reflected wryly that he wasn’t having much luck with sleep tonight. At least it wasn’t the damn dog this time.

There were no further words, just a whimper and then the sound of covers rustling as Krycek, now also awake, sat up in his makeshift bed on the floor of the guest bedroom. Mulder could hear his ragged breathing.

“You okay, there, Krycek?” he asked unsympathetically.

Krycek grunted in a tone that suggested he wasn’t even okay enough to lie.

“I’m warning you. If you need a hug, you’ll have to go find the dog.”

Krycek was silent for a moment but then he chuckled quietly. “I guess at least he doesn’t snore.”

Mulder heard him shuffling on the mattress from the sleeper sofa, trying to get comfortable. After a couple minutes, he felt Krycek’s hand hit his arm, groping blindly in the darkness. It slid down to Mulder’s hand and squeezed it briefly, the warm skin against his palm unexpectedly comforting even though Mulder wasn’t the one who had had a nightmare. Then the hand fell away and they both tried to sleep again.

* * * * *

10:13 AM

“Krycek,” admonished Scully, “stop that!”

“Yes, ma’am.” Krycek stopped picking at the bandage on his left hand with a sheepish look. He ran his fingers on the metal wall of the elevator, apparently just to feel the smooth texture, then tried to stifle a yawn. “So, who is this friend of Ken’s anyway?”

“She’s someone Agent Miller worked with in Iraq,” explained Scully. “He says she’s a computer genius who can hack into anything, so I’m hoping we can find out more about William and what happened to you. She seemed very reluctant to discuss anything specific on the phone.”

Mulder reflected that once upon a time, he would have asked the Lone Gunmen to do the hacking, and felt a familiar pang of longing for the days when he could work with them on a case or even just hang out for a couple hours.

“Good morning, Mrs. Al-Zahawi,” said Scully when a woman answered the apartment door. “I’m Agent Scully, this is Agent Mulder, and Alex Krycek who I mentioned on the phone. I believe Agent Miller told you we were coming?”

“Yes! I was expecting you,” said the woman, moving aside to let them in. “Come in.”

She was middle-aged, probably only a few years younger than Mulder and Scully, with a round face and thick glasses tucked into a tight-fitting headscarf that matched her green sweater.

السلام عليكم,” said Krycek with a charming smile.

وعليكم السلام,” she replied automatically.

Mulder recognized the exchange as the “peace be upon you” greeting and response that was as much Arabic as he’d ever learned. Al-Zahawi eyed Krycek warily as he said something else and they engaged in a brief conversation; Mulder assumed Scully had explained that he was a suspect in custody. But then he said something that made her laugh and Krycek raised his hands.

“Ah sorry, the rest is mostly swear words,” he said. “I never learned standard Arabic.”

“Well, you have a very cute Tunisian accent.” Chuckling at Krycek’s modest eyelash-flutter, Mrs. Al-Zahawi lead the way down the hall.

“Next time we work on an anti-terrorism case, maybe we can give him the magic mushrooms,” said Scully under her breath as she followed Al-Zahawi.

Mulder grabbed Krycek’s arm. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, Krycek, but you leave the talking to us.”

“I was just making conversation,” said Krycek innocently.

“Aw, with all that ‘cute’ Tunisian you learned in prison?” hissed Mulder. “Does that include ‘oh no, I’ve dropped the soap again’?”

Krycek grinned at him. “Who says I was the one dropping the soap? Tunisians are hot.”

He shook off Mulder’s grip and headed down the hallway. Feeling put out, Mulder followed him to a study at the end of the hall where the women were waiting for them. He wished they had handcuffed Krycek to something and left him in the apartment. Or maybe the dog sitter could have kept him in a cage with Daggoo.

Al-Zahawi pulled her chair up to one of the monitors lined up on a long desk and invited Scully to sit on the only other chair. The other monitors were filled with a dizzying blur of fast moving Arabic lettering on a black background, with some words occasionally highlighted in green or yellow.

“You’re scanning for terrorism-related topics on Arabic … beauty forums?” asked Krycek, leaning over to read one of the monitors more closely.

“Someone has to do it,” said Al-Zahawi lightly. “Or so my boss says. It might be a matter of national security!”

“You work for the NSA,” stated Mulder, realizing why Miller had put them in touch with this particular friend of his. He cast a sharp look at Scully; she gave him an apologetic smile.

“Yes,” said Al-Zahawi shortly, logging into her computer. “I was a contributor to SELinux and they asked me to join. To be honest, I’m in it for the interesting analytical problems. And of course, trying my best to make sure we’re fighting terrorism, not Islam,” she added, pointing at her hijab. “With mixed success.”

“This one seems to be monitoring mentions of George Clooney,” said Krycek, looking at a screen by the door.

“As I said, interesting analytical problems,” said Al-Zahawi with a laugh. “That’s a machine learning algorithm I’m training. I decided I would pick something less depressing as the key topic. It finds pictures of him too. Much nicer than the usual carnage.”

Krycek grinned, his eyes still on the screen. “Can’t argue with that. I used to date a guy who looked like George Clooney.”

Al-Zahawi said something in Arabic that made Krycek laugh. Scully exchanged a surprised glance with Mulder, but then returned her attention to Al-Zahawi’s monitor.

“You didn’t say whether you’d found anything when we spoke, but I take it you have something to show us?” she asked.

“I haven’t found your son if that’s what you’re hoping,” said Al-Zahawi bluntly. “My specialty is finding information; I leave the investigation to others. But I can tell you his death certificate is out of sequence with other records in the database, and there’s a gap in the adoption records. It isn’t conclusive evidence, because there are any number of reasons why data is entered late or gets lost in computer systems. But it does suggest that someone tampered with the records a few weeks after your son was entrusted to the adoption agency.”

“You couldn’t have told us that on the phone?” asked Mulder, annoyed that they had been obliged to travel halfway across town for this.

“That, yes. But I, uh—” She paused and gave Mulder and Scully a worried look. “Listen, since I was looking for your son, one of the first things I did was look for information on both of you. Just in case there were any clues where to look next. I didn’t expect to find quite so much and in such—I didn’t read your files when I realized what they contained, but, I don’t know if you know this, but you were under surveillance in the 1990s and early 2000s. Quite intense surveillance.”

“Yes, we’re aware of that,” said Scully calmly. “I had dealings with one of your colleagues after William was born and he hinted at the nature of some of the data he had collected.”

Mulder didn’t know how she managed to be so calm. “You mean to tell me those files are still there after all these years? And anyone can access them?”

“Well, no, not just anyone,” said Al-Zahawi, bristling with irritation that was born either of guilt or of professional pride. “Only agents with the highest level of access can read them. And system administrators like myself, obviously. We have a file on Mr. Krycek, too,” she added, giving him the same wary look she’d had when he first spoke to her in Arabic. She glanced at his left arm. “It says he died in 2001.”

Krycek smiled. “I’m sure it says a lot of other things that aren’t true,” he said without missing a beat. “I had an opportunity to edit my own file a few years ago and made some embellishments.”

Mulder thought that was a good explanation, and except for the implication that Krycek had faked his own death, possibly even a truthful one. But Al-Zahawi didn’t look reassured.

“Are the aliens embellishments?” she asked. She looked at Mulder and then Scully. “I did read your son’s file. The fact that aliens helped scientists funded by our government to create hybrid humans isn’t something I wanted to discuss on the phone.”

“You don’t sound too surprised, though,” commented Mulder.

“Kyd told me about your theories before. He’s a great admirer of your work.” Al-Zahawi paused. “Also, my family was originally from Sharafya, north of Mosul. There were rumors of women being abducted under Saddam, with bright lights in the skies. I’ve always thought it sounded like the UFO sightings people described here, but of course, when you live in a dictatorship, you always think it is the government, or the enemies of the government.” She frowned thoughtfully. “That area is under control of the Islamic State now. There were rumors recently that a young boy was killed because they said he was a jinni. Perhaps there are hybrids there too?”

“Northern Iraq was a known hotspot for UFO activity,” said Mulder, trying to remember what he’d heard about it back in the day. “I didn’t think any other countries had produced hybrids, though. In fact, I’m not even sure the two are related. I used to think aliens were conducting the abductions and experiments, but it turned out all the hybrids we knew about were created by humans.”

“I take it your son certainly was,” said Krycek, though his leer suggested he wasn’t thinking about William being created in a lab. Mulder glowered at him.

“Well, I’ve put everything I found on this USB stick,” said Al-Zahawi, handing it to Scully. “I thought about deleting some of the data but according to the audit logs, someone has been accessing your files recently. They might notice if anything went missing.”

Scully toyed with the USB stick. “Thank you. I’m sure anyone who is interested in our files has already read them. You might as well leave them alone.”

“I’ve also included Nugenics’ records about Mr. Krycek since you mentioned you wanted to know if he’d been there.” Al-Zahawi gave Krycek a pitying look. “He, uh—he was. There’s quite an extensive audit trail, actually, going back to 2001. They kept meticulous electronic records about the, uh, experiments they were performing. The files are mostly in some kind of medical shorthand I don’t understand, but his name appears on transfer records from Georgetown University and then a military facility in Maryland.”

“Fort Marlene?” asked Krycek. He wasn’t smiling anymore.

Mulder remembered clothes two sizes too small and Marita Covarrubias begging him for help. Help he hadn’t provided.

“Were you a prisoner?” asked Al-Zahawi with concern.

“Kind of. They couldn’t exactly put me on trial for helping the aliens.” Krycek’s tone was guarded; he was probably waiting for more clues about what Al-Zahawi had read in the Nugenics files before making up any more elaborate justifications.

“I thought Nugenics kept their data on isolated computers in the building that burned down?” asked Mulder. “When we went there in January, there was a big server room with a locked door and DoD heavies descended on us when we tried to take any data out of it.”

“Well, computer security is only ever as good as the laziest sysadmin on the payroll,” said Al-Zahawi with a grin. “Someone stored their backups in AWS.”

“What’s AWS?” asked Krycek.

“Amazon Web Services,” explained Mulder, who had spent some of his idle time the last few years studying conspiracy theories about cloud providers. “Amazon had spare server capacity from selling all those books online and decided to rent it out. Last I heard, they were making almost as much from their infrastructure business as their retail site. Most government agencies and a great many other companies and organizations store their data on so-called ‘cloud services’ from Amazon, Google and Microsoft.”

“So Google has pictures of every house and street in the US, all the government’s data is on Amazon’s servers, everybody carries a personal GPS locator and there are cameras everywhere?” said Krycek. “You’d think finding your son would be a walk in the park!”

“If we had his current name and a clear photograph of him as he looks now, maybe,” said Al-Zahawi. “The technology is very helpful, but it isn’t magic. I assumed there was some connection between your son and Mr. Krycek, so I pulled some other records from the Nugenics backup, for boys born in 2001 who were also kept at their facilities over the years. There were a few, but none of them match your son.”

Scully looked up at Mulder with alarm; he could tell it hadn’t occurred to her either that William might have become one of Goldman’s experiments.

“Did you check the vaccination database?” asked Krycek. “If he was adopted when he was only a few months old, he’d have had vaccinations after that, right? There would be records that tell you what hospital he was at. You could match the samples with the DNA profile in his file.” When Al-Zahawi hesitated, Krycek’s features took on a sinister look that Mulder found simultaneously hot and scary. “You’re not going to tell me they gave up tagging people after 9/11.”

Mulder remembered the abandoned Strughold Corporation mine and the hundreds of thousands of paper files with vaccination samples. Of course they hadn’t blown the place up without first creating an electronic backup. His heart beat a little faster at the thought that Al-Zahawi was about to reveal what he’d come to suspect during his long exile from the FBI—that post-9/11, the Syndicate’s once considerable data sources had been co-opted by the legitimate American government in the name of counter-terrorism.

“No, they didn’t,” admitted Al-Zahawi grimly. “And yes, I checked. I took the DNA profile attached to your son’s medical records from 2001 and ran that through the database, but I’m afraid I didn’t find anything. The only match was the record in his birth name, which also says he died in 2002.”

She typed in a command and a single result appeared on the screen.

Scully, William (2001-2002)

“If that’s the only result, does that mean he was never vaccinated again?” asked Mulder. And did that mean he was really dead?

Scully looked thoughtful rather than fearful. “Can you perform a fuzzy match on the database? Something was done to him just before I gave him up for adoption,” she explained when Al-Zahawi gave her a dubious look. “It’s possible that might have affected his DNA profile so it isn’t a perfect match anymore.”

“Okay, I can try,” said Al-Zahawi, though she still looked unconvinced. “There is a partial search we use for incomplete DNA samples, but it’s really slow and not usually very accurate. It’ll probably take a couple days and return a lot of matches. Though I guess if I filtered them by age... No, I’d have to do that after retrieving the data. An EMR cluster will be faster than filtering the on prem database directly, so if I move the data first, then run a map-reduce operation…” Her voice trailed off, her brow furrowed in thought.

Mulder had no idea what she was talking about. “So that’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”

“Oh, actually, no,” she said. “When I was looking for your son in the Nugenics files, I did find something interesting.” She brought up another window on her computer screen. “The doctor who ordered Mr. Krycek’s bo—Mr. Krycek to be taken out of, uh, ‘storage’ at Nugenics two weeks ago was a Dr. Webber. Now the interesting thing is that the adoption agency Agent Scully used in 2002 also had a Dr. Sonia Webber on staff.”

“Dr. Webber?” repeated Scully. “A Dr. Webber was named as the attendant pediatrician in the fake autopsy report our boss gave us yesterday.”

“Yes,” said Al-Zahawi. “That’s what came up when I looked for matches. It’s not an uncommon name, but it seemed too much of a coincidence so I did a little digging. Here’s her picture from the Nugenics HR files.” She pulled up a photo of a thin-lipped Caucasian woman with curly gray hair and small oval glasses. She then displayed another identical photograph. “And this is from the driver’s license of an Eileen O’Shaughnessy who died in a car crash in 2007. I’m guessing Dr. Webber or her accomplices swapped the photo recently. Either that, or she resembles O’Shaughnessy enough that nobody noticed this wasn’t her. With all this, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that Dr. Webber is one of the people listed as missing in the police report on the fire.”

“So if we can track her down, she might know something about their son,” said Krycek with enthusiasm.

“Yes,” said Al-Zahawi. “Insha’Allah.

* * * * *

1:24 PM

“I guess this is what I get for living on the first floor,” said Scully wryly as she inspected the repaired front window. Skinner had sent over a handyman to fix the door and window while they were out.

“I’ve often wondered why you didn’t move,” said Mulder, who was helping her pack the blood filtration machine into its ridiculously tight-fitting bag. “How many times has this place been broken into?”

Scully shrugged. “I don’t know, half a dozen times at least? But I might as well keep ahold of it now that it’s all mine. Besides,” she smiled up at Mulder, “I have a lot of good memories here too.”

Mulder nodded and stroked her back. “So do I.”

He remembered making love on her old sofa between cases and living with her when she was pregnant, lying in bed and listening to the baby’s heartbeat through her belly while she slept, making idle plans for—oh well. He let his hand slide to her shoulder, pulling her closer in a light embrace. Scully glanced over her shoulder at Krycek, who was lying on the couch and fiddling with an old tablet she’d given him. He was wearing headphones but Mulder didn’t doubt he was listening to everything they said.

Mulder reflected that if their lives had gone differently, it might have been William sprawled out on the sofa with his headphones on, listening to whatever abomination was trendy at the moment and studiously ignoring his parents’ embarrassing display of affection. But things had gone the way they did, and they just had to keep moving on, the darkness forever at their heels.

He lowered his hand and returned to trying to shimmy the machine into its bag.

“By the way, Scully, I asked that Nugenics scientist who answered my email yesterday if she knew a Dr. Webber,” he said. “She recognized the name but they worked in different departments. But she did give me the details of a Dr. Schiaparelli who worked in that department, so I’m hoping he’ll get back to me.”

Scully acknowledged this with a nod. “Skinner says nobody lives at the address for Webber in the Nugenics personnel records and the cell phone number has been disconnected. We’re definitely onto something; let’s just hope it leads to William.”

“At least it doesn’t sound as if it’ll lead to William in one of Goldman’s labs,” said Mulder. He remembered Goldman’s daughter Molly and the other children kept in glass cages in the lab and had to suppress a shudder.

“Maybe this will help,” said Krycek, taking off his headphones. He held up the tablet when they both turned to look at him. “You never know, maybe Mrs. Al-Zahawi can plug it into that algorithm of hers?”

Mulder and Scully stared at the composite Krycek had created on the tablet. It showed a young boy with shaggy brownish red hair, his large blue eyes staring out of his thin freckled face. Aside from these superficial details, it basically looked like most composites Mulder had seen. Looking to his side, he could tell Scully was similarly underwhelmed. Krycek rolled his eyes and put the tablet down.

“Okay, I know, he looks like about a million other teenagers in America,” he said ruefully. “But that’s what he looked like when I saw him.”

“No, that’s great. Thank you, that’s really, really helpful,” said Scully kindly. “If you can export the image, we’ll send it to her and maybe she’ll find something.”

“Yeah, or not,” said Krycek gruffly, looking a bit embarrassed now. He threw his long legs over the edge and sat up. “So what’s the plan? Bags are packed, dog is at the sitter’s. We all set to go to Mulder’s place?”

“Yes,” said Scully. “I need to be back tomorrow because I’ve been summoned to the head of the CDC’s office for a private hearing but I think you’ll both be safer and more comfortable there.”

Mulder frowned at Scully. “I still don’t see how we’re getting there with no car or how you’re planning to get back tomorrow. You do know it’s a sixteen-mile hike from the nearest train station to the house?”

“Well, I have a plan,” said Scully mysteriously, “though I also have a feeling you’re not going to like it.”

Chapter Text

“You’re kidding me,” said Mulder, staring up at the building.

“I knew you wouldn’t like it,” said Scully with an apologetic smile. “But he has a helicopter and he offered to help.”

Mulder ignored Krycek’s curious look as they headed into the building that housed Tad O’Malley’s studio. The man himself, unfortunately not one of the casualties of the plague, greeted them in the rooftop penthouse. Krycek held back, though Mulder could see him taking in O’Malley’s well-groomed appearance and the showy opulence of the building they had come through.

“Dana, it’s so good to see you again,” said O’Malley, shaking her hand warmly. “Agent Mulder. You made it.”

“Try not to sound so disappointed.”

O’Malley laughed lightly. Mulder looked past him at the helicopter sitting on the landing pad outside and bit back any further sharp remark. He really did want to go home. Aside from anything else, he needed some clean clothes.

“And who is your friend?” asked O’Malley, eyeing Krycek with curiosity.

Krycek had been skulking behind Mulder and Scully, but he stepped forward with a polite smile, maybe trying to project “friend” rather than “homicidal prisoner.”

“Alex Krycek,” he said, holding out his hand.

O’Malley’s eyes widened and he took a step back. Krycek put his hand back in his pocket and scowled at him.

“Alex Krycek? The Alex Krycek?”

“Oh, what is it this time?” said Krycek with a sinister smile. “Don’t tell me you had the same shooting instructor too? No, let me guess. You did ballet with my sister.”

“I’ve heard of you,” said O’Malley with fervor. “You’re the Russian KGB agent who ordered the murder of all the abductees back in the ‘90s to cover up the truth! The truth that there have been no new alien visits since they came in peace to Roswell to warn us about the perils of the atom bomb back in the 1940s. That the entire alien abductions saga was a hoax perpetrated at the highest levels of our government to cover up the real story: that American citizens were being experimented on by agents in our own government to create a new race of super soldiers whose aim was no less than to take over America!”

“I’m not Russian. Also, if these people are in the government, I’d say they’ve already taken over. And the aliens coming in peace, seriously?” Krycek grinned in disbelief. “Have you been playing ‘Telephone’ with Mulder?”

“You worked in Tunisia to support terrorist groups that could serve as a front for the 9/11 false flag operation which gave our government the excuse it needed to invade Iraq,” continued O’Malley. “Their opportunity to regain control of the super soldier program Saddam Hussein had hijacked for himself and the chemical factories producing the agents that keep the population under control. That’s where the chemicals they use in the chemtrails from high-altitude flights come from.”

“You mean contrails?” asked Krycek, looking bemused. “They’re just water vapor from the airplane engines that condenses and freezes in the cold air at high altitude. They’re harmless.”

“Ah, that’s exactly what they want us all to think, but it’s just another lie,” said O’Malley confidently. “There’s no condensation from engines. It’s a cover-up for the fact they use civil flights to disseminate a substance designed to keep the population docile for their experiments.”

“Contrails are not a lie! I took aviation engineering in college and was in the Air Force for four years,” said Krycek with irritation. “That would be a dumb way of drugging people anyway. Believe me, there are far more effective ways of getting at people you want to control or eliminate.”

“And you would know all about that,” said O’Malley. “You organized the murder of all the Syndicate leaders and their families at El Rico Air Force Base in 1999.”

Krycek scowled at O’Malley for a moment before turning to Scully. “Who did you say this guy was?”

“Someone who kindly offered us the use of his helicopter,” said Scully, giving O’Malley a friendly smile that make Mulder want to punch someone—preferably O’Malley. “Tad, you said on the phone that your pilot could drop us off at Mulder’s place.”

“Well, actually, there’s been a problem,” said O’Malley. “He said he could make it today, but something has come up and he can’t come. I tried to call you, but I guess you were in the Metro. He might be able to drop them off tomorrow afternoon while you’re at your meeting, or he says he can definitely make it on Monday?”

“Oh, I see,” said Scully, visibly disappointed.

“You’re the owner,” said Krycek. “Don’t you know how to pilot the helicopter?”

“No,” admitted O’Malley. “It’s all set up as far as I know—we took it out for a flight yesterday to film the cleanup operations—but I’ve never learned to fly it.”

Mulder rolled his eyes. “Great.”

“This is important, right?” said Krycek, addressing Scully. He was inspecting a shelf full of trophies behind O’Malley, lifting each one in turn to read its inscription, but he turned to look at her. “We want to get to Mulder’s place today?”

“Yes, given what happened last night, I still think you’ll be safer there. I’d also like to make sure you’re settled in and Mulder can get his treatment there before I go to my meeting tomorrow. There was talk of holding a series of hearings over the weekend,” said Scully thoughtfully.

Mulder put his hand on her shoulder. “On the plus side, the news on my phone this morning said that they’ve almost finished clearing some of the major routes. Maybe we can see if the FBI has any cars we can take so we can go this weekend once the roads are clear?”

“Yes,” agreed Scully reluctantly; he could tell she’d really wanted them safely away from DC before her CDC hearings began. “Well, thanks, Tad. We’ll sort something out.”

“I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” said O’Malley, taking her hand again. “Dana, I’ll contact you as soon as—Ow!”

Krycek took a two-handed swing with the heavy trophy he was holding and O’Malley sank to the ground, groaning. Mulder realized that Krycek hadn’t been looking at the trophies just for fun. Scully immediately leaned down to check O’Malley’s injury, while Mulder drew his gun.

“What the hell are you playing at, Krycek?”

“Time to go,” said Krycek.

He grabbed his own bag and Scully’s in his good hand before pushing the external door open, letting in a blast of cold winter wind that forced Mulder to close his eyes. When he opened them a moment later, Krycek was sprinting toward the helicopter; he tossed the bags in the back and slid into the pilot’s seat.

Mulder took off after him, cursing himself for once again letting his guard down. He stopped as the rotor blades started up, blasting him with icy air, and instead aimed his gun at Krycek’s head.

“Stop, or I will shoot, Krycek!”

“Come on!” shouted Krycek over the din of the engine and rapidly accelerating rotor blades. He gestured at them to come. “Get in!”

Last time Krycek had pulled a stunt like this, after running over Billy Miles, he’d been working with Rohrer and Crane, and had ended up dead. But perhaps now was not the time for reminiscences. Mulder turned to check what Scully was doing; she was still tending to O’Malley, who was sitting on the floor, dazed but otherwise unharmed. She glanced at the helicopter and then at Mulder, then raised her hands helplessly. She picked up Mulder’s bag and the blood filtration machine, and they both ran toward the helicopter.

* * * * *

WEST VIRGINIA
ONE HOUR LATER

Mulder heaved a sigh of relief when they finally touched down with a bump on the lawn in front of the house.

“If I were you, Krycek, I’d ask the Air Force for compensation,” he shouted as the din from the blades died down. “They did a crappy job teaching you to fly a helicopter!”

“Well, I guess we got here in the end,” said Scully diplomatically as she got out. She looked a little shaken; it was obvious it had been a very long time since Krycek learned to pilot a helicopter. She helped Mulder pull the bags out of the back. “I guess I’d better call Tad in a minute and smooth things over.”

Scully headed toward the house. Meanwhile, Krycek had still made no move to get out and Mulder was momentarily concerned that he might be planning to take this chance to escape for real. But he just handed Mulder his helmet and slumped in his seat.

“You’re right, piloting was never my thing,” he said in a low voice.

“Get out of the helicopter, Krycek,” said Mulder, gripping his gun and steeling himself for a fight.

But Krycek just got out quietly and looked around. “It’s snowing,” he remarked. He raised his head and closed his eyes, apparently just to feel the light snowflakes on his face. He opened his eyes again and gave Mulder a puzzled look. “I could have sworn it was like 18 or 20 degrees the other day.”

Mulder was confused for a split second before he realized Krycek was talking in Celsius. “Yeah, they said it was 65 degrees on Tuesday. Guess that’s climate change for you.”

“I think I’ve hurt my hand again.” Krycek was looking at the palm of his left hand; a few spots of blood were showing through the bandage.

“Mulder!”

Mulder turned away from Krycek; Scully was pointing toward the side of the house. It took him a moment to realize why the familiar sight shouldn’t have been so familiar. His car was parked there. The same car he had left at C.G.B. Spender’s hideout outside Spartanburg, South Carolina, when Miller came to get him. Cancerman had given him back his car.

Mulder drew his weapon and advanced cautiously as Scully did likewise. There was no sign of anyone around, and the dry earth underneath the car suggested it had been here for a while.

“They must have left your car and driven off in another vehicle. There’s a second set of tire tracks going down the path to the road; you can see where the snow has fallen in the tracks,” said Krycek, coming to join them. He pointed at the windshield. “What’s that?”

Mulder pulled the plastic envelope out from under the windshield wiper and read the message.

give my love to William when you find him

“I recognize that handwriting,” said Krycek.

“Yeah, so do I. How the hell does he know we’re looking for William?” asked Mulder angrily.

Scully stared at the note for a moment, then exhaled slowly. “Because I told him.”

* * * * *

14TH STREET BRIDGE
WASHINGTON, DC
FEBRUARY 22, 2016

Scully looked around, disoriented by the sudden change of scenery as the congested, noisy bridge disappeared. When the green light faded, she discovered that she was in a small room with dull metal walls and a ceiling that rose barely a couple feet above her head. Mulder was lying unconscious on the floor beside her. She crouched down to feel his pulse; he was feverish and unresponsive when she tried to rouse him.

“Welcome aboard, Dr. Scully,” said a high masculine voice that was still familiar after all these years. “You’re looking very fine. You’ve aged remarkably well.”

Scully clenched her fists in rage and looked up at him. “I don’t need your empty compliments. What the hell have you done to him?”

“The same thing I did to everyone else,” he said simply. He took a step forward, stooping to avoid the dim lighting strip above them; it cast a pale orange glow onto his facial deformities. His scarred hands were empty and he waggled his fingers as if uncertain what to do with them. “If he’d accepted my offer this afternoon, I might have been able to do something, but it’s too late now. His immune system is compromised and diseases are talking hold.”

“You unleash this thing on the world and you don’t even have a cure?” spat Scully, rising to her feet.

“Of course I have a cure!” protested the smoking man. He reached into his pocket and fingered his cigarettes; Scully guessed that he was under very strict orders not to smoke on the ship. “I wasn’t going to wait for you to stumble across the solution! The cure is being distributed as we speak. I didn’t actually intend to kill everyone, merely alleviate the population pressure to allow the planet some breathing space.”

“So the cure will work on Mulder?” asked Scully, unable to hide the hope in her voice.

“No. Mulder is different. After the abduction, his DNA changed. I knew this might happen. Ironic, isn’t it? One abduction saved your life and yet another may cost him his. He needs a more specific cure.”

“Our son’s stem cells?” asked Scully, because the idea was so outlandish that she felt the need for confirmation.

He smiled. “You took one look at him and worked that out? I commend your medical skills.”

Scully pursed her lips and said nothing. She could guess that he had given Monica that information precisely so that she would relay it to Scully, but she was damned if she was going to admit they’d both played his game.

“Yes, your son could save him if he’s still alive,” he said, nodding slowly. “They’re quite special, those children. But you’ll have to find him first. I never have.” He indicated his face; Scully could now see that part of it was covered with a prosthetic nose and cheek. “Admittedly, I was a little preoccupied right after you gave him away. Even alien healers struggled to revive me and make me functional again. It’s a shame I never tracked him down; I’d like to meet my only grandson before I die. Maybe a mother’s determination will succeed where all my efforts have failed.”

He pointed at a small box-shaped bag in the corner of the room. “In the meantime, this machine will do just enough to keep Mulder alive. Oh, he won’t be well, but he will be alive.” Before he could say anything more, a ring like the flight attendant signal on an airplane sounded. “Ah, I believe we’re here already. I thought you might want to treat him in your own hospital and verify that I am telling the truth about the cure. Take good care of him, Dr. Scully, and good luck with the search.”

* * * * *

MARCH 3, 2016

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me this before?” demanded Mulder angrily.

“Now there’s a stupid question,” said Krycek. He flexed his wounded hand and winced. “Mulder, you got any tea or coffee inside? I could do with a drink and it’s kind of cold out here.”

Mulder ignored him. “You didn’t think I needed to know about this?”

“Yes, I did. But I didn’t feel that telling you while you were in the hospital would improve your condition,” said Scully quietly. “For what it’s worth, I didn’t just trust him. I tried everything I could to find a cure rather than use his machine. But when you went into cardiac arrest on the fourth day, I had to try something. He didn’t lie, Mulder, the machine is keeping you alive. And believe me, I wanted to tell you the other day when we were on the bus, but then the moment passed and we came home and found Krycek.”

“Speaking of which, where the hell is he?”

Raising his gun, Mulder walked up the porch steps and pushed his front door open. When he entered the living room, he found Krycek in the kitchen to his right, apparently making coffee.

“I hope you don’t mind,” said Krycek amicably. “It’ll have to be black unless you have some other milk somewhere. Milk in the fridge was bad so I threw it out.”

“There’s some creamer in the cupboard,” said Mulder. He looked around at the mess left after his fight with the Cigarette Smoking Man’s henchman and decided it wasn’t worth checking if there was anyone lurking in the house. He put his gun back in its holster. “I guess I’ll go get the bags.”

When he came back, Scully was tending to Krycek’s wounded hand in the kitchen. Mulder dropped the bags at the foot of the stairs, hoping that Krycek would carry them up later. It occurred to him that he hadn’t considered their sleeping arrangements; aside from the queen-sized bed in the master bedroom, all he had to offer was a pair of sofas. He assumed Scully had thought of that, and went to sit on the couch. He rubbed his eyes wearily; what with the bad night and rushing around visiting NSA hackers and stealing helicopters, it had been a tiring day.

Krycek lifted his shirt and sweater to let Scully redo the dressing on the shallow cut on his chest. His skin looked deathly white in the dim light of the kitchen. He noticed Mulder watching them from the sofa and grinned.

“I can tell this is your place, Mulder. It looks like your old bedroom. I think I even recognize some of these files. Used to read them sometimes when I was waiting for you come home.”

Scully gave him a curious look but just started packing up the first aid kit. “Okay, the cut on your chest looks fine, but you really shouldn’t use your hand. Now that we’re here, I want you to give it a rest and let it heal. It’ll get worse if you don’t take care of it.”

“Yeah, be a shame to lose it again,” mumbled Krycek ruefully.

“Krycek, how much of what Tad said was true?” asked Scully, closing the box. “And I don’t mean about contrails and the aliens coming in peace.”

“Surprisingly little. Guess the coffee’s ready, so place your orders.” After a brief search, Krycek found the cups and lined three up on the counter. “Don’t worry, Scully, I won’t use my hand. You’d be amazed at what I can do one-handed!”

Chapter Text

After changing into fresh clothes and taking a quick nap on the sofa—completely unhindered by the coffee Krycek had made earlier—Mulder spent the early evening driving around the grounds to check his security apparatus. He had rigged the house and surrounding two acres of farmland with sensors when they’d first gotten it, back in the days when he was on the run after his bogus death sentence. He’d let parts of the system fall into disrepair, mainly in the fields that he leased to a local farmer, but the sensors closest to the house were still active enough to alert him to the approach of Cancerman’s henchman two weeks earlier. Under the circumstances, he thought it would be useful to bring his entire “sensor array”—he loved the Star Trek undertones of the term—back online. He had to replace batteries on a couple of sensors and rewire a camera whose cables had been gnawed by wildlife, but on the whole, he was proud of his past work. Scully was right; this was the safest place for Krycek.

As he drove back toward the house, he felt a pang of bittersweet pleasure at the sight of the lights shining through the windows. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d come back to his house to find someone waiting for him. He would have said he enjoyed living alone; he had nobody but his own standards to respect and he could eat and sleep whenever he wanted. But he’d missed this; coming home to find Scully in the house, surrounded with books as she went through the arduous process of retraining to become a surgeon, or asleep in his bed after an exhausting residency rotation. Those had been strangely happy times despite his status as a fugitive, an interlude in the relentless darkness of their lives, before the FBI sought him out for a case and the aliens didn’t invade after all and Scully stopped coming and turning his lights on.

Scully was sitting at his desk in the living room, her eyes on her laptop. The desk lamp shone brightly on her features, casting deep shadows on the fine wrinkles around her mouth and eyes, reflecting off her reading glasses and highlighting the thin line of grey at the roots of the part in her hair. He wanted to go over and take her in his arms and tell her she was just as beautiful to him as she had been when she walked into his office nearly twenty-four years ago, an eager young woman with freckled round cheeks and mousy red hair. But he could tell she was busy so instead, he pulled Krycek’s file out of the bag and sat down on the couch to read it again.

“Everything’s back online,” he said when Scully took her glasses off and stretched. “Krycek is going to be snug as a bug in a rug. No more late night visitors.”

“Great. Oh, I talked to Tad while you were out,” said Scully. She looked as if she welcomed the interruption. “His pilot will be driving over with someone tomorrow to take the helicopter back. Tad is understandably pissed, but I apologized and explained our hijacking was an emergency due to your condition. He’s not going to press charges and he even offered to let me hitch a ride back to DC tomorrow for my meeting with the CDC.”

“He must really like you,” said Mulder.

“I made sure he received one of the first batches of my cure, so he’s very grateful,” said Scully with a sly smile. “I’m going to milk that for a while if I can. He’s a useful man to know.”

“Now who’s a player?” asked Mulder with a chuckle.

Scully laughed and returned to stare at her screen. Her expression turned serious, her brow furrowing as she returned to whatever she was reading. He watched her for a moment, wishing he could smooth away that frown.

“I know I say this a lot,” he said after glancing around the living room and what he could see of the kitchen. “But where is Krycek?”

“He took a shower and fell asleep in your bed,” said Scully with an amused smile.

“In my bed? He’s not spending the night there!” Mulder got to his feet. “I’ll go wake him up now.”

“No, Mulder, let him sleep,” said Scully gently. Mulder stopped at the foot of the stairs and gave her a curious look. “I know he’s our prisoner, but he’s been through a lot lately and he’s just had some bad news. While you were out, we looked up his family and… Because his papers were signed by his sister, it hadn’t occurred to me that his mother was still alive when he died. But we found out she died a couple years after he did.”

“So what, he gets to sleep in my bed just because his mom died?” asked Mulder.

Scully raised an eyebrow at him and he was tempted to ask jokingly why she hadn’t slept in his bed when her mother died a few weeks earlier. But then he remembered the night his own mother committed suicide and sighed.

“Okay, so maybe he’s a bit upset,” he said, though he found it hard to imagine Krycek being sad. Angry, maybe, but not sad.

“He didn’t say much when we found out,” admitted Scully. “He just suddenly decided to take a shower, so I’m guessing it hit him harder than he wanted me to know.”

Mulder sat on the sofa again and pulled out the family photograph of the Kryceks. He remembered the aging blonde woman he had met, with her cigarettes and cold condemnation of her son’s crimes, and wondered how close they’d actually been. He glanced at the little boy smiling in the photograph, his arms around his mother’s neck, and closed the file.

“I guess I can sleep down here if he doesn’t wake up. The sofa in the den isn’t that bad.” He smiled at her. “You should take the guest bedroom. That bed you made me buy when you were working nights is still buried under all my stuff.”

“No. You should wake Krycek up later and make him sleep in there so you’re both in real beds.” Scully raised her hand before he could protest. “You’re sick and Krycek is injured; you need a good night’s sleep more than I do. I’ll sleep in the den.”

“You know you don’t have to,” he said, schooling his features and tone to be as innocent as he could. “I’ll kick Krycek into the guest bedroom and you can sleep in the bed upstairs with me. We know it’s big enough for both of us and I can keep my hands to myself.”

Scully gave him a tender smile. “I’m sure you can. But I don’t think you can stop snoring. I’ll be fine.”

“Maybe I should get that checked out,” said Mulder idly. “Krycek complained about my snoring last night too. Though that was kind of rich after he woke me up because he had a nightmare.”

“I’m not surprised he’s having nightmares,” said Scully, suddenly serious. She indicated her screen. “I’ve started reading the files Mrs. Al-Zahawi gave us this morning. I don’t think they’re complete; there are a lot of dead links to other files. But what is here is—disturbing.” Scully removed her glasses and leaned back in the chair. “We knew after what we saw in January that Nugenics was performing experiments on live humans, but I never imagined something like this. They regrew his arm, Mulder. They didn’t graft a new one, they actually made it grow again on his body. Flesh, bones and all. And when it didn’t work out right the first time, they cut it off and tried again. It took them several attempts over the last fifteen years before the arm was what he has now.” She paused. “Mulder, Krycek was not a good man, but if he remembers any of this—”

She let her voice trail off and Mulder wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more details.

“Well, at least he was unconscious, right?” said Mulder, though whether to reassure her or himself, he didn’t know. “I’m sure he doesn’t remember any of it, any more than you and I remember our abduction experiences.”

As he said that, he had a vision of himself strapped into a cold metal chair, his head held in place by sharp hooks embedded in his flesh and an automated dental drill approaching his mouth. He wasn’t entirely sure if that had been real now; the scars on his cheeks had faded unnaturally fast and it was so long ago that it was hard to believe it hadn’t all been a dream. Even so, that image had stayed with him all these years. He was still jittery whenever he had to visit a dentist, something that had never bothered him before.

“Not to underestimate the gravity of our own abduction experiences,” said Scully quietly, “especially given the long-term consequences to both of us, but we were gone for no more than three months. Krycek was experimented on for nearly fifteen years.”

She let that hang in the air a moment and Mulder could tell she was distressed by what she had read in the files. He wanted to say something about Krycek reaping what he’d sown, but maybe now was not the time for a philosophical debate on proportionate punishment. Scully rubbed her forehead.

“Whatever was happening to his body, the fact that he remembers your trial means that he was conscious in the strictest sense of the word for at least short periods during his…incarceration. I—I think it’s likely some of those periods of lucidity might have coincided with some of these experiments. Either way, this experience has to be life-changing. I think it’s probable that Krycek is no longer exactly the man we once knew.”

“Well, since he’s been back, he’s shot someone, stolen a helicopter and knocked out one of your friends. I’d say he’s pretty in character for a traumatized man.”

Scully nodded, conceding the point, and put her glasses on again to look at the laptop. Mulder got his own computer and checked his messages for any response from Dr. Schiaparelli regarding Dr. Webber’s whereabouts. When he found none, he started to trawl through the FBI records for any signs of Webber; he’d missed having official access to government records. He was immersed in his search when Scully spoke again.

“Mulder, I know this will sound like a weird question, but… did you know Krycek dated men?”

“Uh, what?”

“Actually, no, forget it,” she said, shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter. I was just surprised when he said he’d dated a man this morning. I mean, we know he was involved with Marita Covarrubias.”

“Well, this is Krycek we’re talking about,” said Mulder, affecting nonchalance, “when have you ever known him to pick a side and stick to it?”

“Good point.” Scully laughed and stood up. “Anyway, I think it’s time to have some dinner. I’ll cook just this once but it’ll be up to you two to keep each other fed until I get back.” She glanced up the stairs. “Let’s leave Krycek for now. You can get him to move when you go up. We’ll have some of those cans of soup you’ve been hoarding for years and he can reheat it later if he wakes up.”

Mulder nodded and watched her go into the kitchen, though he was thinking about her question. Did you know Krycek dated men? He closed his eyes and leaned back on the couch, lost in his memories.

* * * * *

NEW YORK CITY
JUNE 1994

“There you are!” snapped Mulder. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, Krycek. Didn’t expect you to just split when they’d finished with your initial statement. I had to ask the local cops where the hell you’d gone to!”

Krycek gave him a startled look from his seat at the bar. Maybe sensing trouble, the middle-aged man who had been sitting on the stool next to his took his drink and moved to the other end of the bar.

“Come on, kid,” ordered Mulder, grabbing Krycek’s arm. “We need to get back to DC.”

“Don’t call me a kid!” Krycek shook him off, but he looked at Mulder with wide eyes, exactly like a scared kid expecting to be told off.

“I’m sorry,” said Mulder guiltily. “It’s not you. I’m just—”

He was just pissed about losing the damn dossier. The hard evidence about the experiments on Augustus Cole and his fellow soldiers that had been handed to him on a plate had vanished through his own stupidity, and he was left once more with knowledge of a conspiracy and no proof. But he thought it wasn’t fair to take it out on his ad hoc partner.

He forced himself to calm down. Scully still had the fax copy he had sent her; it would be okay.

“What are you doing in here anyway?” he asked more gently.

Krycek relaxed a little and shrugged. He was still wearing his suit pants and shirt, but had ditched the tie and cheap jacket. With his unbuttoned collar and rolled-up sleeves, he looked like some college kid trying desperately to unwind.

“Feeling a bit on edge, you know. Just needed a drink.”

Ah shit. This was why they should never assign rookies to him. Mulder mentally smacked his forehead, feeling like a complete jerk, and sat on the bar stool the guy had vacated beside Krycek.

“First time you killed someone?”

Krycek’s dark eyes flashed up to meet Mulder’s and then looked down at the bar. “I thought Cole was going to kill you and he wanted to die anyway. I’m fine.”

Mulder clapped his shoulder once, a manly gesture of comfort, and turned to get the bartender’s attention, pointing at himself and Krycek’s beer.

“You did well. First time I was in that situation, I froze and two people got killed,” said Mulder. “Then a few years later, the killer murdered a friend of mine. If only I’d shot him—”

It had only been a few months since Barnett’s reappearance and Reggie’s murder. Reggie Purdue and Steve Wallenberg; two fine FBI agents who had died because Mulder didn’t have the guts to do what Krycek had done a couple hours earlier. The fact that Cole had been holding a Bible rather than a gun was unfortunate, but Mulder knew Krycek had made the right call based on what he thought he had seen.

“Yeah, you did well,” he said, patting Krycek’s arm.

Trying to dismiss his depressing thoughts, he took a quick look around. As seedy bars went, this was average fare for a bar near a busy station; businessmen with suitcases, couple of hookers, maybe a drug dealer or two. The guy who’d been sitting next to Krycek was still nursing his drink, looking at himself in the mirror behind the bar, probably passing the time while he waited for his late night train.

“So, what do you normally do to unwind?” asked Mulder when the bartender finally brought him his beer. “You don’t look like the type to hang out in bars.”

“Really?” Krycek looked at him curiously. “No, I guess I don’t.” He looked down the bar at someone or something behind Mulder, then picked up his beer for a quick swig. “What about you? What do you do to unwind? Hang out with your girlfriend?”

“Watch TV mostly.” Mulder wondered if he looked like the kind of guy who watched porn on his sofa until he passed out. “No girlfriend.”

“What about the curvaceous Dr. Scully?”

Mulder laughed. “Oh, no. No, we’re not together. Not like that. We’re kind of beyond it on some level. She’s like, I don’t know, a catalyst. She keeps me grounded, but inspires me. I can’t really describe it. I made more progress in my work with her than I did with any other partner before. Especially the one I dated. But no, we’re not together.”

“Okay,” said Krycek thoughtfully.

He looked beyond Mulder again. This time, when he raised his bottle of beer, he let it linger on his bottom lip and a small smile curved his mouth. There was suddenly a dangerous, passionate look on his boyish features that briefly mesmerized Mulder even though it wasn’t aimed at him. Mulder looked into the mirror and realized the middle-aged guy was staring at Krycek. No, not staring. Making significant eye contact. Mulder’s heart missed a beat when he realized what might be happening.

“Krycek, whatever you’re feeling right now, casual sex isn’t the solution.”

Krycek burst out laughing. “What are you, my dad?”

About nine weeks later, as he was zipping up his fly in Kristen Kilar’s bedroom, Mulder would remember this conversation and feel like a hypocrite. But things were only off-balance in his world at this point; it had not yet been turned upside down. Scully seemed safe in her new job at Quantico and Krycek was just a harmless novice rattled by his first kill, so he was feeling righteous and bristled at Krycek’s laughter.

“I hope you don’t make a habit of this,” he said coldly. “You could lose your job.”

That made Krycek smile, and of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it must have been hilarious to threaten a man on the cusp of becoming a ruthless assassin with losing his job as a Federal employee.

“You going to rat me out to Skinner, Mulder?” asked Krycek in a low voice, and there was a reckless edge to his tone which made Mulder’s heart jump again. “I thought you’d be more open-minded, given your line of work.”

“I am!” protested Mulder, though he kept his voice down. “I don’t care who you sleep with as long as it doesn’t interfere with your job.”

“Oh yeah?” drawled Krycek finally, his head ducked so he could give Mulder an enticing look up through his long eyelashes. “You ever been with a guy, Fox?”

Under any other circumstances, Mulder would have evaded the question or flat out lied. But he was still annoyed that Krycek thought he was some kind of square. And possibly some kind of homophobe.

“Yeah,” he said defiantly, daring Krycek to make fun of that. “But I prefer girls.”

“Girls are okay,” said Krycek with a shrug, returning to his beer.

He didn’t word the logical counterpoint to that statement, but Mulder heard it anyway. “I appreciate your honesty, but you should probably keep that to yourself.”

“Don’t worry, Fox. I was in the Air Force, I have a deep, well-furnished closet.” He swigged the last of his beer.

“Right. Just for the record, nobody calls me ‘Fox’.”

Krycek grinned. “Tough childhood?”

“You could say that.” Mulder laughed.

“You know what?” said Krycek. “You’re right. Hanging out around here isn’t going to do any good and Skinner will be gunning for me first thing in the morning. Let’s go back to the hotel.”

Krycek picked up his jacket and tie from the stool next to him and headed for the door. Mulder abandoned his beer to follow. The guy at the bar watched them pass and raised his bottle at Krycek; the young man smirked at him and turned to check that Mulder was following. Mulder could imagine what it looked like, the pair of them leaving the bar together.

When they were outside, Krycek took his arm and pulled him into the alley beside the bar. Mulder allowed himself to be pushed against the wall, but guessing what Krycek intended to do, he ducked his head to avoid the kiss. Krycek caught his chin and drew it up, and oh god, Mulder loved it when someone else did all the work of seducing him. Krycek’s lips felt like lightning when they brushed against his.

“Oh,” he breathed, pulling his face out of Krycek’s grasp. “Oh, Christ. No, no, this is a mistake.”

“C’mon, just this once,” growled Krycek, breathing heavily. “We’re not partners and it’s not like you haven’t done this before, right?”

Good points, or so it seemed as Krycek’s hand ran down from his chest to his belt. Mulder leaned back against the wall, enjoying the sensation of someone else’s hands on his body; it had been too damn long. When Krycek leaned in for a kiss again, Mulder was ready to accept it—but just at that moment, his cell phone trilled in his jacket pocket. Mildly irritated by the interruption, he pulled it out and answered.

“Mulder, where are you?”

“Oh, hey, Scully,” said Mulder breathlessly. Krycek stepped back and scowled at the phone. “We’re still in New York. Coming back tomorrow. Probably a bit late tomorrow.”

That made Krycek smile but Mulder raised his hand to stop him when he hooked his fingers in Mulder’s belt again.

“Mulder, I think you should come back here right now!” Scully’s voice had a higher pitch than usual; Mulder turned away from Krycek to give the conversation his full attention. “Someone broke into my office. They took the fax you sent me and all the autopsy results. I came back from dinner with my sister to take them home, and my whole office was turned upside down!”

Mulder swore. “I’ll drive back now. I’ll meet you in the usual place. I gotta go,” he added for Krycek’s benefit as he ended the call.

Preoccupied with getting back to DC to meet Scully, he barely noted the look of rage on the Krycek’s face as he ran over to his car and drove away.

* * * * *

PRESENT DAY

Would things have been different if Scully hadn’t called at that precise moment? Or was Krycek already so embroiled in the Consortium’s machinations that they would have made him stop Mulder from saving her on Skyland Mountain anyway? Would Mulder have been reeling from the betrayal of a lover rather than his work partner? It was hard to imagine it would have hurt any more than it had.

Mulder and Scully enjoyed their basic dinner, sitting at Mulder’s desk since his kitchen dining table had been broken clean in half by his fight with Cancerman’s heavy. It was almost like old times, just the two of them talking about the case—though not specifically about William—and sharing details of news items they’d each read on their separate journeys through the internet.

When Scully declared it was time to sleep, Mulder got some spare bedding and left her to set up her bed in the den beside the living room while he locked up all the doors and windows and checked that his sensor array was fully online. He could feel the effects of the long day by the time he went upstairs; perhaps his middle-aged body had been trained after five decades to associate teeth-brushing with imminent rest, because he found himself yawning and longing for bed by the time he relieved himself and washed his hands.

He left the light on in the en suite bathroom to check on Krycek. The man was still fast asleep in Mulder’s bed; he must have crashed straight after taking his shower, because his clothes were all in a pile in the bathroom and there was a damp towel sticking out from under the covers. He was curled up on the right-hand side of the bed, his back to the door, with one arm under the pillow and his injured hand resting beside his face. He looked peaceful, his handsome features nonthreatening in the dim light.

Mulder thought about setting up the guest bedroom and then waking Krycek to make him transfer to it, but that would mean finding more sheets and putting on pillow cases, not to mention excavating the bed from under all the junk he’d piled up on it. Besides, he thought about what Scully had said about Krycek’s mother and the years Krycek had spent in Goldman’s labs; for all his crimes, maybe he deserved at least one night of undisturbed, drug-free sleep in a comfortable bed.

With a weary sigh, Mulder turned off the bathroom light, stripped down to his T-shirt and boxers, and got into bed.

Chapter Text

MARCH 4TH, 2016

When Mulder woke up the next morning, he was alone. His memories of the previous night were hazy as he stretched out and reveled in the feeling of being in his own comfortable bed for the first time in weeks. But then it all came back to him and he stared at the ceiling berating himself—not for the first time—for being an idiot.

After a couple of minutes of this, however, he decided he couldn’t stay in bed all day; he could hear music and voices downstairs, so he reluctantly got up and got dressed. Krycek’s clothes were gone from the bathroom but the towel was still on the bedroom floor; Mulder threw it into the laundry basket in the corner of his room and wrinkled his nose at the weeks-old collection inside. He looked into the guest room; Krycek’s clothes and bag were on a broken chair in the corner of the room, and he had arranged some bedding on the single bed, piling all the junk on the floor by the window. Mulder closed the door and carried the laundry basket downstairs.

Scully was sitting on the living room couch, still in her pajamas and robe, looking far more groomed than anyone had a right to first thing in the morning. She was working on her laptop but looked up and gave him a smile as he came down the stairs.

“Good morning, Mulder. How are you feeling?”

“Okay. It was good to sleep in my own bed,” he admitted. He put the laundry hamper down at the foot of the stairs, intending to take it down to the basement later. “How long have you been up?”

“Oh, a couple hours. We’ve had breakfast already. I didn’t want to come and disturb you. But now that you’re up, I’ll take a quick shower and get ready for my lunchtime pickup.” She closed her laptop and picked up her bag. “Before you ask, he’s in the kitchen.”

Mulder found Krycek washing the dishes from his breakfast with Scully, his back to the entrance. He had connected the tablet Scully had lent him to the Bluetooth speakers in the living room; it was playing Blondie’s “Call Me” and he was swaying to the rhythm as he worked. He stopped dancing when he noticed Mulder.

“Oh, hi. You want some breakfast?” he asked. He rinsed the last item and placed it on the drying rack without looking up again. “There’s some more of that pancake mix you had in the cupboard. I can make you a few.”

“Sure.”

Mulder was amused to note that Krycek wasn’t making eye contact. He poured himself a cup of coffee and added creamer and sugar before sitting on one of the surviving chairs. Either Scully or Krycek had pushed the remains of his broken kitchen table into a corner; Mulder wondered if he had another spare table somewhere to replace it until he could be bothered to drive up to Woodbridge and see what Ikea had to offer.

Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets
I’ll never get enough

Mulder tried to recall how old he was when this song came out—nineteen? Twenty? He remembered being at college in England and hearing it in every pub and student party he visited. God, that was a long time ago.

“Did the snoring get to you in the end?” he asked.

Krycek shrugged. “Just woke up early, that’s all.”

Mulder was irritated by Krycek’s coolly polite attitude, but berated himself for the reaction. What had he expected, exactly, cards and roses? He fell silent and watched Krycek turn on the stove and prepare the pancake mix one-handed. He was heeding Scully’s advice and not using his left hand much; it was freshly bandaged, the thumb hooked into his jeans pocket. It gave him an oddly casual air. He seemed to be doing fine, so Mulder enjoyed his cup of coffee and didn’t help him.

Now I know I’ve got to
Run away, I’ve got to
Get away, you don’t really want any more from me
To make things right
You need someone to hold you tight
And you think love is to pray
But I’m sorry, I don’t pray that way

Another one from his time in England. Mulder got up and scrolled through the songs on the playlist Krycek had chosen.

“You feeling nostalgic, Krycek?” he asked. “You must have been in high school when these songs came out.”

Krycek grunted noncommittally. Mulder leaned against the kitchen counter and observed him again. He seemed to be experimenting with his grown-out hair; today, it was parted in the middle and the uneven lengths and slight curl gave it a feathered look reminiscent of the 1970s. He was wearing the same black jeans as the previous days—presumably the only pair he owned right now—along with a figure-hugging sleeveless shirt Mulder hadn’t seen before. It was low cut, with a camouflage motif, and exposed his arms up to the rounded deltoids on his shoulders, emphasizing the loosely defined muscles in his biceps.

“That shirt would make a great picture for your Grindr profile,” said Mulder, irritated by the twinge of desire he felt. “You look like a porn star.”

Krycek still wasn’t looking at him, but Mulder saw his long eyelashes flutter as he rolled his eyes. “And what the hell is Grindr?”

“An app for gay hookups.” Mulder felt a sudden, uncontrollable urge to bait him. “Loads of pictures of dicks if you’re into that kind of thing.”

Krycek huffed in irritation as he added a pancake to the pile keeping warm in the oven. “Regular visitor, are you?”

“I guess you’ll see plenty of dicks in prison when you get there anyway. You know, if you’re feeling horny.”

Krycek pursed his lips and a muscle in his jaw twitched. “I’ve been to prison, Mulder,” he said quietly. Then his serious expression cleared into a smirk. “You’d be disappointed at the quality of the dicks on offer. But I guess you just gotta make do with what you can get when you’re in custody,” he added, looking Mulder over disdainfully.

Mulder felt a flash of anger. “Cute guy like you, I bet you were real popular.”

“Sure,” said Krycek slowly, the smirk widening. He moved closer and put his hand on Mulder’s chest. “I was especially good at sucking up to the guards. Finding out what they were into.” He raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes, speaking in a soft, breathless tone as he gave Mulder a pleading look. “Please, sir, I promise to be good. I’ve been such a bad boy. Punish me, sir. I’ll do anything you ask.”

Mulder stared at him open-mouthed, surprised and aroused by Krycek’s unexpected little role play. Krycek ran his hand down Mulder’s front to his belt and then suddenly pushed him back so he was pinned against the counter. He narrowed his eyes and the innocent pleading look was gone, replaced by a dangerous smoldering stare.

“Or maybe you like to play with fire, hmm?” His voice was now a low, husky growl. “I’m a bad man, Agent Mulder. A dangerous man. I’ve killed so many people.” His breath was tickling Mulder’s lips. “I could kill you right now. Or I could just take you right here on this counter.”

Mulder swallowed hard and wanted to say something, but all the blood seemed to have abandoned his brain, rendering him incapable of speech. He remembered a tanned face and bristly buzz cut, shining white teeth bared in an unpleasant grin, and bright eyes looking up at him. He knew which version his libido preferred.

“Y—Yeah,” he stammered, though that wasn’t at all what he had intended to say.

The light from the window behind Mulder had made Krycek’s pupils contact, and Mulder was briefly fascinated by the color of his irises; brown in the center but green at the periphery, fringed with the thick dark lashes. Krycek’s hard expression softened and he smiled; not his usual hard, sardonic smile, just a happy smile.

Both men jumped as a creak sounded on the stairs on the other side of the living room. Krycek briefly glanced over his shoulder and before Mulder could raise his hands to push him away, he planted a quick, hard kiss on Mulder’s mouth. Then he turned around and started making the next pancake. Mulder pretended to be looking at the playlist again.

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
That much is true
But even then I knew I’d find a much better place
Either with or without you

“Oh wow, it sounds like my prom night down here,” said Scully, walking in. She was made up and dressed in a pantsuit for her meeting, though her hair was still damp.

“Class of 1983 represent,” said Krycek with a chuckle.

“1982, actually.” Scully groaned. “Don’t remind me. And Mulder and I will have been working together for 24 years on Sunday.”

“Yes. I totally remembered that,” said Mulder, nodding vigorously. He had already missed Scully’s 52nd birthday a couple of weeks earlier—albeit because he was at death’s door in the hospital—so he made a mental note to at least mention their work anniversary on the day.

“Twenty-four years, really? Hey, we should have a celebration!” said Krycek enthusiastically. “I could cook you something special!”

Scully gave him a look that expressed just how ludicrous she thought that idea was. “You’re in a good mood this morning,” she remarked.

“Yeah. A good night’s sleep does wonders,” he said, turning away to make the next pancake and very deliberately not meeting Mulder’s eye.

* * * * *

FIVE HOURS EARLIER

There were many things Mulder hated about growing old. The gray hairs that sprouted from unexpected places; the increased weight that he seemed to put on effortlessly after a lifetime of eating anything he wanted; the yellowing of his teeth despite never having been a smoker; the myriad unexplained little aches and pains that came on with no warning and took longer to heal than his many youthful injuries. But the one that was annoying him right now was his bladder’s increasingly frequent insistence that the middle of the night was when it needed relief.

Mulder lay in the darkness, listening to Krycek’s regular breathing, and hoping, despite no evidence that it would work, that he might fall asleep again without having to get up. Eventually, though, he realized that he was going to have to go and extracted himself as carefully as he could from the warm bed. Despite living on his own, he rarely turned the light on to do this—preferring not to blind himself—and was able to navigate his way out of the bedroom without bumping into anything.

He was as quiet as he could, but when he came back into the room, Mulder could tell by the change in his breathing pattern that Krycek was awake. Neither man said anything as Mulder got back into bed and they lay in silence for a few minutes.

“Mulder,” whispered Krycek suddenly. “I’m not wearing anything.”

The way he said it reminded Mulder of the phone sex lines he’d used in the past and he couldn’t suppress a grin in the darkness. “Well, either we just had a steamy night of passion, or you crashed in my bed after your shower last night and have been out cold ever since.”

Krycek shuffled around for a moment, making the covers rustle. “Oh yeah, the towel is still here. Guess I wasn’t completely naked. That would have been really weird!”

Mulder thought things were weird enough as they were. He hoped that was the end of the conversation. He closed his eyes and tried to think of something soothing that might make him sleep. Preferably something that didn’t involve picturing Krycek naked. Or remembering that time—

“Shouldn’t I be sleeping somewhere else?” Krycek’s voice was muffled; Mulder assumed he was lying on his front because of the pressure sores on his back.

“I have a guest bedroom. But it’s kind of full right now.” Mulder sighed; he really didn’t want to get out of the warm bed again. “Why, tired of the delicate sound of my snoring?”

“No, I—I actually, it was kind of comforting last night. You know, knowing there’s someone there.”

Mulder had a sudden vision of Krycek tied down for years in a lab, alone and heavily sedated but still capable of conscious thought. Then he thought about him coming back after nearly fifteen years to learn that his mother had died. It was hard to judge Krycek’s exact position in the complete darkness, but Mulder reached out under the covers, seeking the man’s hand. Krycek inhaled sharply and shifted away when Mulder’s fingers accidentally brushed against his bare waist. Mulder withdrew his hand, but after a moment, he felt the mattress bounce; Krycek’s breath tickled his cheek and he realized that Krycek was now lying on his side facing him. When Mulder said nothing, Krycek placed his head on Mulder’s shoulder and draped one arm across his chest.

Okay, so this was definitely weird. Scully was right: this didn’t feel like the kind of thing the Krycek he had known would do. It was hard to turn down such a transparent plea for comfort, though; Mulder hesitated and then raised his right arm over Krycek’s head to pull him into a fuller embrace. Krycek’s hair brushed pleasantly against his biceps. He gasped when Mulder’s arm around him accidentally touched his sore back, but when Mulder relaxed his hold to give him a chance to move away, he only shuffled closer, drawing one leg up to rest across Mulder’s thighs.

There was one problem with having a completely naked man wrapped around him like this. Mulder lay perfectly still and tried to pretend he couldn’t feel the hard flesh against his thigh. He tried to think of something that would stop his own body from responding, but after a while, Krycek’s hand started to stroke his chest lightly through his T-shirt, tentatively at first and then more boldly, tracing a roundabout downward path. Mulder thought he should say something to put a stop to this. That’s what Scully would do in this situation.

“You feeling horny, Krycek?”

Okay, so that probably wasn’t what Scully would have said. Krycek chuckled and nuzzled Mulder’s shoulder.

“What about you, hmm?”

Mulder gasped as Krycek suddenly placed his hand on his boxers and squeezed lightly. Scully and Skinner would be horrified if they knew. But then again, it wasn’t like they’d ever found out what happened back in the day. There was no reason they would find out about this either.

He briefly buried his nose in Krycek’s soft hair, inhaling the scent of shampoo as he enjoyed the sensation. He felt he should do something in return, so he ran his free hand up Krycek’s arm, caressing the solid muscles and soft skin up to his shoulder, then back down his side to his hip, noting with amusement how the man gasped and struggled not to recoil at the ticklish sensation. They stroked each other for a short while; Mulder was using his left hand and didn’t have enough leverage to be effective, but Krycek had a good angle and Mulder began to fear that this might be embarrassingly brief. It had been a while, after all.

He was mustering up the courage to ask him to slow down, when Krycek suddenly let go and rolled away. Mulder’s heart sank; maybe he had decided that feeling up old men in the dark wasn’t his thing. But a moment later, the damp towel was dumped on Mulder’s lower stomach, its coldness seeping through his T-shirt. He didn’t have time to react before Krycek lay on top of him and kissed his mouth. It was an artless, passionate kiss that was lust rather than affection; Krycek found Mulder’s hand in the dark and pulled it back to where it had been, then pushed Mulder’s boxers out of the way.

The interlude with the towel had eased some of the earlier urgency, and Mulder let himself enjoy the combination of the warm wet mouth against his and the expert touch on his flesh. Even the weight of Krycek’s body on top of him was erotic, the illusion of helplessness freeing him of the responsibility to do anything more than lie back and enjoy it. He moved his free hand up to Krycek’s head, running his fingers through the long soft hair. He was rewarded with a low groan and the hand on him sped up.

Mulder turned his head away from Krycek’s mouth and struggled to stay completely silent when the pleasure erupted, radiating through his body. He had always enjoyed solo activities, but he had to admit there was something special about being with someone else.

Krycek rearranged the towel on Mulder’s stomach and lay on top of him again, once more pulling his hand to where he wanted it. He buried his face in the crook of Mulder’s neck and seemed intent on finishing this as rapidly as possible, his right hand on Mulder’s, guiding the speed and direction of his movements. He too remembered to stay completely silent when the time came, breathing out his pleasure in a series of heavy bursts against Mulder’s cheek.

They lay sprawled together for a moment. Mulder drowsily stroked Krycek’s hair, feeling his heavy breaths and the rapid pounding of his heartbeat; definite signs of a life that had seemed cut short so long ago.

After a minute or two, Krycek bundled up the soiled towel and threw it on the floor, then went back to lie on his side of the bed. Picturing himself as he was now, with his heavier build and careworn features, Mulder wondered if Krycek had been imagining someone else, and felt a twinge of sadness at the thought. He decided that was just post-coital tristesse, though; it wasn’t as if this was anything more than letting off steam. He dismissed the thoughts and fell asleep.

* * * * *

12:21 PM

“You should try to talk to him while I’m away,” said Scully, looking up earnestly at Mulder. “I know it’s going to be hard with everything that’s happened between you, but you may get better information out of him if you try to gain his trust.”

They were standing on the porch after an early lunch, waiting for Tad O’Malley’s pilot to come and pick up Scully and the helicopter. A phone call from the pilot’s wife, who was going to drop him off in her car, had warned them that their arrival was imminent; she sounded seriously pissed that her husband’s boss was making them travel to this godforsaken house in the middle of nowhere and Scully was keen not to cause any delay. Krycek had decided that discretion was the better part of valor and was watching something on Netflix in the den.

“You want me to be nice to Krycek?” asked Mulder, trying to project legitimate disbelief. He wondered if jerking him off in the dark qualified as being nice.

“I want him to be cooperative,” said Scully with a sigh. “I promised Skinner that we would get answers from him. Answers we didn’t have already.”

Mulder grunted an agreement. He and Scully had spent a couple of hours interrogating Krycek about his role in the Syndicate that morning; he had given them detailed descriptions of the organization’s hierarchical structure and some of the operations they’d been involved in when he worked for them, but Mulder felt that he had learned nothing new, even though it was nice to hear some of his speculation confirmed.

“Don’t worry,” he said finally. “I promise I’ll be nice to him.”

Chapter Text

Reach out and touch faith

Mulder woke up with a start as a heavy guitar riff rang out. He opened his eyes and frowned at the unexpected noise from his living room speakers.

“Oh, hey,” said Krycek. “Sorry, I forgot my tablet was connected to the speakers.” He turned the music off.

Mulder realized he must have fallen asleep while he was working on the couch. His laptop was on the floor, his glasses neatly folded on top, and he was now covered with one of the blankets he’d given Scully for her night in the den. He could hear the washing machine whirring in the basement below and noticed that some of the books and papers strewn around his living room had been moved into tidier piles.

Krycek was sitting on a chair a small distance away, a notebook and his tablet in his lap, though he was looking at Mulder with concern.

“You feeling okay?” asked Krycek. “Scully explained how to use the machine, so I can hook you up if you need it.”

“I’m fine,” snapped Mulder, annoyed that he’d fallen asleep without noticing again.

Krycek shrugged, then lifted the tablet. “I’ve just found out that Depeche Mode released three albums while I was gone,” he said as if Mulder would care. “You know the first song I ever heard by them was the worst song they ever wrote? A guy played it for me in a record store when I was about sixteen. He said it—” Krycek smiled as his voice trailed off. “Well, never mind. I guess at the time, it made me think there was a whole world out there, places where I would fit in.”

There was a wistful tone to his voice that made Mulder think there was more to this memory than Krycek was letting on. With his long hair and relaxed clothes—he was now wearing a thick sweater—it was easy to forget he had been a cold, ruthless killer back in the day. Mulder reminded himself that appearances could be deceiving.

“Places like Tunisia, Hong Kong and Tunguska? That worked out well for you,” scoffed Mulder. He picked up his laptop and glasses. “Put some headphones on if you want to listen to music. I have work to do.”

Krycek scowled at him. “Can I go outside?”

“No.”

Krycek gave him another sour look and went off to the den. Only mildly satisfied with his own pettiness, Mulder sat up on the couch to work on his laptop again. He checked the secure channel Mrs. Al-Zahawi had instructed them to use to talk to her, but her latest message just said that her partial match search for William’s DNA in the Department of Health’s records had been unsuccessful. She speculated that he might have been adopted by anti-vaxxers, a thought that made Mulder want to kick someone—preferably the assholes like Cancerman who had hijacked the vaccination programs and made it possible for anti-vaxxers to exist by validating their theories. He only hoped that if that was the case, the kid had never contracted measles or polio.

The washing machine in the basement whirred in the background and Mulder half-wished he’d let Krycek put the music back on. Given what Scully had told him the previous evening, he was reluctant to read Krycek’s file from Nugenics, so he started to read his NSA file instead. Krycek was apparently telling the truth when he said he’d taken an opportunity to edit it; it seemed particularly light on details about his family and friends. Mulder’s own NSA file, on the other hand, was scarily detailed, to the extent that he hoped Krycek had never read it. It contained intimate details of his relationship with Scully and even a whole section about his porn preferences.

He had just received an email from Skinner and started to read it when he heard the vacuum cleaner start up. Distracted, he stared in surprise as the door to the den opened and Krycek came in, pushing the cleaner before him.

“What are you doing?” asked Mulder.

“I’m vacuuming,” shouted Krycek over the noise of the machine.

“Why?”

“Because your place needs vacuuming. Do you know that the average home harbors more bacteria than a trashcan? It looks like you never clean this place!”

Mulder wanted to retort that actually, yes, he did vacuum and clean strategic areas like the kitchen and bathroom every few weeks, but Krycek had already turned his back on him. Had he ever cared to speculate about such things, Mulder would never have guessed that Krycek was the domestic type. He noticed that the man’s jeans were tight around his hips, offering a pleasant view as he worked.

It took Mulder a moment to regain his concentration and look at Skinner’s message. When he did, he swore.

“Bad news?” asked Krycek, turning off the vacuum cleaner.

“Dr. Webber is listed among the dead in the fire at Nugenics,” said Mulder. “Identified from dental records, apparently. The police also have a statement from her colleague Dr. Schiaparelli—the one I was trying to contact—saying he last saw her in a lab in the basement when the place was evacuated.”

“Dental records, really? For a woman whose ID photograph is a fake?” Krycek grabbed the notepad and pencil he’d been using earlier, and sat beside Mulder on the couch to look at the report. “You think maybe she faked her own death?”

“Given what we do know about her, that’s very possible, but it won’t make her any easier to find. I don’t suppose you remember if anyone else got out of the lab with you? Assuming that selective amnesia you had the other day is all cured?”

“Sure, it’s all been a regular walk in the park,” said Krycek, rolling his eyes. “I don’t think I saw Dr. Webber, but I was kind of disoriented.”

* * * * *

FOUR DAYS EARLIER

Everything hurt. The pain rushed at him all at once. His mouth, his back, his lungs, his ass. A foreign object down his throat made him want to puke. Cramps in his legs, pins and needles in one arm. All he could see was red, veined with dark lines. All he could hear was the blaring of an alarm.

He needed to get out. Something soft around each wrist gave way easily when he moved. He instinctively raised his hands to rub his eyes. The tape holding his lids shut rolled off and he blinked blindly in the dim light of the lab. Everything was blurry, an incomprehensible low-contrast pattern of light and dark. He clawed at the tube in his mouth, pulling and pulling until it fell out in a splurge of green liquid across the sheet that covered him. Next were the tubes attached to his arms and lower body, which he tore out with disgust, ignoring the pain in his haste to get away.

His head swam when he tried to stand up, and he nearly fell. Everything was so much brighter and louder than he could tolerate, every touch on his bare skin an avalanche of sensations. Squinting, he could just make out a rectangular green light over one of the doors. The gurney he’d been lying on rolled when he leaned on it, and he used it to support himself as he headed for the door. It wasn’t locked—he had somehow expected it to be—and he stumbled through it.

He coughed in the smoke and instinctively held his left hand to his face, surprised at the beard he felt there. Something else was strange about the hand he held to his face, but he couldn’t quite work out what. He stumbled into another room, metal and linoleum and antiseptic. People were leaving this room in a hurry. White lab coats, short grey hair, dark hair in a bun, moving away from him. Another green sign. There were voices too, though too far away to make sense. He walked toward the sign, using the wall for support. Another door. A corridor. Another sign. More smoke. Over and over until he reached an open door that had darkness outside it. Without hesitation, he limped toward it.

It was freezing outside. The ground was rough under his sensitive feet. Looking down, he saw his naked body, white skin almost shining in the darkness, smears of red and green across his belly and down his legs. He coughed, then bent over and vomited, the small puddle reflecting the light of the fire behind him. There were people out here, shouting and screaming. A man was lying completely still a few feet away. He walked over to him. The man was staring up at the sky, his face black with soot.

* * * * *

“I stole the dead man’s clothes and ran for it. I guess that’s not very useful,” said Krycek, interrupting his story with a sigh. He tapped the pencil on the notepad he was holding. “The woman with her hair in a bun could have been Dr. Webber, maybe, but I didn’t see those people again.”

“Green liquid,” said Mulder thoughtfully, only half listening to Krycek.

“What?”

“You mentioned green liquid.” Mulder started typing on his laptop again. “How green was it?”

Krycek frowned. “I don’t know. Light green? I don’t know what it was. It tasted better than an alien suspended in diesel oil, but that’s not saying much.”

Mulder pulled up the digital copy of a very old file. “Cloning tanks,” he said. “The first time I encountered them was in ‘94 when Deep Throat pointed me toward the case of a Dr. Secare. He was suffering from cancer and he’d been part of an experiment to use an alien virus to cure human illnesses. That particular experiment turned them into ‘clones,’ or to be more precise, alien replacements. You know, the type with the toxic green blood, so we know that’s not what happened to you. But I remember that the patients, clones, whatever you want to call them, were kept in storage tanks, suspended in a greenish liquid. That’s how they must have kept you alive all these years.”

“I remember those tanks,” said Krycek with a nod. “You’re right. They could keep the clones in those for years.” He flashed his white teeth at Mulder. “I guess that’s why I’m still thirty-four and you’re something like twenty years older than me. What was it you said once, ‘There really is no God?’”

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” said Mulder ruefully. He pulled up one of the pictures Scully had added to Krycek’s electronic file the previous night. “You’ll look like this some day.”

The picture, collected from a public Facebook post, showed a portly middle-aged man with grey hair; the extra weight in his rounded features made his long-lashed eyes look small and unremarkable, and his fine, pointed nose seemed too little for his wide face. But despite the differences, Mulder could see the family resemblance.

“Man, Martin looks just like our dad,” said Krycek and for once, there was genuine emotion on his handsome features as he looked at his older brother’s picture. “Dad always joked that he’d discovered the secret of cloning. We were like peas in a pod, all three of us boys.” He grinned at Mulder. “I was the handsome one, of course.”

“Yeah, you’re cute, all right,” agreed Mulder. “Shame about the murderous turncoat son of a bitch thing you got going.”

Krycek shrugged. “Didn’t bother you so much last night,” he said softly.

Mulder remembered their silent nighttime groping session, and then Krycek’s quick kiss in the kitchen that morning. A shiver of desire ran through him. Krycek seemed to sense the change in his mood and his expression turned serious. He had the same intense look Mulder remembered from that other night a lifetime ago; the look he’d had after the speech about aliens and just before the kiss on the cheek. Krycek licked his upper lip and leaned forward; Mulder didn’t think he was aiming for a peck on the cheek this time.

“No,” said Mulder, putting his hand on Krycek’s chest.

“C’mon, man, it’s just the two of us today,” said Krycek in a low, breathless voice. He raised his eyebrows suggestively and leaned against Mulder’s hand. “Why can’t we have a little fun? Scully will be back tomorrow and I’ll get my just deserts when you hand me over to Skinner. This might be my last chance.” He gave Mulder an enticing look. “You know I’ll make it good for you, just like last time. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

The pleading tone in Krycek’s voice made Mulder’s stomach lurch, especially when contrasted with his attitude the “time” he was referring to. He didn’t like the idea that Krycek was throwing himself at him out of desperation. This was not how he wanted him. Not that he wanted him, of course.

“No. Krycek, we’re not doing this.” Mulder picked up his laptop and went to sit at his desk, putting some distance between them. “It’s been a long time since my FBI training, but I do remember you sure as hell don’t bang a known felon in custody!”

When he trusted himself to look at Krycek again, any sign of vulnerability was gone. The man had stretched his arms across the back of the sofa and was manspreading confidently, watching Mulder with a smirk.

“Oh well,” he said. “And there I thought you liked a little cock in your pussy diet.”

“Not yours,” returned Mulder.

“You think I want yours?” asked Krycek with a sneer. “You think I want to be groped by some dirty old man in the middle of the night?”

“Didn’t bother you so much last night,” countered Mulder, determined not to let Krycek’s comments about his age get to him. “And anyway, I’m not here to give you one last screw before you go to jail. You’re not supposed to enjoy this, Krycek! You’re supposed to be spilling the beans on the Consortium, helping us work out what the hell Cancerman is up to. Because as I see it, this was the Consortium’s plan all along, to cull the population using an alien virus so they could take over the planet. Not an alien colonization as I once believed, but a human takeover aided by human-alien hybrids born of the experiments they’ve been conducting since the 1940s.”

“Did the guy with the helicopter tell you all this?” asked Krycek with amusement.

Mulder remembered the speech that had preceded Krycek’s kiss a lifetime ago. I’m talking planned invasion. The colonization of this planet by an extraterrestrial race. But he also recalled the old Area 51 doctor he had met a few weeks earlier scoffing at the idea of “warring aliens lighting each other on fire and other such nonsense.” One of them was lying and he had a feeling he knew which one.

“Twenty years ago, I’d stumbled across the truth as I know it now and you were sent to convince me once again that aliens were behind it all. To send me chasing after shadows instead of bringing men like you to justice. But it was all a lie, fake news to discredit anyone who believed it and passed it on.”

When Krycek seemed about to protest, Mulder forged ahead. “Tell me I’m wrong, Krycek. That men like you didn’t abduct Scully or create the super humans or cull the population two weeks ago so they could take over the planet. Tell me you didn’t help them kill the abductees in Kazakhstan and spin that ridiculous story about alien rebels. O’Malley is full of it but he’s right on this.”

“Okay, you’re wrong, Mulder,” said Krycek, still lounging on the couch, though there was now an edge to his voice. “Men like me abducted Scully. Men like Augustus Goldman made hybrid kids who can move toys with their minds, and the super soldiers with metal spines. And a man like Morley can quite happily sit by and watch a tenth of the world population die without even batting an eyelid. But the aliens were real and those things that killed the abductees in Kazakhstan were not human, and they sure as hell had nothing to do with me!”

“Two former U.N. soldiers placed you at the scene when they arrived. You want me to believe you had nothing to do with killing the abductees in Kazakhstan?” asked Mulder angrily. “Then tell me the truth, Krycek!”

Kazakhstan was apparently a sore point because this time, Krycek stood up and there was a flash of anger in his voice. “My men and I were the first on the scene but we didn’t kill those people! The things that did were clones, like your Dr. Secare. Human facsimiles full of toxic green goo.”

“So I’m right! Those so-called alien rebels were human creations. All this was the work of men!”

“No! Not everything!” said Krycek with irritation. “The aliens came. The Greys, and others. Maybe some of them came in peace, I don’t know, but not all of them. I don’t know for sure what they wanted—to take over the planet, to live here, to use it as, I don’t know, a larder, a source of materials, a summer camp? Fuck knows. I know the elders in the Consortium believed the aliens wanted to colonize, but by the time I came on the scene, Morley was the only one who claimed to still be in contact with them. That’s why they kept him around.”

Mulder was listening to Krycek’s speech with rapt fascination, but Krycek suddenly interrupted himself and shook his head. “But that’s all ancient history, Mulder. All that matters now is Morley and your son. Why’s he kept you alive all these years to make you sick now? Why did he tell Scully that only your son can save you? He wants you to find William for him, and we need to know why. I think we should go to Wyoming. I bet he’ll follow us.”

“Go to Wyoming and do what, canvas the area around Devils Tower and hope we stumble across him? Skinner has already sent that picture you made to the local FBI there. We’ll go if they find something. We’re not going to Wyoming just because you had a dream about some kid, Krycek.”

“It wasn’t a dream. You know it wasn’t. It was the same as when I spoke to you. Guess my, I don’t know, consciousness, whatever you want to call it, could project while I was in the tank. Like that quadriplegic soldier you investigated in—I don’t remember when, but it was in your files somewhere. The one who was murdering people from a distance.”

“He was a quadruple amputee, not quadriplegic. But yes, he was capable of astral projection and used that to kill people.” Mulder observed Krycek warily. “Is that what you did?”

“Obviously not. Skinner’s still alive, isn’t he?” Krycek tilted his head to one side and smiled at him. “And so are you.” He looked around the room. “I recognized the house when we got here, but I don’t remember it from when I was alive, do I? It’s taken me a while to remember, but I came here after I died. Guess sometimes I did that ghost thing I did at just the right time, huh?”

“Yeah. I suppose I should thank you,” said Mulder reluctantly. He’d been fervently hoping Krycek didn’t remember that incident. Either way, he sure as hell didn’t want to talk about it now. “Now I need to call Scully and see how she’s doing, so why don’t you go find something to do?”

Krycek hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Sure. Can I go outside? I just—”

He apparently couldn’t think of a good excuse to go out. Mulder wondered if he remembered being in a little glass box for years, immersed in liquid, and now felt an instinctive need to be in a wide open space. He also remembered the hospital, when Scully had apparently needed to sedate Krycek to take the MRI scan. Maybe his experiences had made him claustrophobic.

“Yeah, you can go out,” said Mulder gruffly. “But stay where I can see you.”

Krycek grabbed Mulder’s coat from the peg by the front door and went out. A blast of cold air came in through the door as he opened it and Mulder thought he probably wouldn’t stay outside for very long anyway.

As promised, Krycek didn’t go very far; he stood on the porch and seemed to be merely breathing in the fresh air. Keeping an eye on him through the window, Mulder checked that his perimeter alerts were active—just in case Krycek decided to run away—and then decided he might as well call Scully after all.

“Good timing,” she said. “We’re having a break. How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” said Mulder. “I’ve been asleep most of the afternoon. How’s the hearing?”

“Better than most of the hearings I’ve been to.” She gave him a summary of the CDC meeting she had attended, then asked, “How is Krycek doing?”

“Oh, he’s fine,” said Mulder airily, though he realized as he spoke that he couldn’t see him anymore. Frowning, he stared out and finally spotted him in the field opposite. “He’s outside getting some fresh air. Don’t worry, I’m keeping an eye on him.”

“Any useful information from him?” asked Scully. “I assume you saw Skinner’s email about Webber.”

“Yes.” He gave her a rundown of his conversation with Krycek.

“Cloning tanks? That makes sense,” agreed Scully.

Mulder had a sudden idea. “If Dr. Webber was a clone herself, that could also explain how she could use Eileen O’Shaughnessy’s identity photo as her own. Maybe they’re both clones from the same batch.”

“That’s reaching a little, but it’s not impossible.” Mulder could imagine Scully’s indulgent smile. “Listen, I’m still hoping I’ll only have a meeting in the morning tomorrow. I’ve checked and the trains are running again. Do you think you can pick me up?”

They discussed which train Scully should take and whether the roads would be clear enough for Mulder to drive all the way to get her. Mulder watched Krycek as they talked; he was running his hands through the tops of the immature corn heads, his face raised to the pale early spring sunshine, eyes closed, completely immersed in the sensations. Mulder was reminded of a deafblind child he’d seen in a documentary once, smiling when he touched a new object, delighted by the sensory input into his narrow world. Mulder was starting to think Krycek’s experiences might have changed him more than he thought, and that made him feel oddly sad.

* * * * *

Aliens, faceless rebels, cloning tanks. Mulder couldn’t help smiling as he typed up a report on his laptop in bed later that evening, nice and warm under the covers in a pair of flannel pajamas Scully’s mother had once given him. It really was just like the good old days.

Krycek had cooked their evening meal using a selection of the survival stores Mulder kept in his basement. It was a cold night and Mulder, more mindful of energy saving these days, refused to put the heating on, so they had decided to retire early to their respective bedrooms.

Mulder wondered what Krycek was doing. Driven by curiosity, he inspected the logs on his router. Krycek had been using the tablet on and off all afternoon; most of the traffic was news sites he had found through Google, including Al Jazeera and some sites which turned out to be based in or related to Tunisia. There were some more frivolous visits as well. Krycek had apparently discovered the time sink that was YouTube, watching music videos from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and, amusingly, a selection of humorous cat videos. In the evening, he had moved to different pursuits, visiting the website for Grindr and some other sites Mulder knew quite well.

He felt vaguely dirty for spying on Krycek this way; criminal or not, he did deserve some privacy. Or did he? What rights should he forfeit to pay for his crimes? Mulder pondered the philosophical conundrum for a short while. Then he remembered that Krycek had very probably read every word of Mulder’s NSA file. He continued to inspect the links in Krycek’s browsing history until he thought they were probably even on knowing each other’s porn preferences.

He was about to take off his reading glasses and turn out the light when he heard Krycek go into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Mulder waited to hear if he went back into his room, but instead, Krycek knocked on Mulder’s door and came in. He was still holding a hand towel and stood in the doorway for a moment; he grinned when he took in Mulder’s appearance, sitting up in bed in flannel pajamas and reading glasses.

“Wow, Mulder. You look like my granddad.”

“Thank you,” said Mulder sarcastically. “Now get off my lawn before I wave my walking stick at you.”

Krycek almost seemed about to go, but then leaned against the door frame instead. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other in uncharacteristic hesitation.

“Listen, uh, it’s kind of cold in that room,” he said. “You should use it to store more of that food you have stashed everywhere in case of an alien invasion. I’ll freeze if I sleep in there.”

“You should try thinking warm thoughts,” said Mulder unsympathetically.

Krycek rolled his eyes, but didn’t move. Mulder wondered if it was worth continuing this conversation until Krycek actually came out and said what he wanted. Then on the other hand, it was pretty obvious. Krycek was only wearing a pair of dark red striped briefs and the pink shirt Scully had given him. Mulder observed the towel he was still holding with amusement.

“I assume you’ve got your copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy to go with that towel?”

Krycek gave him a sheepish grin. “Well, it’s true, you always need a towel. Came in handy last night, didn’t it?”

Mulder sighed. He could either tell Krycek to go away and pretend none of it never happened, or he could let Krycek get into bed with him, even though the man’s scurrilous intentions were crystal clear. He folded his reading glasses and put them on the bedside table with his laptop, then shuffled over to one side of the bed.

Well, he thought as he turned out the light and felt Krycek move closer to him, Scully had instructed him to be nice.

Chapter Text

FBI HEADQUARTERS, 1994

“It’s your 302,” said the agent, a tall young man with a thin face and a fifties throwback hairstyle. “Assistant Director Skinner just approved it.”

Mulder looked down at the papers the agent had handed him. “There’s a mistake here. There’s been another agent assigned to the case.”

The man held out his hand. “That would be me.”

* * * * *

MARCH 5TH, 2016

Krycek was fast asleep on his front, arms folded underneath the pillow. The covers were drawn high against the early morning cold, but exposed his upper back, bright in the dim morning light. Sitting against the headboard, Mulder looked down at him, taking this opportunity to admire his even features and reflect on the strange, convoluted path that had led to him lying in bed, naked, with Alex Krycek.

Their second night together in Mulder’s bed had gone very much the same way as the first, though with the added bonus of not needing to be silent. Mulder’s mouth went dry at the memory of the noises Krycek had made when they touched each other in the dark.

* * * * *

NEARLY TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO

“Would I rather burn to death or freeze to death?” repeated Krycek. He scowled at Mulder. “I can’t pick ‘die peacefully in my bed at age one hundred’? What would you pick?”

Mulder wiped the sweat off his brow. Ninety degrees with ninety-seven percent humidity did not make for good conditions for a stakeout. “Well, freezing to death sounds good about now.”

“I was on a stakeout one night back in January, you know, in Salt Lake City, and it was three degrees,” said Krycek. “If we’d been outside, we really would have frozen to death. I was afraid we’d have to start sharing body heat or something. Did you know that the best way to regenerate body heat is to get into a sleeping bag naked with someone else who is naked? You know, like the Inuit.”

“Did you try that pick-up line out on your partner?” asked Mulder with amusement.

Krycek’s look of disgust made Mulder chuckle. “No, he really wasn’t my type.”

“Oh, and what is your type?”

“I don’t really have one,” said Krycek with a shrug. “What about you?”

Mulder noticed the evasion, but he put it down to Krycek’s discomfort with discussing his sexuality.

“Leggy brunettes,” he said without hesitation.

“What about the guy?” asked Krycek after a pause. “You said there had been a guy.”

Mulder remembered their conversation in the bar a few weeks earlier. “Yeah, I guess he was a leggy brunet too,” he said. “It was my girlfriend’s idea, though. She was, uh, full of interesting ideas.”

“Wow. I need to get myself a girlfriend like that.” Krycek gave him a curious look, but before he could say anything more, there was a tap at the window; a pair of their colleagues had come to relieve them. “Oh. Listen, I gotta run — I’ve got a date.”

Mulder doubted that Krycek really was going on dates as often as he said he was. As he drove home, he wondered again what would have happened if Scully hadn’t called just as they were about to kiss in New York. Would Krycek have taken charge like Julian back in the day, or did he prefer to “bottom”? He pictured Krycek not as he had been in the car just now, but as he had appeared in the bar, reckless and—presumably—horny. He mentally matched him up with various types of male partner, and decided he should try to obtain some gay porn for more realistic scenarios.

* * * * *

Krycek yawned and stretched, the muscles in his back flexing under the pale damaged skin.

“Morning,” he mumbled. He gave Mulder a grin. “Glad you changed your mind about this.”

“What can I say, I’m a generous man. You said you weren’t going to get another chance,” said Mulder drowsily. He waved at himself. “And you’re obviously desperate.”

“Yeah, I must be,” agreed Krycek, though he reached out to idly run his fingers through Mulder’s graying chest hairs. “I should have asked Skinner to assign what’s his name, Ken? At least he’s young and handsome.”

“You know Mattel still doesn’t make them with dicks, right?”

Krycek laughed. He slid closer until their bodies were touching under the covers. “In that case, I’m very grateful for your generosity.”

* * * * *

TWENTY-ONE YEARS EARLIER

“You’re staring at me,” said Krycek placidly, not taking his eyes off the road as they headed North from the airport.

“You’re a good-looking kid, you know that,” said Mulder with a sneer.

The streetlamps cast a succession of orange lights and dark shadows on Krycek’s face. He was a good-looking man, thought Mulder, feeling the same surprising pinch of desire he’d felt when he first saw Krycek in Kallenchuck’s office in Hong Kong the day before. It was just typical. He hadn’t been particularly attracted to him when Krycek seemed to be a clean-cut FBI agent, but wrap him in a leather jacket and tight jeans, and Mulder’s libido perked up.

He remembered the night of his father’s murder; Krycek lying on the hood of a car, face bloodied and legs entwined with Mulder’s, strangely passive under Mulder’s violent onslaught. That memory had taken on a troublingly erotic connotation in the intervening months, and Mulder was disturbed to be faced with the man in the flesh.

“I always wondered if you were attracted to me,” said Krycek casually.

Mulder laughed. “You’re kidding, right? You’re the one who tried to get in my pants.” He observed Krycek’s delicate profile. “Are you even gay?”

“Does it matter?” Krycek gave Mulder a sly sideways glance; his eyes seemed unnaturally dark in the changing light. “Good way to get a bleeding-heart Liberal to trust me, though.”

* * * * *

“So you really like guys, huh?” said Mulder.

He shifted away from Krycek’s touch, reminding himself sternly that Krycek was still the man who pulled the trigger the night his father died. It was easier to forget what he was doing when it happened in the dark; a full technicolor rematch with Krycek’s face clearly visible would be harder to ignore. He hoped that engaging Krycek in conversation would stave off a repeat of their nighttime occupations.

Krycek picked up on Mulder’s physical cues and removed his hand from Mulder’s chest.

“Yeah, I like guys,” he said, leaning up on one elbow. He frowned. “But you always knew that, right?”

“Yes,” said Mulder. “Well, no. There was that thing with Marita Covarrubias.”

“Oh, we weren’t that close.” Krycek shrugged then paused a moment. “Mulder—You know that time I came here, when I was a ghost—”

Oh god. Mulder very much did not want to talk about that, especially right now. He sat up on the edge of the bed, irritated that Krycek of all people had been witness to what was definitely a low point in his life.

“Is that, I mean, something you actually, usually—do?”

“No,” said Mulder sharply. He shivered in the cold air and looked around for clothes; the only ones within reach were his granddad pajamas, so he stood up to pull on the flannel pants.

“Then what the hell were you doing?” exclaimed Krycek, and even with his back to him, Mulder could imagine the crease across his nose. “I mean, I’ve known people who were into that kind of thing but they took precautions. They sure as hell didn’t do it alone in a house in the middle of nowhere! You could have died!”

“Yeah.” Mulder decided that a brief explanation might shut Krycek up before he felt the need to mention it to anyone. Scully, for instance. He turned and looked Krycek in the eye. “Look, it was an experiment. Someone once hinted that was the way I would die and I—I was curious. Bored, too, I guess. So let’s forget about it.”

“Right. Okay,” said Krycek, and Mulder didn’t think he was faking the relief in his voice. His expression softened. “You always worried me, Mulder. I never knew what crazy shit you were going to pull next.”

“Maybe you and Scully should get together and compare notes,” grumbled Mulder. He didn’t know whether to continue dressing or get back into bed with Krycek.

“Yeah, we have a lot in common.” Krycek looked over Mulder’s bare torso appreciatively and wet his lips. “We’ve both seen you naked, we both think you’re an idiot. Speaking of which, when’s she coming back?”

“This afternoon. She’ll text me when she’s on the train and we’ll drive down to get her.”

Krycek gave him a mischievous look. “Great. That gives us plenty of time on our own. So why don’t we make the most of it?”

Before Mulder could protest, Krycek kneeled on the bed and leaned over to lick one of Mulder’s nipples. It was an area that generally hadn’t interested his girlfriends and Mulder gasped, not just at the unfamiliar sensation, but at the image that accompanied it. He sensed that his current view of Krycek, eyes downcast and tongue extended, would stay seared in his memory, much as the memory of Krycek looking up at him with a devilish grin had remained with him for twenty years.

Oh, what the hell. He was old and sick, and Krycek had been tortured for years, and to be honest, Mulder wanted him. Another roll in the hay wouldn’t make things any worse than they already were. He let Krycek guide him back onto the bed, lying flat on his back with his head on the pillow. He curled his fingers into Krycek’s soft hair—so different from last time—and closed his eyes to enjoy the sensation.

* * * * *

NOVEMBER 25TH, 1996

The persistent hum of the airplane’s engines gradually bore into Mulder’s awareness as he drifted out of sleep. Something was touching him, dragging him out of his exhausted nap. He opened his eyes and was instantly awake when he remembered where he was and why; on a 10-hour flight to Moscow, in pursuit of an elusive tipoff about the Tunguska meteorite.

And handcuffed to Alex Krycek, who was currently leaning over him and had his free hand in Mulder’s pocket.

“What the hell?” snapped Mulder, though he kept his voice down. He’d convinced the girl at the check-in desk to give them seats right at the back, where no one else was sitting, so he could keep Krycek under control without creating a scene on the half-empty flight, but he still needed to keep them both quiet.

Krycek grinned at him, apparently not at all put out by being caught in the act. “I need the bathroom,” he said in a low voice. “I’m looking for the key.”

“That’s not the key,” said Mulder. He looked Krycek straight in the eye and tried not to squirm when the man wriggled his fingers.

“Hmm.” Krycek ran his tongue over his lips. “Just checking.”

Mulder exhaled involuntarily but held Krycek’s gaze. “Sure, be my guest.”

Okay, not a stellar piece of repartee. He was determined not to give Krycek the satisfaction of a violent response that would attract the attention of the other people on the plane, and worked on keeping his face stoic. Krycek moved his hand, dropping the pretense of searching the pocket. He seemed very amused when Mulder gasped, even though he was panting slightly too. This was ridiculously hot.

Struggling to regain his composure, Mulder decided two could play this game. He lifted the hand attached to Krycek’s wrist and placed it in the bristles at the back of his head.

“Why don’t you take a closer look, Krycek?” he said, pushing him down. “Get some practice in before they send you to jail. Pretty face like yours, I reckon you’ll be spending a lot of time on your knees.”

Krycek resisted the movement, pushing back against Mulder’s hand with all his strength, but there was a dangerous excitement in his eyes.

“Oh yeah, Mulder, tell me all your fantasies about me,” he purred hoarsely. He was still breathing heavily and yeah, this was the hottest thing that had happened to Mulder in years. Then Krycek suddenly pulled his hand out of Mulder’s pocket and held it out with a wicked grin. “But maybe wait until I’m back from the bathroom. Key, please.”

* * * * *

When Mulder opened his eyes again, Krycek was leaning over him, frowning with concern. Krycek was still naked and Mulder was in his pajama pants, so he hoped he hadn’t been asleep for long.

“Hi,” he said groggily. “Sorry. Another nap attack.”

“You’ve been having a lot of those lately,” said Krycek, relaxing a little. “I’m trying not to take it personally.”

Mulder chuckled. “Oh no. You’re never boring, Krycek.”

“Alex.”

“No, you’re Alex, I’m Mulder,” said Mulder teasingly.

“Yeah, I guess you are Mulder—” Krycek smirked. “—somewhere under all those wrinkles.”

“Watch it, kiddo,” said Mulder. “I’ve just had a power nap.”

With that, he pushed Krycek and rolled them both over so he ended up on top, their bare chests pressed together.

“Ow!” Krycek hissed in pain as his back made contact with the sheets.

Mulder immediately rolled off him again. “Oh, sorry.”

“S’okay,” said Krycek glumly, turning onto his side. “Not quite healed yet.”

“Here, let me look.”

Krycek resumed his earlier position, on his front with his arms folded under the pillow. Mulder gently removed the dressing Scully had put on one of the sores; it was less raw than it had been the first day, but still looked painful. He leaned up on one arm and gently ran his fingers down Krycek’s spine. When he realized what he was doing, he stopped, the image of Scully’s trademark look of disappointment and disbelief hovering in his mind.

“Hey, keep going,” protested Krycek. His face was half buried in the pillow and he looked deliciously relaxed. “More of that and I’ll be feeling fine in no time.”

Mulder chuckled and, firmly pushing Scully’s censorious image from his mind, he rolled the covers down to expose the whole of Krycek’s back. Krycek shivered in the cold air but didn’t complain. The sores were only on his shoulder blades, so Mulder was able to apply more pressure to the small of his back, kneading it in a semblance of a proper massage.

* * * * *

NOVEMBER 25TH, 1996
MOSCOW, 11:25 PM

“Mulder.”

Krycek’s voice broke into the darkness of their twin hotel room.

“Mulder!”

Mulder tried to ignore him in the hope he would go away. Like that ever worked for anything.

“Hey, asshole!”

“What?”

“Oh good. A name you’ll answer to. Listen, my wrist is killing me. There’s no way I can sleep like this.”

“Try counting sheep.”

Krycek muttered some no doubt choice expletives in Russian and maybe even some other languages. Mulder lay in his own bed on the other side of the room, trying to sleep despite his earlier nap on the long flight to Moscow. Taking Krycek with him had seemed like a good idea at the time. The man did speak Russian, even though Mulder was beginning to think from the puzzled looks he’d been getting that Krycek’s Russian was not as good as he was letting on. But now, he was wondering if this was all a mistake.

He heard Krycek shifting about in the bed; the sheets were make of some kind of polyester that occasionally sparked when he moved.

“Go to sleep, Krycek. What the hell are you doing anyway?”

“Jerking off,” said Krycek angrily. Though he obviously didn’t mean it literally, Mulder had to suppress the arousing image that sprang into his imagination. “What the fuck do you think I’m doing, Mulder? It’s like, what, the middle of the afternoon back home, and I slept all day on the plane after you kept me in your car half the night. And it’s weird, you know, I don’t sleep great with my wrist chained to a bed!”

Mulder felt a pang of misgiving; Krycek’s wrist had looked very raw when he fastened the handcuff to the frame of the bed. On the other hand, if he freed Krycek, he would probably run away and disappear. Or worse. He thought about the courier thrown over Skinner’s balcony; how could he even be sure Krycek wouldn’t murder him in his sleep?

“Can’t believe you dragged me all the way to Russia just to chain me to a bed,” continued Krycek. “And not even in a kinky way.”

“What were you hoping for, Krycek, sightseeing?” asked Mulder. “Getting someone to snap a romantic shot of us in Red Square?”

Krycek huffed with irritation and grumbled another insult. Mulder lay in silence for a while, thinking about the rushed events of the last forty-eight hours. Now he was relaxing in a bed, his mind was clearer and a niggling doubt resurfaced that had been hovering at the edge of his awareness ever since he decided to take Krycek with him.

“Where were your parents from, Krycek?”

“Bratislava.”

“Is that far from here?”

“A bit, yeah.” It was hard to tell in the dark, but Mulder thought Krycek was laughing at him.

It took Mulder a moment to realize that Bratislava was the capital of the newly independent Slovakia. Only now did his supposedly eidetic memory supply the information that Krycek’s FBI file did in fact mention that his parents were originally from Czechoslovakia.

“You lying scumsucker, Krycek!”

Krycek laughed out loud. “Never said I was Russian! And I still speak better Russian than you do. Good night, Mulder.”

* * * * *

Mulder planned to take his time and explore Krycek’s body more thoroughly, but he had forgotten one major aspect of actually having sex rather than fantasizing about it: the other person usually had their own agenda. Before he could go any further, Krycek reared up onto his knees and wrestled Mulder onto his back again, engaging him in an eager kiss.

Mulder’s years of porn-watching supplied a selection of possible next steps, though the reality of trying to apply some of them to this situation gave him pause. Missing paraphernalia crossed his mind: protection, lubrication, all those things that magically appeared on people in porn movies and none of which he had to hand.

Remembering Krycek’s clean bill of health from the hospital, Mulder was just wondering if Brokeback Mountain was a realistic portrayal of gay sex, and how gay people went about negotiating sexual encounters to decide who would do what, when Krycek broke the kiss.

He nuzzled the top of Mulder’s chest and brushed his cheek against the wiry hairs on his pecs. Then he took a quick look at Mulder, maybe to make sure he was still awake, and, with a grin, placed his face above Mulder’s flannel pants, and lifted up the waistband.

* * * * *

TWENTY YEARS AGO

“Спасибо,” said Krycek with a laugh, raising his glass and downing it in one go. He caught Mulder’s eye and gave him an insolent smile before saying something that made their hosts laugh. Their daughter stared at him adoringly, pausing in the drawing she was doing.

“Krycek,” growled Mulder in a warning tone.

Covarrubias had done an outstanding job of organizing their travel and accommodation, booking a hotel for their layover in Moscow and somehow arranging for a place to stay here in Vanavara, a small rural settlement 40 miles away from the site of the Tunguska meteorite crash.

Right until they left their hotel in Moscow that morning, Mulder had felt confident that he had the situation under control, Krycek’s deception about his origins notwithstanding. But once they left the cosmopolitan metropolis behind, he started to realize how vulnerable he was in a country where he couldn’t even decipher the road signs. Their hosts in Vanavara were a couple who appeared to speak no English at all. He was entirely dependent on Krycek and that was making him cranky.

“I think it’s time we turned in,” he said, grabbing Krycek’s arm. “Say goodnight!”

Krycek glanced at him and shrugged. He said something as he got up that could have been “good night” or just as easily might have been “I’m going to strangle this dickhead in his sleep.”

The couple and their daughter smiled at him and repeated the words, and another brief conversation broke out. Perhaps sensing Mulder’s impatience, Krycek cut it short and followed him to the empty house opposite which was to be their accommodation for the night.

As soon as they were alone outside, Mulder grabbed Krycek and shoved him against the wall, arm up against the man’s chest.

“What the hell was all that about?” he demanded. “What did you tell them?”

“Oh, this again.” Krycek rolled his eyes, his breath frosting in the cold air. “Why don’t you just fuck me already?”

The words hit Mulder like a blow to the gut. Or maybe slightly lower. “Sure, turn around.”

“Fuck off!”

Maybe he wasn’t the only one who was feeling cranky. Krycek shoved him, but Mulder seized his wrists and used his whole body to pin him to the wall. A fleeting look of surprise on Krycek’s face was quickly replaced with a confident smirk.

Then suddenly, their mouths and tongues were touching, a raw and unsophisticated kiss that seemed to send electricity through Mulder’s veins. Startled, he relaxed his grip and Krycek seized the chance to break free, running his hands into Mulder’s hair to hold his head still as he deepened the kiss.

Mulder broke away and wiped his mouth in disgust. Krycek laughed at him. Mildly inebriated and thoroughly exasperated after two days of the man’s constant company, Mulder pushed down on Krycek’s shoulder.

“Why don’t you put that mouth to better use, Krycek?”

“Yeah. I bet you’ve fantasized about this,” sneered Krycek.

Mulder thought Krycek would resist and put an end to this madness, but instead, he gave Mulder another smug smile and crouched down in the light snow. Mulder watched in astonishment as Krycek reached for his belt buckle and looked up at him, eyes bright beneath the thick eyelashes, his white teeth bared in a confident smile. Oh yes, Mulder had fantasized about this.

Krycek’s stupid-ass military haircut felt bristly under Mulder’s hands, but it was the combination of the sensation with the visuals that really got him. Even the cold November air did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. This was good. Amazing, in fact. Quite possibly the best he’d ever had.

He came back to Earth with a thud when it was over, though, disgusted at himself for letting this happen. Letting his father’s murderer blow him in the middle of rural Russia. Mulder turned away to do up his pants while Krycek spat in the snow and stood up. He put his hand on Mulder’s shoulder but Mulder shook him off.

“What the hell?” exclaimed Krycek angrily. He grabbed Mulder and pushed him against the wall in an echo of their earlier positions. Mulder turned his head when Krycek tried to force him into another kiss.

“You think I’m going to get you off, Krycek?” Mulder wrestled with him and forced the handcuffs back on, hands behind his back, still angry at Krycek and angry himself for giving in. “You’re a liar and a murderer. You don’t deserve anything!”

He was tempted to handcuff Krycek to something and leave him in the snow, but instead, he pushed him toward their accommodation, ignoring the man’s curses.

* * * * *

“Didn’t fall asleep this time,” said Krycek, emerging from under the covers. He wiped his mouth on the towel and lay down on his side beside Mulder. “I think that’s progress.”

“That was kind of hard to ignore,” said Mulder breathlessly.

He ran his hand through Krycek’s soft hair and debated what to do. On the one hand, Krycek was his prisoner and none of this was supposed to be for his benefit. On the other— well, Krycek wasn’t quite the same person he’d been in Russia.

Krycek stroked Mulder’s arm. “C’mon, man, touch me,” he said softly.

Mulder curled his fingers around the nape of Krycek’s neck and pulled him closer. Krycek’s delighted smile, so different from his usual sardonic expression, told him he was making the right decision. He kissed Krycek deeply and reached down awkwardly between them.

* * * * *

THREE YEARS AGO

“Christ, what were you doing?”

Mulder stared at the figure leaning over him. Krycek seemed real enough, but somehow, Mulder knew he wasn’t. Aside from the fact that he had watched the man die a decade earlier, Mulder knew he was fairly drunk, sitting alone on his porch in the fading heat of summer. This had to be a hallucination.

“You’re not real,” he said accusingly.

“Maybe I’m not. But I’m real enough to stop you doing dumb things. You are such an idiot!”

“You blew me once,” said Mulder, the memory suddenly vivid.

“So I’m an idiot too,” said Krycek. “You’re the one whose body was going to be found on the porch in—whenever we are.”

“Home sweet home. The middle of nowhere.” Mulder sighed. “The old man was right. Clyde Bruckman. It would be an undignified way to die. You’d think God would have sent Michael Hutchence or David Carradine to save me, though. I mean, why do you care?”

“I don’t,” said Krycek.

Mulder rubbed his eyes and decided he might as well make the most of this hallucination. “So, Krycek, what is death like?”

But as he looked up, he realized that Krycek was gone.

Chapter Text

“Okay, call when you’re there and we’ll come get you, Scully,” said Mulder. “See you this afternoon.”

He put down the phone on his bedside table with a sigh. Scully’s call had interrupted his cozy morning in bed with Krycek and he could hear the shower running in the bathroom. He rubbed his own stubbly face and decided to go in and shave.

He stood in the doorway for a moment when he entered, watching Krycek in the shower. He had removed the bandages on his back, exposing skin that was deathly pale and marred with red patches. His left hand was also uncovered, the gash across the palm red and crisscrossed with the butterfly bandages Scully had applied a few days earlier. The water streamed down the dent along his spine and into the dark hairs on his buttocks and legs.

Mulder paused to look at himself in the mirrored cabinet above the sink. A sudden impulse had made him dye his hair before rejoining the FBI two months earlier—much to Scully’s amusement—but the color had washed out now, exposing the thin grey strands peppered through his otherwise brown hair. There were dark circles under his eyes and the wrinkles around his mouth seemed more pronounced than he remembered from before his sickness. He thought about Krycek’s passionate kisses earlier that day, and wondered if those were really meant for him or if he was just a convenient body to hold after years of isolation.

And what about his own motivation? He was supposed to be guarding Krycek so they could extract information, and he had extracted practically nothing from him—no information, anyway, Mulder thought with a smirk—which reminded him that he should wash the sheets and towels. Maybe when he wasn’t feeling so tired.

Mulder opened the bathroom cabinet to retrieve a fresh can of shaving cream. He smiled wryly at the bottle of sleeping pills he kept there; he hadn’t been needing those recently. When he closed the cabinet, Krycek was reflected in the mirror, watching him through the glass shower door, his face just visible in the steam. There was a thoughtful, serious expression on his features, as if he was remembering something that didn’t make him happy. He lowered his eyes when he realized Mulder was watching him.

Was he regretting past crimes or merely what they’d done? Rethinking his seduction of a middle-aged man who had once left him locked in a silo and then abandoned him to have his arm chopped off? Oh, and who had also stood by and watched while he was shot and murdered.

Krycek started to wash his hair, turning away to face the showerhead. Mulder lathered on some shaving cream, his mood dampened by the weight of their common history.

“Hey, Mulder,” said Krycek after a while, raising his voice over the noise of the shower.

Mulder dried his face on a towel and turned to look at him. Though the shower was still on, Krycek had opened the door and was facing him, hands on his hips, brazenly parading his nakedness.

“Think you could give me a hand?”

Mulder looked down and laughed. “You’re insatiable! What did they do, revive you with Viagra?”

He stripped out of his pajama pants. Krycek watched him appraisingly; whatever mood he’d been in earlier seemed to be gone now, and Mulder dismissed his own misgivings. So what if he was in his mid-fifties, with graying hair and dark circles under his eyes? Until the sickness afflicted him a couple of weeks earlier, he had taken good care of his body, exercising regularly to maintain his musculature. Age might have made some of his skin sag in places, and maybe caused him to put on a few pounds, but nothing had shrunk.

“You know, you don’t look bad for an old man,” said Krycek when Mulder approached him.

“You don’t look bad for a dead man.”

Krycek chuckled. He gathered some soap in his hand and slowly rubbed it over his chest and stomach, and then, deliberately making eye contact with Mulder, lower down.

Mulder reflected that it was unfortunate that his first sexual partner in years happened to come along just when he was suffering from an apparently incurable disease. At least, that was the most logical explanation he could think of for his lack of arousal right at this moment. He could feel the sickness creeping up on him again, making him lethargic; he would need another round of treatment by the end of the day. He still watched Krycek with interest, though, knowing that as soon as he was feeling better, this particular memory would be on his nighttime fantasy playlist.

“So, you gonna help?” said Krycek, smirking at Mulder. “Seeing as you’ve got nothing to take care of yourself.”

Mulder stepped in and hissed as the warm water hit his chest. He had gotten a large shower back in the day so he could take showers with Scully—something they both enjoyed—but Scully was about half the size of Krycek. It was only just big enough for two grown men who didn’t mind a lot of body contact.

“Zombies,” he said as he replaced Krycek’s hand with his.

“Zombies?” repeated Krycek with a frown.

“I’ve always had this theory that when zombies come back from the dead, they’ll want to do all the things they did when they were alive. So, first, they’re going to eat, then they’re going to drink, and then they’re going to screw.”

“Right, so in the movies, they never get past the eating stage?” asked Krycek a little breathlessly.

“Yes. Okay, so you’re not a flesh-eating monster. But you still prove my point. You were dead and now you’re revived. You’ve been eating like a horse and you’re constantly horny.”

“I’ve always been constantly horny, Mulder,” chuckled Krycek. He stroked Mulder’s chest, playing with the hairs plastered to his pectoral muscles. “And I’m not the only one, am I? Do you still watch porn?”

“Sometimes,” said Mulder noncommittally, even though it was more like “every day.”

Krycek’s grin widened. “You ever watch guys together?”

“Sometimes,” said Mulder, wishing he hadn’t already used that answer. “Do you ever watch guys and girls together?”

“I used to. It was easier to get. Less risky too. I don’t really like porn much.” Krycek closed his eyes a moment. “Oh. I mean, I do, everyone does. But it’s hard to find stuff I really like.”

Mulder decided not to mention that he knew everything he needed to know about the “stuff” Krycek really liked thanks to his router logs. Except for the focus on men with men, what was there was surprisingly mundane.

“Scully finds porn boring,” said Mulder, switching hands to get a better angle. “She says sex scenes are more interesting if the characters speak to each other. Says twenty minutes of ‘grunting and humping’ doesn’t do it for her.”

“She’s missing the point of porn.” Krycek groaned and gripped Mulder’s arm. “Oh. Besides, that wouldn’t be very, uh, realistic. Guys don’t talk much during sex.”

“Depends on the guy,” said Mulder with amusement.

Krycek chuckled and leaned over to kiss Mulder. Mulder let Krycek push him up against the wall of the shower stall, enjoying the unusual feeling of kissing someone who was as tall as he was—maybe even a little taller—after years with Scully. Krycek kissed him sloppily, all open mouth and wet tongue, eyes closed and arms flung around his neck, his hips moving to the increasingly rapid pace of Mulder’s hand. There was a desperate artlessness to his kiss now that made Mulder wonder if Krycek was still thinking about whatever had made him look so miserable earlier.

“Oh. Oh, god,” was all Krycek said a moment later, his face hidden against Mulder’s shoulder. He disengaged himself abruptly from Mulder’s embrace and turned his face up to the shower.

Mulder wiped his mouth. “You kiss like a teenager, Krycek,” he said, annoyed to be talking to Krycek’s back all of a sudden.

Krycek laughed and gave him the finger over his shoulder but didn’t turn around. Feeling dismissed, Mulder washed quickly and stepped out. He went to dress in the bedroom; Krycek joined him a short moment later, still wrapped in a towel but carrying clothes retrieved from the guest room.

“Shame they didn’t revive you with Viagra back in the day,” he commented, pulling on a fresh pair of underwear. “First you fall asleep on me and then you’re not even interested. I’m thinking you really are just doing this to make me happy.”

“Sure, Krycek,” said Mulder sarcastically. “Because I am totally motivated by your happiness.”

Krycek pulled on his shirt and pants, then sat on the bed to put on his socks. “Oh, so what is this all about? Curiosity? Wanna know what it’s like with a guy?” He gave Mulder a curious look. “Except you told me you already did a guy, back in the day. The one that was your girlfriend’s idea?”

“Yeah, like I’m going to tell you about it.”

* * * * *

PARK TOWN, OXFORD
UNITED KINGDOM
1984

“But if she crushes the miners, she’ll be destroying those communities, maybe permanently!”

“Oh, come on, Piggers,” drawled Julian, draped over the sofa, his feet on Phoebe’s lap, “who gives a toss about some bloody Welsh sheep-shaggers and brooding Northerners? Coal is over now we have North Sea oil. Without the unions stifling innovation and putting their oar in every time anyone tries to do anything the least bit productive in this country, there will be plenty of jobs for anyone who gets on their bike and retrains.”

“And that concludes tonight’s party political broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party,” said Phoebe with a laugh.

“You don’t care. You can always go and join the European Community gravy train with your dear old dad.” Julian fixed his languid gaze on Mulder. “What do you think, Fox? You’re from the country of unfettered, heartless capitalism. Should Thatcher avoid confrontation with the coal miners or crush them and their obsolete way of life?”

“Um, well, I—I don’t know—” stammered Mulder, unnerved by the sudden attention of the small group. He’d been enjoying the quiet buzz of the marijuana they were passing around and had no strong opinions about miners.

“Oh, leave him alone, poor sausage,” said Phoebe. She held out her hand to him and he slipped off his chair. With Julian occupying most of the sofa, Mulder had to sit on the floor and Phoebe leaned down over Julian’s feet to wrap her arm around him from behind. “Don’t pay any attention to them, darling.”

He raised his head and she kissed him deeply. The lace veil on her pillbox hat tickled his forehead. She handed him the spliff she was holding and sat back again to participate in the political debate, ignoring Mulder, who sat quietly at her feet.

“Is your name really Fox?” asked the earnest young man they’d been arguing with as he prepared to leave, the last stalwart of their party—except for Julian.

“That’s a rich question coming from a man called Piggers,” laughed Julian, still lounging on the sofa and Phoebe’s lap.

“You could just call me Adrian, Ju,” grumbled the man, pulling on his coat. “Anyway, I’ve got to shoot off. Stuff to do, barmaids to shag and all that rot.”

Once “Piggers” had left, Phoebe shooed Julian’s feet off her lap and went to change the record. Mulder watched her shimmy the LP out of its cardboard sleeve and the delicate paper one inside. She kept the fragile vinyl balanced on her thumb and middle finger as she slid it onto the turntable, and then carefully dropped the needle into the groove at the outer edge.

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She’s got Bette Davis eyes

Mulder expected Phoebe to come back to the sofa, but she lit a cigarette and leaned against the bookcase where the record player sat. With her tight-fitting tailored suit, veiled hat and lace gloves, she looked like the femme fatale in an old movie.

He knew they’d be breaking up soon. He had already booked his one-way flight back to the United States, scheduled after his graduation ceremony, and he knew neither of them intended to prolong this as a long-distance relationship. But even so, as he admired her slender hips encased in a tight pencil skirt, he felt a familiar burning desire to let her consume him with her dangerous games.

While he was distracted, Julian changed position so he was lying in the other direction and could murmur in Mulder’s ear.

“Your girlfriend wants me to shag you, Foxy boy.”

Surprised, Mulder turned toward him and Julian took the opportunity to draw him into a deep kiss.

She’ll take a tumble on you
Roll you like you were dice
Until you come out blue
She’s got Bette Davis eyes

Had there been any warning, Mulder would have balked and maybe even freaked out, all the ingrained stereotypes of American masculinity coming to the fore. But there was no time for that; Julian’s tongue was already in his mouth, his hand descending into the gap of Mulder’s partially unbuttoned shirt. Mulder slid his hand up to cup Julian’s head and kiss him back.

* * * * *

“So what happened next?” asked Krycek eagerly.

“We had sex,” said Mulder simply.

Krycek smiled. “Did he fuck you?”

They had finally been driven downstairs by hunger and were having lunch in the kitchen. Or maybe brunch, since it consisted of everything Mulder could find in his freezer that didn’t require complicated cooking. They had found an old card table in his shed, inherited from his mother’s bridge-playing days; it was wobbly and smelled musty, but it was better than trying to eat at his desk.

“That’s none of your business,” said Mulder, wishing he hadn’t given in to Krycek’s demands and told him anything at all.

He realized what conclusion Krycek would draw from his elusive answer. Deciding he didn’t want to deal with the ramifications, he added, “No, he didn’t. It was all very Brideshead Revisited. British novel involving a homoerotic relationship,” he explained at Krycek’s blank look. “They made a TV series of it that I watched when I was in England in the early eighties.”

“I wanted to move to England in the early eighties,” said Krycek, cutting a hash brown with the side of his fork.

“Because of Depeche Mode?”

“And The Human League, and Queen, and Duran Duran,” said Krycek with a chuckle. “It just sounded better than the redneck-infested dump I was living in at the time.”

Mulder nodded. “I liked England. But I never felt really at home there. You want to listen to some music?”

Krycek looked amused by the change of subject. “Okay, bring it on.”

Mulder fiddled with his phone and pressed play on a song he’d found the day before. Krycek rolled his eyes as soon as the first bar played over the Bluetooth speakers and muttered an insult under his breath.

“Is this the song that guy played in the record store?” asked Mulder innocently. “I googled ‘Worst song by Depeche Mode’ and this came up.”

Sometimes watch you walk the street at midnight
Sometimes I can feel you in the air
Looking good knew you would
All the time I understood

“Oh god, it’s even worse than I remembered,” groaned Krycek. “Turn it off!”

“I don’t know, I think it’s quite catchy. It has a certain Casiotone vibe to it. I listened to it on the headphones while you were setting up the table,” said Mulder, leaving it on. “I can see why the guy played it for you.”

“I said, turn it off!” insisted Krycek.

Krycek lunged at him across the table and they got into a brief struggle until Mulder let him wrestle the phone from his hands. Krycek skipped to the next song.

“Bad memories?” asked Mulder with a laugh.

“Bad song,” said Krycek. He gave Mulder a sheepish grin. “But good memories.”

* * * * *

CAPITOL HILL, SEATTLE
APRIL 1982

Alex rubbed his hands to warm them up a bit and then started flicking through the records, enjoying the little puff of air as each one collapsed onto the one in front. He was amazed at the number of albums in the Electronic Imports bin. He couldn’t afford any of them with the money he had taken, but at least he could look at the covers and stare at the band picture on the back when there was one, a small window into a whole exotic world of men in makeup and tough-looking women.

The music playing over the loudspeakers changed to an artificial electronic beat and dissonant male voice that made him smile. Yeah, this was his kind of music. None of that whiny country and folk crap Mom and Bob listened to, but a clinical, industrial sound that matched the new world of computers and machines they lived in. What was left of it before the US and Soviet Union went at it and obliterated the whole human race.

Hey you’re such a pretty boy
Hey you’re such a pretty boy
Hey you’re such a pretty boy
You’re so pretty

Alex’s heart skipped a beat. Was this really a man singing about another man? He looked up, trying to find the source of the music, and noticed a tall man with brown hair and a mustache standing by the desk where the small store’s record player stood. The man caught his gaze and held it, and Alex felt his pulse quicken. Oh ho, things were looking up already. Maybe this trip to Seattle on a rainy cold day wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Alex looked the man up and down, taking in his tight straight-legged jeans and the hairy chest exposed by his partially opened shirt. He pretended to look at the records again, unsure of what to do. The truck stop on the I-5 was his territory; he knew where to go, where to wait when he’d caught someone’s eye, could even guess how the moment would go. But this was the big city, where anything might happen. This guy could just as easily be looking to sell him drugs or steal all his stuff. He clutched his bag closer between his knees and tensed when the man approached.

“Hi. You like electronic music?”

Alex shrugged. He was looking at the electronic music section. Cool move, Einstein.

“They’re a new band from England, Depeche Mode,” continued the man, pronouncing the band’s name with a French accent. “You like it? Actually, this song’s kind of shitty, like the bastard child of Gary Numan and Buddy Holly. But I just thought of it when I saw you come in just now.”

The chorus was playing again—hey, you’re such a pretty boy—and Alex gave the man a little smile. It amused him to think how pissed Bob would be if he knew Alex was standing in a record store in downtown Seattle being serenaded with some of that “degenerate faggot music” he hated so much.

“Are they queer?” he asked.

“Don’t know.” The man flicked through the albums in front of Alex and pulled out an LP with a red cover that depicted some kind of swan. “Probably.”

* * * * *

Are they queer?” asked Mulder, interrupting Krycek’s reminiscences.

“Who, Depeche Mode?” Krycek shook his head. “No. The guy who wrote all their songs on the first album was Vince Clarke, who created Erasure later with Andy Bell, who is gay. But Clarke and the rest of Depeche Mode are straight.”

“So what did the guy say next?”

* * * * *

“That’s quite a shiner you’ve got there,” said the man, putting the album down again.

Shit. Alex had forgotten about that. He hadn’t looked at himself since he woke up at the bus station that morning. He instinctively tried to turn so his black eye was less visible. But then he remembered that the guy had no way to know how he’d gotten it, so he straightened up and gave the man a defiant look.

“You should have seen the other guy,” he said.

That wasn’t untrue. Bob had been quite a sight, sprawled on the floor, his fat face red with rage. Alex’s grin widened at the memory.

“Uh huh." The man nodded. "You going somewhere, or you staying around here?”

“Gonna visit my aunt in Kirkdale.”

“Kirkdale, huh? Nice area.” The man chuckled. “That’s where I live. Maybe I can give you a lift to your aunt’s later.”

Oh, crap. Alex had only said the name because he’d seen a bus go past that went there. He looked down at his worn bell-bottom jeans and winter coat; yeah, he didn’t look like someone who was going to a nice area. He flicked through the albums again, hoping the man would go away and leave him alone.

“Well, since you’re visiting downtown Seattle on your way, maybe I can show you around first,” said the man. “Name’s Rich, by the way.”

Alex wondered if he was supposed to shake the guy’s hand or something, but the man kept his hands in his pockets. Introductions seemed a bit weird. It wasn’t like he needed to know the guy’s name.

“Alex,” he said awkwardly, because he liked his name and it was common enough that using an alias seemed unnecessary.

The song on the loudspeakers was repeating its chorus and fading out. Rich looked Alex over and seemed to come to a decision.

“Listen, I know a nice place around the corner if you want to grab some lunch.”

Alex perked up at the mention of lunch. He’d gotten himself a bagel for breakfast, but he knew his money wouldn’t last long if he kept spending it on meals. A free lunch sounded good. He mumbled a thanks and nodded.

It was raining outside and Rich said he knew a shortcut through the alley near the store. Okay, this was more familiar. When they entered the alley, a dark, secluded spot between two blind buildings, Rich turned toward him and Alex took his cue. He put his bag down and stood on the strap so no one would steal it while he wasn’t looking, and reached for Rich’s belt.

“Hey, whoa! Easy there,” said Rich taking a step back. He frowned. “You hustling?”

“What? No! I’m not a lot lizard!” Alex felt his cheeks burn. He picked up his bag. “Screw this.”

Rich grabbed his arm. “Hey, I’m just offering you lunch, kid. No funny business. How old are you, anyway?”

“Twenty-one,” said Alex, on the off-chance that Rich might also offer him a drink.

Rich let go of his arm and smiled indulgently. “You could have said eighteen, I might have believed you.”

“Okay, so I’m eighteen,” said Alex ruefully. He was nearly six feet tall and his brother Martin had had the same terrible acne into his twenties, so he thought he probably looked eighteen.

“Eighteen going on what—fifteen, sixteen?” said Rich with amusement. “C’mon, I’ll buy you lunch and then you can call your folks and tell them you’re okay. And maybe we’ll get you a room at the Y so you can decide if you really do want to do this running away thing.”

* * * * *

“So then he bought me lunch and gave me a quarter to call my mom,” concluded Krycek.

“You were lucky you met him and not some pervert who did want sex,” said Mulder.

“Yeah.” Krycek shook his head and chuckled. “Well, actually... After I called my mom, he took me back to a room he rented nearby and we screwed like bunnies.” He grinned at Mulder’s dismayed expression. “Can’t complain. I got a tape of Depeche Mode’s album out of it.”

“I had no idea you were such a slut,” said Mulder, a little shocked by Krycek’s story.

“Not everyone prefers a relationship with their right hand, you know. Especially at sixteen.” Krycek narrowed his eyes and observed Mulder with a shrewd expression. “I bet you were a late bloomer. How old were you when you started dating?”

“That’s none of your goddamn business, Krycek,” said Mulder gruffly.

“Let me guess,” said Krycek playfully. “I know, thirty-four!”

“Fuck off.” Mulder took his plate and put it in the sink. “I’m not telling you.”

“Twenty-one,” guessed Krycek. “I bet you figured you could drink so why not finally get laid?” That was close enough to the truth that Mulder wondered if Krycek hadn’t simply read it in his NSA file. “I was fourteen, in case you wanted to know.”

“I really didn’t.”

Mulder expected more ribbing, or further tales of Krycek’s sexual exploits, but Krycek looked thoughtful.

“I forgot. Your son’s fourteen, right? Guess I’d see things differently if I had a kid that age too,” he said softly.

“I wouldn’t know,” said Mulder with a shrug. “Last time I saw him, he was two days old.”

He was about to change the subject when his phone began to ring. They both looked at the name on the screen for a split second, maybe also thinking the same thought, and then Mulder answered.

“Hey, Scully.”

* * * * *

Krycek was very quiet as they drove to the station. This was partly because he was concentrating on the driving; with the familiar tiredness coming over him, Mulder had asked Krycek to drive, but it was evident that Krycek’s driving skills were as rusty as his piloting skills. He hadn’t driven a stick shift for a long time and kept forgetting to disengage the clutch, making the gear box grind a couple times. But Mulder thought his silence might also be because Scully’s return meant no more lounging around in bed naked.

As they approached the town, Mulder became less concerned about his relationship with Krycek. They had to leave the car over a mile away from the train station because the center of town was still gridlocked. Though there were people around like any Saturday afternoon, the disruption to daily life brought on by the plague was evident in the abandoned cars and smashed storefronts. Photographs of the dead had been taped all over a wall outside a church on the main street. Krycek lingered by the broken window of a cell phone store; the phones had been removed or stolen from the display but there was still a poster advertising some recent models.

When Mulder approached to see what he was looking at, Krycek took his hand and gave it a quick squeeze. Then without a word, he let go and headed toward the train station down the road.

Chapter Text

SUNDAY, MARCH 6TH, 2016

The morning air was cold and crisp, cooler than average for the time of year. It burned Mulder’s lungs as he inhaled. He pushed himself, trying to find his normal rhythm, one foot in front of the other on the familiar trails through the grounds that surrounded his house. He was much weaker than he had been before the plague, though, and struggled to get up to his usual speed. After half the time he normally allocated to his morning run, he headed back toward the house.

Krycek was sitting on the porch steps, wearing one of Mulder’s winter coats and holding a notepad and pencil, though he didn’t seem to be using them. He was staring into space, his face serious and his thoughts miles away.

Mulder hesitated, slowing down. Scully’s return had reminded him how insane his trysts with Krycek were; the man was a criminal in their custody, and one who had committed crimes that affected Scully personally, no less. He had deliberately avoided being alone with Krycek for the past day; a task made easier by the fact that Mulder had pretty much collapsed in bed as soon as they came back from the station the previous afternoon. He had slept soundly through his treatment and the following night.

He was wondering whether to continue his run and hope Krycek was gone when he came back, when just at that moment, the man raised his eyes and saw him. With his long hair and heavy coat, Krycek looked nothing like Mulder’s memory of the killer he’d once been. Mulder reluctantly approached.

“Hey, lover,” said Krycek with a sly smile that suggested he’d noticed Mulder’s discomfort. “You feeling better?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Mulder lied, a bit distracted by being called “lover.” He did a few stretches to let his muscles cool down slowly and to get his breath back, then started up the steps. “Where’s Scully?”

“Talking to one of her brothers, I think. It sounded private so I left her to it.”

Mulder paused on the third step. He remembered the ongoing family trauma of Maggie Scully’s estate and decided he didn’t want to interrupt her.

“You up for another run?” suggested Krycek, looking up at him expectantly. “I should get some exercise. I’m so out of shape.”

Mulder realized that Krycek’s face was level with his hips and he felt a flush of arousal. He had a feeling that a run together would be more like a jog to the nearest secluded spot. It was cold, but then it had been cold in Russia too.

“Sorry, I need a rest,” he said, though he pulled on the hooded jacket he’d left on the porch and sat beside Krycek. “Listen… We’re not lovers, Alex.”

“I know.” Krycek grinned and leaned back on the steps. “Relax, Mulder. It’s not like I’m asking you to marry me or anything.” He paused. “Do a lot of gay people get married now?”

“I don’t know. Yes, quite a few, I think. Why, do you want to get married?”

“Ooh, Mulder, I didn’t know you felt that way about me!” said Krycek in a falsetto voice, pretending to fan himself as if he was about to swoon.

Mulder laughed at Krycek’s ridiculous reaction. He felt kind of dumb for asking the question, though. As far as he knew, Krycek had spent the last few years of his life creating a trail of deaths across the globe; it seemed unlikely he’d ever felt the urge to settle down with anyone.

“How come you and Scully never got married?” Krycek put up his hand as Mulder shot him a dark look. “I know, I know. That’s none of my goddamn business. But you loved each other—didn’t you ever want to make it official?”

“‘Make it official.’ Like that would have made any difference,” scoffed Mulder. “Marriage is a patriarchal legal institution created to keep parents together. I never felt Scully and I had that kind of relationship.”

He remembered the times he’d wanted to ask her, though. When she was pregnant; when they first moved in together in this house; when she was leaving him and he wanted to try anything to make her stay. But there was always some reason it wasn’t the right time, and he never wanted to put her in a position where she had to say no.

“You old cynic,” said Krycek with amusement. “And here I thought marriage was about telling the world that you love someone so much you don’t want anyone else. Anyway, Scully’s really worried about you, you know. You’ve slept twenty hours since yesterday afternoon. We kept having to check on you to see if you were still alive.”

“Worrying about me has been Scully’s hobby since 1992,” said Mulder lightly. “I’m fine.”

Krycek rolled his eyes. “I don’t think so. But I guess I don’t call the shots.”

“No, you don’t,” agreed Mulder.

“Yeah. It’s up to you two if you want to be sitting on your butts out here instead of looking for your son and finding a cure for you. Sure, planes are still grounded and the CDC needs Scully’s help, but this feels like you don’t want to find him or we’d all be living in that old rust bucket of yours for the next couple days on our way to Wyoming. Look, I know the kid’s not going to be happy to see you, but if Morley is after him, and maybe after the other hybrids, don’t you think—”

Krycek interrupted himself when the front door suddenly opened and Daggoo came rushing out. Scully followed at a more leisurely pace, wrapped in a thick shawl. She looked down at the two men sitting on the steps.

“What are you two doing sitting out here in the cold?” she asked with amusement. “Krycek, do you need those ingredients you asked for? They’re still in my bag in the den if you want them.”

“What time is it?” Krycek peered at her phone when she showed him. He stood up. “Yeah, it needs to cook for a long time so I’ll start now.”

* * * * *

“Alex Krycek is cooking us a special meal for our anniversary?” asked Mulder in disbelief. “Now there’s a case worthy of the X-Files.”

Scully laughed and gave a little helpless shrug. They were sitting together on the living room sofa; she turned to watch Krycek working in the open plan kitchen at the other end of the room.

“He saw a Lebanese store while we were getting his clothes the other day,” she explained, keeping her voice low even though Krycek was playing music from his tablet again. “He emailed me on Friday and asked me to get some Mediterranean ingredients while I was in DC this weekend. And no, Moby Dick House of Kabob don’t sell ingredients, before you ask.”

Mulder chuckled at the memory of the Persian cafe a few blocks from Scully’s building, which just happened to be named after her father’s favorite book.

“I think maybe he’s just being—nice,” continued Scully, although she was smiling as if she couldn’t quite believe that. “We had a long talk last night while you were asleep. I was interrogating him about the Syndicate—I typed up my report on that this morning—but we talked about other things too. I got the sense that he wants to reconnect with humanity after what happened to him.”

“Yeah.” Mulder thought about the way Krycek had clung to him in the shower. “I’m not sure humanity wants to reconnect with him, though.”

Daggoo started barking to be let in again; when Scully came back to the sofa after opening the door for him, he jumped up onto her knee.

“By the way, I got a call yesterday telling me they’re clearing the 14th Street Bridge,” she said. “Skinner pulled some strings, so I should be able to get my car back when I’m in DC for my last meeting with the CDC tomorrow. I hope it’ll be my last meeting, anyway. I think they sense that I’m not being entirely truthful about the origin of my cure. I know.” She put up her hand. “You think I should tell them the truth. I just don’t feel that telling the CDC about my alien DNA is going to help us right now.”

“No. I guess they’d want to study you,” agreed Mulder reluctantly.

“Speaking of alien DNA,” continued Scully, her voice only audible to Mulder under the cover of the music. “I wasn’t able to talk to you yesterday because you were so sick, but I heard back from Mrs. Al-Zahawi again. You remember she got no results from her first attempt to perform a partial match on William’s DNA. Well, her second attempt used a broader net and has resulted in a very large number of results; several million, in fact.”

“There’s no shortage of people of Irish and Jewish descent in the United States,” said Mulder thoughtfully. “Maybe her algorithm matches ethnicity.”

“Yes, that’s what she said too. I don’t know if the injection Jeffrey Spender administered affected William’s DNA; I—I didn’t have time to perform another DNA test on him before the agency found a family.” Scully absentmindedly scratched Daggoo’s head. “But, at my suggestion, she’s going to discard the results that match the most people. Hopefully, that will hone in on what’s left of William’s alien DNA since it’s least likely to be shared with others. If there are still multiple matches at that point, in theory, they should only be abductees and hybrid children—one of whom should be William.”

Mulder nodded gravely. He wasn’t sure how he felt about this. Their discovery of Dr. Webber’s involvement in both William’s adoption and Krycek’s abduction had reassured him that the death certificate might not be real. But even so, he was hesitant to get his hopes up.

“The only thing is,” he started, “what are we going to do if we do find him? I mean, he’s not going to be happy to see us.”

He didn’t elaborate, fearful that any speculation regarding William’s state of mind on being tracked down purely to save his father’s life would sound like criticism of Scully’s original decision to put him up for adoption.

“We’ll treat you, and then—we’ll see,” said Scully firmly.

Tumble outta bed
And stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life
Jump in the shower
And the blood starts pumpin’
Out on the street the traffic starts jumpin’
For folks like me on the job from 9 to 5

Mulder and Scully exchanged an amused look as the song interrupted their conversation. Krycek was singing along; he seemed entirely engrossed in his task, combining the ingredients Scully had brought him with some of Mulder’s canned and frozen food.

“Well, someone sounds happy,” commented Scully with a laugh.

* * * * *

“Thank you very much for the meal, Krycek,” said Scully. “That was delicious. Did you learn to cook that in Tunisia?”

They had relocated to the more comfortable seating in the living room after the meal. With a politely interested look on her face and a wine glass in her hand, Mulder thought Scully looked like the hostess making small talk at a cocktail party. It all added to the surreal feel of the evening.

“Yes. It’s called a tagine,” said Krycek as if they wouldn’t know that. He smiled modestly and poured the last of the wine for Scully. “It’s just a stew, really, and it should be made with fresh ingredients in a special clay pot. But I think it turned out okay with that can of mystery meat that Mulder was keeping in his basement. The couscous you got was really good.”

“So you learned Arabic and cooking in prison in Tunisia,” said Mulder wryly. “What else did they teach you—needlework?”

“I lived there nearly three years, Mulder,” said Krycek, a touch of irritation in his voice. “I wasn’t in prison the whole time.”

“Three years?” repeated Mulder. “How come you were always under our feet in Washington DC?”

Krycek rolled his eyes. “Tunisia does have international flights, you know.”

“I’m guessing the Strughold Corporation paid for those flights?” asked Mulder.

Scully finished her wine and put the glass down on the coffee table. “We have their official records on file from an investigation conducted in 1999. I checked and Krycek’s alias is on them. We discussed his time in Tunisia last night when you were asleep,” she explained. “I’ll show you my report tomorrow. I don’t think we need to go over it now.”

Krycek gave her a grateful look. Mulder thought he should ask them to give him the details immediately, but the wine was making him feel relaxed, and he found that he didn’t care enough to pursue the subject. He could always ask Scully later.

“No. I guess not,” he agreed.

This earned him a smile from Krycek. When Scully got up to let Daggoo out, the look Krycek was giving Mulder immediately became more heated. Krycek parted his lips and ran his tongue over his white teeth. Mulder remembered lying on the bed the day before, with Krycek leaning over his pajama pants. Krycek quickly schooled his features into a more innocent expression when Scully came back to sit down. He stood up and indicated Mulder and Scully’s empty glasses.

“Do you want me to get more wine? Since Mulder has a whole case of it in the basement.”

“Sure,” said Scully, though she observed him thoughtfully as he departed.

“What other juicy details did you get out of him while I was asleep?” asked Mulder.

“Nothing unexpected. He confirmed his involvement with the SR 819 project—that was when he started blackmailing Skinner after torturing him with the nanocytes—and as we suspected, he was indeed the ‘man in black’ who murdered Dr. Sandoz in New Mexico. In fact, the Cigarette Smoking Man arranged for him to be sent to prison on trumped-up charges because he neglected to give back a piece of the spaceship that he stole from Sandoz.”

Mulder remembered lying in agony in a stairwell as Krycek stepped over him. Shame at what he’d let Krycek manipulate him into over the last couple of days flooded over him.

“He also—” started Scully, before interrupting herself when Krycek returned from the basement with another bottle of wine.

“I guess you’re still okay to drink this stuff,” said Krycek jovially as he sat down on the chair opposite them.

He unscrewed the metal top of the bottle and filled Mulder and Scully’s glasses. Mulder noticed that he also had a can of Coke; presumably something Scully had brought at his request since Mulder didn’t normally have it in the house. Despite the Coke, Krycek poured a little wine into his own glass and raised it.

“Let’s have a toast,” he said. “To twenty-four years of you working together on the X-Files.”

Despite his sense of unreality at the fact that they were having this celebration with Krycek of all people, Mulder raised his glass. When they had all drunk their toast, Mulder realized that Scully was looking at him across the sofa, a tender smile on her lips.

Looking at her now, Mulder marveled at how young they’d both been back in March 1992—her still in her twenties and him barely thirty. He remembered the ambitious young woman with dull reddish-brown hair and freckles who had walked into his life that day twenty-four years ago, with her plaid power suits and round glasses, and how he’d immediately been drawn to her without feeling the burden of desire.

And here she was, twenty-four years later, her grey hair dyed a lighter red, her thin face lined by sorrow and the passage of time, but her blue eyes as sharp and bright as they had been all those years ago. Partner, friend, lover, ex, but always a part of his life. His one in seven and a half billion.

“To us,” she said softly, raising her glass.

He followed suit. “To us.”

Scully reached out and held Mulder’s hand. Mulder glanced over at Krycek; he was observing them with a neutral though not unfriendly expression. Mulder was both relieved at Krycek’s lack of jealousy and a bit hurt by his disinterest; it made him realize that he really had just been a convenient body for Krycek to hold. Mulder downed his glass of wine and let go of Scully’s hand.

“Wow, this is a lot easier with two hands,” said Krycek with a laugh when he cracked open his can of Coke.

“I guess you must have become a natural at doing things one-handed back in the day,” said Mulder.

Krycek scowled at him. “Sure. Losing my arm was a great opportunity to learn new tricks. Cleaning my gun, tying my shoelaces, unbuckling my belt. I was a real hit at parties.”

“You know, when I was a kid, I used to think I’d like to have a disability,” said Mulder, momentarily lost in his own thoughts. “Like a hook hand or a peg leg or something. Seemed to me everyone would have lower expectations then. It would be enough to simply keep on living, bravely facing life with the disability. I thought people would appreciate me for myself and not keep complaining about what I was not.”

“Yeah, because people totally see you as a person when you’re missing a limb,” said Krycek sarcastically.

Glancing at Scully, Mulder realized she was giving him her best “I can’t believe you just said that” look. He vaguely remembered her being charmed by his story when he told her once, but maybe those were different times.

“Uh, I guess it must have been tough, though,” said Mulder awkwardly.

“Yeah, well. I can’t complain too much. It never stopped me getting laid.” He gave Mulder a sly smile that Scully hopefully didn’t notice, then pointed at the books stacked on the stairs behind the sofa. “I’ve been meaning to ask. How many copies of your book did you print, Mulder?”

“Why don’t you count them? They’re pretty much all right there,” said Mulder, trying not to sound too bitter.

“You did sell a couple,” said Scully loyally.

“Am I in it?” asked Krycek with interest.

“Not by name. You might recognize yourself as the FBI turncoat who executed various Syndicate operatives, though.”

“Yeah. Sounds like me.” Krycek’s expression was neutral, then he smiled. “Guess I did better with the book than your movie.”

“Oh, brother,” muttered Scully, shaking her head.

“You saw the movie?” asked Mulder with horror.

“Of course I did,” said Krycek with a laugh. “I had it on video. I thought it was hilarious. Especially Richard Gere as AD Skinner. It was great! Except for the fact I wasn’t in it, of course.”

“Sure you were,” said Mulder. “You were the Cigarette Smoking Pontiff’s three-legged rat Poniatowski. The one in the cage.”

“Poniatowski? They made me Polish?”

“I’m glad you don’t mind they made you a rat,” said Mulder with a grin.

“I don’t even remember the rat in the movie.” Krycek stretched out his legs and chuckled. His heavy sweater and the T-shirt underneath rode up to expose a small strip of pale skin at the top of his black jeans. He leered at Mulder. “I just remember you both in the coffin talking about how Skinner had a bigger flashlight.”

Scully made an indistinct noise and covered her mouth with the back of her hand. “Oh, god. We walked out of the premiere at that point.”

“So we did,” said Mulder. He gazed at her, remembering those happier times. “We went dancing.”

And after they’d been dancing, they’d maxed out the FBI credit card on a room in the most ostentatious hotel in Hollywood and spent the night and next morning in bed together. Scully gave him a secret smile, no doubt remembering that night too.

“I wish I could go dancing,” said Krycek wistfully.

“Maybe Mulder can take you,” said Scully playfully. Mulder could tell from the flush in her cheeks that the wine was starting to affect her too. “He likes dancing. Especially line dancing.”

“Look, that was just once—”

“There’s a video on YouTube, Mulder! Someone filmed you in the club.”

“Really? Can I see it?” asked Krycek with interest. To Mulder’s horror, Scully pulled out her phone and showed him. Krycek laughed as the tinny sound of Achy, Breaky Heart rang out of Scully’s phone. “Smooth moves, Mulder. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

Krycek leered at him again and Mulder wondered if they would get an opportunity to have sex again some day. The shame was abating now, dulled by his inebriation, the wrongness of his attraction to Krycek just adding to its appeal. He let the arousal course through him, pleasantly relaxed by the wine and the good food.

Krycek and Scully started a conversation about the anti-terrorism case in Texas and Krycek said something about the Islamists he’d met in Tunisia, and then Mulder woke up to find them dancing to Roxy Music. He watched them in a blurry haze of intoxication.

Now the party’s over
I’m so tired
Then I see you coming
Out of nowhere
Much communication in a motion
Without conversation or a notion

He remembered dancing to this song with Phoebe, back when he was a twenty-year-old virgin with an encyclopedic knowledge of sex and no experience to speak of. He remembered how she took him back to her place and shoved him down on her couch, and how overwhelmed he had felt by her warmth and smell.

He watched Krycek say something to Scully, his hands on her hips, and admired the way their handsome faces lit up when they laughed. He wondered how Scully would react if he suggested a threesome and then drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

“Mulder! Mulder, wake up!”

Scully’s voice broke through his deep sleep and he initially tried to resist. He’d been having a pleasant dream, something involving Krycek and Scully that was already drifting away even as he tried to hold onto it. It was cold; he pulled the blanket more tightly around him and tried to snuggle up against the back of the sofa. But then Scully’s next words dragged him to full wakefulness.

“Mulder, wake up! Krycek drugged us and now he’s gone!”

Chapter Text

“That son of a bitch!”

Mulder looked up from his search in his desk drawer as Scully threw her purse onto the sofa dejectedly.

“He stole my phone!” she exclaimed. “I only had fingerprint security on it. Easy to bypass with me lying unconscious. That means he has all my contacts and messages!”

Mulder banged his fist on his desk and swore. “He also took two of my guns and all the cash I kept in my desk. He must have used my sleeping pills from the bathroom to drug the wine. I should have handcuffed him to the bed,” he said angrily, though he had to quickly dismiss that image. “Or even better, to the pipes in the basement. We could have kept him down there with a bucket, Breaking Bad style.”

“What we should have done is leave him with Skinner last week,” said Scully. She looked down at Daggoo, who was sitting at her feet, gazing up at her adoringly. “And where were you? Probably bribed by some tasty snack while he disabled the sensor array.” She turned back to Mulder. “We have to tell Skinner.”

“Well, let’s hold off on that for a bit,” said Mulder. He could just imagine how irate their boss would be to find out that they’d let Krycek slip through their fingers in less than a week. “Listen, Scully, we know he’s in my car. There must be a hundred traffic cameras between here and wherever he’s heading. He has to have been filmed by at least one of them by now. Then we’ll have an idea where he’s going, and maybe we can head him off and catch him before Skinner finds out.”

“The last thing I remember, it was 11 p.m. or so,” said Scully, shaking her head. “That’s nearly 12 hours ago. He’s got one hell of a head start on us. And how are we going to get access to those cameras without involving Skinner? Even if we do, we have no car! We can’t even get to the train station.”

“Then we’ll get a ride from someone. You’re supposed to get your car back today anyway. If we can get to DC, we can pick it up and go after him.” He pulled out his phone and dialed Scully’s number, but it went straight to voicemail. “It’s turned off. Just thought I’d try.”

“I won’t block the number yet, just in case he tries to use it and we can trace who he calls,” said Scully. She began to pace; Daggoo followed her as she walked back and forth, wagging his tail. “Oh, this is my fault. You tried to warn me, but he played on my feelings for you and William. God, Mulder, I can’t believe I actually fell for his repentant bullshit!”

Think how you’d feel if you’d jerked him off a few times too, thought Mulder, reeling from the all too familiar feeling of betrayal. He held out his hand to her and she let him pull her into a comforting hug. He rested his chin on her head and stroked her hair.

“It really isn’t your fault, Scully. I knew him better than you ever did and I still let him—” Seduce me, he thought with disgust. “—convince us to bring him here.”

“It isn’t just that,” said Scully with a sigh. She pulled away. “I had a talk with him the other day, and he said he wanted to help us. And I—I believed him. Oh, I feel like such a damn idiot.”

* * * * *

TWO DAYS AGO

Scully was relieved to hear music as she cautiously picked her way down the stairs into the basement. Mulder’s hoarding habits were at their most evident down here; the steps and the shelves along the walls were covered in boxes, jars and newspapers, vestiges of a lifetime of pursuing The Truth. But that wasn’t Scully’s immediate concern.

“Oh, hi,” said Krycek amicably, raising his eyes from what he was doing. Daggoo ran over to him, tail wagging, and he leaned down to pat the dog’s head. “Hey, buddy.”

“I was wondering where you were,” said Scully reproachfully.

Krycek had the grace to look contrite. “Oh, right. I should have told you I was down here. Guess you must have thought I’d run away or something. But I told you: I wouldn’t know where to go even if I did run.” He looked her in the eye. “And I know you find this hard to believe, but I really do want to help you find your son. Like, I don’t know, like that’s something useful I can do, to find your son and save Mulder’s life. Speaking of which, how is he?”

“He’s asleep.”

“Yeah, he does that a lot.” Krycek grinned at her; she wondered if he had gotten his teeth whitened back in the day to make them gleam like that. “He fell asleep while I was talking to him this morning too. And it was a really interesting conversation!”

Scully suddenly noticed what Krycek was doing. “Are you ironing Mulder’s shirts?”

“Yeah, well, I needed clean clothes. I found a load of dirty laundry and just washed it all. It’s okay, it’s not like I have anything better to do.” He finished a shirt and hung it on the drying rack. Scully noticed a sheet and two towels on the rack as well. “I cleaned behind Mulder’s bathroom faucets too. And the toilet, and the kitchen sink. Man, he needs to get himself a cleaner!”

“Yes, his last one left,” said Scully. She looked around the room and remembered how neat and clean she had kept it when she and Mulder lived together. She dismissed the memories with a sigh. “I had no idea you were such a domestic man.”

Krycek shrugged. “I didn’t always live on the run, you know. And even when I did, I couldn’t exactly go back to my mom and go, ‘hey, can you wash the blood—’ Well, you know.”

A new song started, an upbeat electronic tune Scully remembered from her youth. As she watched him, Krycek’s expression darkened and he paused in the ironing as if a thought had occurred to him. She wondered if the song was bringing back memories.

Well now you’re only fifteen
And you look good
I’ll take you under my wing
Somebody should

“I remember this song. I always thought it was a little creepy,” she said as the music filled the lull in their conversation. It reminded her of med school in the late ’80s. “This is Depeche Mode, isn’t it?”

Krycek nodded and seemed about to say something important, his expression serious. But then he gave her a friendly smile.

“Yes. I’ve been listening to them a lot since I came back,” he said. “I was telling Mulder earlier about the first time I heard them. Reminds me of my first love when I was 16.” He rolled his eyes and placed his hand on his heart, mocking the sentiment. “Believe it or not, I wasn’t always a heartless killer.”

“I don’t doubt it. Unless there’s a severe mental illness, people aren’t usually born that way.” Scully remembered the information in his file. “You had inconsistent but generally good grades in school. You went to college. You qualified for the Air Force and the FBI. Why did you become a ‘heartless killer’, as you put it?”

Krycek was silent for a moment, finishing another one of Mulder’s shirts. “I saw a thing on TV once. I guess it was an after-school special or something. This guy, a teacher, did this experiment with his class where he made up a sort of military organization and made them all participate in it.”

“That’s The Wave,” said Scully immediately. “It was based on a real-life experiment by a teacher in California to illustrate how the rise of fascism happened in Nazi Germany. There was a German film based on it too a few years ago.”

“Yeah. Well, there was that kid in it, a loser who used to be bullied. And when they started The Wave, he was really into it, and it changed his life: gave him friends for the first time, made him feel as if he belonged, gave him power. I guess you catch someone like that, and give them that kind of change in their life, you can convince them to do anything.”

He hung up the shirt. “And I was a patriot. You know, hand on my star-spangled heart. It wasn’t hard to convince me I was doing it all for the good of my country. For the good of humanity, even. And then, when I decided it was all bullshit, it was too late. Like Macbeth, you know. What was that quote about wading through blood?”

I am in blood stepped so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go over,” said Scully.

“Wow, you’re like that site they have nowadays. What’s it called—Wikipedia?” said Krycek. He lowered his eyes and picked a T-shirt from the pile. “Yeah, basically, when you’re in deep enough, it doesn’t matter what you do. You can’t get forgiveness for all the things you’ve already done, so why stop?”

“Because you can obtain forgiveness. You can always repent, accept your punishment, and be forgiven, whatever your crimes.”

Krycek glanced at the cross hanging at Scully’s throat. “No offense, lady, but I don’t do religion.”

“I’m not talking specifically in a religious sense,” said Scully evenly. “Yes, redemption is a central theme in Catholicism, and I know it is in many other religions as well. But maybe that’s because it’s an important part of our nature as intelligent creatures capable of feeling guilt. If you do feel remorse, if you’re truly repentant, then you have a natural need to seek forgiveness; from God, from society, from your victims. And that will help you forgive yourself and become a better person.”

Krycek muttered something that sounded like Arabic, then ran his hand through his overgrown hair and shook his head. “You sound like the imam at the prison. He was trying to save me too.”

Scully was surprised. Her mental image of Muslim religious leaders was of dour, stern-faced men with thick beards, preaching against the West and indoctrinating their followers, like the man they had caught at the Hotel Babylon in Texas. She had never given much thought to any other support they might give their congregation.

Do you feel bad about what you did?” she asked.

Krycek gave a half shrug, his eyes still lowered; he reminded her of her nephew when he was upset and didn’t want to admit it. “Not everything. Some of it was just a job, you know.” He gave her a sheepish smile. “I know. Just following orders. Not an excuse. But maybe if I help you, I don’t know— Listen, while I’m here, do you have anything you want ironed?”

“No, thanks,” she said, accepting the abrupt change of topic for now, though she intended to interrogate him more formally when he was done ironing. “I’d better go check on Mulder.”

* * * * *

“That was a more meaningful conversation than any I had with him while you were gone,” said Mulder a little enviously. “Most we did was swap stories about our first loves.” That, and bodily fluids.

“It wasn’t that meaningful. He was clearly lying about having nowhere to go. He must have been planning this from the start.” She paused thoughtfully. “But there’s something I don’t get. If he wanted to escape, why didn’t he do it when it was just the two of you? It would have been a lot simpler to drug you, rather than both of us, especially since your illness has a soporific effect anyway. Why wait until I was back? What changed?”

“I don’t know.” Mulder pulled open his laptop as an idea struck him. With Scully watching over his shoulder, he opened the router logs from the last few days. “I bet the answer is in here, though.”

“Yes,” agreed Scully. She got her own laptop. “He took my old tablet, too. I installed parental monitoring software on it before I gave it to him the other day. If he hasn’t disabled it, I should be able to see what apps he’s using and what pages he’s visited if he connects to wi-fi anywhere. I’ll email you those logs too. And while you’re looking through those, I’ll see if we can get help without going through Skinner.”

The logs for Mulder’s internet router stopped just before midnight, probably the time Krycek started to prepare to leave. Inspecting both sets of logs from the router and the parental guidance software showed that Krycek had been viewing maps of the local area, looking up a variety of people—most of whose names Mulder didn’t recognize—and using the Grindr app on the tablet.

“Maybe he met the love of his life on Grindr, and that’s why he decided to run away,” suggested Mulder facetiously.

Scully acknowledged his remark with an indulgent smile and went to reheat some soup for lunch.

“I do recognize some of these names in the logs,” he said when he had extracted a list. Scully came back to have a look while the soup was warming up. “That’s his half-sister Sarah, obviously, and that’s probably one of his step-sisters. I think that one was his old landlady, the one he was renting from when he worked with me. Look, he even looked up Proctor from Quantico!”

“That name appears a few times,” said Scully, pointing at the screen. “Makembese. Look, it’s here again, with ‘Brussels’ and down here with ‘European Commission’. Sometimes with the name ‘Mila’ and sometimes ‘Emilia’.” Her face lit up with a smile. “Mulder, do we know what happened to Marita Covarrubias after your trial?”

“No, she vanished shortly afterward,” said Mulder, though Scully already knew this.

“Could Mila or Emilia Makembese be Marita Covarrubias’s new identity? Think about it. She used to work at the UN. What if she’s traded one supranational organization for another and now works for the European Union?”

“That actually makes a lot of sense,” said Mulder with a nod. “How would he know her new identity, though? He was in the lab by the time I had my trial and she must have moved to Europe after that.”

“He told us he saw things when he was in the lab. People and things. If he saw you, it makes sense he would also have seen his ex-girlfriend. The two names may be because he can’t remember her assumed name; we’ve seen other instances where he’s been confused because of his long confinement. I guess if she really is in Brussels, she won’t be much help to him until international flights are reinstated. But it sounds like something you should follow up with your friend.”

“‘Friend’ only in the loosest possible sense,” grumbled Mulder. “I don’t know that Marita was Krycek’s girlfriend anyway. More like his beard.”

“Well, they were definitely lovers,” said Scully with a smile. “And if he’s more into guys, he certainly could have fooled me last night. As you said the other day, I guess he’s not the kind to pick a side and stick to it. Oh, the soup!”

Mulder pondered that thought while Scully went to save the burning soup. She was right; Krycek and Covarrubias had definitely been lovers.

* * * * *

FBI HEADQUARTERS,
HOOVER BUILDING, WASHINGTON DC
OCTOBER 2000

“I can look up the European Space Agency,” said Byers, his face illuminated by the glow of the PC monitor. “You check the Topex Poseidon data. That space ship has got to be here somewhere!”

“If it exists at all,” growled Skinner, putting down his burger. He seemed unmoved by the Lone Gunmen’s enthusiasm.

“I told you. It’s there,” said Krycek through gritted teeth. He looked at the Gunmen and then at Mulder. “I hope these clowns know what they’re doing.”

“They’re the best,” said Mulder loyally.

The three men fell into an uneasy silence, eating their respective meals while the Gunmen worked. The women picked at their food; Scully looked pale and Covarrubias merely bored. Once he had checked to see that Scully was eating, Mulder’s gaze returned to Krycek.

This was the first time he’d seen Krycek clearly since their trip to Russia together three years before. He had aged. Matured might be a kinder way to put it, as if he were a fine wine or a prime cut of beef. He was no longer the slim young man he’d been when they were partners. His face was rounder, there were a couple of grey strands above his small ears, and the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth were more pronounced.

And then, of course, there was the arm. In the darkness of his living room, shocked by Krycek’s attack and then distracted by the hard kiss on his cheek, Mulder hadn’t even noticed the arm. He’d heard about it later, when rumors about the Syndicate’s one-armed hitman surfaced, but at the time, Krycek’s quip about beating Mulder one-handed had seemed like the usual kindergarten bragging. Mulder was more embarrassed that the first thought that had crossed his mind, and his lips, had been of Krycek masturbating. And his parting thought had been of Krycek’s kiss and his irrational regret that it hadn’t been more like their encounter in Vanavara.

But now, in the artificial light of Skinner’s office, he could see the unnatural stillness of Krycek’s left arm, and he remembered the desperate peasants in Tunguska, willing to chop off their own limbs in a possibly vain attempt to avoid being used for tests in the gulag.

Did he need help getting dressed? Had Marita tied the laces on his boots, or was there some special technique that amputees learned? Could he still drive, swim, open cans and beer bottles? How did he cut his fingernails? Christ, how did you get over something like that?

When he raised his eyes from the man’s arm to his face, Mulder realized with a jolt of guilt that Krycek was watching him too. There was a sour expression on his face, as if he’d missed nothing of Mulder’s lengthy observation and was fully aware of the pity that had momentarily replaced his hatred. Mulder felt a weight in the pit of his stomach at the loathing he now saw in Krycek’s eyes.

“Let us know if you have any question,” said Covarrubias, apparently growing impatient.

“Yeah, I have one,” said Krycek suddenly, though she had been addressing the Gunmen. His lips curled into a sneer and he looked straight at Mulder. “Would everyone like me to step outside for a moment so you can have a nice un-PC freak-out about my arm?” He put his takeout box and chopsticks on the conference table and stood up. He straightened the prosthetic arm with his hand. “I need to take a piss anyway.”

After Krycek had left, Covarrubias asked Scully where the ladies’ room was and left through the same door. Mulder was tempted to follow them immediately, but Scully was sitting by Skinner’s desk, looking pale, and he went to her instead. When she went to answer a call from her mother, he cast a quick glance around the room—the Lone Gunmen were discussing Krycek’s arm with Skinner—and slipped out.

The bathrooms weren’t far from Skinner’s office. The corridor was empty, but he could hear voices from the bullpen around the next corner. Not so much voices as noises, a soft sound, the voice of a woman in—pain? Mulder advanced on the corner cautiously; they had all laid their weapons down on Skinner’s desk, but he was in no doubt that even unarmed and single-handed, Krycek was still a dangerous man.

Mulder looked around the corner before his brain finally cross-referenced the auditory information with data gleaned from hundreds of porn videos.

He stepped back, but the image was already burned on his retinas. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, swearing silently and fighting the perverse impulse to take another look. He told himself he should go back to Skinner’s office, that whatever crimes Covarrubias and Krycek might have committed, together or separately, they didn’t deserve to have him eavesdropping on an intimate moment. Even if they were choosing to spend that intimate moment defiling the desk of some unfortunate FBI agent.

After a couple of interminable minutes, there was the low rumble of Krycek’s voice and the rustling of cloth. Startled into action, Mulder launched himself away from the wall and crossed over to the men’s bathroom opposite him. Before he had time to push the door open, Covarrubias came around the corner and headed for the women’s bathroom in the opposite direction. She didn’t see him; not wanting to risk being seen when she came out again, Mulder slipped into the men’s bathroom.

He immediately realized his mistake. If Covarrubias was heading to the bathroom then there was a chance... He didn’t have time to even formulate the thought in his mind before the door opened and Krycek walked in.

For a moment, he didn’t notice Mulder. He just looked at the floor, his expression blank and his one hand rearranging his clothes under his jacket. But when he raised his eyes and saw Mulder standing by the sink, staring at him in the mirror with a guilty expression, his whole demeanor changed. A fleeting look of embarrassment and fear was quickly replaced by a smirk.

“Enjoy the show, Mulder?” He zipped up his fly with a deliberate gesture and washed his hand at the sink, using his thumb to rub the soap onto his palm and fingers. “Only fair I guess, after I watched Scully sneak into your motel room the other night. Must be a dream come true for the poor bitch, screwing her Prince Charming at last.”

“You disgusting maggot!” growled Mulder.

He gave Krycek a powerful shove that sent him stumbling backwards. Krycek caught himself on the towel dispenser before Mulder pushed him up against the door, one arm across his throat and the other grabbing Krycek’s wrist, the rest of his body pinning him securely.

“Oh, this feels familiar,” said Krycek with disgust. “What do you want, Mulder? Me to suck your dick again?”

Mulder felt a flush of arousal as he remembered Russia. Krycek shifted his hips against Mulder’s with a satisfied grin. Then, unexpectedly, he ran his tongue across Mulder’s lips, a soft, obscenely erotic touch that was so bizarre Mulder forgot all thought of punching him and stood staring at him in surprise.

“If you ask nicely,” Krycek whispered in his ear, “I might even let you take me on your desk downstairs.”

Mulder released Krycek’s arm abruptly and took a step back, fighting to get himself under control.

“I don’t know about you, Krycek, but I don’t cheat on my girlfriend,” he said with all the dignity he could muster.

With a sardonic curl of his lip, Krycek pulled the door open. “Believe me, she is not my girlfriend.”

* * * * *

“I’ve let the CDC know I couldn’t make the meeting today and also told Skinner that I’m staying here because you’re sick,” said Scully after they’d eaten their soup. “Luckily, he didn’t ask about Krycek directly, so I didn’t have to lie to him about that. But I did have to say that my phone wasn’t working so he doesn’t call it and get Krycek!”

“It was still off the last time I tried it,” said Mulder glumly.

Scully sighed. “Mulder, we won’t be able to keep this to ourselves for much longer. Even with help, I don’t think we’re going to find Krycek again. He’s been gone too long now. Did you get in touch with—”

“Yes,” he grumbled. “She replied saying it’s late over there but she’ll look for this Makembese person first thing tomorrow. So that'll probably be 12 hours from now.”

“Mulder, is that your ringtone for messages from my phone?” asked Scully as their conversation was interrupted by a shrill whistle from Mulder’s phone.

Mulder looked at the message and swore. “Son of a bitch is toying with us!”

The text message was a single image, a captioned meme of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator.

I’LL BE BACK

Chapter Text

MONDAY, MARCH 7TH, 2016
13:35

“Location services are turned off on my phone, so there’s no way to track where it was used,” said Scully with a sigh. “I see on the logs from the tablet that he used Grindr again this morning, but that’s all I know.”

“Yeah. Probably looking for hairy guys in the area or something,” said Mulder. Scully gave him a quizzical look. “He visited porn sites while he was here and that seemed to be what he was looking for.”

“Okay,” said Scully with amusement. “I’m glad you have such in-depth knowledge of Krycek’s sexual preferences. Maybe he just came on to me last night because he was lonely. I wonder if him leaving now had anything to do with that song?” She started typing on her laptop. “I know it’s by Depeche Mode, but I don’t remember what it’s called. Oh, here it is on YouTube. It’s apparently the only song ever to contain the lyrics ‘Now you’re only fifteen and you look good.’”

Loud electronic music poured out of the Bluetooth speakers.

I’ve got to get to you first
Before they do
It’s just a question of time
Before they lay their hands on you
And make you just like the rest
I’ve got to get to you first
It’s just a question of time

“I remember it,” said Mulder impatiently over the catchy riff. “It’s about a guy who wants to bang a fifteen-year-old. I really don’t think there’s anything more to it than that.”

“Yeah. I’ve always thought it was creepy,” said Scully, turning down the volume. “William will be fifteen in May,” she added thoughtfully.

Mulder’s stomach churned. He didn’t want to talk about William. He never wanted to talk about him. He’d accepted the situation now. He’d spent years fighting to accept the situation, to come to terms with the fact that Scully’s decision had deprived him of the child he’d hardly even known. He tried to focus on less painful thoughts.

“Wait. Did you say Krycek came on to you?”

“Uh huh,” said Scully absently. “You know, maybe you’re right about Grindr. Perhaps he did find the love of his life there. Aside from the note I added in 2000 about his relationship with Marita Covarrubias, there’s nothing about his romantic life in either his FBI or his NSA file. I wonder if he had a boyfriend that we don’t know about. If he did, that boyfriend might be on Grindr.”

“I don’t know, Krycek always struck me more as the casual encounter type,” said Mulder, remembering his story about the man in the record store. “Why would Krycek come on to you? Did he ever do that before?”

“Well, no. I don’t think I’d ever exchanged more than a couple of words with him until last week.” Scully observed him with a smile. “Are you jealous, Mulder?”

“No, just—” A bit turned on. “I didn’t imagine that would—happen.”

“Believe me, neither did I!” Scully laughed. “Actually, now that I think of it, he was surprised too. I don’t think he’s been lying about the effects of his captivity. He was deprived of human touch for years and he’s a healthy man in his prime. It makes sense that his need for closeness would express itself in a sexual way when we were—Oh, I’m getting a call.”

Intrigued, Mulder looked at her laptop screen as she turned off the music and accepted a Skype call. He wasn’t particularly surprised when the video feed started and he realized whose help Scully had enlisted.

“Dana, Agent Mulder. Long time no see! Looks like you reopened the X-Files just in time.”

“John, thank you so much for agreeing to help,” said Scully warmly. Mulder gave the camera a polite smile by way of greeting. “How’s Lorna?”

“She’s doing okay now. We both got sick, but we made it thanks to the treatment. The kids were fine. I heard that the cure was your doing?”

Scully gave him a quick summary of her role in finding the cure, and described their current situation. Like Mulder, Doggett had put on weight and wrinkles in the intervening years, but his New York accent was as pronounced as ever through the tinny speaker on Scully’s laptop.

“I thought Mulder coming back to life after three months was impressive, but now you tell me Krycek’s back after nearly fifteen years?” Doggett shook his head. “I saw the body with my own eyes. That guy was dead. How the hell did he get out of that one?”

“Turns out he was in a secret lab run by one of the Consortium doctors,” explained Mulder. “They revived him and spent the last fourteen years regrowing his arm and cutting it off again.”

“Sounds painful,” said Doggett without sympathy.

“You said you had something for us, John?” asked Scully.

“Yeah. I got some good news and some bad news. When I got your message, I asked a few guys from the Virginia field office to look for Krycek on the down-low. You were right—traffic cameras picked up Mulder’s car heading for Warrenton this morning around five. Bad news is, a patrol in the area found your car abandoned on a country road about an hour ago, so now we don’t know what kind of vehicle he’s travelling in or where he went next.”

“Are there houses in the area?” asked Mulder. “Anywhere he could have stolen a car?”

“Yeah, there’s a retirement community less than a mile away from where they found the car, but no one has reported any stolen vehicles.”

“A retirement community?” repeated Mulder. He pulled his own laptop over to Scully’s and pointed to one of the names on the list from the internet logs. “Wanna bet who on this list has retired to that community?”

Scully nodded. “There’s a chance we know who he was visiting, John. Can we send you a name to confirm?”

“Sure. Maybe he got a vehicle from them,” said Doggett. “As for his next move, if I was to speculate, I’d say he must be looking to find other remaining members of the Syndicate. Like that woman who came to your trial, scared thing; looked like someone was going to eat her. She was his girlfriend?” He consulted a notepad in front of him. “Marita Covarrubias. I’ll see if I can find out what happened to her.”

Mulder exchanged a look with Scully. “Yeah, we were thinking the same thing, but we think she might be in Europe.”

“Great minds think alike, eh, Mulder?” said Doggett with a grin. “Okay, I’ll see what I can find. There was some guy looking for him a while back too, wanted to get Krycek’s prosthetic arm because it had some advanced robotics in it. I told them to contact the morgue or Krycek’s family. I don’t know if that’s even relevant, but that was the last time I heard Krycek’s name until today. By the way, I take it there’s a reason you two are talking to me and not Skinner?”

“Pride, mainly. We promised we’d keep Krycek in custody,” said Scully before Mulder could answer. He assumed she knew Doggett well enough to trust him. Then again, she’d trusted Reyes.

Doggett chuckled. “I’ll keep this away from HQ, then, and pull my AD strings from here. You two need a lift anywhere, I might be able to get someone local to come around.”

“It’s okay, one of our colleagues from the DC office said she’d come if we need her. Thanks for everything, John,” said Scully. “Helps to have friends in high places.”

“Sure thing. Glad to hear you’re both okay. Some X-File, huh?” said Doggett. “Let me know if you need anything else. Dollars to donuts that guy’s up to no good.”

* * * * *

ONE HOUR LATER

“Thank you for the lift, Agent Einstein,” said Scully as they parked in the retirement community. “It’s lucky for us you were visiting your mother nearby today.”

“I think that’s the one over there,” said Mulder, extracting himself from the back seat of Einstein’s Toyota. “Number 1013.”

He adjusted his suit pants, cursing the middle-aged paunch that made it harder for the belt to keep them at his waist. It felt strange to be back in his work clothes after three weeks, but invigorating too. He’d been spending far too much time lying in beds recently—with or without company, he thought wryly.

“I’ll walk the dog and canvass the neighbors,” said Einstein, taking Daggoo’s leash from Scully. “Find out if they saw anything.”

Mulder and Scully walked up to one of the single-story houses. When they rang the doorbell, a tiny old lady opened the door and looked up at them suspiciously. She had aged since he last saw her, and was leaning on a cane, but Mulder was reassured they’d come to the right place.

“Ms. Verhoeven,” said Scully, flashing her badge. A cat pushed through Mulder’s legs and out onto the driveway. “I’m Agent Scully from the FBI, and this is my partner, Agent Mulder. We’d like to ask you a few questions about Alex Krycek. Can we come in?”

The woman didn’t move out of the way. “Alex Krycek. Didn’t he die years ago?”

“You probably don’t remember me,” said Mulder, “but I was one of the agents who investigated his disappearance back in 1994 when you were his landlady. I remember you adopted his cat. Tallulah, wasn’t it?”

“You’re right. I don’t remember you,” said the woman, still blocking their way. “There were dozens of you; all the same, crawling around my building and scaring my cats.”

“Krycek escaped from custody last night and stole a car that is now parked less than a mile away from here,” said Mulder, trying to remain patient. “It’s obvious he came to visit you, ma’am. So why don’t you let us in?”

Ms. Verhoeven sighed and reluctantly stepped aside. “He left hours ago anyway. I don’t know what you’re hoping to find.”

The living room was cluttered; books, videos, and DVDs crowding the room from the floor to ceiling shelves on every wall. The mantelpiece over the glowing space heater in the fireplace was covered in dusty photographs of cats and people. Cat toys and cushions were strewn across the floor, and a variety of cats were lying on the overstuffed sofas. Mulder was relieved Einstein had taken Daggoo with her; he could just imagine the pandemonium that would have ensued if they’d brought the excitable little dog into the cats’ domain.

“How did Krycek contact you this morning?” asked Scully when they returned to the living room after a quick look around the house.

“Just turned up on the doorstep first thing. Said he’d found my address on the internet,” said Ms. Verhoeven. “I wish I hadn’t listened to Doris. She told me I’d enjoy it here! Plenty of space, maintenance thrown in, a safe space away from screaming kids for my dying years. And instead, what do I get? People who hassle me to play bridge and go to tea parties, and criminals on my doorstep!”

“What did Krycek say when you saw him?” asked Scully.

“He said he’d been in prison all this time and he needed some money to get away. Threatened me. You know, he’s a criminal on the run, so he threatened me with a gun and took all my money. And me a frail old lady in my eighties. You people should keep those animals locked up!”

“Did he threaten you before or after you made him breakfast?” asked Mulder, pointing at the two plates and coffee mugs by the kitchen sink.

“I was in the middle of making myself breakfast anyway,” said the old lady with a shrug, hobbling over to sit between two cats on one of the sofas. “He had breakfast, we had torrid sex, and then he left. I don’t know where he went.”

Scully covered her mouth and turned away, trying to mask her laughter with a cough. Mulder was able to keep a straight face only because he found the thought of torrid sex with Krycek arousing rather than amusing.

“You might laugh. Haven’t you seen Harold and Maude? You don’t stop enjoying sex just because you’re old, you know!” said Ms. Verhoeven indignantly.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Scully exchanged an amused glance with Mulder. “Ms. Verhoeven, do you remember if Alex Krycek had any, uh, other lovers back in the day? Any men, maybe. Someone in the DC area he might have contacted today?”

Ms. Verhoeven sighed. “Oh, he had lovers all right. He didn’t usually bring them home, but sometimes, I’d see him kicking some guy out in the early morning, and I could guess what it was all about. Do all handsome men just look at themselves in the mirror at fourteen and think ‘Nope, I’m too gorgeous for women. It’s cock all the way for me from now on?’”

“Um, no?” said Mulder.

“How would you know?” snapped Ms. Verhoeven. “Anyway, no, there wasn’t anyone special. Right. I’ve told you everything I know. You can go away now.”

“Is this your granddaughter?” asked Scully, pointing to a couple of pictures on the mantelpiece. One was of Ms. Verhoeven holding a small child, the other of a pre-teen in a My Little Pony T-shirt. There were empty patches in the dust around them as if they had been recently moved.

“Grandniece,” said Ms. Verhoeven shortly. “Never see her these days.”

“Ms. Verhoeven, we need to find Alex Krycek. We think he has information that could help us find our son,” said Scully pleadingly. Mulder thought appealing to Ms. Verhoeven’s probably non-existent maternal instincts seemed optimistic. “If there’s anything you can tell us about where he has gone, we would be most grateful.”

“I’m sure you would,” said Ms. Verhoeven unsympathetically. “But I don’t know anything. Alex just appeared in here at about, I don’t know, seven or eight this morning when I was feeding the cats. Maybe it was six. Whatever. Just walked in here. I nearly had a heart attack, I can tell you! I thought he was dead! They told me he was dead. Shot by the police. Can you imagine that? Anyway, I made him breakfast and gave him my wi-fi password, then he left at about nine o’clock. Oh, and I showed him where I buried Tallulah in the backyard a couple years back.”

Mulder looked at the number of cats and told himself never to dig up the backyard if he ever moved into a home that had belonged to a cat lady.

Scully was observing a door on one side of the living room. There was a faint, dusty smear on the light carpet outside the door that looked like a man’s footprint. A footprint facing away from the door.

“Ms. Verhoeven, do you mind if we look in your garage?” asked Scully.

“Yes,” said the old lady sharply. “I’d like you to leave now. Don’t you have a global epidemic to deal with? You people should be clearing the roads and catching looters, that’s what. Not terrorizing little old ladies who have done nothing wrong.”

“Sorry. We told you: this is personal,” said Mulder, opening the door to the garage.

It was apparently only used to store more clutter; furniture, boxes of books and toys, more DVDs and cat-related items. It was clear from the disturbed dust around it that one pile of boxes had been recently moved. Scully pointed out the note on one of the filing boxes at the top.

FOR MULDER

The note was fresh; the letters had smeared a couple decades of dust, and the marker was still lying on another pile of boxes. An older inscription on the box, buried under the dust, said ROSWELL.

Mulder pulled off the lid with trembling hands. The box contained thick files and manilla folders with typewritten captions like “Medical,” “Autopsy,” and “Craft.” The first envelope he pulled out enclosed a photograph of a saucer spaceship protruding from the New Mexico desert. He stared at it in disbelief.

“Mulder, I know this is what you’ve been seeking for years, but this is a distraction,” said Scully as he eagerly reached for the next file in the box. “Krycek obviously knew we would follow him here and find these files. We need to concentrate on working out where he went next.”

“We’ll take these with us,” said Mulder, straightening up.

“Be my guest,” said Ms. Verhoeven with a shrug, though she looked surprised. “I guess if he left you a note, he meant for you to have them. He already took what was left of his money and whatever the other things were.”

Einstein came to help them when they came out, carrying a box each. She left Daggoo tied to Ms. Verhoeven’s mailbox; he immediately engaged in a loud argument with one of the cats.

“I have a lead on Krycek’s next move,” said Einstein when they’d carried all the boxes Mulder wanted and stacked them by her car. “A neighbor took a picture of a man who parked here about nine o’clock, apparently to pick Krycek up.”

“Does this neighbor always take pictures of other people’s visitors?” asked Scully.

“Only if they’re black, I’m guessing,” said Einstein, showing them the pictures on her phone. Krycek was smiling at the other man, his face partially concealed by his overgrown hair. They could only see the back of the other man’s head. “I ran the plates. The car belongs to a Mr. Muhammad Bryant, a forty-six-year-old computer technician from Loudoun County. I called Mr. Bryant and once I’d assured him he wasn’t in any trouble, he confirmed that he met a man called Alex on Grindr late last night and agreed to give him a ride to the station this morning.”

“He arranged to meet a complete stranger after talking to him once?” said Mulder in disbelief.

Einstein looked up at him with a serious expression. “I take it you’re not familiar with the core concept of Grindr, sir.”

“Okay. Point taken,” said Mulder, suddenly uncomfortably aware of the erotic dream he’d had about Einstein when he was stoned in Texas.

“When did Bryant drop him off at the station?” asked Scully.

“He said it was about noon. Krycek apparently told him he had a lunch date in DC. Bryant dropped him off outside the station; he doesn’t know what train Krycek took.”

“Noon. What were they doing for three hours?” asked Mulder.

Both women turned to look up at him with matching quizzical expressions.

“Again, sir, maybe I can remind you—” started Einstein.

“Yes, okay,” interrupted Mulder with irritation. “Well, I guess at least we know Krycek was heading for DC a couple hours ago.” He looked at Scully. “Maybe we should go back to your place.”

“Listen, my mom doesn’t live far,” said Einstein. “I can take Daggoo to her for a few days and you can pick him up when you’re done. She has three dogs; she won’t mind.”

While the women discussed the arrangements, Mulder loaded the boxes from Ms. Verhoeven’s garage into Einstein’s car. Since he had a moment, he decided to sneak a peek at another box. He opened one—a shoebox for a pair of hiking boots according to the label—and then immediately closed it again when he saw a naked picture of a young Krycek on top of the papers inside. Maybe not all of the boxes were relevant to the investigation.

He closed the trunk and was about to join Scully and Einstein in the car when his phone whistled. This time, it was a selfie of Krycek in front of the Washington Monument. He was wearing a black leather coat and his hair was cut short. He was smirking at the phone.

I feel like a new man

“Yeah. We’ll catch you, you son of a bitch,” muttered Mulder.

* * * * *

17:46

Predictably, clearing the roads and returning people’s abandoned cars to them meant that the routes into DC had become gridlocked again and they made slow progress after picking up their things from Mulder’s house. After a brief argument about Mulder’s state of health, Scully had taken the wheel, and Mulder was looking through another one of Krycek’s boxes; a distraction Scully had allowed in exchange for the promise that he would not comment on her driving.

“Anything interesting?” she asked.

“Not really,” said Mulder, putting away the folder he’d been looking through. “Paystubs in German for an Alexander Victorsen and three different passports in that name: British, Canadian and American. There’s even a marriage license for his alias and a Bettina Schmidt.”

“Presumably not someone with a hairy chest,” commented Scully with amusement.

“I’m guessing not. I think this is probably his original passport, though.” Mulder looked through an American passport issued in Salt Lake City in 1990. “The name and date of birth in this one are the same as in his FBI file.”

Mulder looked at the embossed picture of Krycek inside, the official photograph muting his youthful good looks, and wondered if he had already been working for the Consortium in those days. Scully was concentrating on driving as the traffic picked up speed, so Mulder turned his attention to the last file at the back of the box.

It was less well organized, as if Krycek had thrown odd papers in there when he didn’t know where else to put them. There were photographs there too, mixed up with scraps of paper and envelopes with notes on them—measurements, shopping lists, diagrams of some sort, abstract drawings and the occasional obscene doodle. He pulled out a strip of photos.

“Hey, I think I’ve found George Clooney.”

The small pictures showed Krycek and another man squeezed together in a photo booth. Krycek was wearing a white undershirt and grinning with a look of carefree happiness that Mulder had never seen on him before. The other man had a Mediterranean complexion and a dark beard, and indeed, large dark eyes reminiscent of George Clooney’s. Krycek’s arm was around the man and they were kissing in the last picture. But it wasn’t the unexpected sight of a happy Krycek that drew Mulder’s attention.

“Christ, that could have been me,” he murmured, staring in fascination at the stump visible below Krycek’s left shoulder.

“They really butchered his arm,” said Scully, looking at the photographs when the traffic came to a standstill. “I saw the pictures in his file from Nugenics. Whoever did that must have sawed it off with a knife. I can’t even imagine how painful and traumatic it must have been.”

With no sign of any cars moving up ahead, Scully leaned over her seat and picked up the shoebox Mulder had opened earlier. “I’ll see what else there is while we’re stuck here.”

“Ah, you might want to—” started Mulder, but Scully opened the box before he could finish his sentence.

“Oh my,” she exclaimed softly. She held up the naked picture of Krycek and laughed. “Now I know what I missed out on last night.”

Mulder smiled, but felt a pang of guilt when he remembered touching that naked body only a couple of days earlier. He pulled out a random file from the box on his knees. It turned out to be an internal Strughold report on SR 819 in 1999. It was full of technical details on the nanocytes Krycek had used to torture Skinner at the time. Mulder wondered if any of the information might help them remove the robots, which as far as he knew were still in his boss’s system.

“Mulder… Did—Did Krycek ever come on to you when you were partners?”

“No. Well, yes, maybe, why?” responded Mulder, thrown by the unexpected question.

Scully had to put the open shoebox down as the traffic started moving again. Looking down at it, Mulder felt his heart skip a beat when he saw the photograph that was now on top.

“Well, I can’t say I blame him,” said Scully. “I always said that Speedo was obscene.”

Mulder picked up the picture. He’d never seen it before but recognized it as one of the photographs Krycek took by the pool that one time they went ghost hunting in San Diego. He remembered Krycek sitting on one of the loungers, pointing the camera at him and fiddling with the settings.

He could see why Krycek had kept this particular one; with his chiseled, lightly haired torso and genital-hugging Speedo, Mulder looked like a spread from Out magazine. He stared at it, trying to remember being that handsome young man.

“Is that why you didn’t mention it in his file? The fact that he dated men.” Scully glanced at him and reached over to squeeze his arm. “Listen, there’s no shame in it if he did come on to you.”

“Only if I turned him down,” said Mulder before he could stop himself.

There was a long pause. Mulder could practically see frost forming in the air between them. He rubbed his forehead; he was starting to feel sick again.

“Look, Scully. It was just a—a thing. It’s not like we made sweet love on my father’s grave.”

“You had sex with Krycek after he murdered your father?” said Scully in disbelief.

“Well, it depends on your definition of sex,” said Mulder ruefully.

“Whose definition, Bill Clinton’s?” snapped Scully. Her tone softened to one of resignation. “Why didn’t you ever tell me? God, Mulder, you’ve done some dumb things—”

Before she could work up to a diatribe, Mulder’s day got even worse. His phone rang.

“Uh, hi, sir,” he said awkwardly.

“Mulder, I’ve just had a visitor,” growled Skinner. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me Krycek was loose?”

Chapter Text

MONDAY, MARCH 7TH, 2016
17:46

Skinner let himself into his apartment, loosening his tie and removing his coat in the diffuse city light coming in through the windows. It was a measure of how tired he was that he didn’t notice anything unusual until his stereo suddenly sprang to life.

In 1965, Vietnam seemed like just another foreign war, but it wasn’t.
It was different in many ways, and so were those that did the fighting.

Skinner switched on the lights and stared in horror at a vision straight from his nightmares. Krycek was sitting in the armchair by the stereo, dressed in a black leather coat and holding the nanocyte controller in his gloved hand.

In World War II, the average age of the combat soldier was twenty-six.
In Vietnam, he was nineteen.

Skinner reached for his gun but stopped as Krycek raised the control.

“Oh, you really don’t want to do that, Walter,” he said quietly.

Krycek had gotten a haircut but hadn’t shaved, giving him a rugged, self-confident look very different from the scared hobo Mulder and Scully had brought to the FBI the previous week. He nodded toward the stereo.

“I always think of you when I hear this song.”

“Where are Mulder and Scully?” growled Skinner, still standing by the front door with his hand on his gun.

“Oh, they’re on their way,” said Krycek with a smirk. “I gave them a small trail of breadcrumbs to follow.”

“Just tell me what the hell you want, Krycek.”

“I want you to leave me alone,” said Krycek, his face suddenly serious. “I don’t want to go to jail and I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life. And I sure as hell don’t want you and your friends breathing down my neck when I’m enjoying a good meal or screwing a hot guy.” His lips twisted into an unpleasant smile at Skinner’s instinctive look of disgust. “In other words, Walter, I want you to forget I exist.”

According to a Veteran’s Administration study, half of the Vietnam combat veterans suffered from what psychiatrists call “Post-traumatic stress disorder”.
Many vets complain of alienation, rage, or guilt.
Some succumb to suicidal thoughts.

“Believe me, I’d love to forget you,” snarled Skinner. “But I can’t just let you go.”

Krycek’s ugly, widely-spaced eyes narrowed. “Sure you can. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain and embarrassment if you do. This is so much easier to use with two hands.”

He let his gloved hands hover over the controller and Skinner shuddered involuntarily. The memory of the searing pain caused by the microscopic robots in his blood had haunted him for nearly twenty years. He was an old man now; he knew he couldn’t withstand that torture at his age.

Eight to ten years after coming home, almost eight-hundred-thousand men are still fighting the Vietnam War.

“Did I tell you I learned your secret, by the way?” said Krycek. “Your original secret. I guess if I’d known back then why Morley had you so firmly under his thumb, I could have spared you a lot of pain.” He twirled the remote in his left hand. “Then again, why would I have denied myself the pleasure?”

Skinner’s heart sank; that Krycek of all people should know what he had done filled him with rage and guilt. Krycek got up and approached him to playfully tug at his tie. Mindful of the man’s restored left hand in the pocket with the controller, Skinner didn’t risk more than a silent snarl. More than the fear of pain, he desperately did not want his friends and colleagues to know what he had done, back when he was a scared eighteen-year-old. They would forgive him, he was sure, but they would think less of him nonetheless

Krycek slipped a piece of paper into the breast pocket of Skinner’s jacket.

None of them received a hero’s welcome.

“No, you didn’t, did you?” Krycek tilted his head to one side, as if cocking his ear to hear the music. “Then again, some of you didn’t deserve one.”

With that, he slid out of the door, leaving Skinner alone with the music.

* * * * *

SKINNER RESIDENCE
18:33

“Sir, whatever it is, you don’t need to tell us,” said Scully reassuringly.

“No, I don’t,” agreed Skinner.

For all his gruff tone, he gave her a worried look that made Mulder think that whatever it was, it was something he specifically didn’t want Scully to know. He’d never been all that concerned about Mulder’s opinion.

Mulder and Scully had come straight to Skinner’s building when they learned that Krycek had been there. But by the time they made their way through the traffic, Krycek was long gone and Skinner hadn’t involved anyone else to pursue him. The Assistant Director had changed into casual clothes and was drinking whiskey, sitting in one of his living room chairs; though he was trying to hide it, he was visibly shaken by the encounter and looked every year his age. Mulder was feeling tired and old himself, but he felt a surge of anger at Krycek for pulling his stunt on an old man.

“What was on the paper he gave you?” asked Scully.

“An address for an apartment across town.” Skinner straightened up in his chair, taking on more of his usual brusque demeanor. “I sent a team over and they found two men chained to the pipes in a locked bathroom. One of them had a gunshot wound in his ass from a few days ago. They also found a ninja-like costume in the bedroom and Scully’s address on the men’s laptop.”

“The men who attacked Krycek the other day,” said Mulder. “He must have recognized them somehow.”

Skinner grunted affirmatively. “Whatever he said to them, they decided they’d rather cooperate with the FBI than suffer the consequences of his displeasure. They’re being interrogated as we speak. I’m expecting a phone call any minute with a status update.”

“Maybe the true purpose of Krycek’s visit wasn’t so much to intimidate you, but to lead us to those men,” mused Scully.

Skinner’s phone rang. The conversation was brief and he returned to Mulder and Scully as soon as it was done. “Those men have just given up the name of the businessman who commissioned the attack on your apartment. You’ll never guess who, Mulder. Your old friend, former Senator Matheson.”

“Matheson was involved in Senate Resolution 819 back in the day,” said Mulder, glad for the change of subject. “The resolution about the export of the nanobots. I was reading a file about it just—” He glanced at Scully and sighed. “I was reading a file in the car just now. A file Krycek made sure we found at his former landlady’s house this afternoon.”

He explained about Ms. Verhoeven and the boxes. Skinner looked troubled.

“He’s clearly been planning this,” he said. “Why? What’s his game this time?”

“Maybe he wants to make sure we bring some of these people to justice,” suggested Scully. She raised her hands when both men gave her a dubious look. “It’s just a theory. And maybe the point isn’t justice but revenge. As far as we know, Krycek has either been unable to or has chosen not to contact his former Consortium colleagues. Perhaps he needs us to do his dirty work for him.”

“Speak of the devil,” muttered Mulder as his phone whistled. Another text message from Scully’s phone. An address followed by a simple message.

Come as you are, Agent Mulder, and come alone. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

“The address is a gay bar,” said Skinner, looking it up on his phone. “He’s really embracing his lifestyle.”

“If I’m lucky, I think I can make it in about twenty minutes if I take the Metro,” said Mulder, checking the time. “I’ll leave my phone’s location services on so you know where I am.”

“No, I’ll go,” said Scully. “Mulder, you’re sick and I think Krycek will take advantage of that. If he wants one of us to go, I can do it.”

“I’m feeling okay, Scully.” Mulder shook his head. “He’s asked for me specifically. Besides, we need to get the controller from Krycek before he can use it on Skinner. I think I stand a better chance of convincing him to give it up.”

“Right, thanks. I—I’d appreciate that,” said Skinner awkwardly. “Well, I have more important things to do than worry about Krycek. The Director wants me to interrogate Matheson as soon as they’ve gotten ahold of him. I need to get dressed and go back to HQ.”

“Mulder, I’m coming with you,” said Scully as soon as Skinner went upstairs to his bedroom to change.

“No. Krycek said I was supposed to come alone,” protested Mulder.

“And you want to be alone with him?” asked Scully coldly. She gave him a disapproving look. “I guess now I know why he waited until I came back before escaping.”

Mulder was tempted to protest at this conjecture based only on their brief conversation in the car; one encounter with Krycek twenty years ago didn’t mean he’d slept with the man that weekend. But given what had actually happened, he decided it would be unfair to lie to her.

“Look, I know he’s playing me, Scully, and I’m ready for him,” said Mulder. “I won’t let him seduce me this time. And I’ll get that controller back for Skinner.”

“Okay, fine,” she muttered angrily. “I wouldn’t want to get in between you and your new best friend.”

* * * * *

AUGUST 1994

I’m taking a ride with my best friend
I hope he never lets me down again

“You trying to tell me something, Alex?” asked Mulder with amusement as Krycek steered the car down the freeway.

Krycek laughed and smoothed back his greased hair. “It’s about drugs, Mulder. Just like this case. I can’t believe how easily you cracked it.” He shook his head. “You’re an awesome profiler! I can tell you used to work with Patterson. I read his book; all that stuff about how you need to look at an artist’s art to know the artist. That’s exactly what you did.”

“Yeah, well. Patterson was a dick.”

Mulder bit into a sunflower seed to affect nonchalance, but Krycek’s praise pleased him nonetheless. Though he’d never gotten along with Patterson when he worked at the Investigative Support Unit, he knew the man was a genius and the comparison was flattering.

He sighed and looked at his empty packet of sunflower seeds when he finished the last one. Krycek pointed at the ashtray.

“Stick it in there. I don’t smoke so I only use it for trash.” He gave Mulder a curious glance. “You know, we’ve been working together for what, a bit over a month now? I’ve been meaning to ask. How did you get involved with the X-Files? I mean, I know you said about your sister disappearing, but you could have investigated her disappearance just as easily on Violent Crimes.”

“It’s a long story,” started Mulder. “Well, maybe not that long. I was working on Violent Crimes when my, uh, partner at the time mentioned the X-Files. I was intrigued and we asked Skinner if we could investigate some of those cases. My partner could be very persuasive; she basically twisted Skinner’s arm until he let us have that basement office for all the files. And that was it. I never looked back, as they say. I decided there were other people whose lives had been affected by paranormal phenomena and whose stories deserved to be heard.”

“I didn’t know you had another partner before Scully,” said Krycek.

“Yeah, she transferred to Europe a couple years ago. Counter-terrorism.” Mulder paused, briefly remembering the emotional aftermath of Diana’s abrupt departure before firmly putting the memory aside. “What about you—what got you interested in the X-Files? You said you were following my work at the Academy.”

Krycek smiled. “Yeah. I remember some of the guys laughing about you, how you were always going on about aliens. But I guess it got me thinking, what if there were aliens and alien technology in experimental craft, and a conspiracy to cover them up? And then, I don’t know, I thought about how shady everyone was when my brother was killed. He was a pilot, a really good one, and they said he died in a training exercise, but I don’t know. It was a long time ago now, I guess I should just let it go.”

“No,” said Mulder, shaking his head. “If you let it go, you’ll never find out. All my adult life, I’ve been haunted by my sister’s disappearance. I want to find out what happened that night I watched her levitate out of our living room. I believe that some day, I’ll find the truth, and I believe that truth is in the X-Files.”

“I wish I could have worked with you on the X-Files,” said Krycek wistfully. “You know, for real, not just on random things Skinner gives you to keep you happy.”

“I think you’d be good at it. An open mind, but just enough skepticism not to take everything at face value.”

Krycek looked pleased by this assessment and Mulder smiled at him. He briefly imagined working with Krycek on the X-Files. In his ideal scenario, he pictured Scully working with them too; he liked Krycek’s pragmatic willingness to believe his theories, but he also appreciated Scully’s level-headed scientific approach. Maybe some day he could convince Skinner to stop being so scared of the Cigarette Smoking Man and get both Scully and Krycek assigned to the X-Files.

“Speaking of random cases, did you ever get those photos from San Diego developed?” he asked.

“Yeah, turns out I’m a crappy photographer,” said Krycek with a chuckle. “Best one was probably the one that guy—whatever he was called—took of us both at the pool. I’ll bring it in some day.”

“Oh yeah. Ned and Lucinda from Oklahoma. I remember them.” Mulder chuckled at the memory of the middle-aged couple they’d met at the poolside in the hotel. “Well, bring in the photos some time. I could use a laugh next time I get wiretap duty.”

They laughed and the song filled the gap in their companionable silence.

I’m taking a ride with my best friend
I hope he never lets me down again

* * * * *

Promises me I’m safe as houses
As long as I remember who’s wearing the trousers
I hope he never lets me down again

The memory of the song echoed in Mulder’s mind as he stood in the cold. Krycek had never brought in the photos, and if they were all like the one in the shoebox, Mulder could see why. In any case, there had been no time. A couple weeks later, Mulder was wearing that same Speedo and doing laps in the Quantico pool when Krycek came to tell him about Duane Barry.

And now, he was standing outside a gay bar in Dupont Circle, blowing on his cold hands and cursing Krycek, who hadn’t turned up yet. It was still only early evening and despite the loud music, most of the patrons were just eating and drinking quietly inside, celebrating the apparent end of the crisis. Mulder looked in the window and was tempted to go in and join them.

He wondered what Krycek did when he went to a bar like that. Did he pick someone out and go talk to them? Did he just make eye contact and head for the bathroom or the nearest exit? What was it like to just walk out with a complete stranger and have a sexual encounter with them, like the ones Krycek had hinted at when he talked about his meeting with Rich in the record store? Mulder remembered that one crazy moment twenty years ago, the cold air and Krycek’s warm mouth, the bristles under his palms, the rush of excitement at the insanity of what they were doing.

He was completely absorbed in his memories when he suddenly felt a hard object pressed to his side, and a husky voice whispered in his ear.

“Good evening, Agent Mulder.”

Before he could react, Krycek had him in a close embrace, forcing him into a rough kiss right there in the middle of the sidewalk.

“If you did bring anyone, that’s given them an eyeful,” said Krycek with a laugh when Mulder pushed him away. “I’m sure they can track you with one of those fancy phones if they really need to know where you are.”

Mulder wiped his mouth angrily, his heart beating fast. “Okay, I’m here. What do you want?”

Krycek was pointing Mulder’s service gun at him, but then he smiled and, with a little flourish, twirled the gun onto his index finger and handed it to him. Mulder was suddenly reminded of his darkened living room and Krycek’s rough kiss on his cheek. With short hair and the leather jacket and gloves, Krycek looked as he had back in the day—handsome and dangerous.

“I need backup,” said Krycek shortly. “Come on.”

He led Mulder over to a motorcycle and gave him a helmet. Mulder hesitated, the helmet in his hands. Given Krycek’s recent track record with vehicles, he didn’t entirely trust him to get them both to their destination in one piece. Also, it had been a good forty years since Mulder had been on a motorcycle.

“Look, Krycek, if you think—” started Mulder.

“Just get on,” said Krycek, straddling the front of the seat. “It isn’t far and I promise you it’ll be worth it.”

Mulder relented and settled behind Krycek, wrapping his arms around him without making it into a hug. He tried to pay attention to where they were going, but the tinted helmet obscured his vision in the early evening darkness and he soon lost track of the route.

Krycek drove cautiously, but Mulder still dragged himself unsteadily off the bike when they pulled up outside a nondescript apartment block. Krycek removed his helmet and coat and signaled to Mulder to do the same, then locked the coats in the box at the back of the bike, and chained the helmets to the motorcycle.

Mulder realized that Krycek was wearing an expensive-looking navy-blue suit, with a green shirt and dark blue tie. The tailored suit was quite a change from the ill-fitting beige polyester he’d worn back in the day. Mulder also noticed that Krycek’s left hand was no longer bandaged.

“What happened to your hand?”

“It got better. You got your badge?” asked Krycek. He pulled out his old FBI badge; the one that had been in his file but that Mulder had inadvertently given him when they were in the basement office the week before.

“You know impersonating an FBI officer is a federal offense.”

“Yeah? Add it to my tab,” said Krycek nonchalantly as he headed up the steps to the building entrance.

He rang one of the bells and showed his badge to the camera when a woman answered. “Hi, I’m Agent Krycek and this is my partner Agent Mulder. I know it’s late, ma’am, but we need to talk to your husband again.”

Mulder checked the name on the bell when the woman buzzed them in.

“Schiaparelli? That’s the Nugenics doctor who worked with Dr. Webber. He’s already been questioned about the fire and Webber’s whereabouts.”

“Yeah, I saw that in Scully’s emails,” said Krycek as he pressed the button to call the elevator. “But that woman’s name appears on your son’s fake death certificate and on the reports about my time in the lab. We already know the photograph in the Nugenics HR file is a fake. Do you seriously think she died in that fire?”

Mulder just spread his hands, conceding the point as they entered the elevator. Krycek smiled at his own reflection in the mirrored walls and ran his left hand through his short hair.

“Turned out the IT guy I hooked up with this morning worked at a barber in high school. I feel a lot more like myself now,” said Krycek, flashing a genial smile at Mulder through the mirror.

Mulder looked him over; he must have shaved since he saw Skinner earlier that evening, and Mulder had to admit he did look like an FBI agent. Well, maybe the Dolce and Gabbana branch of the FBI.

Mulder caught sight of himself in the mirror too, with his lined face and greying hair, and felt a renewed stab of irritation that Krycek’s time in the lab had somehow prevented him from aging.

“I’m guessing the IT guy is responsible for your nice suit too,” he said. “You sure as hell had no dress sense back in the day.”

Krycek gave him a dark look but then smiled and adjusted Mulder’s tie. “I’m a quick learner.”

Mulder had to resist the temptation to push Krycek against the elevator mirror and either smack or kiss him into submission.

The elevator pinged and opened at their floor; Mrs. Schiaparelli was looking out for them and let them into the apartment. Dr. Schiaparelli, a wiry, tall middle-aged man, rose from his chair as they entered.

“Look, I’ve already told your colleagues—” he started, before staring at Krycek.

“What’s the matter, doc?” snarled Krycek, and Mulder noticed he was deliberately making his voice lower and huskier. “Seen a ghost?”

Schiaparelli looked at Krycek and then at the front door, and made a sudden run for it. Krycek ran after him; from the sound of the swearing, it seemed Schiaparelli had gotten some lead on Krycek already. Mulder decided to let Krycek’s better preserved muscles do the running.

“Oh, Phil, you idiot,” said Mrs. Schiaparelli with a sigh. “Don’t worry, he’s a scientist, not a master criminal. I’m sure he’ll come quietly in the end. He won’t get into trouble over this, will he?”

“Not if my partner brings him back in one piece,” said Mulder, mildly concerned that Krycek might vent some of his anger at the experiments he’d been subjected to.

“What’s going on, Mom?” asked a teenage boy, poking his head into the living room.

“Your dad is being an idiot,” said Mrs. Schiaparelli. She turned her attention to Mulder. “I take it you’re still looking for information on this Dr. Webber? I wish I could help, but I only met her once. We went to a barbecue for Phil’s work a couple years ago. She was there with her daughter.”

“Her daughter?” Mulder didn’t remember any mention of Dr. Webber having a daughter.

“Yes, had some kind of condition that meant she couldn’t speak, poor little thing. It’s terrible to think of her losing her mother in a fire like this. Why are you so interested in Dr. Webber anyway?”

Mulder remembered Scully’s unsuccessful tactic on Mrs. Verhoeven earlier that afternoon. “We don’t believe she died in the fire. And we think she might have been involved in the abduction of my son fourteen years ago.”

“Oh, my god!” said the woman, wide-eyed. “Oh, that’s terrible.”

“He was adopted. I mean my—my girlfriend put him up for adoption. I wasn’t there—I should have been there, but there were— Anyway, we needed to trace him for medical reasons but couldn’t find any records of his adoption. Dr. Webber is named on the paperwork we did find, so we need to talk to her.”

The teenage boy had come into the room, and was staring at Mulder through a sheet of greasy hair dyed black. He twisted his fingers in the hem of his heavy metal T-shirt and sidled up closer to his mother.

“You must miss him so much,” said Mrs. Schiaparelli, automatically reaching out to touch her son’s hand.

“I hardly knew him,” said Mulder, trying to affect nonchalance, as he did whenever Scully raised the topic. But this wasn’t Scully and he sighed. “I only saw him once, when he was a tiny baby. But it’s funny, you know; I think about him all the time. Like, you know, wonder if he still looks like his mom; if he has good grades in school; if he’s interested in space exploration; if he’s somewhere out there watching the same shows I’m watching; if he has someone to shoot hoops with in the yard or take him to a game—”

He stopped talking and swallowed hard. Mrs. Schiaparelli squeezed his arm comfortingly.

“I wish we could help,” she said softly. “Losing a kid is the worst thing that can happen to you.”

That phrase struck Mulder as familiar. He couldn’t quite place it, but it was enough to drag his mind back to the situation at hand. “Mrs. Schiaparelli, did you take any pictures at that barbecue?”

“Yes, I did. I don’t think I have any of Dr. Webber, but maybe she’s in one of the group shots.” Mrs. Schiaparelli opened her laptop and showed Mulder the gallery of photos. “I don’t think any of these include her. I was mainly just taking photos of Chris. Oh, there’s her daughter, though. The girl with the dark hair.”

Mulder stared at the girl in the photograph. “That’s Sonia Webber’s ‘daughter’?”

He got Mrs. Schiaparelli to email him the photograph. He was going to ask her for more details on Dr. Webber when there was a commotion behind them as Schiaparelli and Krycek returned. They’d evidently run quite a bit; Schiaparelli was sweating and Krycek’s face was as flushed as when he’d just had sex. Mulder felt ashamed of himself for knowing that about Krycek, especially when he noticed Schiaparelli’s bloody nose.

“Oh, Phil!” Mrs. Schiaparelli went to get a bag of frozen peas for her husband’s face from the kitchen area and then opened the front door. “I think you two had better leave! I’ll be having words with your superiors.”

“Come on, Mulder. I got what I wanted,” said Krycek, and they left the apartment without further argument. Mrs. Schiaparelli slammed the door behind him.

“Why the hell did you hit him?” demanded Mulder as they went down in the elevator.

“I remember him,” said Krycek shortly, not quite meeting Mulder’s eye. “Anyway, it was effective. Turns out the good doctor had an address for Webber that isn’t on her personnel file.” He pulled out a Samsung phone Mulder didn’t recognize and showed him the address. “And she apparently also revealed to him that she lives with a man who needs regular treatment for the long-term effects of severe burns. Remind you of anyone?”

“Small world,” commented Mulder. He showed Krycek the photograph on Mrs. Schiaparelli’s screen. “And that’s apparently her ‘daughter.’”

“I remember that girl,” said Krycek with a frown. “There were a few of them in Tunisia. That’s one of the worker clones!”

“Yeah,” said Mulder. “One of the clones based on my sister.”

Chapter Text

Krycek threw Scully’s phone to Mulder when they left the Schiaparellis’ building and returned to the motorcycle. “Tell Scully I only looked at the emails if she’s worried. Come on, I’ll take you back to her place.”

“I thought we’d head to Webber’s address,” said Mulder, shivering in the cool evening air.

“Not now.” Krycek handed Mulder his coat, and put on his leather jacket. “It’s a long way and you look tired. Wouldn’t want you to fall off the bike if you get one of your nap attacks.”

Mulder put on his coat; he was indeed feeling tired, but he didn’t want to simply go back to Scully’s. The revelation about Webber and Samantha’s clone had almost distracted him from the original reason he’d wanted to come.

“Krycek, I need that controller.”

“No, you don’t,” said Krycek, unchaining the helmets. “Don’t worry, I’m done with it anyway. Let’s go.”

Mulder pulled out the gun Krycek had given him earlier that evening.

“No. You’re going to give me the controller,” he said firmly. “And then you’re coming back with me, Krycek.”

“The hell I am,” said Krycek. He cast a disdainful look at Mulder’s drawn weapon and started to put on his helmet. “On second thought, you can take a cab back to Scully’s.”

Mulder holstered the gun and tackled Krycek, pushing him against a nearby car. Krycek dropped his helmet and struggled to get free, but despite his better health and equal height, he soon lost his footing and fell on his back on the hood of the car.

As he pinned Krycek down, Mulder was reminded of the night his father was murdered, when he’d fought with Krycek and they had ended in a very similar position. He remembered how angry he’d been in his altered state, intending to kill Krycek until Scully shot him.

But this time, Mulder kept his gun in its holster and merely held Krycek down, wondering—not for the first time—why this murderer had to have the face of an angel. Krycek stopped trying to push him off and seemed to be waiting. Mulder remembered that there had been other times back in the day when Krycek had been like this, easily overpowered and strangely submissive. Was this what Krycek had fantasized about when he looked at that photograph of Mulder in the swimsuit? These moments had been fodder for some of Mulder’s own fantasies too, though the best ones had not involved Krycek remaining on his back.

They stared at each other for a few seconds. Krycek wet his lips and Mulder was suddenly very tempted to lean in and kiss him.

A couple walked past and looked at them with alarm. Mulder immediately straightened up, putting some distance between himself and the car. Krycek got up and dusted himself off, his face twisted into a silent smirk that made Mulder want to smack him. He remembered Dr. Schiaparelli’s bloody nose and felt a swell of anger.

“I’m not too tired to take you out, Krycek,” he growled. “So now, you’re going to be a good boy and give me that controller.”

* * * * *

For all his bluster about not being tired, Mulder leaned heavily by the door when Krycek let them into a hotel room opposite the gay club. The room was clean but cheap, with tired décor and a bed that didn’t look quite wide enough for two people. Mulder watched impatiently as Krycek removed his leather coat and suit jacket, and then started to loosen his tie.

“Come on, Krycek. Give me the controller,” snapped Mulder, fighting the tiredness of his disease and wary of Krycek tricking him as he’d done the previous night.

“Relax, Mulder,” said Krycek, raising his hands in a calming gesture. He threw his tie on a chair and went to the other side of the room. “Stay right where you are.”

He pulled a travel bag onto the bed; Mulder recognized it as one of his own, probably taken from his basement. Krycek took out the controller and held it out. Mulder stared at it a moment, certain that there had to be a catch.

“I couldn’t have used it even if I’d wanted to,” explained Krycek. “I left the batteries in; they’ve corroded the circuits. And for all I know, the nanocytes in Skinner’s blood are long gone anyway.”

“Oh, so you’re just planning to blackmail Skinner the old-fashioned way instead?” Mulder took the device; up close, it was easy to see where the battery acid had burned through the eighteen-year-old plastic case and LCD display. He put it in his pocket nonetheless.

“Here, that should cover the bag and what I took from your desk, plus a cab ride back to Scully’s.” Krycek threw a handful of old dollar bills onto the bed. “I’ll be in touch tomorrow and you can tell me if the address Schiaparelli gave us checks out. Now go get some sleep. I have stuff to do.”

“Like what?” asked Mulder, ignoring the money. “Settling old scores? Or finding some other poor schmuck to seduce on Grindr?”

“You jealous, Mulder?” laughed Krycek. He put the money back in his bag. “Sorry, but a couple rolls in the hay don’t mean anything.” He looked Mulder over with disdain. “You’re not that hot.”

“Oh, is that why you kept a half-naked photo of me in your secret shoebox?”

A look of surprise momentarily cracked Krycek’s tough guy façade—he had clearly forgotten the shoebox—but then he shrugged.

“What can I say? You were a good-looking guy with a big dick. I’m only human.” He walked past Mulder to open the door. “Now go back to Scully’s and I’ll be in touch.”

“No!” Mulder seized Krycek’s arm. “You’re coming with me, Krycek.”

Krycek swore and grabbed the lapels of Mulder’s coat, pushing him toward the open door as if to throw him out of the room. Mulder closed the door and lunged at Krycek angrily; Krycek backed away, but hit the edge of the mattress, still holding on to Mulder’s coat. They fell onto the bed, Krycek once more on his back and Mulder crashing down on top of him.

Taking advantage of his dominant position, Mulder pinned Krycek’s arms to the bed, deriving some pleasure from the look of impotent rage on his face. Then without thinking, he kissed Krycek roughly, forcing his tongue into the man’s mouth. He was rewarded with a needy moan from Krycek that went right down to his groin. When he released Krycek’s arms, they wrapped around him to hold him closer, one snaking up to tangle in his hair and the other trying to get into his coat.

Mulder remembered the night his father died, and Schiaparelli’s bloody nose, and Skinner’s pale face after being terrorized by the broken nanocyte controller. He broke the kiss and pinned Krycek’s arms again.

“How many people have you killed?” he asked.

“What the hell?”

“How many, Krycek? Five, ten, twenty?”

“A hell of a lot more than you’ve fucked,” growled Krycek. He struggled, but Mulder had gravity on his side, his whole body weight keeping Krycek immobilized. “You know that, Mulder, and you’re still hot for me.”

“Oh yeah, I’m hot for you all right,” said Mulder angrily. “Turn over.”

Krycek’s eyes widened, and Mulder expected a struggle or some sardonic retort. But instead, the aggressive look on Krycek’s face faded into an air of resignation. He lowered his eyes.

“Oh. Right,” he said quietly.

Mulder got off him. Keeping a wary eye on Krycek, he removed his coat, jacket and shoes, and sat at the edge of the bed. Krycek kicked off his own shoes and then pulled a box of condoms and a small pump dispenser of lubricant out of the bag. He threw them at Mulder.

“Think you know how to use these?” he asked with a shadow of his usual sardonic sneer.

Mulder looked at the items; he assumed Krycek was laying down the terms of his surrender. “Yeah, I think I can take it from here.”

“Then get on with it. I got stuff to do.”

Krycek unfastened his pants, his hands moving jerkily as he unbuckled his belt and unzipped the fly. Then he lay down on his front, his breathing shallow and his face buried in his folded arms.

Mulder’s mouth went dry. He was in uncharted territory. He had never been with anyone who submitted to him like this; he’d never asked it of any of his lovers before, and they’d never offered. He had been in Krycek’s position, though, and knew how freeing it could be to let someone else take over, to give up responsibility. Phoebe and Diana had known exactly what to say, how to relax him, to get him to do anything they asked of him. But Mulder wasn’t sure he knew how to do that. He also wasn’t sure how liberating Krycek was finding it.

“You need some help, Mulder?” growled Krycek. “Maybe some Viagra at your age?”

Thinking through the next steps, Mulder realized that he had never put a condom on himself; he had spent most of his adult life either celibate or in a stable relationship, and the partners in his couple of one night stands had put it on for him. But even past that hurdle, he couldn’t picture himself taking Krycek like this. He could almost sense the man’s fear. On some level, Mulder thought Krycek didn’t deserve any more consideration than he had shown his many victims. But on the other hand, Mulder wasn’t a rapist.

He lay down beside Krycek and slid his hand into the gap between the loosened pants and Krycek’s expensive shirt. Krycek’s face was still concealed, but Mulder heard him catch his breath. He placed a kiss behind one of Krycek’s small ears—the one bit of exposed skin he could see with the man’s face buried in his arms. Giving up any pretense of this being an assault to punish him, he traced the contours of Krycek’s lower body, exploring the tactile contrast between warm, soft skin and wiry, sparse hairs. When Krycek let out a low sigh of pleasure, Mulder grew bolder, easing the man’s pants and underwear down to the top of his thighs. He’d always enjoyed the visuals as much as the actual touching, and took this opportunity to look at the man’s bare skin.

His snowy white, unblemished skin. Mulder pushed up Krycek’s shirt and drew back to stare in surprise.

“You had sores. And your hand was still injured yesterday. What the hell did you do?”

Krycek turned to glower at him over his shoulder, his handsome features creased into a look of disbelief at this sudden change of subject. He glanced at his bag uncertainly. “I don’t know if—”

“Something in here?”

Mulder started to open the bag, but Krycek pulled up his pants and yanked it out of his hands before he could do more than glimpse a few of its contents: some socks, a photo frame, and more of the dollar bills.

“Listen, I don’t know if you’re going to be affected,” said Krycek, sounding genuinely concerned. “Maybe best if you stay back from it.”

“What do you m—”

Mulder interrupted himself as Krycek pulled out a roughly triangular object wrapped in aluminum foil. When Krycek unfolded one corner, a very faint buzzing sound rang in Mulder’s ears, like a vacuum cleaner a couple of rooms away, and he saw a dull metallic object peeking out from the foil.

“A piece of the alien spaceship,” he said, recoiling instinctively.

“It isn’t as powerful as it was when I stole it,” explained Krycek. “Edith—Ms. Verhoeven—said it gradually lost its power over the years. It still works on cuts and bruises, but she tried it on a pigeon one of her cats caught last year, and it died anyway. I guess it wears out when it’s away from the ship for too long.”

Mulder reached out and touched it. The material was warm. “Last time I was exposed to one of these, it drove me crazy.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

* * * * *

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
WASHINGTON DC
1999

Alex was in a bad mood. His flight to DC had been delayed that morning and the straps on his prosthesis were starting to chafe. He was also still stinging from the humiliation of having to show it to the security agent at the airport; some little Caesar getting his kicks by belittling passengers entering the United States. A quiet threat to strangle him with Alex’s remaining hand had speeded up the proceedings, but the damage was done; Alex was pissed at him, pissed at the US, and more than anything, pissed at being dragged halfway across the planet just because that black-lunged son of a bitch snapped his fingers. Well, on the plus side, he’d had plenty of anger to draw on when he threatened Skinner earlier.

He walked up the stairs at the university and was mildly surprised to suddenly come across Mulder. The FBI agent seemed to be in pain; he was writhing on the floor of the landing and groaning incoherently. Alex observed him dispassionately and wondered idly if it was as painful as having an arm chopped off.

He remembered their last encounter at Mulder’s apartment one—no, two years ago, and half smiled at the memory. The man had treated him like a whore and then left him to be carved up by savages, so why, Alex now asked himself, had he fucking kissed the guy?

Disgusted at his own lack of judgement, Alex walked past Mulder without a further glance. He pulled out his cellphone as he continued up the stairs.

“Hi. You didn’t hear it from me, but I think you need to come pick up your boyfriend. He doesn’t look too good.”

* * * * *

“You knew Diana?” Mulder shook his head before Krycek could answer. “Yes, of course you knew Diana. You were both FBI agents working for the Consortium. I’m guessing your paths must have crossed a few times.”

“Yeah.” Krycek wrapped the artifact up in the foil again. He looked at the condoms and lubricant lying on the bed. “You—you still want to do something?”

Mulder followed his gaze and shook his head; he was feeling tired and the moment had definitely passed. Krycek practically heaved a sigh of relief as he tossed the condoms and lubricant onto the bedside table.

“You look tired, Mulder. You want me to come down with you to get a cab?” he asked.

“No.” Mulder looked thoughtfully at the foil-covered alien artefact. “Did you get this when you killed Sandoz in New Mexico?

Krycek shrugged. “I don’t remember the guy’s name, but yeah, if that’s who I killed in New Mexico, that’s how I got it. Has a piece of the human genome written in Navajo letters on it, apparently.”

“How many people did you kill, Krycek?”

“I didn’t keep count,” said Krycek shortly.

He lay down again, on his back this time. His pants were still undone, a thin strip of white skin and tufty dark hairs visible under the hem of his shirt.

“Was Augustus Cole the first?” asked Mulder, lying down beside him again. “There must have been a first time. A moment when you stopped being the ordinary guy you could have been, and became a killer.”

“Hmm.” Krycek clearly didn’t want to talk about it. He looked around the hotel room. “You know, the first time I was with Rich was in a hotel room like this.”

* * * * *

CAPITOL HILL, SEATTLE
APRIL 1982

“We can wait here until it stops raining,” said Rich. He shrugged off his wet jacket and hung it on the back of the chair beside the bed. “If it clears up, I’ll take you up the Space Needle before you head home.” He pointed at the small bathroom. “I’ll be right back.”

Alex murmured an acknowledgment and sat on the bed. He wondered if he should take his clothes off, or if that would be too obvious. He also asked himself why Rich was going to so much trouble for him—buying him lunch, making sure he called his mom, getting his ticket back home—when Alex had already offered to do him in the alley a couple hours ago. He had a moment’s misgiving; what if the reason Rich had taken him here was because he wanted something more than that, something Alex didn’t want to do? Or what if he was a cop or something?

After checking that his handgun was easy to reach in the backpack, he quickly went through the contents of Rich’s jacket. There was nothing out of the ordinary there. He chuckled at the wedding ring tucked into one of the pockets and wondered if the teenage kids pictured in Rich’s wallet were younger or older than Alex. On impulse, he took $50; just a little perk in case Rich really was some do-gooder and this wasn’t leading to sex as he hoped.

When Rich came back, he got two Cokes out of the minibar and sat down beside Alex on the bed. He didn’t say anything so Alex said nothing either. He tore off the tab on the can of Coke and threw it in the trash, then watched Rich do the same. With his mustache and partly unbuttoned shirt, Rich had an air of Tom Selleck and Alex wondered if he looked as good shirtless as the star of Magnum, P.I.. If they’d been somewhere more familiar, Alex would have slipped his hand in that shirt, but he was still unsure where this was going.

Rich seemed to be lost in thought and it was a while before he spoke.

“Why did your dad hit you?”

“He’s not my dad,” said Alex dismissively, his eyes still on the opening in Rich’s shirt.

Rich smiled kindly; it made his eyes crease pleasantly. “Okay, why did your stepfather hit you?”

“Oh, you know.” Alex shrugged. “A neighbor told him she’d seen me hanging out at the truck stop on the interstate, so he and Mom think I was doing drugs.”

“And were you doing drugs?” asked Rich with concern.

“No, I was doing truckers!” said Alex with a laugh. “Bob broke all my records because he said the singers looked like faggots. I figured they’d be less mad if I was doing drugs.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Rich with a sigh.

Alex decided that if there was any chance of getting laid, he was going to have to make it happen himself. He put his Coke down on the bedside table and put his hand on Rich’s knee. When Rich did nothing but exhale sharply and stare at the hand, Alex grew bolder and leaned over to kiss his lips.

“Are you really eighteen, Alex?” asked Rich breathlessly, pulling back after a few minutes.

“Yes, yes,” said Alex, sensing that any other answer would stop him getting laid.

* * * * *

“So what happened?” asked Mulder when Krycek’s voice trailed off. “Did you kill him?”

What? No, we slept together.” Krycek stared at him. “What the hell made you think that?”

“You said—I don’t know,” said Mulder, backpedaling. “We were talking about the first person you killed, and then you started talking about this guy, and when you mentioned the gun, I assumed—Why did you even have a gun at that age?”

“It was a parting gift from a gun shop I used to work for.”

“Okay, so what happened next? I mean, between you and Rich?”

“Oh, he dumped me when I got too old for him,” said Krycek nonchalantly. He grinned at Mulder’s disapproving look. “We had a really good time together before it ended. But I’m not describing my underage sexual experiences to you, Mulder. You can use your imagination!”

“Yeah. Now I’m imagining you having sex with Magnum.”

Krycek chuckled. “You can thank me later.”

“Were you in love with him?” asked Mulder drowsily, closing his eyes.

There was a long pause before Krycek answered. “I don’t fall in love, Mulder.”

Mulder had a strong feeling that wasn’t true. He wondered if that was just intuition or if the proximity of the alien artifact had revived an echo of the overwhelming ESP he’d experienced last time. He let his mind drift, only vaguely aware of a hand stroking his chest and some time later, soft lips against his forehead.

When he drifted out of a pleasant dream, he could feel the weight of a thick blanket and see light through his closed eyelids. His work clothes dug into him in various places and he rolled onto his side, wrapping an arm around the petite body beside him and inhaling the familiar scent of Scully’s hair.

Scully? Mulder opened his eyes and stared at her, now fully awake. She was sleeping beside him, her freckled face peaceful in the artificial light still glowing in the room. Mulder tucked a strand of her long hair behind her ear and her eyes fluttered open.

“Oh, hi.” Scully frowned. She shifted away from him and sat up. “Krycek called my landline last night to tell me where you were. I guess I fell asleep too. I take it he escaped again?”

Mulder looked around the room; Krycek’s bag and clothes were all gone. So were the condoms and lubricant, much to his relief. He leaned out of the bed to pick up his coat and showed Scully her phone and the controller.

“At least I got these back,” he said.

Scully inspected the damaged nanocyte controller and took her phone. “Thank you.”

There was a coldness in Scully’s voice that surprised Mulder until he guessed what was wrong.

“We didn’t have sex,” he said, before realizing that was not quite honest. “Well, we nearly did, for a moment, but we didn’t.”

“Oh, you can have sex with him if you want,” snapped Scully. She sat up with her back to him to put on her shoes. “God knows he’s only slightly worse than some of your other choices in the past.”

“Scully…”

“He left this,” she interrupted, handing him something from the bedside table. “I assume this means something to you.”

It was the notepad Krycek had used back at Mulder’s house. It was open at a page that just said:

56 so far

Mulder’s stomach lurched. He flicked through the notebook; in among the doodles and miscellaneous notes, he found a page full of names written with different pens and pencils, as if Krycek had been adding to the list throughout the last week. He had clearly lied about not keeping count.

Looking at the familiar and unfamiliar names on the list, Mulder reflected that Scully was wrong. Krycek was far worse than his other choices.

Chapter Text

Rosenthal   Covarrubias   Dmitri   Mulder   Chernenko   Scully

“You gotta admit, that’s quite a list,” said Scully wryly.

Mulder just nodded an acknowledgment and continued sorting through one of the boxes. He’d had plenty of time to reflect on Krycek’s crimes and his relationship with the man while Cancerman’s machine gurgled and squeaked beside him that morning, doing whatever it did that was keeping him alive. He had only glanced at it once and the list was already seared in his eidetic memory.

Barry   Skyland op   5? ru psnts   Cole   Charn-Serra

“I don’t think he personally murdered everyone on his list,” continued Scully, though she seemed to be talking to herself rather than Mulder. “I assume the ‘Scully’ is my sister Melissa, but we know it was Luis Cardinale who pulled the trigger. Dr. Charne-Sayre of the WHO was murdered while Krycek was in Russia with you. Maybe these are all the people he’s harmed, directly or indirectly.”

Mulder wanted to agree with her and mention that as far as they knew, Marita Covarrubias was still alive too, but he wasn’t sure whether to respond or not. He knew he was still in the doghouse over his “roll in the hay” with Krycek and was lucky that Scully was talking to him at all.

30? ER   Kritchgo   NM profSandoz   Costakedes   Lazreg

“One thing is for certain. Spelling isn’t his strong point: that’s not how you spell Kritschgau or Charne-Sayre. And what does ‘30? ER’ mean? The 30 is part of his tally, so does that mean he was responsible for the death of 30 people in an emergency room? How come we don’t know about this?”

“Maybe that was some Consortium operation,” suggested Mulder. “Like Charne-Sayre’s experiments on the elderly care home patients in Boca Raton. After all, he was a hitman, not a mass murderer.”

“Well, you know him better than I do,” said Scully sharply.

Kallenchuk   Bob Sales?   Orgal   boat guy   El-Hassani

Mulder sighed and returned to his sorting. He wanted to make a joke and speculate on what “boat guy” had done to deserve his fate, but decided that now was not the time.

Fowler   2 1 Berlin?
من قتل نفس كأنما قتل الناس جميعا

“Google Translate couldn’t understand Krycek’s Arabic handwriting, so maybe Mrs. Al-Zahawi can decipher that last sentence,” said Scully. She turned toward Mulder, who put down the papers he was sorting in a display of attentiveness. “She sent me an email just now saying her algorithm finished running. I think we should go see her this afternoon on the way to the address Schiaparelli gave you yesterday.”

Mulder nodded. Scully glanced at the piles of papers he was organizing with apparent disinterest, but then frowned and pulled a paper out of the nearest pile. She looked at it a moment before putting it down again. It was a handwritten receipt for a book entitled Native American Beliefs and Practices.

“He seems to have kept meticulous records,” she commented.

“Yes. Somewhere out there, there’s a parallel universe where Krycek became an accountant,” said Mulder lightly.

“He’s certainly full of surprises,” said Scully with a thoughtful expression. “Now, I need to go pick up my car, but your treatment should be finished by the time I’m back. Then we can go see Mrs. Al-Zahawi and look for Dr. Webber.”

Frustrated at being tethered to the sofa because of the blood filtration machine, Mulder tried to keep himself busy after Scully left. He contacted John Doggett to find out where Krycek was, and learned that the last time he’d been spotted on a camera was when he had a coffee that morning with Mohammed Bryant, the man he’d met on Grindr. Mulder watched the brief footage with interest; Krycek was talking animatedly, making wide gestures, while Bryant looked at him with a bemused look that, to Mulder, said “How did a boring middle-aged man like me bag such a hot guy?” He wondered if Bryant knew the extent of Krycek’s crimes.

“Oh, Agent Mulder,” said Doggett as they were about to end the call. “I found the name of the guy who was looking for Krycek’s prosthetic arm back in 2004: Professor Abdelmajid Ben Salem. I only spoke to him by email, but I’m guessing he’s Tunisian.”

“Sounds like a fair guess,” said Mulder, dragging his eyes away from the freeze frame of Krycek talking to Bryant. “I’ll make a note in the file.”

When he ended the call with Doggett, Mulder looked at the pile of papers he’d been inventorying and sighed. Aside from the box about Roswell, which he had already been through, Krycek’s records really weren’t as riveting as he’d hoped. He looked around Scully’s living room, seeking a distraction. His eyes fell on the bookcase beside Scully’s desk and he frowned when he realized that one of the books was the Native American Beliefs and Practices mentioned on the receipt.

He was still puzzling out the significance of this when he noticed that the envelope icon on Scully’s answering machine was flashing. The device was a relic of times past with a small black and white LCD screen that had grown dim with age. In fact, Mulder was amazed she still used it; his had long been replaced by his carrier’s voicemail system. Mulder was certain that Scully would have checked for messages when she came home the previous evening after their encounter with Skinner, which meant this message must have come later that night and Scully just hadn’t noticed it yet. On impulse, Mulder stretched as far as the tubes tying him to the blood filtration machine would allow and pressed the play button.

“Uh, hi, Dana, it’s Alex,” said Krycek’s voice, affecting a jovial tone as if he was a casual acquaintance of Scully’s. “I just bumped into a friend of yours at the Plaza hotel in—”

Mulder heard Scully pick up the phone; she apparently forgot to stop the recording, which carried on. “Krycek! Where the hell is Mulder?”

“I was just about to tell you,” said Krycek with irritation. He gave her the room number and the address of the hotel. “He wanted your phone and the controller back, but then he had another one of his nap attacks.”

“Was that after he had sex with you?” asked Scully coldly. “Or was last week enough for you both?”

There was a pause. “He told you?”

“He didn’t even have to. I noticed the way you looked at each other after I came back on Saturday. And I saw the photographs you kept of him.”

Mulder noticed her wording and glanced at the shoebox; were there more photographs of him than the one with the Speedo? He wasn’t sure he wanted to find out.

“I take it last week wasn’t the first time either,” continued Scully. “I guess you enjoyed traveling to Russia together.”

Krycek laughed dryly. “Yeah. That trip sure turned out great for me,” he said sarcastically. “Look, it never meant anything. He was just a good-looking guy with a—you know. And I guess he just wanted a walk on the wild side. Last week was just for old times’ sake. Just guys letting off steam.”

Mulder heard Scully exhale sharply on the recording, as if she’d just made up her mind to do something.

“Krycek, do you still have the vaccine? The one you used after his abduction.”

Krycek hesitated before he answered; Mulder could hear faint music in the background.

“No,” said Krycek finally. “The vaccine I left with my landlady before I died has rotted away after all these years. I—I’m sorry, I can’t save him this time.”

“So it was you,” said Scully softly. “I knew it had to be. There was no other rational explanation why he suddenly got better after he was infected with that virus. But it made no sense to me why you would have saved his life. Not until I saw you together last week.”

“It had nothing to do with that,” snapped Krycek. “You saved my life once, I figured I owed you. Now, just come take care of him.”

Krycek ended the call at this point and the recording stopped. Mulder returned to his sofa and listened to the gurgling machine, trying to absorb this new information.

* * * * *

“Loosely translated, the Arabic inscription says ‘he who murders a man murders all mankind.’” Al-Zahawi handed Krycek’s notepad back to Scully. “It’s a paraphrase of part of the sūrat al-māidah from the Holy Qur’an.”

“Is that the same part that also says ‘he who saves a life saves all mankind’?” asked Mulder. “It was mentioned in an episode of House of Cards,” he explained when Scully gave him a curious look.

“Yes,” said Al-Zahawi. “It’s a common quote. Your friend must have heard it in Tunisia. The original version is actually more like ‘he who murders a man, unless as retribution for murder or a serious crime, murders all mankind.’ Meaning that killing is reprehensible, though it can sometimes be justified.” She sighed. “I am not generally in favor of the death penalty, but I’d make an exception for that man who caused the plague, for instance.”

“Yeah, he’s definitely someone mankind wouldn’t miss,” agreed Mulder.

“Speaking of which, you said you had new information for us about his plans?” prompted Scully.

“Well, I’m hoping I’ve at least gotten closer to finding your son.” Al-Zahawi sat at her computer and pulled up a spreadsheet. “I’m sorry it took so long. It went through all the hundreds of thousands of DNA records collected by the Department of Health and Human Services and filtered them first by their gender and age, then their similarity to your son’s profile, and finally their lack of similarity to the rest of the records. Here are the names of the 14 boys matching the criteria. I’m afraid none of them lived in Wyoming when their DNA samples were taken, and even ranking them by similarity to the sample you gave me didn’t produce any clear winners.”

“But one of those kids could be William?” asked Mulder, filled with amazement at the thought that one of these boys might be the baby he once held in his arms.

Scully frowned. “I guess it depends how successfully Jeffrey Spender masked William’s genetic heritage when he gave him that injection fourteen years ago.”

“I’ll give you the list and you can investigate,” said Al-Zahawi sympathetically. “But I didn’t stop there. Following our meeting last week, I’ve been reading your research into the hybrid program of this Consortium you’ve been investigating. I decided it might be useful to collect some data on the other people who match your son’s alien DNA.”

She pulled up a chart showing a timeline from the 1990s onward. It only had three bars on it, the middle one larger than the others.

“Filtering all the data for the very rarest characteristics that match your son’s DNA sample, irrespective of birth date and gender, I found three main groups,” she explained. “The largest cluster is the generation that presumably includes your son: 36 individuals born between May and November 2001, mostly girls. Then we have an older cluster, if you can call it that, made up of a dozen individuals born in 1994 or 1995. Most of them died before their fifth birthday, but two are still alive.”

The two names without a date of death were not familiar, but Mulder recognized one of the deceased children.

“Emily,” he whispered, placing his hand on Scully’s shoulder. She nodded and gave him a sad smile.

Al-Zahawi was still proudly showing off her findings; she pointed at the third bar, barely visible above the x-axis. “This is the really interesting part. The search also returned two infants born in the last couple of months. They seem to have inherited the characteristics from their mothers.”

“Children of the first generation?” asked Mulder.

“Um, no,” said Al-Zahawi grimly. “Your son’s generation.”

“But they’re only—”

“Yes. That’s nature for you. And men,” she added, giving Mulder a dirty look as if it was all his fault.

“That is an unusually high number for such a small population,” said Scully. She also looked at Mulder. “I think that’s what Krycek realized when he heard that song about the teenage girl. And that’s why the plague is happening now. If the hybrids can reproduce, they’re a viable population to replace ordinary humans. That’s why Cancerman has waited until now to put his plan in motion.”

Mulder gritted his teeth. “We really need to stop that son of a bitch before he gets any further with this.”

“Yes. Let’s hope Dr. Webber and her mysterious housemate have some answers for us.”

* * * * *

INTERSTATE 95
14:56

“Do you like him? Krycek, I mean,” asked Scully suddenly as they were driving to Webber’s address. She rolled her eyes when Mulder gave her a surprised look. “You slept with him, Mulder, I imagine you’re at least attracted to him.”

“Well, you know how it goes with guys,” said Mulder, trying to sound nonchalant. “It doesn’t mean I like him.”

“You liked him when he was your partner,” insisted Scully.

Mulder sighed. “Listen, it was a dumb thing to do and I regret it.” He gave her a sheepish smile. “Twenty-four years and I’m still finding new ways of disappointing you.”

To his relief, Scully returned his smile. “Well, I’ve always known you weren’t a zero on the Kinsey scale, but I can’t say I’m impressed by your choice.” She glanced at the closed notebook on his lap. “On the other hand, I suppose it fits a pattern. Ironically for a man whose motto is ‘Trust No One,’ you seem inexorably draw to men and women who are untrustworthy. You’re attracted to their darkness.”

Mulder remembered her speech long ago about escaping the darkness. He took her hand across the gearshift. “I’m not only drawn to the darkness.”

She didn’t answer immediately, but looked at him with a serious, intent expression, as if searching his face for something, before returning her attention to the road.

“Well, as far as Krycek is concerned, you should be careful,” she said finally. “Don’t take advantage of him.”

“Take advantage of a man who killed 56 people?” said Mulder with a bitter laugh. He threw the notepad onto the back seat.

His cell phone rang and he picked up without checking who it was, half expecting it to be Krycek.

“Hello, Fox,” said a sultry English voice. “Did you get my email?”

For a moment, Mulder was so surprised to hear Phoebe’s voice that his mind went blank, and he couldn’t remember why she would be emailing him.

“Uh, no?” he said, trying not to revert to the bewildered twenty-year-old virgin he’d once been.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Phoebe dismissively. “I have some new information about this Mila Makembese you asked me to look for, so you can ignore the email now.”

“Oh, yes. We thought she might work for the European Commission,” said Mulder, now remembering Krycek’s search for a woman they suspected might be Marita Covarrubias.

“Well, as you know because you pay attention to my Christmas cards,” said Phoebe sarcastically, no doubt aware that he ignored the cards she insisted on sending him every year, “I don’t work for the EU anymore. I work for the PM in Westminster now. I’m advising him on that hare-brained referendum he let the swivel-eyed loons on the backbenches talk him into. And trying to stop our fucking press from turning it into a complete shit show.”

“Turn left,” said the navigation system.

Phoebe enunciated some choice words on Rupert Murdoch and a few other people Mulder had never heard of, the crudeness of the four-letter terms enhanced by her accent. Mulder made sympathetic noises and hoped the parts he wasn’t listening to weren’t important. Scully gave him an amused look.

“Anyway, I thought helping you out sounded a jolly sight more relaxing than all this bollocks, so I asked Adrian to look for your friend Mila. You remember him, don’t you, Adrian Hartley-Piggot, we used to call him ‘Piggers’ at Uni? He works for the UK Commissioner in Brussels now. Well, when I emailed you earlier, all he’d found out was that there was an Olivier Makembese who works as a trade negotiator. He’s a Belgian national of Congolese origin.”

“That doesn’t sound like—”

“No, funnily enough, I thought that probably wasn’t who you were looking for, what with him having a different name and everything,” said Phoebe sharply. “I thought that would be the end of it, but Adrian was obviously feeling bored because he dug a bit deeper, and it turns out this chap has a daughter called Mila. Probably about thirteen or fourteen, he said. I can give you Makembese’s email address if you want to ask him about his daughter.”

“Sure, send it over. Um, thanks,” said Mulder, surprised at Phoebe’s helpfulness, but wondering why she had called to tell him this.

“Oh, by the way, you’ll never guess who I bumped into a few weeks ago. Julian Denby! He’s a producer at the BBC now and he introduced me to his husband. You remember Julian, don’t you?”

“Uh, I—yeah,” stammered Mulder. Clearly, this was the real reason she’d called.

“Yes, I suppose having his willy up your arse was quite memorable,” she said with a laugh. “Well, nice talking to you and give my regards to Agent Scully!”

Mulder ended the call, thankful that Scully had apparently heard none of this, and thinking that she had a point about his lousy choice of lover. He relayed the information about Mila Makembese to Scully.

“She must be one of the hybrids,” said Scully thoughtfully. “But why was Krycek specifically looking for her?”

“Perhaps he saw her too when he was in the lab,” said Mulder. “The way he saw me, and perhaps William.”

“But you had a connection to him, which means that William has one too. I know Krycek wasn’t a ghost because he was still alive in the Nugenics lab, but everything in the X-Files suggests that souls roaming free haunt the places and people they knew in their lifetime. So what’s his connection to this girl?”

“Turn right,” suggested the GPS.

“Maybe it isn’t a personal connection,” said Mulder. The idea that Krycek had some kind of emotional connection to him bothered him. “Perhaps hybrids simply have a better ability to see spirits than normal people.”

“And you’ve always been sensitive to paranormal phenomena,” conceded Scully.

“I don’t see Mila Makembese on the list, but then I guess these are only American kids,” said Mulder, before his eye fell on a name at the end of the screen. “Oh. But there is a Mila Verhoeven.”

“Mila Verhoeven?” repeated Scully. “She could be unrelated, but that’s one hell of a coincidence. I thought Verhoeven might be a Dutch name, but it could be Flemish, which would explain the Belgian connection.” She shook her head. “I thought we were looking for Marita Covarrubias and it turns out to be Ms. Verhoeven’s grandniece!”

“I guess that’s interesting but doesn’t tell us where Krycek is now.” Mulder put away his phone and looked out of the window. “I hope Schiaparelli hasn’t sent us on a wild goose chase. If Webber is in hiding, she’s unlikely to be at an address she gave to her colleague. We know she faked her own death and if the disfigured man she lives with—”

“Turn left,” interrupted the GPS navigation.

“—If the man she lives with is Cancerman,” continued Mulder with irritation, “I can’t see them not knowing that Schiaparelli gave us their address.”

Scully nodded. “The agents who investigated this morning said someone had seen the disfigured man only yesterday. But I agree it seems a little too easy.”

Mulder pondered the situation as they drove past a gas station. He did a double-take when something parked in front of the building caught his eye.

“Scully! I think that was Krycek’s motorcycle. The one he stole from Matheson’s men.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“Yes! Well, pretty sure.”

“We’d better make sure we get to Webber first,” said Scully grimly. “Given what we know this woman did to him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to exact some revenge. Let’s hope he hasn’t already increased his tally to 57.”

They drove on for a few miles. Mulder kept looking at the road behind them, expecting the motorcycle to come into view at any moment, though it never did. Scully eventually stopped by a closed gate at the side of the road.

“Arrived,” commented the navigation proudly as Mulder got out of the car to check the gate.

“No kidding,” he muttered under his breath.

Mulder glanced up at the camera affixed to a nearby tree. The gate wasn’t locked so he opened it and Scully drove in. He was reminded of the plantation in South Carolina and the electric gate that had opened for him that day. Whoever lived here was either not as security conscious as the camera suggested, or had moved on to a more secure location. Or was expecting them.

There was a long dirt track beyond the gate, lined on either side with tall unkempt trees. After a few minutes, they reached a modest farmhouse hidden in the woods. A young girl was playing jump rope by the porch steps, her long dark braids flying out as she rose and fell within the blurred rope.

* * * * *

MARTHA’S VINEYARD
1973

Samantha’s braids were flying as she jumped rope on the lawn in the backyard. Fox was supposed to be reading a book—there wasn’t much else to do on this lazy summer afternoon—but he was watching his little sister instead, thinking how dumb she looked, jumping up and down in a circle of string.

On impulse, he sprang to his feet and grabbed one of the braids, giving it a good yank before immediately retreating back to his book.

“Mom! Dad!” wailed Samantha immediately, dropping the jump rope in the grass. “Fox pulled my haaair!”

“I didn’t do anything!” protested Fox.

Their father’s face appeared at the porch door, looking down at them severely. Samantha ran into his arms, sure of her welcome. Bill Mulder didn’t need to say anything; Fox mumbled an apology and watched sourly as Bill carried his daughter into the house. Samantha made a face at Fox over their father’s shoulder.

* * * * *

There had been so many times in the following months when Mulder had held that jump rope, pleading with all the deities he’d ever been told existed, and promising that he’d never again pull his little sister’s hair if only she was returned to their family.

He felt Scully’s hand slip into his, and he took a deep breath. Whether abducted by starlight aliens or simply dead by her own hand, the little girl whose braids he’d pulled was long gone. The facsimile of her stopped jumping and stared at them, silent and stony-faced, as they approached.

The front door opened and a woman stood there, waiting for them. She was wearing plain clothes; a pleated skirt and short-sleeved top in the warm spring weather. Her brown hair was streaked with grey and pulled back into a bun. She was holding a cloth as if she’d been washing dishes.

“Samantha,” said Mulder in amazement, even though he knew this was just another clone.

“Sonia,” corrected the woman. “Come in, we’ve been expecting you.”

Mulder and Scully followed her into the house and she invited them to sit down in her living room.

“You’re one of the clones too,” said Scully. “I thought you’d all been killed.”

“I was lucky. I managed to get away when my sisters were being terminated,” she said dispassionately. “We’ve met before, Fox. I’m the clone C.G.B. Spender kept with him after your sister died. He made me meet you some years ago to prove some point or other. I remember being very scared when her memories of you surfaced. I panicked and ran away.”

“Yes, I remember.”

Scully looked nervously toward the hall as the stairs creaked under someone’s weight. “We heard that you live with a man who is severely disfigured.”

“Yes, I do.”

The person on the stairs approached, his cane making an irregular tapping noise on the wooden floor. He was indeed disfigured, his features distorted as if they’d been partially melted, and it took Mulder a moment to recognize him.

“Spender? Jeffrey Spender?”

Chapter Text

"You should call me Jeffrey. I have been Jeffrey Webber for so long I don't think of myself as Spender anymore." Jeffrey smiled and took Sonia's hand as he joined her on the sofa. "You must think this is kind of incestuous. Me and Sonia, living as a couple like this. She was one of the doctors working in the lab where I was held in the late '90s. When Augustus Goldman took over, he released the older test subjects and I moved in with her."

"We're not related, of course. I'm not even human," said Sonia, though there was something in her happy facial expression that momentarily reminded Mulder of his mother. "But for a short while, your sister saw Jeffrey as a brother, before Cassandra left and C.G.B. stopped treating Samantha as a daughter. Meeting him again made me feel like I'd found an old friend. We collected some of the worker clones the first few years, but they don't live long. Charlotte is the last."

At the sound of her name, the little girl looked up from the cookie she was eating and smiled. She pointed at herself.

"Yes, that's you. Charlotte. Clever girl," said Sonia loudly.

Jeffrey gave the girl a proud pat on the shoulder. "We've mourned the passing of every one of them, but we wouldn't have missed this for the world." He hesitated and then added, "It wasn't until I became a father of sorts myself that I realized what a terrible injustice I had done you by persuading you to give up your son."

"Ultimately, that was my own decision," said Scully shortly, not looking at Mulder. "I take it that you worked together to fake his death?"

Jeffrey nodded. "Sonia and I were certain that he wouldn't be safe from my father with you. We took a gamble that you would pick an adoption agency that was physically close to your home, so Sonia got a job there and that's when I approached you. Once I'd administered the injection to suppress his abilities, it was simply a matter of planting the seed, as it were."

"Why didn't you just tell me what you were doing?"

"I was concerned that my father might find out if I told you too much," said Jeffrey. "He still had enough agents in the FBI even after the destruction of the Syndicate to monitor your every move. And that task was made easier because of the chip."

Scully touched the back of her neck and looked troubled. Mulder took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"So do you know where he is now?" he asked.

Jeffrey shook his head. "No. I feared that if we knew his location, my father might easily extract the information from us. Sonia and I let the agency staff handle the adoption and then destroyed the records without reading them."

"But we need to find him," said Scully with dismay. "He may be Mulder's only chance of survival. Can we contact the former staff? One of them might remember. We have a list of probable hybrids. Anyone who saw the adoptive family's name might be able to pick it out of the list if he's on it."

She gave them a brief summary of the last few weeks, from the onset of the plague to Al-Zahawi's findings that morning, though Mulder noticed that she didn't mention Krycek. Jeffrey looked distressed, and Sonia shook her head in disgust.

"If you have a list, then C.G.B. must also know who they are," she said. "That explains the infants. Directly or indirectly, he may be responsible for the pregnancies among these children."

"We don't know yet how these girls got pregnant, but the abductions never stopped," said Mulder, and he told them about Sveta, the recent abductee that O'Malley had led them to a couple of months earlier.

"We need to get to them first," said Scully. "I wonder if that's what Krycek is trying to do."

Sonia frowned. "Krycek? I thought he'd died in the fire. I was amazed when Phil called and told us Krycek chased him down the street last night! How did he end up working with you?"

Mulder explained how Krycek had come to them when he escaped from the lab, omitting the bit about them sleeping together. Scully added some details about the medical examinations she had performed the week before.

"That's incredible. He was completely vegetative a couple of weeks ago!" Sonia's eyes shone; Mulder remembered a similar expression of wonder on Scully's face when she first encountered Krycek. "I'd tested the process on mice before, of course, but there's always a chance a human will react differently. Phil and I pulled him out of the tank because I wanted to ask him about the plague. It wasn't an area I'd ever worked on, and I thought he might know something. But at that point, he had no response to anything other than severe pain and I had other projects to work on, so we left him out to see if he'd wake up eventually like the mice. Is his arm really fully functional? Phil said he seemed to be using it normally."

Scully winced at the mention of "severe pain" but replied, "Yes, his arm appears normal. I've read your Nugenics reports. You did a very thorough job of conducting and documenting your experiments. It's just a shame you were experimenting on a man without his consent. We have evidence that he may have been conscious at least some of the time."

Sonia seemed taken aback for a moment, but then she shrugged. "He donated his body to science and it's not like anyone was going to miss him," she argued. "And he was dead. Goldman gave me free rein to do anything I wanted. I was able to test treatments for Jeff, and my experiments on Krycek's arm could be a breakthrough for other amputees. Even if he does remember any of it, the suffering of the murderer who killed Bill Mulder, the man I remember as my father, is a small price to pay for the benefits this will bring to war veterans and accident victims."

"Alex Krycek murdered dozens of people," said Jeffrey. "He doesn't deserve your sympathy. I witnessed his ruthlessness with my own eyes."

* * * * *

FORT MARLENE, MARYLAND
1998

"You sorry son of a bitch," snarled Krycek. "You don't get it, do you? It's all going to hell. The rebels are going to win. They took it."

"They took what?" asked Jeffrey, still bewildered by the events of the last couple of days.

Krycek just gave a sinister smile and strode away from them. The woman in the hospital gown was distraught.

"If the rebels have the fetus, that means the Consortium can't develop hybrids who will survive colonization," she said. "You have to go with him and leave me here, Jeffrey. He won't help me. We were lovers. I betrayed him."

"It's okay, we don't need him. I'll take care of you," said Jeffrey reassuringly, though he had no idea what to do.

His father had taken his mother God knows where, just as Krycek had warned him, and there were alien rebels and colonists and a Consortium pulling strings he'd never even imagined existed. Jeffrey couldn't wrap his head around any of it. This was not what he had expected when he took over the X-Files.

He was about to suggest that they look for another way out of the facility when Krycek suddenly returned, his cell phone in his remaining hand and a determined look on his face.

"Turns out it's your lucky day, Junior," he sneered, pocketing his phone. "Your dad is still alive so I guess I'm rescuing you after all. C'mon, let's go."

Krycek turned his back on them and walked rapidly toward the exit. Jeffrey and the woman struggled to keep up; whatever had been done to her seemed to be causing severe abdominal pain, and she kept wincing and having to stop.

"Krycek, wait up," Jeffrey called out as the man disappeared around a corner without them.

Krycek came back but didn't look pleased. "We need to hurry before they come and torch this place too!" He glanced at the woman, almost doubled over in pain. "Oh, for crying out loud. We'll never get out of here with her."

Then to Jeffrey's horror, Krycek drew his gun and shot her.

"What the hell?" cried out Jeffrey as the young woman sank to the ground, blood soaking the hospital gown from the wound in her chest. He kneeled beside her and tried to remember how to check for a pulse. "You killed her!"

"Yes. I fucked her and then I killed her," snapped Krycek. "That's the kind of guy I am these days." He grabbed Jeffrey's collar and pulled him to his feet. "Now if you don't want to suffer the same fate, you need to come with me. The alien rebels have just murdered all the Syndicate Elders and their families. The stupid fuckers actually took their families and now they're all dead! Your dad and I are the only Elders left, so tonight, Jeff, I'm your guardian angel."

* * * * *

"El Rico Air Base!" said Scully when Jeffrey had finished talking. "That's it. Mulder, that's what '30? ER' means on his list. Twenty-seven men, women and children were killed there that night!"

"So Krycek was the one who sold out the Consortium to the alien rebels," said Mulder in amazement. He turned to Jeffrey. "And you said he was an Elder? I thought he was just a henchman!"

"No, he was one of the leaders. He used to attend their meetings in New York. I didn't know he was the one who told the rebels where the Elders were planning to meet the colonists. My father believed it was me." Jeffrey spread his scarred hands. "With the result you see."

Mulder felt faintly sick as he remembered leaving Fort Marlene a few hours before these events took place. "Was the woman with you Marita Covarrubias?"

"Yes," said Jeffrey. "She didn't tell me her name, but I recognized her at your so-called trial."

"If so, I don't understand," said Scully with a frown. "The next time we saw her, about two years later, she and Krycek were a couple. I didn't know they knew each other before then."

Mulder tried very hard not to focus on his memory of Marita sitting on the edge of a desk at the FBI, her arms around Krycek's neck. "No hard feelings, I guess."

"He evidently has quite an effect on some people," said Scully, giving him a sideways glance.

"He may be on his way here, by the way," said Mulder, keen to move off the subject of people who were attracted to Krycek. "We saw a motorcycle that looked a lot like his a few miles away. I think we'd better be here when he arrives, in case he wants revenge for what you did to him."

"Revenge? He should be grateful. He was dead!" exclaimed Sonia. Then she shook her head. "In any case, don't worry about him. The mice I tested the revival process on eventually regained most of their cognitive abilities, same as Krycek, but they all died of massive organ failure within a few days. He will no doubt suffer the same fate. Now, would you like to stay for dinner? Jeffrey is an amazing cook, you know."

* * * * *

"She missed you," said Sonia, joining Mulder on the porch later that evening after dinner. "When C.G.B. kept her at April Airforce Base with his family. Jeffrey was kinder, but she still missed you."

"I missed her too." Mulder watched the girl running after a ball in the fading light. "Even after all these years, even knowing she died at fourteen, decades ago, a part of me still imagines that she's somewhere out there. Maybe living happily with a family of her own." He smiled at Sonia. "I suppose in a way, she was."

Sonia tilted her head to look at him. "I sometimes thought I should come and talk to you. But then you left the FBI and I didn't know how to get in touch with you. And to be honest, I wasn't sure it was a good idea. I have her memories, but I'm not your sister."

"I know." Mulder frowned as he remembered something. "You said you had children. When we met in that diner last time, you said you had children of your own."

"All the abductees have children, Fox," said Sonia sharply. "And to think it's starting all over again. Those poor girls." Her lip curled with hatred as she continued. "I should have known C.G.B. was still alive. He always kept a Healer with him, and after it was discovered, a piece of the spaceship so his wounds would heal."

"Shame neither of them healed his face," said Mulder, wincing at the memory of Cancerman removing his mask. He described the man's current appearance as faithfully as he could in words.

Sonia shrugged. "The energy field is a technology-enhanced natural process that humans don't have, but it isn't magic. It can only accelerate a healing process that is already in motion. Once the flesh has healed and scarred, it has no effect. That's why I was never able to restore Jeffrey's appearance or repair all his injuries. I used Krycek to test a different process, but being immersed in liquid for several months isn't really a viable solution. It did work, though, so maybe with some refinement—" her voice trailed off, a faraway look in her eye. She sighed. "I guess we're not going to catch him tonight. Not that I have a lab anymore. Shame, I could have continued my work."

"Krycek isn't a good man, but he's still a human being," said Mulder sharply. "Not a lab rat."

Sonia looked surprised but smiled. "You were a dick to me, but I always knew you had a soft heart deep down inside. I couldn't revive the mice, so he wouldn't be much good to me once his organs failed anyway. I guess he can live out what's left of his life in peace." She placed her hand on his arm. "What about you, Fox, how are you feeling?"

"Tired," he admitted. "But the Cigarette Smoking Man told Scully that only William can save me."

"It may be true. Or it may simply be a lie to make you look for him." Sonia looked thoughtful "Listen, I never told Jeffrey because I knew he would worry." She hesitated. "Fox, I lied to him. I did look at William's adoption records before I destroyed them."

Surprised, Mulder turned to look at her. Sonia smiled.

"It might not be much help. All I remember is that he was adopted by a couple called Van De Kamp, and they lived in Wyoming."

* * * * *

"Jeffrey's injection was more effective than I thought," said Scully when they were back at her place, sitting in her bedroom. "There's no Van De Kamp on our list. I've sent Skinner a message; he'll contact the Casper office first thing in the morning. Maybe they'll be more use than they were when we sent them the composite picture Krycek made of William last week." Scully sighed and leaned back against her headboard. "After all these years, it's hard to believe we're so close to finding him."

Sitting on the edge of the bed beside her, Mulder nodded. He pictured the photo in the album Krycek had found that first night; the one where Mulder and Scully held their infant son. That fleeting moment in time when he and the woman he loved formed a family. But at the same time, he remembered something Krycek had said.

"Scully, I think—maybe we should be prepared. It's possible he won't be very happy to see us."

"I know. And I will understand if he's angry," she said softly. "Jeffrey is wrong to blame himself for making me give up William. The truth is, I'd come to the conclusion that I couldn't cope long before he came. Having a child should have filled me with joy, but I was always so afraid, so alone. I—in a way, it was a relief when he said that William wouldn't be safe as long as he was with me. It suddenly seemed easier to give up. To give him up."

"I think you made the right decision for the circumstances at the time, and that's all anyone can ever do." Mulder put his arm around her and Scully leaned into his embrace, her head on his shoulder as he continued. "I made the decision to leave because I believed you would both be safer without me. But maybe that felt easier too."

Scully nodded. Mulder wanted to lower his lips to hers, but he didn't know how she would react. The last person he'd kissed was Krycek, a man who didn't hesitate to shoot a woman he'd slept with. The last person Scully had kissed—he didn't even know who that was. He wanted to talk about William too, but didn't know what to say, afraid that if he did, he might make her feel that he resented the way she'd cut William out of his life. And that she might make him feel that she resented him for leaving when he did.

They sat with their arms around each other, the weight of their silence hanging heavily between them.

After a while, Scully pulled away and consulted her phone, breaking the spell with a sudden return to normality. "Oh, I forgot to say the CDC still wants me to go in for a meeting tomorrow. You remember I was supposed to go on Monday. Skinner says he'll put Einstein and Miller on the case too, to search for the hybrids on our list."

"Okay." Mulder leaned back against the headboard and rubbed his eyes. "I wonder why Krycek didn't come to find Sonia."

"You're worried about him?" she asked gently.

"A little," he admitted.

"I understand. It seems such a waste. To have him restored to life only for him to die a few weeks later. But maybe her tests on the mice don't mean anything. Krycek might be more resilient." She sighed. "There's apparently a lot we didn't know about him."

"What, like him trying to murder Marita and causing the death of all those people at El Rico Air Base?"

Scully nodded. "I can't condone killing their families but I still think we owe him a debt of gratitude for putting an end to that organization." She clasped Mulder's hand. "And I think maybe you should look in that shoebox."

* * * * *

When he and Scully retired to their respective rooms that night, Mulder took Krycek's shoebox with him. He hesitated a moment before he opened it, momentarily fearful of the new light this might cast on his relationship with Krycek. But in the end, he removed the lid and looked inside.

The photograph of Mulder in the Speedo was no longer on top; Scully had already been through the box to inventory it. Instead of the picture, the first thing Mulder saw was an envelope made of thick, high-quality paper. It was addressed to an Alex Victorsen in Tunisia; the return address printed on the back was that of Gillnitz and Sons Solicitors in London. The envelope had been roughly torn open across the top and its contents were peeking out invitingly between the ripped edges.

The printed letterhead at the top of the letter had a different address, belonging to a Sir Michael Fairfax-Johnson in Somerset, in the United Kingdom. It was dated August 1998; Mulder stared at the date a moment, a mix of emotions twisting his gut as he remembered the car bomb in New York and the soft tones of the man who had told him so much but left him powerless to do anything. Why had the Englishman written to Krycek?

The first curly words handwritten at the top of the letter screamed at Mulder to read no further, to respect the privacy of the man he had slept with, but he reminded himself that Scully had read this letter and probably wanted him to read it too.


My dearest Alex,

I hope this letter finds you well and enjoying the Tunisian weather. I was relieved to hear from my colleagues that you made it safely and that Professor Ben Salem has started work on a better arm. I have told him to spare no expense. I know you will bristle as you always have at my generosity, that American pride wounded at the thought of relying on the kindness of others when so much of what you have has been clawed from the jaws of an unkind fate by your own metaphorical hands, but I hope you will indulge me in this last gesture. Besides, I hardly think the good professor would balk at any expense to help you and I'm sure you would not want him to be out of pocket.

I know you understood that our last meeting was a farewell. You will no doubt think me a coward, but I am an old man and I have no appetite for the coming storm. That is a battle better suited to young people like yourself who chose this war with their eyes open, not old men who weaseled and plotted and were ultimately swept along in a tide of disastrous events largely of their own making.

Perhaps I am driven to write this by a very human compulsion to unburden my soul and confess my sins before the end, as if there were indeed some judgment awaiting me in the void on the other side. I have often thought that your life might have been different had I not panicked at the realisation that you had unwittingly led your friend right to my door, and cut you loose when you had already lost everything. I have found comfort, as I know you do too, in the thought that the Russians would not have trusted you so blindly had you not been forced to throw yourself on their mercy in such a tragic predicament, and without their trust, you might never have brought us the vaccine. And yet, the burden of guilt has sat heavily upon me these last few months as I have watched you overcome the struggles of daily life with such determination and courage.

As to what I have asked of you, I trust that you took on board my father's advice from his years serving the Empire in India. Just as he courted the local raja and used the centuries-old enmity between Muslims and Hindus to deflect the natives' wrath from his own colonial administration, so must you cultivate the goodwill of our enemies and use theirs as a weapon to destroy them. But first, you must build on the foundations I have laid when they ask you to take my place, as I am certain they will. I do understand that your distaste for one associate in particular goes well beyond a mere difference in strategic opinion. I remember your conviction that we had sent you to kill the wrong American all those years ago, but I have explained our reasons—my reasons, my dear boy—and I hope you will do as I suggest. Our enemies will negotiate with no one else. Gain his trust, shake loose his hold on the institutions that he controls, and you will find he is the key to preventing colonisation. I know that whatever the world may hold you to be, you are above all else the champion of humanity as it is now, in all its glorious, independent inconsistency, and humanity will need champions like yourself if it is to come out victorious.

However, I did not write you this letter just to rehash the contents of our last discussion and assuage my guilt, but rather to express some of what was left unsaid. I do not believe I have ever adequately expressed my gratitude to you for your unexpected loyalty and fierce affection. In the last few months, you have impressed me with your tenacity, your quick mind and your encyclopedic knowledge of the popular music of my countrymen. You gave me energy and hope, and for that I am grateful.

Yours faithfully,

Sir Michael


Mulder stared at the letter a moment, his mind reeling with the implications of the guarded words. He had always imagined Krycek as a lone, lowly henchman, probably because he had appeared to be acting on his own in Hong Kong and Russia. But it now turned out that, unbeknownst to Mulder, Krycek had spent a year implementing the Englishman's plan, climbing the ranks of the Consortium until he was in a position to use the alien rebels to destroy the organization.

Mulder also wondered, not without a hint of jealousy, whether there had been more to Alex's "fierce affection." He imagined the Englishman as he remembered him, and Alex with his missing arm and pretty face, before dismissing that unproductive train of thought.

Putting the letter back into its envelope, Mulder looked at the other contents of the box. It turned out that there were only two other photos of him; one a blurry picture of him entirely naked, seemingly taken from a surveillance camera in his apartment, and another one from San Diego. Mulder felt a familiar stab of anger at the surveillance photo; if there were pictures of him, there must also be pictures of Scully. He had known, of course, that Krycek must have participated in the surveillance back in the day, but this visual reminder still shocked him.

The other photos seemed to be of family and lovers. Krycek's Tunisian friend, the man from the photo strip, was pictured in a number of them. One showed him sitting on a sunny beach with palm trees in the background, a swimsuit not unlike Mulder's exposing practically all of his hairy body. There was a picture of Marita Covarrubias too, also sitting on a beach but thankfully fully clothed, wrapped in a large shawl against a wintry wind. Next was a yellowing group photo of Krycek with his siblings and stepsiblings; it took Mulder a moment to recognize Krycek, standing at the back of the photo with his hair bleached yellow. There was also a picture of Krycek as a little boy, standing in his mother's embrace on a sunny day.

Feeling less angry about the pictures of himself now, Mulder returned to the second photo from San Diego. He realized it must have been taken by Ned, the man from Oklahoma who had taken an interest in Krycek's borrowed camera. On the photo, Mulder was still wearing his tight-fitting Speedo, but was sitting on Krycek's lounge chair by the pool. Mulder was looking at the camera and smiling, but Krycek, sitting beside him and leaning back, eyes partially shielded by the long lashes, was looking at Mulder. It could simply have been a trick of the camera, capturing Krycek's face in transition and creating the illusion of longing. But Mulder remembered Scully and Krycek's conversation on the answering machine and Scully's thoughtful expression when she found the receipt for her book in Krycek's papers.

I'm the one who kept you alive, hoping you would win somehow.

Unwilling to draw conclusions about Krycek's feelings for him, Mulder put aside the pictures and unfolded a sheet of paper tucked beneath them. He almost gasped when he saw it; no wonder Scully had been so angry that morning. It was a drawing of Mulder and Krycek in the snow, Krycek pushed against the wall and Mulder leaning against him. They weren't kissing but their faces were close enough that the implication was there. It took Mulder a moment to realize who had drawn the picture and given it to Krycek. Their hosts in Vanavara had had a daughter whose drawings were hung all around their house.

Embarrassed to think that the girl might have witnessed his encounter with Krycek, Mulder folded the drawing and put it back in the pile. He tried not to look too long at the naked picture of Krycek in his youth, the one that had been on top of the box when he and Scully first opened it. He noticed the artistic pose and the greased hairstyle, and speculated that it might have been taken by Krycek's amateur photographer roommate when he was a rookie agent in Salt Lake City.

At the bottom of the box, there was a cardboard-framed studio photograph of a handsome man with a thick mustache, his wide-collared shirt partially open to reveal ample chest hair. Mulder smiled and reflected that Krycek seemed to have a taste for men with movie star good looks. His heart sank, though, when he recognized the same man in another picture underneath, this one faded and creased. The man—presumably Rich—was lying in a bed as a young, skinny Krycek with a military buzz cut sat on a chair nearby. They were both smiling and leaning toward each other to fit in the viewfinder of a cheap camera, but Rich looked twenty years older. His hair was streaked with grey under a pinned yarmulke and though he still had a thick mustache, he didn't look like Tom Selleck anymore. He looked like Mulder's last memories of Rock Hudson.

"Oh, Alex, you poor, unlucky son of a bitch."

Chapter Text

WASHINGTON, DC
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9TH, 2016

Life was returning to normal. Some businesses had reopened and people congregated in public places once more, as if resuming the previous course of their lives could erase the recent death and disruption. It was the warmest March 9th since 1964 and Mulder sat in shirt sleeves, sipping his grande Americano and idly watching a pretty young woman waiting at the street corner. Another handsome woman eventually joined her; they kissed and walked off, hand in hand. Mulder briefly imagined them in bed together, replaying some of the sex scenes he'd watched in so many movies. Then he thought about Scully's comment about his Kinsey Scale rating and chuckled quietly.

The Casper office, depleted by the plague, had not been any more helpful than the previous week; a family of Van De Kamps had lived at an address in Hot Springs County when the last census was taken in 2010, but the email didn't say whether they still lived there 6 years later. With Scully at her CDC meeting, Mulder had decided to spend some time searching for Krycek. His first port of call was the last person he knew had seen him.

Mohammed Bryant was a slightly overweight African American with cloud-like wisps of grey in his close-cropped black hair. He acknowledged Mulder when he entered and saw him waving, then eventually joined him with a latte labeled "Moe."

As he listened to Mulder's questions, Bryant took his glasses off and polished them on a paper napkin.

"The lady I spoke to the other day said I wasn't in any trouble for giving him a ride to the station," he said nervously. "So, basically, when Alex got in touch again that evening, I figured why not? It's not like I usually-" He waved his hand vaguely, then added, "He asked if he could stay at my place. It was only for that one night. He said he had something else to do yesterday, so I haven't seen him since we had coffee in the morning." He used the napkin to wipe his brow. "I'm not in any trouble, right? I mean, it's not illegal. We had a good time, and that's it."

Mulder imagined Krycek having sex with Bryant and wished he had brought Scully along with him. It was harder than he'd expected to be objective about a man he'd slept with.

"Listen, I believe Alex may be in danger," he said. "If you can think of anything, anyone he might have contacted?"

Bryant nodded gravely. "He did say he'd been to jail. Organized crime. I figured they must be after him or something, what with you asking about him and him disappearing like that." He frowned. "He did ask me to look some people up. He said he wanted to know how his family was without getting in touch with them."

"You knew he'd been in jail but you still looked up people he said were family?" said Mulder disapprovingly. "And wait, look them up how?"

"I, um, well, I work for Facebook," admitted Bryant sheepishly. "I have admin access to the data."

"You're not going to have it for long at this rate," said Mulder sharply. "You meet some guy on Grindr, and then infringe people's privacy by showing him their private data?"

"Oh, not private!" protested Bryant. "I mean, I could have, but he just wanted to look at their photos. He was-he asked and I figured-"

Bryant mopped his brow again, visibly embarrassed. He was a plain-looking, middle-aged man; Mulder could guess he didn't usually get his hands on someone as gorgeous as Krycek. He pictured Krycek batting his eyelashes at the man, encouraging him with the promise of the intimate caresses that had worn down Mulder's defenses too, and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Okay. Do you remember who he was looking for?"

Bryant nodded. "Well, like I said, he wanted to check on his family. You know, brothers and sisters and cousins, that kind of stuff. It was all real boring."

"Any former lovers?"

"Yeah. He didn't say they were lovers, but he asked about this guy with a Middle Eastern name. The guy's timeline had a post about being gay, so I put two and two together."

Bryant logged into his laptop. After a lengthy process that involved him typing in several codes from his phone, he pulled up some kind of administrator interface and opened a Facebook profile. Mulder was not particularly surprised to find a now-familiar face staring up at him from the screen.

The middle aged Abdelmajid Ben Salem had matured just as attractively as George Clooney, and Mulder observed his profile picture with envy. There wasn't a great deal of interest in his timeline; mainly links to engineering resources, shared articles on various topics in French, including one on Pride in Paris, and what Mulder presumed were inspirational messages in Arabic, usually overlaid on backgrounds of beautiful landscapes or cute animals.

The most recent picture on his timeline was one Ben Salem had liked on someone else's profile, showing four teenagers with a group of young men with Middle Eastern features, holding a rainbow flag. Facebook had made an effort to automatically translate the conversation on the post; Mulder gleaned from the resulting pidgin English that the girl who had posted the picture was Ben Salem's niece and that she had attended a concert with his children in Paris.

"Mashrou' Leila is a Lebanese band," said Bryant, pointing at the men on the picture. "The singer is gay."

"Are they allowed to be gay in Lebanon?"

"Probably no more than you're allowed to be gay in some parts of this country." Bryant shrugged, idly scrolling down the timeline. "Anyway, we only looked at the first few posts and then we looked for Alex's brother. Want to move on?"

"Yes-no, wait." Mulder pointed to a post at the bottom of the page. "That one seems to mention Alex."

"Oh yeah," said Bryant in surprise. "I didn't see that."

The post was an embedded YouTube video for a song by the Lebanese band. Ben Salem had added a caption in Arabic which Facebook translated in its usual haphazard manner:

Alex, I think whenever you hear this song, I wish different things. Love of Majid.

"Anyway," said Bryant, "the posts the guy made are all tagged in France or Tunisia, so I guess if Alex does want to see him, he can't go there until flights start again on Friday."

Mulder took a note of Ben Salem's contact details. "Yeah, I guess Alex's family in this country is a more likely bet."

They spent some time looking at the profiles of Alex's brother and half-sister; there were plenty of pictures to look at there. Alex had several nieces and nephews, all of whom had survived the plague. When Mulder had collected some more data for Krycek's file, he asked Bryant to look for the hybrid children on Al-Zahawi's list. After all, he figured practically everyone had Facebook accounts these days.

Relieved that he wasn't going to be arrested for abusing his admin powers, Bryant was very cooperative. They did find about half the children, though in some cases, the names were so common that it was hard to tell if they had the right one. When they reached the end of the list, Mulder asked Bryant to look for Ms. Verhoeven's grandniece; searching for the name Verhoeven proved inconclusive, but they found a girl called Mila Makembese. She lived in Brussels, was born in 2001 and was connected to a man called Olivier; Mulder was sure this was the girl Krycek had been looking for a few days earlier, the one whose Congolese father Phoebe had told him about.

The girl seemed to understand the value of online privacy; there were no public pictures of herself at all, not even with friends. Her profile picture was a My Little Pony cartoon. She had posted a photo of her brothers, though; two little mixed-race boys holding a PlayStation 4 in front of a Christmas tree.

"Not a big social media user," said Bryant disapprovingly. "I wonder if she keeps everything private." He typed a command into a console window. The screen filled with tiny text that Mulder couldn't read without his glasses. "No, just not a big user of Facebook. All her privacy settings are on too. I guess it makes sense for a minor. Oh, wait, she has one private photograph stored on the site. Hey, it's called 'alex.jpg.' Do you think that might be useful?"

Mulder decided this was important enough to dismiss any ethical issues that came to mind, like Scully's probable reaction to him looking at a private photograph posted by a minor. He nodded. Bryant typed in some more commands and displayed the photograph. Mulder stared at it in disbelief.

"Yeah. Yeah, that's very useful."

* * * * *

"Oh my God," said Scully slowly, staring at the photograph. "So Krycek was telling the truth."

She had come home for lunch to check on Mulder, giving him an opportunity to show off his morning's work. He had told her about Abdelmajid Ben Salem and the hybrids' Facebook accounts, but as expected, Scully was more interested in the picture. They sat at the kitchen table and looked at it on Mulder's screen.

It was blurry, taken on a phone in low light, but clearly showed a man dressed in black, set against an evening sky. Behind him, barely discernible given the camera's poor focal length, was the distinctive shape of Devils Tower. The man was staring at the camera in surprise, a deep horizontal crease across his nose. His form was faintly translucent, but he was very recognizably Alex Krycek.

"William took this picture," said Scully with wonder. "That means this girl Mila knows him."

"Yes. Well, assuming that was William. I couldn't get ahold of Ms. Verhoeven to get contact details for her grandniece, but Bryant gave me the email address this girl Mila used to sign up for Facebook. It might be best if you email her. Give her some confidence that she isn't talking to some dirty old man."

Scully chuckled softly and started to compose an email to the girl. "There," she said when she was done. "We'll just have to hope she gets back to us."

Mulder looked at the picture thoughtfully. Part of him wanted to continue to search for Krycek here in DC, but he knew that finding William was more important to Scully. And setting aside the question of whether William's stem cells could cure him, he realized it felt pretty important to him too.

"I think we should go to Wyoming," he said.

"I agree," said Scully immediately. "I'm just not sure how with all the flights grounded until Friday. I saw an article on my phone earlier that said Amtrak and Greyhound are completely overwhelmed, and people have snapped up every ticket out of DC until Monday at the earliest. Including the tickets for the few flights scheduled on Friday."

"Then we can drive. With the two of us taking turns, we can make it in what, two days?"

"At least three, actually." Scully smiled. "I did consider it when Krycek first told us about this encounter last week."

"Maybe we can drive to another airport, then. There might be available flights out of Chicago on Friday, for example. If we drive there tomorrow, we could catch a flight when they start again the next day."

"That's a long drive too, but I'll ask Kim to find us something," said Scully. Mulder nodded; even in these days of Expedia and CheapFlights.com, Skinner's assistant was likely to be more successful in finding exactly what they wanted. "I need to ask her about transferring Krycek's boxes to our office too. I think they'll be safer there."

Mulder thought about the number of times their office had been broken into, and the time the files had all been burned, but decided she was probably right. Her apartment had already had one break-in recently, and even now that her window and door were fixed, the FBI seemed like a safer bet.

"Yeah, good idea. In the meantime, I'll make some lunch," announced Mulder. When Scully looked surprised, he added, "I might not be as good a cook as Krycek, but I can still make sandwiches!"

* * * * *

After their quick lunch, Scully returned to her meeting. Mulder looked over his notes, tidying up the information they'd collected about the hybrid children, including reports from Miller and Einstein, and trying not to get his hopes up about finding William.

As a distraction, he focused on his search for Krycek again. He got in touch with Krycek's siblings; his oldest brother Martin was curt and not interested in discussing his criminal brother, but his half-sister Sarah, the one who had contacted Doggett after her brother's death, was more ambivalent.

"He wasn't a bad man, you know," she said when Mulder was about to hang up. "He used to take care of me when I was a kid. I guess it was just so tough for him, being gay in the area we lived in. Sometimes it was like he was angry with the whole world, always fighting with people, rubbing them the wrong way. But he was always kind to me."

Neither seemed to know that Krycek was still alive and Mulder decided not to tell them. Given how long Sonia said Krycek had to live, Mulder felt that was a decision best left to Krycek himself.

Next, Mulder looked through Krycek's papers on S.R. 819; he had read all the supporting documentation for the Senate resolution back in the day, but had forgotten a lot of it now, and he still hoped that he might find something relevant to Krycek's whereabouts. He smiled wryly when he recognized one of the names on a letter arguing in favor of the export of the nanotechnology to the Strughold Corporation in Tunisia.

Shaking his head at this loose strand suddenly tied up, he googled the song Ben Salem had linked to on Facebook, "Shim El Yasmine" by Mashrou' Leila. The video seemed to be static images on top of what was probably an album track, but one of the comments under the video contained an English translation of the lyrics:

I would have liked to keep you near me
Introduce you to my parents, have you crown my heart
Cook your food, sweep your home
Spoil your kids, be your housewife

Mulder listened to the soft jazzy tones and the distinctively Arabic vocals of the male singer for a moment, and then picked up his phone.

"Hi, I'm looking to speak to Abdelmajid Ben Salem? Uh, this is Agent Mulder from the FBI in the United States," he explained when the man who answered confirmed his identity. "Professor Ben Salem, I-I wanted to ask you about Alex Krycek. Has he been in touch with you recently?"

"Recently? No," said Ben Salem shortly. "He died a long time ago. You know that, Agent Mulder. Why do you bother me with this?"

"Just tying up loose ends, sir. You contacted the FBI after he died, allegedly to find his prosthetic arm. I'm just wondering when you last saw him."

"I am a researcher in the field of advanced robotics," said Ben Salem. "I designed his prosthetic arm. It was a unique model and I wanted to know that my work had not fallen into the wrong hands after his death."

"Right, unlike your work on the nanocytes?"

Ben Salem laughed dryly. "Ah, that is ancient history, Agent Mulder. It is all ancient history. Goodbye."

"You were his lover," interrupted Mulder before Ben Salem had time to hang up. "I found pictures of you together. Look-I knew Alex back in the day. We were partners for a while."

"I know. He told me all about you, Fox Mulder. About your father, about Russia." He paused, then sighed. "But you are right. I was in a homosexual relationship with him. If you really need to know, I can tell you exactly when I last saw him."

* * * * *

DJERBA, TUNISIA
MAY 2000

Majid raised his head from the rug as he completed his last rakah, repeating the words he had first learned at his mother's side. He was not a good Muslim: he didn't perform his prayers five times a day; he'd drunk gin with his father and cousins, hiding from the women on the terrace at the back of their house; he'd eaten bacon and smoked pot during his student days. And of course his heart and body didn't love as they should. But the familiarity of the prayer was comforting, the call of the muezzin in the cool dawn air an echo of more carefree days, the gesture today a sincere display of thanksgiving that his love was safe and sound.

He looked over his right shoulder, addressing the ritual words to the angel who recorded his good deeds, then over his left, repeating the words to the angel recording his misdeeds. In this direction, he found two pairs of green eyes looking at him.

"Oh, pardon. Did I wake you?" he asked, rising to roll up his prayer mat.

Minette stretched her long limbs disapprovingly, claws extended, then curled up again to go back to sleep, her back to him; Alex chuckled.

"No. I was just watching you talking to your imaginary friend."

"You infidel," said Majid indulgently, wishing he knew enough English to deliver any of the devastating put downs that would have come to mind in French or Arabic. He put his prayer mat in a corner.

"Aw, you like me, actually," said Alex confidently. He rubbed his eyes with his stump, and patted the bed. "Come here, habibi."

Majid chuckled and removed his trousers and djellabah. The cat raised her head and stared at them to express her displeasure at being jostled when he got into bed with Alex.

"I've missed you. What time did you get back?" asked Alex, wrapping his arm around Majid.

"About midnight. You were sleeping, so I did reading to not wake you. How is the work at the hotel?"

"Great. My Arabic is a lot better now so I've been working in the kitchen, just to show that dickhead Hassan I can do it. I burned one of the fingers, though. You might want to check that out." He pointed at his prosthesis lying on a chest of drawers by the window. "Oh and Nabila showed me how to use that CIEL software the other day. She says I can maybe do some of the invoicing. What? I'm good at it!" he protested when Majid started to laugh.

"You want to become an accountant?"

"Chauffeur, cook, accountant. I could become a florist or run a coffee shop. I don't care what I do as long as I can pay my way and I'm here with you," said Alex passionately.

Majid found it hard to believe that a man who had known the freedom of living above the laws of man and God would be satisfied with bookkeeping for a small seaside hotel in a tourist resort forever. Or that he would stay with Majid.

"They're all so nice to me," continued Alex more quietly. "After everything I've done-"

"You are doing good now, to make better the bad things you've done," said Majid reassuringly. He didn't know the verses in English, so he said them in Arabic. "We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption done in the land-it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one-it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." He paraphrased it in his broken English when Alex tried to puzzle out the unfamiliar words. "My mother told me that everything you do is written by two angels, the Kiraman Katibin. When you die, your good actions and bad actions are compared, and then God chooses if you go to heaven or hell."

"Yeah, you already told me about your angels taking notes like Santa Claus," said Alex, though despite the humorous words, he looked thoughtful. "So if I've saved all humanity from alien colonization, I'm good?"

"Inchallah," said Majid seriously. "Only with the will of God, because He knows what's in your heart. You have to really regret your actions." He stroked Alex's soft short hair and smiled. "I travel for a few days and you become all philosophic."

"Philosophical," corrected Alex. "And what about us? Which angel is taking notes now?"

Majid shook his head. "I know what my mother would say. But there is no sin here, just the laws of men." He wanted to quote classical poetry, but he didn't think Alex's Arabic would be good enough to understand the original, nor his own English good enough to provide a translation, so he picked a simpler sentiment. "How could my God condemn me for loving the beauty He has created?"

Alex's eyes creased into a modest smile. He cupped Majid's cheek, stroking his beard, and leaned over to kiss his lips. "N'hebek, habibi," he said softly.

"I love you too, my beloved," said Majid in English.

He kissed Alex's shoulder, just above the butchered biceps, trailing kisses into the fold of his neck and back to his lips. Majid relished their kiss, feeling free after a lifetime of meaningless, desperate encounters to express the love within him in the privacy of his own home.

"Love me, Alex," he whispered.

Alex grinned, his teeth white between his sensual lips, pink and shiny from their kiss. He leaned over the side of the bed and picked up a small bottle of oil.

Before they could get much further, Majid heard vehicles driving into the compound, their tires scraping on the fine Saharan dust. Startled, Majid and Alex stared at each other as a loud banging rang out from the front door a moment later.

"Police, open up!" shouted a man in Arabic.

Majid pulled on his djellabah. "Don't worry, I take care of it," he said, though his heart was racing. He left Alex struggling into a pair of trousers and hurried down the dark corridor to the front of the single story house.

"I'm coming, I'm coming, no need to break the door down!" he shouted in Arabic as he unlocked the door. He schooled his features into an affable smile when he recognized the man at the door. "Walid, what is the meaning of this?"

"Sorry, Professor," said his sister's cousin-in-law. He turned to the four officers with him. "Check the bedroom."

"What? What's going on?" stuttered Majid as the men pushed past him. "This is a civilized country, you can't just push into my property like this! Where are your papers, you dogs? What am I accused of?"

The officers rushed into the bedroom but stopped when they saw Alex, half naked and pointing a gun at them with his remaining hand. Two of them drew their own weapons.

« Posez votre arme ! » ordered one of the men, apparently used to dealing with tourists. „Lassen Sie die Waffe fallen!“

"Alex, put it down," said Majid, though he knew Alex had understood the orders.

Alex stared defiantly at the officers, arm still outstretched, then he gave an evil smile and tossed the gun on the floor.

Majid turned to Walid, mustering a placating smile and hoping to project a calm that he did not feel. "There must be some misunderstanding. Maybe this is a matter we can arrange between us, cousin? Surely a generous donation-"

"It's not that simple," interrupted Walid nervously. "You see-"

He stopped as they were joined by another man, tall and thin, his linen suit a contrast to the familiar uniforms of the police officers. Majid's heart sank when he recognized him; they had never spoken, but he had seen the man with Strughold a couple of times back when he still worked in Tataouine, and he knew the man's connection to Alex.

Alex bared his teeth in anger as the man he referred to as "Morley" looked around the room disdainfully, taking in the stacked bookshelves, the framed ayats Majid had inherited from his father, Alex's arm lying on the chest of drawers by the open window, the bottle of oil spilled on the tiled floor. The man lit a cigarette and turned to Alex with a sinister smile.

"You're a hard man to find, Alex," he said, his deceptively high voice heavy with the threat of violence. He glanced at Majid and pursed his lips in disgust. "I thought your type liked them younger."

"I don't have the artifact here," said Alex. "But you can have it back, I don't need it anymore."

"Yes, I hear the professor's niece made a miraculous recovery," remarked the man. He took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled, polluting the air with noxious smoke. "But I don't want the artifact, Alex. I want revenge. You really thought I would never find out who told the rebels where to find us?"

Now there was a smirk of satisfaction on Alex's beautiful lips. He had confessed this crime to Majid once, and expressed regret at the excessive loss of life. But now, before this man, he appeared unrepentant.

"So you're going to kill me?" spat Alex. "Then go on, take your shot, Carl!"

Majid saw a flash of anger on the man's face; if this was a deliberate barb, it had hit its mark.

"Oh no," said the man, regaining his control. "Death would be too kind. You're going to suffer, Alex. Emmenez-les !"

"No, leave him alone!" shouted Alex, realizing that Majid was also going to be arrested. "He wasn't involved in that. I did it alone."

"Oh, I know that. But don't you know sodomy is illegal here? A maximum of three years in prison, I hear. Your well-connected friend here can save himself and his family the shame of a public trial for gross indecency if he only confesses to submitting to your perversions. You, however, will be going away for the full term. I'll see to it that your prison fits your true crimes."

Alex spat at him and howled in anger as the officers dragged him outside. They took Majid as well; he caught a glimpse of some of the neighborhood children watching with curiosity as the grand university professor was bundled into a police car like a common criminal. They pointed at Alex, half naked and vulnerable with his truncated arm in the grip of a policeman. They gawked at the tall man who stopped in the courtyard to survey the scene with satisfaction. They would tell their families, who would tell their neighbors, who would tell everyone until even Majid's elderly mother would hear of the shame that he had brought on their family.

He caught one last glimpse of Alex, defiant but pale, and then the cars sped out of the compound and he saw him no more.

* * * * *

"I had high ideals of being true to the man I loved, but after they tortured me to prove I was a homosexual, I did exactly as Morley said," Ben Salem concluded with regret. "I bargained my testimony against my freedom. I blamed Alex and he went to prison. And I walked free to a different prison. To face my family's opprobrium and expiate my sins by becoming the good son they had never had."

"Did he ever contact you again?" asked Mulder. He had known about the prison but was disturbed by the mention of torture.

"No," said Ben Salem. "A few months later, a blonde woman came to my house. I was at work, but she spoke to my wife, who was expecting our first child, and told her that Alex was out of prison and needed his prosthesis. My wife-my wife did not understand then what Alex meant to me." He sighed. "I didn't tell her for years. I wanted to be the husband and father to my children that a man should be. But I suppose that, like the scorpion, I could not change my nature, and I am now a bachelor once more. So she gave the woman the prosthesis. I heard eventually that Alex had been killed a few months later. Shot for trying to murder an FBI agent."

Mulder's stomach lurched at the pain in Ben Salem's voice. "I'm sorry. You were together for a long time, weren't you?"

"About three years. Well, we didn't always live together and I'm sure he had other lovers. He was so handsome and independent. I think our affection was not evenly balanced. But to me, he was everything. Even knowing what he did for the Consortium, I still loved him. When he decided to leave them, I brought him to my home town. I suppose we both knew that a one-armed American would be hard to conceal forever in Djerba."

"He kept photos of you," said Mulder. "I guess even if he'd moved on, he still felt something for you and the time you spent together."

"Maybe." Ben Salem stopped speaking for a moment, perhaps lost in his thoughts, though he continued before Mulder could prompt him. "Thank you for calling, Agent Mulder. Alex has been my dirty secret for so long, a subject I cannot broach with anyone. It feels good to talk to someone who knew him too, even if it is a man whose father he executed. I hope that is the information you needed to know, Agent Mulder."

"Yes, that's been very helpful." Mulder was about to thank the professor again and end the call, but he remembered telling Gupta earlier that year that his lover Sanjay was dead. Maybe Krycek's lover deserved to know the truth.

"Professor, there's just one thing you should know-"

* * * * *

Hey, you're such a pretty boy
Hey, you're such a pretty boy
You're so pretty

Mulder was lying on the bed in Scully's guest bedroom, headphones in and Krycek's box beside him. It was a warmer night and he had discarded his flannel pajamas. Lying naked under the sheet, he looked at the old picture of Krycek wearing nothing but a smile and his greased hairstyle, his pulse quickening pleasantly at the sight.

Letting the image play in his mind, he turned off the light and thought about Krycek. About Rich kissing Alex in the hotel; the "fierce affection" in the Englishman's letter; Alex having sex with Abdelmajid in their Tunisian home; Marita being shot, but going to get Krycek's arm in Tunisia, and wrapping her stockinged legs around his hips, and smiling at him on a wintry beach. Himself watching his father die in his arms but still letting Krycek crouch down in front of him in the Russian snow. And further back, the weight of Julian's body on his, the overwhelming, exhilarating sensations, merging with the more recent memory of Krycek lying on him, breathing out his pleasure as Scully slept soundly below.

Then less pleasant images clouded his mind; a memory of himself walking away from a corpse in a parking garage; a vision of that same body lying dead once again in some unknown location, revived organs giving up under the strain of their unnatural resurrection. The thoughts filled him with a dread that chased him into his nightmares as he fell into an uneasy sleep.

When he woke up some time later, an unfamiliar slow song was playing in his ears.

Oh you sad one
Playing the Angel
Isn't so easy where you're from
Oh you wild one
Devil's companion
You won't stay satisfied for long

He frowned at the lyrics, his muddled brain trying to work out why someone was singing a song about Krycek. When he woke up more fully and realized this was just some album track the streaming service had pulled from Depeche Mode's back catalog, he noticed what had woken him. The window was open.

Immediately on alert, Mulder turned off the music and strained to see anything in the dim streetlight. His heart beating wildly, he cautiously got out of bed, not bothering with his pajamas, and went over to close the window.

He spun around when he heard someone move in the shadows behind him. Reaching out blindly, Mulder's fingers touched worn leather.

"Mulder-"

Before Krycek could say anything more, Mulder raised his hand to the back of his neck and pulled him into a kiss. Krycek let out a groan and wrapped his arms around Mulder, cupping his bare ass as he deepened the kiss, his rough jeans and leather jacket rubbing against Mulder's naked skin, adding to the intense eroticism of the moment. They moved against each other, matched in height and strength, Krycek's denim-clad leg pushing between Mulder's thighs to maximize the contact between their hips, neither giving ground in the effort to get closer. Then Mulder remembered his nightmare and their abortive encounter at the hotel, and decided to throw all caution to the wind once more.

He suddenly gave in and let Krycek push him against the wall by the bed. Trapped between the hard wall and Krycek's body, he broke the kiss to whisper in Krycek's ear.

"Take me, Alex."

Chapter Text

Mulder looked at himself in the mirror when he got out of the shower. He looked like hell, he thought, with bags under his eyes, and greying stubble protruding from his cheeks and chin, but although he could feel the disease threatening a resurgence, he felt pretty good. A little uncomfortable and embarrassed, maybe, but otherwise pretty good.

He checked his neck and shoulders, but found no marks, much to his relief. He dispatched the stubble with gestures honed by forty years of practice; then, feeling more presentable, he left the bathroom—and realized to his disappointment that he wasn’t the only person up.

Scully was in the kitchen, wearing a robe over her pajamas but not yet made up. Seeing her brought back memories of happier times and the thought dampened his mood. Watching her for the split second before she noticed him, he felt a sudden impulse to wrap his arms around her and hold her close. But there were a number of reasons why that would not be a good idea.

“Morning,” she said brightly. “I hope you’re all packed. We’ll need to leave in less than an hour if we’re going to avoid the morning traffic.”

“Uh, yes, I’m packed,” said Mulder. He’d taken care of that the previous evening; all the more easily as he’d barely unpacked since they arrived back in DC three days earlier. “But, um, there’s been a development…”

“A development?” asked Scully in surprise. “What development?”

“That would be me.”

They both turned toward the guest bedroom, where Krycek had just emerged. He was dressed in his camo shirt and jeans, but with his unshaven cheeks and uncombed hair, he managed to radiate an air of debauchery that made Mulder feel warm all over. And amplified his embarrassment at what he had done.

Scully stared at Krycek a moment, the surprise on her face morphing rapidly into resignation, then returned to her coffee-making.

“I guess you’ll be wanting breakfast,” she said curtly.

* * * * *

“Take me, Alex.”

“Yeah?” Krycek’s lips were on his cheek and a hint of stubble scratched Mulder’s skin as he whispered. “I can do that.”

Mulder guessed he liked the idea because before he could respond, Krycek kissed him with the same sloppy enthusiasm he’d shown in the shower that time, pressing him harder against the wall. Mulder closed his eyes and let the sensations fill his mind; the mouth open against his, the zipper pressing into his chest, the scent of a man wearing a leather jacket on a warm day. Krycek’s fingers, when he raised them to Mulder’s mouth, had a faint taste of gun grease—though perhaps that was Mulder’s imagination. He was ashamed to find that the idea gave him a little thrill.

The feeling reminded him of the long list on the notepad and Scully’s presence only a couple of rooms away. He shouldn’t be doing this. There were dozens of reasons why he should pull away and stop this. And only really one to continue: the fact that he wanted this. He’d just been waiting for an opportunity.

Krycek slid his hand—his restored left hand— down between the wall and Mulder’s naked skin and Mulder’s mind momentarily went blank.

“Oh,” he groaned in a whisper, pinned between the roughness of Krycek’s clothes at his front, and the soft hand and cold, hard wall at his back.

“Okay?” asked Krycek, and his solicitude almost took Mulder out of the moment, but he could feel the man’s solid body against him—a body that he could be holding for the last time—and felt renewed excitement at the thought of what he was agreeing to.

“Yes, okay.”

* * * * *

“Turn right to merge onto George Washington Memorial Parkway.”

The traffic was light at this time in the morning, flowing easily along the cleared route Mulder and Scully had taken back from the hospital ten days earlier. Scully drove in silence, clearly pissed. Sitting beside her, Mulder tried not to draw attention to himself.

“Take the exit onto I-495 North toward Maryland.”

“Is KITT here seriously going to talk all the way to Chicago?” asked Krycek, leaning forward from his position in the back seat, and pointing at the screen on Scully’s dashboard. “Because if so, you can drop me off at a Metro station and I’ll go back to get the bike.”

“Be my guest,” said Scully sharply. “The GPS is better than getting Mulder to navigate.”

“Not true, I’m an excellent map reader!” protested Mulder.

“Well, at least the GPS doesn’t forget to tell me about a turn until after we’ve passed it!”

Perhaps sensing that this wasn’t the best time to engage them in conversation, Krycek sat back again and didn’t say anything more for a while. The car plunged into silence until the GPS piped up again a few miles later.

“Keep left at the fork to continue on I-270 Spur North; follow signs for Interstate 270.”

Mulder was about to remark that he thought he knew someone who lived around here, but decided to keep quiet.

“Okay, next question,” said Krycek, “because I missed that while we were having breakfast and nobody was talking to anyone, but why are we driving to Chicago?”

“To catch a flight to Wyoming,” explained Scully.

“From O’Hare? That’s a day’s drive away!”

“Flights don’t resume until tomorrow and most are already full,” explained Scully with undisguised irritation. “I couldn’t even book a connecting flight from DC until Monday. But we can catch one from O’Hare tomorrow morning. We’ll have to stop somewhere overnight for Mulder’s treatment.” She glanced at Krycek through the rearview mirror. “My question is, why are you here?”

Krycek shrugged nonchalantly. “I wanted my box back. The one with the photos. Sentimental value. Speaking of which, what did you do with the other ones that were in there?”

“What other ones?” asked Mulder. He had to turn around to look at Krycek as he spoke. “We didn’t take anything out. It’s all in there.”

“Oh, okay.” Krycek nodded with a neutral expression. “Maybe I’m confused about what was in it. To be honest, I didn’t even remember I’d left it at Edith’s.”

“You could have just taken the box, you know,” said Scully. “And then gone off on your bike. You didn’t have to come with us.”

Knowing that Scully couldn’t see him easily because he was directly behind her, Krycek caught Mulder’s eye and bared his even white teeth in a leer. “Yeah, well. When I realized you were going to Wyoming at last, I figured I might as well come along for the ride.”

Mulder’s stomach tightened; he looked out of the window and wished Krycek had taken the motorcycle.

* * * * *

Mulder sat down on the bed, his heart beating with trepidation. Standing in front of him, Krycek was profiled in darkness against the relative light of the curtained window. Mulder raised his hand to stop him when he started to take off his jacket. Krycek said nothing, but he made no further attempt to undress and dropped his hand to Mulder’s shoulder, apparently understanding Mulder’s silent request.

He gently pushed Mulder over so he was lying on his back. For a moment, he just stood there, perhaps watching Mulder, whose white skin was visible in the dim light. Then he suddenly sank down and Mulder could no longer see his silhouette against the window. He felt warm hands at the back of his legs and soft hair tickled his inner thighs.

He had to concentrate to stay silent; Scully would be horrified if she heard them. At the same time, the thought that she might was incredibly arousing, a paradox Mulder decided he would have to examine some other time. For now, things were moving too quickly and too intensely; he clawed at Krycek’s short hair to push him away.

“Too much,” he breathed, and he heard a quiet dry chuckle in response.

Without warning, Krycek straightened up. He seized Mulder’s hips and manhandled him onto his front, then guided him so he was on his hands and knees.

“This what you want, Agent Mulder?” he asked in a low rough voice.

Mulder felt a shiver run through him at just how perfect this was. He’d fantasized about this before; not usually like this, in a bed, though he’d imagined different outcomes to Krycek’s impulsive kiss on the cheek that might have led to his bed. He’d imagined other places, when they met as enemies; the Russian snow, the Hong Kong airport, the basement office. Sometimes he imagined them fighting, Krycek fighting back and taking control instead of yielding easily as he always seemed to do. With the memory of those fantasies in mind, he let out an incoherent groan of assent.

* * * * *

“So let me get this straight, you’ve finally worked out that your son lives in Wyoming?” asked Krycek, leaning on the cafeteria table when they stopped for a late lunch on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. “I hate to be the guy who says ‘I told you so,’ but—I told you that a week ago!”

“Yes, we owe you an apology,” conceded Scully. Mulder thought she sounded weary; they had gotten stuck in traffic for an hour and a half outside Pittsburgh and were all glad to be out of the car. “We now have absolute proof that the vision you saw was real. Why don’t you show him the picture, Mulder?”

Mulder pulled up the photograph from Mila Makembese’s Facebook account on his phone and showed it to Krycek. “Your landlady’s grandniece Mila is a hybrid—I guess you already knew that—and William, assuming that’s the boy you saw, must have sent her this picture.”

“The metadata in the file says it was taken on a Samsung phone about five months ago, and the geotag is from a road south of Devils Tower,” added Scully.

“Wow, that is seriously weird.” Krycek took Mulder’s phone and stared at the picture for a long while, his expression serious. “If I was in a lab in Washington DC, how could my image be in Wyoming? I mean, I understand being in someone’s head, you know, like a psychic link or something, but photographs are all about capturing light, right, so how can a camera take a picture of a ghost, or—or whatever I was? And if a phone can take pictures of, like, people’s spirits, how come every picture doesn’t have a dozen ghosts in it? I know you had pictures of ghosts in the X-Files but that never made sense to me.”

Mulder thought Krycek sounded unduly agitated by the photograph, but then remembered that he’d been uncomfortable with the idea back in San Diego too.

“It does gives credence to the superstitions around photographs in some primi—indigenous cultures,” said Mulder. “The idea that taking a photograph captures a part of your soul isn’t so strange when you consider that under some circumstances, you can indeed capture the image of a soul, as proven in the X-Files and right here on this picture of you.”

“I agree it doesn’t make sense, Krycek. I guess that’s why they call it the paranormal,” said Scully wryly, as if she’d long since given up trying to explain any of this. “Though to be fair, you weren’t a ghost and I suspect there’s an even more rational explanation. You were infected by the black oil a few years before your death. It’s possible that some of it never left your system and that might explain your apparent psychic abilities while you were in the lab. That could include the ability to project your image in a way that registers on a digital camera.”

“Gotta say, I like that theory a hell of a lot better than our original one where I was a ghost.” Krycek handed the phone back to Mulder.

Mulder took it, amused that both Scully and Krycek seemed to find alien possession a more rational explanation than souls.

“So you—Did you talk to this girl?” asked Krycek nonchalantly.

“No, her name appeared on a list of hybrids our contact at the NSA gave us,” explained Mulder. “Your friend Mohammed Bryant accessed her Facebook account for us. There was nothing there except this photograph. Neither she nor her father have responded to our emails.”

“She knows your son,” said Krycek quietly. He looked out of the window, apparently lost in thought. “Small world.”

* * * * *

“Touch yourself.”

It was the first thing Krycek had said for a while and his whisper momentarily pulled Mulder out of the floaty feeling of helplessness he had surrendered to. He complied, giving in to that impulse to serve, to hand over all responsibility to another person, which had attracted him to Phoebe and Diana—and to Alex. To let them punish him for his failures, for failing Samantha and Scully and his mother, for decades of failing to save girls like Mila Makembese and the other hybrids who were even now being abducted into the sick breeding program run by the man who purported to be his father.

None of that mattered now, though, because Alex was the one in charge, his hand at Mulder’s throat, his zipper grazing his back, his rough jeans chafing the backs of Mulder’s bare thighs.

* * * * *

They stopped for another break and a change of driver in the afternoon. Mulder was washing his hands in the restroom when the door suddenly opened behind him and Krycek slipped in, grinning like a Cheshire cat. After quickly checking that there was nobody else in the restroom, Krycek put his arms around Mulder from behind and kissed his cheek.

“Scully’s gone to the bathroom too,” he said in a low voice. “So we have a minute or two before she wonders where we are.”

Mulder stared at their reflection in the mirror as Krycek’s handsome face trailed gentle kisses down his neck, his hands sliding under Mulder’s jacket. He pictured bending over the basin, Krycek’s hands on his hips, and tried to work out at what angle he would be able to see the reflection of their—

Alarmed at how turned on he was becoming in this very public place, he abruptly disengaged himself from Krycek’s embrace.

“I don’t think Scully will be wondering what we’re doing if we take too long,” he said, running his hands under the dryer. “We don’t have time for anything. We’d better get back.”

He took a step toward the door, but Krycek, who seemed to be in an amorous mood, pushed him back against the wall and kissed him. Mulder reflected wryly that one of them always seemed to end up against a wall. The kissing was just a more recent development.

“Alex,” pleaded Mulder.

“Don’t worry, I bet I can get you off in a minute,” murmured Krycek with a chuckle. He gave Mulder’s crotch a quick squeeze that proved the likelihood of his assertion, then took Mulder’s hand and pulled him toward one of the stalls.

“Yeah, I guess you have a lot of experience with that,” said Mulder, pulling away even though the idea of going through with it made his head spin.

“Oh, I see. Last night, it was all ‘take me, Alex’ and now you’re acting like a virginal prom date?” said Krycek angrily. Then the crease above his nose suddenly cleared and he raised his eyebrows in that way that wrinkled his forehead and made him look simultaneously older and more innocent. “Oh. Are you okay? I mean, you know—”

He made a gesture toward Mulder’s pants and the reminder just made Mulder feel embarrassed and irrationally angry.

“No, I’m fine. I just don’t have sex in dirty bathrooms and back alleys,” he said, though the bathroom was actually very clean, as rest stop bathrooms went. “How many guys have you gotten off ‘in a minute’ in bathrooms? I bet that list is even longer than the one in the notebook.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have sex at all! You spend your life watching it on TV with your hand down your pants.” Krycek’s green eyes were flashing with anger again. “It’s not like I could date anyone back then. That was the only way I could get anyone to hold—oh, fuck this. You think what you want to think.”

Krycek stormed out, past a very surprised janitor who was coming in with a mop. Mulder followed him, and felt a pang of guilt when he found Scully waiting for them. She raised an eyebrow at the sight of them leaving the restroom together, and Mulder was relieved that they hadn’t actually done anything so he was able to look her in the eye.

* * * * *

“Wow. That was a surprise.” Now undressed, Krycek snuggled up to Mulder in the darkness and stroked his hair. “You okay?”

Mulder wished Krycek would stop talking and behaving, well, like a human being. It made this all feel more real, less like an exciting fantasy scenario, and more like he’d used a real live person to scratch a personal itch. He wasn’t even sure Krycek had wanted it like that; he’d never suggested it before.

But anyway, Krycek was a killer, he reminded himself, trying to focus on his father and the long list in the notepad, rather than the feeling of the man’s breath on his bare shoulder. Who cared what a killer wanted? At least, he had been a killer, a long time ago. Now, Mulder wondered how much of that bad boy image had been a facade to hide the wounded man inside, the man whose first love had died of a horrible disease, and whose last love had been torn away from him by Cancerman’s revenge. The man whose current lover was attracted to him because of a fantasy of what he had once appeared to be, rather than who he actually was.

He remembered Scully telling him not to take advantage of Krycek’s vulnerability. Feeling like a complete dick, Mulder just grunted an response and turned his back on Krycek. Undeterred or maybe oblivious to Mulder’s body language, Krycek snaked an arm around his body and kissed his cheek; the tenderness just made Mulder feel worse. He closed his eyes, feigning sleep until he had to feign it no more.

* * * * *

And did you think this fool could never win?
Well look at me, I’m coming back again
I got a taste of love in a simple way
And if you need to know while I’m still standing
You just fade away

“‘I’m Still Standing?’” Mulder was amused by Krycek’s choice of music. “What’s next on the playlist, Krycek? ‘Stayin’ Alive?’ ‘I Will Survive?’”

Scully gave him a funny look over her shoulder and Mulder realized that was a little callous given what Webber had said about Krycek’s chances of long-term survival. He stopped himself before he suggested any other resurrection-themed songs.

“Sure. ‘I Will Survive’ is my theme tune,” said Krycek cheerfully, though he kept his eyes on the road. He had loaded the playlist before taking over the next leg of the journey from Scully.

He sang along to the music; despite their argument in the restroom, he seemed in a good mood, and Mulder wondered if they should tell him about Sonia’s mice.

Turn around, every now and then I get a little bit lonely
And you’re never coming round
Turn around, every now and then I get a little bit tired
Of listening to the sound of my tears

“It’s funny. I did listen to nineties music back in the day,” continued Krycek conversationally. “You know, Garbage, Alanis Morissette, Depeche Mode, of course, but songs like this are—I don’t know. I never even liked this song, but I think they played it at my prom and it’s like it means more than ones I listened to later. I wonder why the early eighties songs just sound better?”

Like anyone of his generation, Mulder knew the answer to that one. “That’s because they knew how to make good music back then.”

“Objectively, the quality of music hasn’t changed. They’re just songs that remind you of your youth,” said Scully seriously. “I read an article about it once. They ran a long-term study on mice, college students, and adults, and found that events that occurred in adolescence left a longer-lasting impression than childhood events, or ones that occurred in adulthood. That includes forming a stronger emotional attachment to things that remind you of that time.”

“So that’s why high school is hell?” said Mulder. “Because you never escape it?”

“Maybe. Any trauma experienced at that age apparently has a bigger impact on the rest of your life than things that happen to you as an adult.”

“Really? No wonder I’m so fucked up,” said Krycek with a dry laugh.

Mulder thought about the picture of Rich when he was sick and wondered how old Alex had been when that happened. Then he thought about his own teenage years, overshadowed by his sister’s disappearance and his parents’ divorce, and pondered whether that explained the man he’d grown up to be.

Scully frowned and gave a sideways glance at Krycek before speaking again.

“Krycek, there’s something you should know. We went and talked to Dr. Webber the other day,” she said, her tone gentler than it had been all day. “I’m afraid I have some bad news. She said she tested the process she used to revive you on mice, and they all died of organ failure within a few days. Of course, there’s a chance you won’t suffer the same fate. We don’t know what effect your exposure to the black oil or the chemicals in the tank might have had, for example, and you were completely healthy when I examined you last week.”

Krycek seemed unsurprised. “Yeah, I thought it was something like that. I heard her talking to Mulder,” he said, pausing briefly to pass a truck. “Something about mice dying and organ failure. I kinda guessed she was talking about me.”

“So you did come to their house.” Mulder leaned forward, as far as the seatbelt would let him. “I knew I’d seen your bike at the gas station!”

“Yeah,” said Krycek with a sigh. “I figured—I don’t know. When we went to Schiaparelli’s to get the address, I thought I’d go see Webber and, I don’t know, get revenge or something. But then I saw you talking and I realized she was your sister—a clone of your sister—and that she was just helping her boyfriend. Jeffrey Spender didn’t deserve what happened to him. But I did. So I guess I gave up on revenge.”

You put the boom boom into my heart,
You send my soul sky high when your lovin’ starts.
Jitterbug into my brain,
Goes bang bang bang till my feet do the same.

“And now seems I’m going to die again,” muttered Krycek over the incongruously cheerful music. “Karma’s a bitch.”

Chapter Text

Er war Superstar
Er war populär
Er war so exaltiert
Because er hatte Flair
Er war ein Virtuose
War ein Rockidol
Und alles rief:
Come on and rock me Amadeus

The car jumped over a pothole and Mulder jerked awake. They were still on the interstate, and about half an hour had passed according to the dashboard. Mulder could see Krycek singing along to the song, and to his surprise, he heard Scully singing from the seat in front of him too—not very loud, but very flat. Somewhere along the way, they’d muted the GPS which was now displaying its instructions in silence.

Mulder stretched, trying to shake off the drowsiness. Krycek was driving in his usual cautious style, keeping up a slow pace through the dense early evening traffic, only changing lanes when necessary. Mulder reflected that he’d forgotten that about Krycek; his old man’s driving style and rigorous adherence to road traffic rules had amused Mulder greatly in the brief time they were partners.

“I didn’t know you spoke German, Scully,” said Krycek.

“I studied it in college,” she replied shortly.

“Is that where you learned all the words to ‘Rock Me Amadeus?’” asked Krycek with a chuckle.

“No.” Mulder half-expected Scully not to elaborate, but she continued. “We visited my brother in Hamburg a couple times while I was in high school. I used to go to the record store near the base and listen for songs I liked. I picked up Falco Drei before this became a hit in the US.”

Krycek chuckled. “God, I remember listening to tracks in record stores. It’s all so easy now.” He waved at the display on the dashboard. “Did I tell you I met my first boyfriend in a record store?”

“You might have mentioned it,” said Mulder, remembering the anecdote about Krycek’s meeting with Rich and the crappy Depeche Mode song. “The guy who looked like Tom Selleck.”

“The one who was sick?” asked Scully with concern.

Krycek inhaled sharply and looked straight ahead. “Right. You saw the picture in the box.” He shrugged. “We weren’t together by then. He was married anyway. And I was very young. It was just a crush, nothing serious.”

“Yes,” said Scully gently.

“It was—It was tough, though. Seeing him like that.”

“I can imagine,” said Scully with feeling when Krycek didn’t say anything further. “There was someone I was close to once, a long time ago, and I met him again years later. He was married too. It had been brief and stupid and I’d moved on. But when he suffered a heart attack, our paths crossed again and it was like the years melted away. Only briefly, but the prospect of losing him seemed overwhelming. I was lucky, though. He got better.”

Mulder tried to remember which incident she was referring to. “Was that when you had ergot poisoning from that lunch you ate and went on some Buddhist thing involving a faith healer?” He couldn’t see Scully’s face but Krycek’s look of amusement made him think she probably didn’t look pleased and he started backpedalling. “Um, I mean, not that I was there. Anyway, weren’t you stationed in Germany too, Krycek?”

“Yes,” said Krycek, not at all fooled by Mulder’s hasty change of topic. “I was in Berlin for a couple years in the late eighties, after I left college. I owed the Air Force four years for my tuition, so I figured I might as well see the world. It was an exciting time, you know, Glasnost and Perestroika, so there was a wind of hope in the air, but at the same time, there was the Wall and people still getting shot trying to cross it.”

“The Strughold Corporation’s head office was in Berlin,” remarked Mulder, remembering what Ben Salem had said about the office in Tataouine.

“Berlin is a big city, Mulder.” Krycek glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “But yeah. That’s where I first met someone who worked for them. Someone you knew too.”

* * * * *

KREUTZBERG, WEST BERLIN
1987

Hit that perfect
Hit that perfect
Hit that perfect beat, boy

Alex let the high energy beat flow through him, raising his arms in the smoky, overheated air of the nightclub. Somewhere just beyond these walls, barely a block away, East German soldiers were patrolling with their guns and dogs, keeping their fellow citizens out of this walled enclave of Western freedom and depravity. And a bit further away within the Wall, his fellow servicemen were sleeping in their barracks or exchanging jokes about Nazis and faggots and all the things that made Alex want to climb the walls when he was there. But in here, with his dog tags concealed in his pocket, Alex was free, anonymous as long as he didn’t speak and reveal his American accent—and most guys were quite happy never to hear him speak.

Too close for comfort
Too close for joy
Boys in the back room
Their house destroy.
Touch and kiss a stranger if all else fails
Hiding from the danger that’s been sent from hell.

The danger from hell reminded him he might as well use the handful of condoms in his jeans before his weekend leave was over; he opened his eyes and decided that whoever was watching him right now would do. His gaze fell on a man dancing next to him; not one of those blond Germans with statuesque bodies, but an unremarkable guy with a mousy mullet and spindly mustache, wearing track suit pants and a Wham! T-shirt. When Alex caught his eye, his face lit up as if all his Weihnachten had come early; good, the ugly ones were always more desperate. Alex flicked his head toward the exit.

As he pushed through the crowd, certain that Mousy Boy was following, he noticed an incongruous sight near the bar; a woman, a leggy brunette in a suit, who seemed to be observing him. He decided that he was imagining things—she was probably someone’s wife or mother, looking to take her boy home. Alex looked behind him and found his puppy of the night still practically slobbering at the prospect of getting his hands on him. Buzzing with the familiar anticipation of simple, uncomplicated sex, he walked out of the club.

His eager mark was standing behind him when he turned around and Alex let the man kiss him briefly. Then he twisted his fingers in the stringy mullet and was preparing to push down when the woman in the suit suddenly appeared in his field of vision.

“You wanna watch, lady?” he asked in German, scowling at her.

“Not my thing, lieutenant,” said the woman in English. Alex froze at her use of his rank, and stayed silent as she addressed the man in German. “This is my husband. Leave us.”

The man hissed an expletive and returned to the club. Alex glared at the woman. “Who the hell are you?”

“Someone who won’t tell your CO what you do in your spare time if you do exactly what I tell you,” said the woman. “I work for the American government, Lieutenant Krycek, and I have a job for you.” She dispassionately observed a couple doing exactly what Alex had been hoping to get from Mullet Man for a moment and then looked him over. “You don’t seem too effeminate.”

“Effeminate?” repeated Alex angrily. He had always been careful to act manly; his delicate good looks were great when it came to finding guys to screw, but also made it all the more important to stay well hidden in his closet. “The fuck you on about, lady?”

“Do you ever have sex with women?”

Alex was tempted to leer at her and ask if she was offering, but she didn’t strike him as the kind who would find that unsettling, so he scowled at her instead. Besides, a small part of him was intrigued by this; it might be an opportunity to do something a little more exciting than polish his uniform and worry about World War III breaking out under his nose.

“Sometimes,” he said with a shrug. Passing straight meant acting the role, after all.

“You any good at it?” asked the woman seriously.

“Haven’t had any complaints.” Alex shrugged again. “It’s not like girls really enjoy sex anyway.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’ Never mind. Hopefully, you won’t need to go that far. All we want you to do is keep a diplomat and his pretty young wife busy.”

“Busy how? As in threesome busy?”

“Potentially,” said the woman, though the grim set of her thin lips made him think she was reconsidering her choice. “The diplomat has some information we need. Catering to some of his more unusual tastes should get it for us.”

“You want me to be a honey trap?” exclaimed Alex in disbelief. He laughed. “Wow, the government must really be desperate!”

“Our original pick was murdered last week,” explained the woman. “You’re the emergency stand-in.”

Alex stared at her, not so amused anymore. “Murdered? Yeah, uh, nice meeting you. I’ll pass.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice, lieutenant. It would be a shame if your commanding officer found out about this.” She indicated the club. “I expect you’d be kicked out and have to pay back your college tuition. And if he found out about Rich Rosenthal—”

Alex’s blood ran cold. He said nothing as she continued. “Don’t worry. Your predecessor’s death wasn’t related to this mission.” She handed him a business card with an address in Wedding, north of West Berlin. “Come to this address tomorrow evening at 7:00 and ask for Hunter.”

“Hunter. Like the TV cop with the big dick?” asked Alex nervously, looking at the card.

But when he raised his eyes, the woman had disappeared.

* * * * *

“Turned out it was Hunter, as in Diana the Hunter,” said Krycek. “Diana Fowler. Just in case the ‘leggy brunette’ bit didn’t tip you off.”

Mulder was about to correct Krycek’s use of the name “Fowler,” but he then remembered arguing with Scully and the Lone Gunmen when they tried to convince him that Diana’s undeclared frequent visits to Tunisia and Berlin proved she was working for the Consortium. Working for the Consortium and apparently, recruiting vulnerable young men like Krycek. Retrospectively ashamed of his own blind faith, he decided not to draw attention to himself by making a comment.

“How long did you work with Diana Fowley?” asked Scully.

“Fowley, right. I only worked with her a couple of times, actually. She was based at the FBI in DC, then by the time I joined the FBI and got transferred there, she’d moved to Berlin. So we kind of missed each other.” Krycek looked over his shoulder. “I didn’t know her when she was dating you, Mulder. I only found out about that when I moved to the DC office. She’s the one who suggested I should join the FBI, though. Said I was just the type of person they were looking for.”

“Based on your performance as a honey trap?” said Scully in disbelief.

Krycek scowled at her. “No, because I had a degree and a military background. Though she was impressed I actually did some research before starting the job.” His expression cleared into a grin. “Glad I did, too. The threesome was smoking hot.”

Scully sighed. “Oh brother.”

Krycek laughed and turned his attention back to the road. Mulder watched him driving, sleeves rolled up to expose arms with a light dusting of straight dark hairs, so different from Mulder’s own light russet fuzz. He remembered Krycek rubbing his cheek against Mulder’s chest hair when they were in bed at the house together, and the pang of desire he felt almost made him wish he’d taken Krycek up on his offer in the restroom.

He closed his eyes and let his mind wander pleasantly. He thought about Krycek having sex with women and not being very good at it, and wondered what “research” he’d done. Did he watch straight porn? Did he enjoy it? He wondered if Krycek would want to have sex with Scully; she was a lot older than Krycek’s apparent age, but he had made a pass at her. On the other hand, Mulder was pretty sure Scully didn’t want to have sex with Krycek. But assuming she did

“—might not believe this, but I actually liked being an FBI agent. You know, the detective work, mainly. Like little puzzles to solve. Important puzzles. I loved that.”

Mulder drifted out of sleep, unaware that he’d even drifted into it. He kept his eyes closed and tried to get back to his comfortable snooze.

“Yes, that’s what attracted me to it too,” said Scully. “And why I chose pathology when I studied medicine. I missed that while I was working as a surgeon. It’s been nice to get back to it.”

“And work with Mulder again?”

“That too. Sometimes it’s as if we never left. As if we’ve gone back to the old days when it was just him and me, before William, before John and Monica—”

“Before me?”

“Hmm, maybe not that far back,” said Scully. “Then again, yes, maybe. But I was a different person then.”

Mulder shuffled to get more comfortable and tried to tune them out.

“Oh,” said Krycek, as a new song started with a plaintive falsetto and industrial-sounding beat. “I always used to think of Mulder when I listened to this one.”

I’m not going down on my knees
Begging you to adore me
Can’t you see it’s misery
And torture for me?

“Uh, well, you know, not literally,” said Krycek hastily, as if he suddenly realized how intimate the lyrics sounded. “I mean, I didn’t feel—”

“It’s all right, Krycek. I know you were in love with him.”

Mulder’s heart lurched. He strained his ears to hear what Krycek would say, suddenly wide awake.

“Oh, I wouldn’t call it love,” said Krycek in a low voice.

After a short pause, he let out a dry laugh. “More of a healthy interest in a man my boss seemed obsessed with. You know we’re just fooling around.”

Some people have to be permanently together
Lovers devoted to each other forever

“I always figured you’d end up together,” continued Krycek. “You know, you and Mulder, as a couple. I guess he was projecting all that sister baggage at first, but then you got together and had the kid, and I kind of assumed you’d settle down together. Get married, have other kids. I guess he doesn’t know a good thing when he gets it.”

“I’m the one who left him. I just couldn’t—” Scully sighed and seemed to remember who she was talking to. “It’s complicated.”

“Yeah,” said Krycek wryly. “That’s what my mom used to say after she kicked Dad out.”

Mulder remembered his own mother saying that after his parents split up. It’s complicated, Fox. She’d let her daughter be taken to be used as some kind of— He thought about the hybrids and what Sonia had said—all abductees have children, Fox—and felt renewed disgust at the man responsible, and at his own parents for letting it happen. Yeah, it was complicated, Mom. His and Scully’s problems were childishly simple in comparison.

“Was it—” started Krycek. “I guess it’s none of my business.”

“Probably not,” said Scully warily.

“Lots of baggage, huh? All the stuff that happened to you, and then giving up the kid. Yeah, I guess I see how it was hard now.”

Scully didn’t answer and Krycek was silent for a moment. When he spoke again, Mulder could barely hear him over the music. “Marita told me what they did to you. To all of you, and to her. I guess they gave you the happy pills, so you don’t remember—”

“I remember. Not everything. But enough.”

Krycek swore and Mulder froze in horror. Scully had always assured him that she didn’t know what they’d done to her.

“I’m sorry,” said Krycek finally. “About the abduction. And your sister. And all the bullshit I put you through. I guess I could say I was just following orders. That I was doing it because I didn’t know you and I didn’t know what they did to the abductees back then, except that Morley once threatened to abduct my sister so I knew it was nothing good. But the truth is, I thought they were going to kill you, and I was okay with that. And I watched Luis kill Melissa and I was kind of okay with that too, except I knew they were going to have our asses in a sling when they found out.” He sighed. “I’m not now. God, I think of everything I did and the people on that list— I guess you have no reason to forgive me, but I’m sorry and I thought I should say that.”

Scully paused a moment, then spoke in a soft voice. “Thank you. I can’t forget what you did, but I can forgive you.”

Here is a plea
From my heart to you
Nobody knows me
As well as you do
You know how hard it is for me
To shake the disease
That takes hold of my tongue
In situations like these

“He was gorgeous, though, wasn’t he?” said Krycek suddenly. “You know, back in the day.”

Scully paused a beat. “Yeah,” she said finally, her voice barely audible over the music. “Yes, he was.”

Chapter Text

“Nice place,” said Krycek with a hint of sarcasm.

His mind still mushy from another impromptu nap, Mulder looked out blearily at the stark 1960s motel as Krycek drove into the parking lot.

“I’m pretty sure Kim booked this one once when I got stuck with that dickhead Colton on a case,” continued Krycek. “Guess they haven’t refurbished it much since.”

“Well, let’s hope they have an extra room, because she only booked one each for Mulder and me,” said Scully wearily. “They said they couldn’t guarantee they’d have a vacancy when I called earlier.”

“Two of us can always share,” said Krycek as they got out of the car. He laughed when Scully gave him a dubious look. “I know. It’s like the chicken crossing puzzle. You know, the one where a farmer has to get a fox, a chicken and some grain across a river two at a time, without leaving the chicken with the grain or the fox with the chicken. I’m guessing you two can’t share because of the whole ‘complicated’ thing, and you’d probably kill us if I share with Mulder.” He grinned at Scully. “So sounds like it’s you and me, babe.”

“Great, we’re in a crappy sitcom,” muttered Mulder, following them groggily to the reception area. He wondered which one of them was the chicken.

“Please tell me you have an extra room,” said Scully when the receptionist came to greet them.

“Sure I can find you one,” said the young woman with an Irish accent. “You called earlier, right? We were waiting on some rooms to be cleaned, but that’s all done now. Here we go: 6, 7 and 8. There’s a diner over the other side if you’ll be needing food. They do a great breakfast.” She looked Krycek over appreciatively and flashed a bright smile at him. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“Sure thing,” said Krycek with a grin. “What time do you get off work?”

“Krycek,” said Mulder sharply. Scully was already heading out with all the keys.

“Maybe when Mom and Pop are asleep,” chuckled Krycek, giving the laughing receptionist a wink.

* * * * *

They arranged to meet in the diner as soon as they’d each settled into their respective rooms. Mulder made the mistake of lying on the bed before going out; half an hour later, he woke up with a start and had to hastily join the others.

As he crossed the parking lot, he could see Scully and Krycek through the plate glass window, seated across from each other in the diner. Krycek’s eyes were lowered and Scully’s hand was on his as she looked up into his face with a surprising look of sympathy. They almost looked like lovers sitting like that, and Mulder felt a languid warmth at the thought. He wondered if they were talking about him, or if he was being narcissistic to think they didn’t have other topics of conversation, like her sister Melissa’s murder or Krycek’s many victims.

“Oh, hey, Rip Van Winkle is back with us,” said Krycek when he noticed Mulder entering the diner. Scully withdrew her hand. “We were just discussing that red Speedo.”

“Ah yes, I’m never going to live that one down, am I?” said Mulder, sitting down beside Scully.

“It was such a gift to the world, though, Mulder,” said Krycek teasingly.

Their conversation was interrupted as the waitress came to take their order, but to Mulder’s disappointment, it resumed after she’d gone.

“I remember the first time I saw it. I had no idea Kim accidentally booking a room in a motel with a swimming pool would provide me with such a sight,” said Krycek with amusement.

“You were on a case?” asked Scully in surprise.

Mulder very briefly described the man in San Diego pretending to be a ghost, with Krycek throwing in some details.

“Yeah, it was a memorable trip,” said Krycek with a smirk. “I had a good time, anyway.”

* * * * *

MOTEL 7, SAN DIEGO
JUNE 1994

Mulder pulled himself out of the swimming pool and stood by the edge. As he raised his arms to remove his goggles, drops of water ran from his tanned biceps down his chiseled torso, tracing a glistening path through the light hairs to the tightly-packed red swimsuit. Alex swallowed, his mouth practically watering; shit, the guy had no right to be so hot.

Trying to look as nonchalant as he could, Alex raised the camera, snapping a couple of shots of Mulder standing in the sunshine all shiny like Michelangelo’s David. He remembered Rich showing him pictures of the statue in a book and making vague, distant plans to take him to see the original. Alex had gone on his own in the end, using some of Hunter’s money for a return flight from Berlin to Florence one rainy October weekend.

Dismissing the memories, he turned and took a picture of the hotel behind him as if he was finishing the roll with random pictures. He’d get Bruno to develop them when he got home; no need to fuel the FBI rumor mill by submitting photos of an almost priapic Spooky Mulder to the HQ lab.

“Nice camera. You finishing off the film?” asked the middle-aged man on the chaise longue beside him.

“Uh, yeah.”

Alex focused his attention on the camera to discourage conversation, but the man was undeterred.

“I’m Ned, by the way,” he said, mopping the sweat off his balding red head with a towel. “This is my wife Lucinda.” He indicated the large woman beside him, her face concealed behind a cheap bestseller. “We’re from Oklahoma. Celebrating our anniversary. Thirty years.”

Alex smiled noncommittally. Mulder came to sit at the end of Alex’s chair; his own had been appropriated while he was swimming by a pushy woman who ignored Alex’s protests. He toweled his short hair, making it stand up like a chestnut halo around his handsome features. His Speedo-clad butt brushed against Alex’s knee and Alex was never more grateful for the loose folds of his shorts.

“That pool is the best thing about this whole trip,” said Mulder. “Too bad you didn’t bring swimming trunks, Krycek.”

Lucky you did, though, thought Alex, his eyes traveling languidly down Mulder’s body. He’d known Mulder was a good-looking man, of course, but he’d been unprepared for how amazing he looked in a swimsuit. Mulder clearly hadn’t spent all his time at the FBI down in the basement angsting about his sister and alien invasions. The Speedo also seemed to confirm Alex’s suspicions about the correlation between Mulder’s large nose and the only—barely—concealed part of his anatomy.

“Can I look?” asked Ned, indicating the camera. “I used to dabble, you know, when I was younger.”

Alex reluctantly handed it over. “Be careful. It isn’t mine,” he said.

“Nice,” said Ned. He raised the camera to his eye. “So you boys on vacation?”

“No. Business, unfortunately,” said Mulder, hanging the towel around his neck like he was in a fucking Old Spice commercial. “This is just an unexpected perk. We’re leaving in the morning.”

Alex stared at him a moment, admiring his long straight lashes and letting his gaze trail down his well-defined muscles again. He imagined himself seducing Mulder this one last night. They were sharing a room with two beds, saving the taxpayers’ money; it wouldn’t be difficult to find some excuse to touch Mulder. Offer him a back rub, maybe, then go further down, rub his fine ass, maybe delve between those strong, hairy thighs, innocently at first, then maybe more boldly, the sound of Mulder’s breathing a sign of how far to go.

Mulder said he’d been with a guy, but all indications so far, from the intel Alex had been given to the porn mags in Mulder’s desk drawer, were that he was straight. But that would be half the fun; Alex didn’t usually sleep with guys who weren’t already on the scene and the idea of being only the second man to sleep with Mulder gave him a thrill. He wondered if Mulder would resist being called Fox even in an intimate moment; Alex sure as hell wasn’t having anyone call him Krycek while they were getting down to it.

Then he remembered the bar in New York and the muzzle of a gun pressed in his gut as he was told in no uncertain terms not to fuck up by letting his dick get in the way of his mission. He pulled himself together and looked at Ned, mildly surprised to find the man looking at him.

“Oh, yeah? What kind of business?” asked Ned.

“Law enforcement,” said Mulder, though he seemed bemused by the man’s attention.

Ned chuckled awkwardly. “Oh, ha, I thought a couple handsome guys like you would be models or something. Here, I’ll take a picture of you.”

Mulder switched on a smile for the photo. Alex sat up straight but was more circumspect, replaying parts of this conversation and figuring some things out. He glanced at Mulder to see if he’d noticed, but his partner’s expression only conveyed polite friendliness. When Alex turned his attention back to Ned, he caught his eye again and wasn’t surprised when Ned held his gaze, his ruddy face lighting up with pathetic hope, small blue eyes communicating a message Alex interpreted all too clearly. Well, the guy was past his prime, but his broad shoulders, densely haired chest and thick arms spoke of musculature gone to fat, probably a closeted high school jock who used to get his rocks off in the locker room and showers, and ended up marrying his prom date because that’s what you do.

“I better go put the camera back in our room before it gets damaged,” said Alex, holding his hand out. He took the camera from Ned and stood up. “I might turn in and read my book for a while before dinner. You staying, Mulder?”

“Yeah, might as well soak up some rays while we’re here.” Mulder pulled the lounger out of the shade and stretched out on his back.

“What room are we in again—26?” asked Alex, loud enough that Ned couldn’t help but hear.

“Uh-huh.”

Alex allowed himself one last look at Mulder’s long, muscular legs, their even cover of light brown hairs growing denser as they approached the bright red swimsuit. Might as well drink it in while he could; Mulder would be back in his Armani suits when they returned to DC tomorrow. Then he caught Ned’s eye again and headed toward the hotel building.

“Yeah. It sure is hot out here,” he heard Ned say. “I’m going to take a shower and cool down in the AC, honey.”

Smooth move, Romeo, thought Alex wryly as he headed for room 26.

* * * * *

“Ned? You had—with Ned from Oklahoma?” spluttered Mulder in disbelief. “But he was—”

“—in his mid-fifties?” asked Krycek with a smirk. “I felt sorry for him. Thirty years with Lucinda when he was really hankering after a Luke.” He shook his head wryly. “I was still human enough to care back then. Plus I was feeling kinda hot and bothered.” He leered at Mulder.

“Was the Consortium aware of your attraction to Mulder?” asked Scully seriously. “You said you were threatened.”

Krycek turned to face Scully. “Oh, right. Yeah. This guy saw us together in New York. We didn’t do anything, but I was kind of drunk and, um—” He waved his hand vaguely. “Mulder ran off because you called, then next thing I know, I’ve got this guy’s SIG P226 in my gut—and that’s not a euphemism—and he’s telling me to stop thinking with my, you know. I kept my hands to myself after that. He was a scary mother. Crafty, too, because he gave me the file on Cole and the other Vietnam vets that you’d hidden in your car, Mulder. I didn’t find out he was the one who had given it to you in the first place until years later.”

“Mr. X,” said Mulder, amazed to discover after all these years that his informant had been watching them outside the bar in New York. “I always assumed you’d found the dossier yourself.”

“I should have,” said Krycek ruefully. “I just—I didn’t think to look through your car. And anyway, I didn’t have time. I was with you the whole time. You really called him Mr. X?”

“Um, yes,” said Mulder. “Guess it was the first name that came to mind.”

Krycek smiled. “The Consortium called him ‘Malcolm’. I guess Malcolm X. was the first black guy they could think of too. They weren’t exactly subtle when it came to names. Fowley was Hunter, Spender was Morley, Fairfax-Johnson was The Englishman, Brown was Malcolm X. Luis was—I kid you not—The Latino. Like they couldn’t even be bothered to find out what country he was actually from. I think your father was J. Edgar. There was a Mr. Y. too who was a total dickhead and his sister or something who called herself Seagull. Don’t know why. I only met them once though.”

“What was yours?” asked Scully with curiosity.

“Alex,” said Krycek with a smirk. “I don’t do stupid nicknames. Morley had a thing about calling subordinates by their first names, all ‘Alex’ and ‘Bob’ and ‘Luis.’ Used to really piss some of the guys off. I didn’t mind, so when they tried to call me something else, I refused the mission.”

“What did they try to call you?”

Krycek’s smile faded and he hesitated. “Boris,” he said finally. “Like they just knew my parents were some kind of Eastern European and picked a Russian name. I figured my parents hadn’t gone to all the trouble of running away from the Russians just for their son to get a Russian nickname. And I had a feeling the alternative might be something like Freddie or Elton or some stupid gay crap. I wasn’t out to the people I worked with but Hunter can’t have been the only one who knew. So I made them call me Alex. Once I was important enough that everyone knew who I was, I’d burned all my bridges anyway and I didn’t need some dumb pseudonym. Besides, I like Alex. It’s nice and easy to spell. Beats using Krycek and telling people it doesn’t have a fucking H in it all the damn time.”

They were interrupted when the waitress brought their food. Mulder and Scully had opted for the meatloaf, but Krycek had ordered a steak. He cut off a mouthful and closed his eyes as he tasted it.

“Good steak?” asked Mulder, amused by his reaction.

“Yeah.” Krycek smiled sheepishly. “I gave up on steak back in the day, after what happened to my arm. I could just about hold a fork with my last prosthesis—the thumb opened and closed—but I couldn’t bend the elbow without using my other hand, so I couldn’t really do this.” He carved a piece off the steak with the knife and fork, the muscle in his left biceps flexing in the short-sleeved tee he was wearing. “So anyway, I figured the best way to deal with it was to not have steak. I felt like that guy who wanted to go back into the Matrix just to taste steak again.”

“I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been,” said Scully with sympathy.

“Yeah. You have no idea how often I wished I hadn’t let Mulder take me with him when we let him escape from that prison camp,” said Krycek seriously, shaking his head. “Funny how your whole life can hinge on a moment like that sometimes.”

“What do you mean, let me escape?”

Krycek laughed. “You didn’t think that was a bit easy? Guy in the next cell who just happened to speak English just happens to give you the weapon he was going to use to escape himself. And then you just happen to be able to steal a truck and blast it through the gates while all those prisoners who had been there for years hadn’t been able to do it? I just didn’t expect you to knock me out and drive off with me.” Krycek have him a curious look. “Were you trying to save me too?”

“No, I’d figured out you were working with the camp guards. I wanted to take you back so you would face justice in the US,” said Mulder.

“Not enough to come back and look for me, though, right?” said Krycek bitterly. “I hated you so much for that, you have no idea. But I guess it was my fault. I should have stayed on the truck, but I had a plan and I figured I’d go home in a few weeks, with the sample and maybe the vaccine, and things would be good. But then these guys caught me after I jumped off and wouldn’t let me go back to the camp. Then—Yeah, well. I can’t tell you how often I wished I’d never gone to Russia.”

“Well, it was your idea,” protested Mulder.

“No, it wasn’t,” retorted Krycek, though there was a hint of amusement in his eyes.

Mulder frowned at him in surprise. “Then whose idea was it?”

* * * * *

UPPER WEST SIDE
NEW YORK CITY, NY
NOVEMBER 25, 1996, 1:06 AM 

Alex woke up with a start. It took him a moment to get his bearings and realize that someone was banging on the window beside him. He rolled it down, catching the keys thrown at him with his free hand. He unlocked the handcuffs chaining his left arm to the steering wheel and cursed as he flexed his wrist. Fucking Mulder. Alex was going to give him a taste of his own medicine when this was all over. Maybe chain him to a bed and jump his hot, holier-than-thou bones. It was only fair after all these years.

“I gave him a drink. He should be out for a couple hours.”

Alex got out of the car and stretched, exercising muscles stiffened by his awkward nap in the passenger seat, then turned so he was facing the rear fender of Mulder’s car. He unzipped his fly with no regard for Marita’s hiss of irritation.

“Ah, sometimes, it’s better than sex,” he said with a sigh.

When he looked in her direction, Marita was watching him, her eyes narrowed. She was wearing white silk pajamas with an expensive looking robe, her hair carefully coiffed like some stereotype of a femme fatale. He noticed she was wearing makeup; didn’t try too hard to look as if she hadn’t been expecting Mulder, then.

“I take it you’ve had a bad day,” she said dryly.

“Yeah, you could say that,” said Alex angrily. “First I get chained to Skinner’s balcony all night, then I get attacked by that courier, and then spend the day being hit and insulted by Mulder. He’s been treating me like a fucking dog!”

“Did he get you down on your knees?”

Alex smiled grudgingly at the Depeche Mode reference as he zipped up his pants. “No. I’m sure as hell not playing ‘Master and Servant’ with that son of a bitch.”

“I can’t imagine Mulder doing anything so imaginative.” She dismissed Mulder with a shrug. “I heard about you throwing the courier over that balcony this morning. I’m impressed, I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Alex gave her a sour look and shuddered at the memory; the cold November wind whistling around his body as he waited, suspended on the outside of the railings, acutely aware of the thin, sharp handcuff cutting into his right wrist and the void beneath his heavy boots. He’d been so shaken by the experience that he’d barely had the strength to drag himself back up onto the balcony. He had never been more relieved to see Mulder. Though that hadn’t lasted long when the guy started smacking him around again.

“You and your friends owe me big time. Is this for me?” he asked, snatching the paper bag she was holding. He opened it. “Aw, you made me a sandwich.”

“Actually, my housekeeper made me a sandwich. But I figured you’d be hungry,” she said coldly. She glanced up at her building. “Everything is arranged. Find Dr. Chernenko and if he’s got the vaccine, take it. If he doesn’t, you’ll need to go through the whole plan. I gave Petrov all the codes we agreed on, so all you need to do is send him a message as Arntzen, and he’ll do whatever is necessary. But he’ll be in St. Petersburg, which is a day away from Tunguska, so you’ll be on your own once you’re there. As for getting there, my contact in the village of Vanavara will tell you how to get into the camp. I’ll give Mulder the details when he wakes up and it’ll be up to you to convince him to take you along. I still don’t see why he would want to. You’re not Russian.”

Tell that to the guys who used to beat me up at school, thought Alex wryly. “Don’t worry about Mulder, I’ll drop subtle hints about me speaking Russian so he thinks he’s being clever. I was right about the receipts, wasn’t I?”

“Yes. And here I thought you were just channeling your inner accountant.”

Knowing that she needed him for this plan of hers, Alex made no effort to curb his anger and seized her by the neck. She gasped as he pushed her roughly up against the passenger door, her pale silk pajamas rustling against his crumpled clothes.

“As I see it,” he snarled, “I’m the one risking my life, going to some godforsaken dump in the middle of nowhere for you. I think you could be a bit nicer.”

She pushed at his chest and gave him a defiant look. “You’re not doing any of this for me. You’re doing it for the same reason I am. For the money, the power and most importantly, for revenge. If the Russians have the virus and the vaccine, we can save the world. Or destroy it.” Her hand on his chest rose up to his shoulder. “But if you want me to be nice to you, we do have a couple hours.”

* * * * *

“You knew each other? She drugged me?” exclaimed Mulder, the tiredness of his disease lifting a moment in his anger. “You had planned it all together?”

“Yeah.” Krycek laughed. “I can’t believe you didn’t know that. It was actually a plan she’d made with Malcolm. You did know she was banging him, too, right? When they got him, she put it on hold a bit, but then things started heating up when the Americans paid the Russians to send Charne-Sayre a sample of their alien virus. It wasn’t the same virus as the one that turns you into an alien incubator, but I guess that meant it could be used to inoculate you against the other one.”

Scully’s handsome face lit up with understanding. “Like cowpox, the pox variant that Jenner used to develop the first smallpox vaccine!”

“Yeah, so that’s why we were all chasing that rock.” Krycek chuckled and ate some more of his steak. “Aren’t you glad we’ve had this little catch-up?”

Mulder stared at him a moment, remembering some of the names on Krycek’s list and connecting dots he’d never thought were connected before. But he was feeling tired and mildly confused and had just decided to broach that topic another time, when Krycek looked out of the window.

“Nice bike,” he commented.

Following his gaze, Mulder saw a motorcycle and its leather-clad occupant parking close to the diner. Even with the helmet on, he could tell the rider was a woman and briefly admired her slim figure as she got off. She looked around and then appeared to spot them through the diner window; she walked rapidly towards them, removing her helmet as she entered.

“Dana, thank God I found you!”

“Monica?” exclaimed Scully in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“I—Uh, hi.” Reyes sat in the empty seat beside Krycek and gave him a wary look.

“Oh, this is Krycek,” explained Scully. “You remember, he escorted me down to your car the night before William was born. He’s—helping us find him. You can trust him.”

“Right. The guy who refused to give Mulder the vaccine?” Reyes hesitated then fixed Scully with an earnest gaze. “Well, you might need all the help you can get. Spender’s agents have identified a boy named Jackson Van De Kamp who he now believes is your son. Only good thing is that he apparently doesn’t have the boy’s current address. But he knows you’re going to Wyoming and he’s guessing it’s because you’re looking for him as well. So he’s heading there too.”

“I see the FBI is still leaking like a sieve.” Mulder swore. “We need to get going before that son of a bitch gets there.”

“No, you need your treatment first,” said Scully, shaking her head. “And even if we drove, we wouldn’t get there any faster than catching our flight tomorrow. But we’ll have to move fast when we get there.”

“At least they haven’t found the kid yet,” said Krycek. “Sounds as if he didn’t even know he was in Wyoming. Guess it’s lucky I gave you that info.” He gave Mulder a sour look. “Shame you didn’t act on it last week.”

“Yes,” said Scully wearily.

Reyes eyed Krycek’s bare arms as if she’d only just noticed them. “Didn’t you used to have only one arm?”

“Well, these things happen when you work on the X-Files,” said Krycek with a smirk. “I take it you work for my former employer. Maybe we can catch up about that later.”

Whatever Reyes was about to respond, Mulder didn’t hear it because at that precise moment, he passed out and fell off his seat.

Chapter Text

강남스타일 오-오-오-오 오빤강남스타일
Eh, sexy lady
오-오-오-오 오빤 강남스타일

Drifting in and out of consciousness, Mulder wondered what the hell “Gangnam” meant and whether it was really a “style.” A shriek of feminine laughter rose above the familiar upbeat music.

“Someone’s having fun,” murmured Scully. “Who would have thought he’d get on so well with Monica? I guess Krycek really does swing both ways.”

He isn’t the only one, Mulder wanted to say, though he couldn’t. He was lying on a bed and the blood filtration machine was gurgling beside him, but his head was so heavy he couldn’t lift it to look at Scully. You should have seen what I let him do last night.

As his thoughts drifted, he remembered lying with Krycek in what had once been William’s room in Scully’s apartment. William’s room. He pictured himself standing in Scully’s bedroom holding a tiny baby in his arms, marveling at the perfection of the small creature.

“The truth, we both know,” he heard himself say, leaning down to kiss Scully’s lips.

The dream faded out of reach, that moment of contentment lost as he drifted into semi-consciousness. Strange to think now that somewhere at that same moment, nearly fifteen years ago, a lifeless corpse had been transferred from the Georgetown morgue to Goldman’s lab. And now, the child was goodness knows where, and the corpse was playing loud music and laughing.

“Ah, but he’s got such lovely eyelashes,” said an unfamiliar voice outside the motel room. The receptionist, maybe. “Prince Eyelashes of Loserville.”

He couldn’t hear what else she said, though he heard the low rumble of Krycek’s voice. He thought about their encounter only the night before; Krycek’s silent acquiescence to Mulder’s unspoken demand, leather and strong hands touching his skin, his own feeling of helplessness and elation at the fulfillment of a shameful, longstanding fantasy.

He wondered what Krycek had been thinking about in that moment. Perhaps a fond memory of a youthful Mulder in a tight swimsuit. Or someone else altogether—his Tunisian ex, the George Clooney lookalike, maybe.

In his delirious state, Mulder thought he saw Krycek kneeling on a towel laid at an odd angle by the bed, his hands on his knees.

Allahuma-ghfirlee,” he murmured, before lowering his forehead to the floor.

Ben Salem had mentioned praying the day Cancerman came to take Krycek away. Mulder thought about the times he’d seen Scully pray; head bowed on the wooden benches of a church; standing by her mother’s grave; kneeling by the side of the bed when they lived together and she thought he wasn’t looking.

His mind drifting from the memory, he found himself somewhere else. A hospital, perhaps. He was holding the baby, watching her little pink fists waving in the air. “Her name is Rachel,” he heard Scully tell someone.

“No, his name’s William,” he said as the vision faded back into darkness.

Then later, or maybe earlier, he was holding Scully on a pier at night. Something about a miracle. Another miracle? Everything was suddenly so bright, gradually engulfing him in a tunnel of light, pulling him toward the unknown.

But just as suddenly as it had appeared, the light was gone, replaced by the yellow glow of a lightbulb and an unbearable, painful pressure on his chest, pushing all the air out of his lungs. Then he felt a warm mouth on his, exhaling air that tasted of sweet soda back into his body. He struggled and lifted his arms, pushing his assailant off feebly.

“—the hell?” he exclaimed, his voice hoarse.

Looking up, he saw Krycek kneeling on the bed beside him, out of breath and looking distraught. Mulder’s chest hurt and he had to take deep breaths to clear the dizziness.

“Where’s Scully?” he asked groggily.

“She was exhausted, so I told her to go to bed,” said Krycek, still looking worried. “Then you started having some kind of fit and stopped breathing—I should go wake her up.”

He threw one leg over the side of the bed, ready to go, but Mulder grabbed his arm.

“No, let her sleep. I’m breathing now. I’ll be fine. Except for one hell of a bruise tomorrow from you doing CPR on me!”

Krycek looked doubtful but sat down on the bed again. “See, I did learn something useful in the Air Force.” His expression brightened as if he’d just thought of something. “I have the stone too if that will help.”

He rummaged in his jacket pocket and showed Mulder the alien artifact, wrapped in its foil casing. When he uncovered one edge, Mulder heard the same buzzing he’d noticed in the hotel. But the pain in his chest seemed to get better when Krycek held the artifact over him, so he didn’t mention the noise. He could sense how relieved Krycek was that he was better, and that made him realize what a close call it had actually been. The thought made him scared and cranky.

“Do you, uh, need it anywhere else?” asked Krycek with concern. “You know, after last night.”

“No, of course not,” snapped Mulder, irrationally annoyed by Krycek’s gentle attentiveness. “That’s all fine. You don’t need to keep asking.”

Krycek scowled at him. “Yeah, I guess you’d practiced before. Straight guys don’t usually own dildos.”

“I see that’s the advantage of sleeping with someone who used to keep me under surveillance,” said Mulder angrily, remembering the blurry photo from Krycek’s box. “Is that how you got off back in the day: watching me jerk off in fuzzy black and white?”

“Why not? Jerking off seemed to be all you ever did!”

Krycek threw the artifact down on the bedside table, not bothering to wrap it up again. Mulder could tell that he’d come closer to the truth than Krycek wanted to admit, and the sense of shame and loneliness radiating off him almost made him feel sorry for the man.

“Jeez, you knew you were under surveillance; you could have gotten yourself another hobby!” Krycek paused and then shook his head with a sudden smile. “Wait. You were doing it on purpose, weren’t you?”

“No,” lied Mulder. “I’m not an exhibitionist.”

“Sure you are, you kinky son of a bitch,” said Krycek with an indulgent smile, his anger suddenly gone. “You sure as hell freaked out the other guys. You knew we were watching. I guess that’s why you never brought any of your dates home in those days.”

“Yeah. Because I didn’t have any,” said Mulder with amusement.

“Come on, Mulder, you weren’t a hermit all the time, right?” said Krycek. Mulder could sense his delight at this topic of conversation, and that made him feel more cheerful too. “I mean, I get that there weren’t many, but how many people have you slept with? Like, ten, twenty?”

“Seven.”

“Seven guys?” asked Krycek, wide-eyed.

“No, seven people. In total. And come on, that’s not even a low number.” Mulder chuckled at Krycek’s bemusement. “Unlike some, I go for quality over quantity.”

Krycek scowled at him. “Quality? I mean aside from Scully, who have you got?” He started counting people off on his fingers. “That vampire lady in ‘94; the girlfriend who made you sleep with some guy; the guy you slept with; Hunter, who was also banging Morley. And me. That’s quality? Wait, that’s six counting Scully. Who was the other one?”

Mulder shrugged. “Oh, I went on a few dates with a woman from Accounting after Diana left me. Well, more like she took me on dates. She was kind of pushy.”

“Gotta watch those accountants, they’re real man-eaters,” said Krycek with amusement. “Seven. Wow. That’s not what I expected. The vampire lady was a surprise too. I read the report from the guys who were tailing you. It seemed so out of character.”

“Jeez, anyone would think I was upset about something,” said Mulder.

“Oh. Right. Scully’s abduction.” Krycek shook his head, all his earlier delight gone. “Listen—I, I guess you should know I felt bad about that, even back then.”

“So bad, you decided to come back a few months later and murder my father?” said Mulder sarcastically. He could feel Krycek’s remorse and it made him angry again. “What was that even about? A fat paycheck? A chance to prove your worth to them?”

Krycek sighed and looked away. “Both. I—I’d messed up. I needed to convince them I was on their side. You know, after I blew my cover with you,” he said, though Mulder guessed he wasn’t telling the whole truth about how he’d messed up his loyalties to the Consortium. “It was a big deal, you know, killing one of their own. I didn’t want some dickhead like Luis to get the credit. I was supposed to kill you too, but then Scully shot you and I figured that was close enough.”

Krycek’s voice had taken on a familiar tone of bravado, but Mulder could sense the underlying lie. He knew Krycek hadn’t run away that night without finishing the job just because he thought Scully had done it for him. But he could imagine Krycek’s reasons and kept quiet as he continued.

“That was before Luis fucked up with Scully’s sister. He told them it was me.” Krycek’s lip curled with disgust. “They already didn’t like me, so they ordered him to try to kill me. Blow me up with the Navajo tape. Luckily, Luis and Bob were about as subtle as a pair of five-year-olds, so I got away.”

“Is that when you started plotting your revenge against the Consortium?” asked Mulder with curiosity.

Although he nodded, Mulder could tell the memories brought Krycek nothing but pain and guilt, and he felt instinctively compelled to say something soothing.

“You did the right thing. Telling the Rebels about El Rico. You might even have saved the world. I’m sure the Englishman would have been proud.” Mulder smiled when Krycek looked surprised. “I saw the letter. You worked for him, right? He’s the one who sent you that night you kissed me.”

“Not exactly.” Krycek gave a noncommittal shrug, but Mulder was surprised to feel his fondness for the old man. “But yeah, I started working for him directly after I came back from Russia.”

* * * * *

NEW YORK CITY
MARCH 1998

“Well, just look what the cat dragged in.”

Fairfax-Johnson looked Alex over with disdain as he entered the kitchen. He was wearing silken pajamas and a brocade house coat, the very image of English affectation despite the early hour. As if to complete the stereotype, he switched on an electric kettle—its chunky three-pin plug connected to an adapter to draw current from the US socket.

“You look as if you need a good cup of tea, old boy,” he commented, waving to dismiss the bodyguard who had escorted Alex in.

Alex lounged against the kitchen door and glowered at him. “I had enough fucking tea in Russia.”

“Hmm, maybe some weak American coffee, then,” said the Englishman with a tut. “You seem to have been celebrating your return to the land of the free.”

“Yeah.” Alex laughed. “Fucked half the guys in a club. Told them I was a vet.”

He waved his stump, exposed by the shirt he was wearing. The Englishman observed it with indifference.

“You sound as if you did half the recreational substances in the club too,” he commented. He made Alex a cup of black instant coffee, then made a cup of milky tea for himself, using a teabag from a box. “But would I be right in guessing that you did not come here to tell me about your exciting sex life?”

Before Alex could answer, a young blonde woman, probably no older than her mid-twenties, came in. She gave Alex a surprised look, taking in his disheveled appearance and truncated arm with barely concealed disgust.

“Is everything all right, Michael?” she asked in a low voice.

“Oh yes, quite all right. I am merely catching up with an old acquaintance. Run along, dear, I’ll be with you shortly.”

The girl gave Alex another wary look and left the room. Alex leered at her round ass, emphasized by her diaphanous nightgown.

“I’m guessing that’s not your granddaughter,” he commented.

Carpe diem, my dear boy. Or in my case, carpe puella.”

The Englishman sat at the table and motioned for Alex to do the same. After a moment’s hesitation, Alex did as he asked. The coffee did make him feel a bit less hungover.

“Bet you didn’t think you’d see me again, huh?” Alex rested his stump on the back of his chair, his remaining hand still curled around the coffee cup on the table.

“No. Especially not after you did exactly the same as your friend Ms Covarrubias and went running to tell Agent Mulder everything I told you.”

“He went, didn’t he?” said Alex with a smirk. “I figured it would be kind of obvious if I went myself. Not to mention dangerous. If the Consortium caught me trying to free some Rebel alien, they’d think I was colluding with them after I bumped into them in Kazakhstan, and I’d be toast. Or worse, a lab rat. Marita said a couple of your doctors were itching to do tests on me after that alien infestation I had a few years back. I hear there wasn’t much left of Mr. and Mrs. Gauthier after they were done ‘examining’ them.” He toyed with his coffee cup. “Whereas we both know Morley won’t let anyone touch a hair on Golden Boy’s head. So I guess if you were hoping to get rid of me, you’re out of luck.”

“I see,” said the Englishman neutrally.

Alex pulled out his gun and laid it on the table, just out of the Englishman’s reach.

“You know why I speak Russian?”

When the Englishman gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, Alex started on the speech he’d prepared.

“Before the war, my grandfather worked for the Czechoslovakian government. You know it was the only democracy in Eastern Europe? Only problem is, unlike Poland, they hadn’t made the right kind of friends in the West. So in 1938, when Hitler really got going outside Germany, people like you who were only interested in appeasing him did fuck all to stop him invading the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The Nazis carved up the country and set up a puppet fascist state in Slovakia. My grandfather worked in the department that issued ids. I’m guessing one of his jobs was processing registration for Slovakian Jews.”

Alex noted the Englishman’s studied indifference, though he had a feeling the man knew where he was going with this.

“Few years later, the Allies decided to fuck over Slovakia again by reuniting Czechoslovakia and handing it to the Soviets. Fell on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain in Yalta. So now my grandfather made his kids learn Russian and the whole family became born-again Communists. Worked for them for years. Then in the early 1960s, there was a purge. He was charged with having been a Nazi collaborator, and sentenced to death.”

“Nobody likes a collaborator,” commented the Englishman.

“Yeah. That’s about the time my mom and dad got the hell out of Dodge. But Mom still believed the Soviets might win the Cold War and invade America. So she taught us Russian. Just in case we needed to become collaborators like her dad.”

“A tragic tale. Though I think if you had a family, you might understand why your grandfather favored collaboration over resistance,” said the Englishman calmly, sipping his tea. “And if this is meant to be a cautionary tale regarding our current situation, you seem to have missed the true moral of your own story. We are Slovakia, Alex. We have no choice but to side with whoever is strongest and hope for the best.”

“Right. Because that’s what your country did in World War Two, is it?”

The Englishman smiled. “In a way, yes. I remember watching from my dormitory window as the sky was lit up orange with the flames of Coventry, and praying the Americans would come and rescue us. Which they did, eventually.”

Alex signed impatiently. “So maybe we don’t know for sure if the Rebels are the Soviets or the Americans. But the Colonists sure as hell are the Nazis. You told me the Rebels didn’t want to colonize us, and right now, I figure that’s good enough. We can’t keep on raping women and producing monsters for the Colonists until they finally settle down here and use us all as lab rats.” He picked up the gun. “Four years ago, you told me to kill Bill Mulder because he wanted to resist them. You know what, ever since, I’ve been thinking he was right. I think you sent me to kill the wrong American. Morley is the real problem. He wants to sell us to the Colonists. And as I see it, if you’re not against him, then you’re on the wrong side.”

“I see Agent Mulder’s naïve optimism is contagious.” The Englishman observed the gun through narrowed eyes. “You think pointing a gun at me is going to make the colonists go away?”

“No, but I’m guessing having a cure for their deadliest weapon is a good start. The vaccine works, doesn’t it?”

The Englishman nodded. “Yes, it cured your friend Ms Covarrubias. Though I’m afraid my colleagues have decided to keep her a little longer to perform more ‘examinations’. It’s a shame Dr Chernenko committed suicide after you stole the vaccine. We could have done with his expertise. It may take us a while to manufacture more than what you brought with you. Assuming that’s all you brought with you.”

Yeah, right. Like Alex had been dumb enough to hand over all the vaccine he’d stolen in Russia.

“Of course, it would also have helped if your acolyte Petrov hadn’t killed one of our own foremost experts last year,” continued the Englishman, rare emotion shaking his voice. “Dr Charne-Sayre was a dear friend of mine.”

“Well, she experimented on a dear friend of mine,” growled Alex. “Payback’s a bitch. Besides, at the time, we were just making sure Chernenko got there first.” He cocked the gun. “So question is, are you with me or against me?”

Still unfazed by the threat, the Englishman pursed his lips a moment, then appeared to reconsider. “Your plan worked. I don’t know whether the Rebels were tracking Mulder as a person of interest, or Scully as an abductee, but they found and freed their colleague. Meanwhile, the Consortium are convinced Mulder acted on his own. They have no idea you’re involved.” He observed Alex thoughtfully. “The Rebels appear to appreciate the gesture; I think if we were to make more explicit overtures at this point, they might be receptive.”

Alex lowered the gun. “You’re already talking to them?”

“As it happens, yes.” The Englishman smiled congenially and Alex found himself wondering what he had looked like as a young man. “We’re taking a risk, Alex. As you said, there is no guarantee that we are inviting the Americans and not the Soviet Union to come to our rescue. But the Rebels and the Russian vaccine give us options we never had before.” He sipped his tea. “Drink your coffee, Alex. I think we have work to do.”

* * * * *

“So that was it. You helped the Rebels and they drove off the colonists.”

“I guess so,” said Krycek with a nod. “No mass invasion in 2012. Though that was just a bullshit date the Consortium had given them. Someone thought it would be cool if they made the Mayans’ random date for the end of the world right.”

“Oh. I always wondered about that.” Mulder paused, considering what Krycek had just told him. “I was with him when he died. The Englishman. He shot his driver and threw me out of the car just before it blew up. I guess he wanted me to be a witness to his death or something. I didn’t agree with what he did. With what he had done. But I think in the end, he wanted to do the right thing.”

“Yeah.”

The intensity of Krycek’s sadness caught Mulder by surprise. “Were you lovers?”

“No!” Krycek laughed in disbelief. “Jesus Christ, Mulder, I know you think I’m a slut, but he was in his seventies!”

Mulder looked at Krycek’s handsome face and remembered the Englishman’s soft tones, high cheekbones and narrow eyes. He thought it didn’t seem so implausible—especially given Ned from Oklahoma. Or himself as he was now, he thought wryly.

“But he wrote you such a nice letter,” he said teasingly. “To his ‘dearest’ Alex.”

Krycek struggled to hide his embarrassment. “Yeah, well, I was—I don’t know, kind of his protégé, I guess. Like the son he never had or something.”

“He gave you his place as an Elder in the Consortium when he died.”

“He made sure I was with Strughold in Tunisia when he died. Sucking up to him,” said Krycek with disgust. “So Strughold offered me the job.” He sighed, then glanced at the machine. “I think your treatment’s finished. I better unhook you.”

Krycek went to the other side of the bed where the machine was and Mulder turned onto his side to allow him to disconnect it. Looking at the bedside table, he realized that the alien artifact was still partially unwrapped, and smiled wryly at the thought that this was why he was suddenly so in tune with Krycek’s feelings. Maybe he should take advantage of that.

“Do you really regret what you did, back in the day?” he asked.

“It was just a job, Mulder,” said Krycek calmly, though the unspoken answer that radiated from him was “yes.”

Mulder rolled onto his back to look at him. “Just following orders, huh?”

Krycek lay the disconnected tubes neatly on top of the machine, then walked back around the bed to sit on the other side. “Well, you already know I did a little freelancing. People who got in the way. People who pissed me off.”

“Like Diana?” asked Mulder. “You thought her name was Fowler. It’s on your list.” He shook his head. “Scully thought Diana was the one who gave her the book and the keycard to help her save me when Cancerman was messing with my head. But it was you. And later, you gave me the vaccine when they returned me after my abduction. And what about Russia, when they gave me the vaccine and infected me with the black oil—was that to immunize me? Were you saving my life?”

Krycek grinned. “No. I needed to prove I wasn’t working with you, and I was pissed at the way you’d been treating me. I figured a little pain wouldn’t do you any harm.”

“Oh,” said Mulder, a little disappointed after all the unexpected revelations of the last couple of weeks to find that Krycek’s motives for letting him be tortured in Russia were exactly as he’d imagined at the time. “Well, I guess you got the worst deal out of that trip in the end. In fact, considering everything that happened to you, I’m surprised you kept your sanity.”

“I didn’t.”

Krycek stared into space, his expression not unlike the glazed look he’d had when he first escaped from the lab. “Everything I did, everything that happened to me. It just ate away at me, at my humanity, until I didn’t care about anything anymore.”

He stood up, his eyes downcast, and went to fold a towel that was laid at the foot of the bed. Mulder sat up slowly and leaned against the headboard. He was just putting together another quip about hitchhiking across the galaxy when he remembered what he’d seen while he was delirious.

“Were you praying?” he asked. “Earlier, on that towel?”

“Oh, uh… Scully said it might help,” said Krycek sheepishly. He gave a humorless laugh. “Bet you never thought that was how I’d pray, huh? Guess it would help more if I actually believed anyone was listening.”

“You converted when you were in Tunisia,” said Mulder. He was surprised by the thought until a logical explanation came to him. “Was it when you were in prison? Did you have trouble with the other inmates?”

“Nah. It was a walk in the park and everyone was real nice to me,” said Krycek sarcastically. “I was a one-armed faggot with a pretty face, Mulder. I had a real ball.”

“I’m sorry,” said Mulder sincerely. On impulse, he reached out and took Krycek’s hand. “No one deserves that.”

“Not even a murderer like me?”

Krycek withdrew his hand and threw the towel onto the bedside table, on top of the artifact. The buzzing noise subsided but remained audible. Krycek stood by the bed a moment, getting his emotions under control, then looked at Mulder, an unusually tender look in his green eyes.

“I sure don’t deserve this. Being here with you, like this. You’ve been very kind to me.”

“Yeah, turns out I’m a sucker for a pretty face,” said Mulder lightly.

Krycek smiled and sat on the bed again, one leg bent to face Mulder. “You’re not too bad yourself, you know. For your age.”

“Yeah, well. I still have a big dick and a hairy chest,” said Mulder with amusement. “I saw those pictures of your boyfriends in your box. I know what you like.”

Krycek pulled gently at some hairs sticking out of Mulder’s shirt. “That’s kind of the whole point. You know, being with a guy who really looks like a guy.” His fingers snaked into Mulder’s shirt and he raised his eyebrows suggestively. “And I know what you like too. Last night was fun.”

“Yeah,” agreed Mulder.

The memory combined with Krycek’s hand stroking his chest gave him a thrill and he wondered if they might have a repeat performance after all.

“Did you ever use the dildo with Scully?” asked Krycek suddenly. He laughed when Mulder swore at him. “No, I bet it was all vanilla. Maybe I should teach her a thing or two.” His expression became serious. “I think she misses you, you know.”

“Hmm, well, I miss her too,” admitted Mulder, trying to dispel the image he now had in his mind of Krycek giving Scully lessons. “But she’s the one who left. I guess that time is gone.”

“Yeah, right,” scoffed Krycek. He shook his head. “You’d think at your ages you’d know better.”

“Wow, hot sex and relationship counseling. I had no idea you were so versatile.”

“If I had someone like that—” Krycek shrugged.

“Your boyfriend is divorced,” said Mulder. “That professor you lived with in Tunisia.”

“I know.” Krycek didn’t seem surprised that Mulder knew about Ben Salem. “But you know, he has kids. How the hell that happened, I don’t know. I mean, I slept with women, but Majid— Well, anyway, I guess if I was him, I wouldn’t want my kid to know someone like me. And it’s not like we were soulmates or anything. I wouldn’t want to see him anyway.” Mulder was pretty sure this wasn’t true, but Krycek waved his hand dismissively and continued. “And if Webber is right about the mice, then I don’t have much time. Might as well do something more useful with this time I’ve got than catch up with old boyfriends.” He turned toward Mulder with a mischievous smile. “Speaking of doing something useful, you’re feeling better, right?”

Mulder didn’t have time to answer before there was a discreet knock on the door of the motel room and Scully looked in. She seemed relieved to find that both men were fully dressed and sitting up on the bed, though she looked around the room with a little frown.

“Where’s Monica?” she asked. “She said she had to leave, but her motorcycle is still in the parking lot.”

“She’s on a hot date with the receptionist,” said Krycek with a grin.

“Oh. Lucky for some, I guess.” Scully gave them a concerned look. “How are you both feeling?”

Mulder assured her he was fine, and glared at Krycek when he immediately contradicted him by telling Scully about giving him CPR.

“No, I’m fine, really,” protested Mulder when Scully rushed over to the bed to retrieve her medical bag near the machine.

He sat patiently with Krycek beside him while Scully examined him, immersed in their combined feelings, first of concern, and then relief when she found nothing significantly wrong with him. Then he was surprised to feel Scully’s concern directed at Krycek.

“And what about you—no more palpitations?” she asked.

“Uh, no,” said Krycek, glancing at Mulder. He protested weakly but held out his left arm when she picked up the blood pressure cuff.

“Your blood pressure is higher than it was the other day, Alex,” said Scully, looking at the reading. She let the cuff deflate and unfastened it. “I don’t know if this is related to the palpitations you had earlier, or if any of it is a prelude to the organ failure Dr. Webber mentioned, but I’d like to examine you again in the morning.” She sighed. “I should be taking you both to the hospital, not Wyoming.”

“Been a while since I’ve had both a man and a woman in bed with me,” said Krycek with a leer, catching her hand as she pulled the cuff off. “Maybe I’m just a little turned on.”

Mulder chuckled but Scully rolled her eyes. “I should go back to my room.”

She tried to stand up, but Krycek didn’t let go, instead pulling gently on her hand to draw her closer. Mulder watched with amazement, his heart beating faster, as Krycek leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Her large blue eyes widened and she stared at him in surprise, and then at Mulder.

“I—I really should go,” she said, though she didn’t withdraw her hand from Krycek’s hold.

Krycek stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. “You know you don’t have to, Dana.”

Chapter Text

Mulder stared at the dim pattern of stripes on the wall opposite, where the grey dawn light filtered through the Venetian blinds. He felt warm and relaxed, his contentment temporarily holding off all the concerns about his sickness and whether they would ever find William, and whether he would want to be found even if they did. But after a few minutes, with a weary sigh, he accepted that he wasn’t going to get back to sleep until his aging bladder was empty, and very carefully got out of bed to go to the bathroom.

When he came back, Scully was lying on her side, propped up on one elbow, the sheet pulled up to her chest. She had removed her makeup before coming to check on them the night before and looked younger, her features softened by the subtle contrast between her sandy-lashed eyes and freckled skin. Mulder paused in the bathroom door and thought she looked beautiful.

“Hi,” she said softly. She looked him over. “Couldn’t find your pajamas?”

“No,” he admitted. “They’re still in my bag. Sorry I woke you, I needed to use the bathroom.” He slid under the covers with her. “I guess Krycek went and found himself another bed.”

“He doesn’t strike me as someone who finds that difficult,” she said, smiling that wide, happy smile that crinkled her eyes and uncovered all her even teeth. “Actually, he told me he had found a way to get to Wyoming. We checked the flights yesterday and they were all full, but I guess he made some alternative plan. I hope he’s okay.”

“I thought you didn’t like him,” said Mulder.

“I wanted to monitor his heart rate again,” she answered, though she shrugged. “And I guess he kind of grew on me over the last few days.”

* * * * *

SCULLY’S APARTMENT
ELEVEN DAYS AGO

Scully looked through the scant medical supplies in her bathroom cupboards, disappointed to find she had no hydrocolloid dressings for the pressure sores on Krycek’s back. Back in the day, she’d kept a variety of supplies in case Mulder needed patching up without going to the hospital—especially when he was on the run—but most of the ones she’d kept were out of date or unsuitable. She picked up a half-empty pack of ordinary cotton bandages and, after double-checking in the kitchen that Mulder understood what to cook for their dinner, went back to the bedroom.

In her absence, Krycek had put on the sweatpants Mulder had reluctantly given him, though he’d followed Scully’s instructions and remained bare-chested, letting his wounds air for a short while. He was sitting on the floor; perhaps he had intended to clean up the things he’d pulled out of her closet when he was looking for a gun that afternoon. However, he seemed to have been distracted by a rosary that had fallen out of a box, and was letting the beads slip through his fingers, apparently enjoying the sensation.

“That was my mother’s,” said Scully coldly, annoyed to see this murderer toying with her mother’s things. “Leave it. I’ll put everything back where it belongs later. Now get on the bed and I’ll deal with your injuries.”

“Right. Yeah.” He stood up, momentarily towering over her before turning to kneel on the bed. “Is Mulder okay? He looks tired.”

“Yes, he’ll be okay,” said Scully shortly, mindful that there wouldn’t be much time before the dinner was ready.

She worked quickly to dress the wounds visible above his waistline, though she noticed that Krycek was kneeling in an awkward position, leaning forward on his arms rather than sitting back on his heels. It occurred to her that if he’d been supine long enough to develop sores on his back, the same might have happened on his buttocks.

“Are you having trouble sitting down?” she asked.

“Uh, no.” His voice was husky and he cleared his throat. “No, it’s fine. I was fine earlier, on the sofa.”

As if to prove the point, he rolled to one side to sit normally on the edge of the bed. He grabbed the T-shirt she’d given him and pulled it onto his left arm before easing it over his head and putting his right arm in. Scully was surprised by the ungainly gesture until she realized it must have been how he’d learned to dress after losing his arm.

He winced as he moved, his breathing quickening with the effort of hiding his pain. Scully rolled her eyes and put her hand on his arm.

“I am a doctor, Krycek. If you’re in pain, cut the crap and let me help.”

“Yeah, but you’re a—” He frowned, struggling to remember the word. “A pathologist.”

“And a pathologist who works for a plastic surgeon at that,” said Scully wryly. “But still qualified to tend to your wounds.” She could see red patches on his eyelids and mouth, and a bruise on his lower lip. “You said you pulled out the life-support tubes. I’m guessing you have injuries in more sensitive areas?”

“I’m not showing you my dick, Dr. Scully,” he said with a flash of amusement which faded almost immediately. He lowered his eyes. “I’ll be okay.”

“Krycek, at least let me put bandages on the rest of your sores. They’ll ease the friction with your pants and aid the healing process.”

He hesitated, dumb masculine pride warring with the promise of less pain, then nodded and lay down, curled on his side with his back to her. He gingerly pulled down the sweatpants, though barely far enough to expose the damaged area.

“Are you going to put me back in prison?” he asked in a small voice.

“I don’t know.” It was a good question; what were they going to do with him?

“I didn’t like prison.”

“No, you’re not supposed to.”

Scully applied the bandages as quickly as she could and with a little coaxing, persuaded Krycek to let her check that he hadn’t done himself any damage when he removed the catheters.

“You’re so gentle,” he said with wonder, pulling up the sweatpants when she was satisfied he needed no further treatment. “I don’t remember everything. But I know—I know you have good reasons to hate me.”

“Well, I swore an oath that I would do no harm,” she said curtly. “I guess that applies to you too.”

* * * * *

GEORGETOWN HOSPITAL
NINE DAYS AGO 

“It’s okay, I’ve got him,” said Krycek, trying to straighten the unconscious Mulder with his cuffed hands.

“We need to get him back home, to the machine,” said Scully.

Mulder’s sudden collapse here in Dr. Ramachandran’s office put all thought of her findings about Krycek’s healed arms and head out of her mind. She quickly unlocked Krycek’s handcuffs and Mulder slumped into the man’s arms, mumbling something incoherent.

“Can you stay with him a moment?” asked Scully. “I’ll go see if I can find a wheelchair so we can get him home.”

Her hand was on the doorknob before she remembered that Krycek was a felon in their custody. She shouldn’t be leaving him alone with an incapacitated agent. Various options flew through her mind: handcuff him to the chair, find a hospital guard to watch him, find Dr. Ramachandran and get him to lock the office. All felt like unnecessary delays and would still involve leaving Krycek with Mulder. Or taking Krycek with her and leaving Mulder alone.

“Go on, I’ll be okay. I think I still remember first aid if he gets worse,” said Krycek, apparently misinterpreting her hesitation. “I’ll look after him.”

Mulder muttered something again and Krycek eased him into a better position, looking down at him with concern. Despite the confrontation with Skinner that morning, there had been no evidence that Krycek bore Mulder any ill will for his murder. That didn’t entirely make sense if she thought about it too much, but with Mulder needing emergency treatment, Scully decided to follow her gut instinct, and left the room.

When she returned with a wheelchair about fifteen minutes later, she was relieved to see both men in much the same position through the thin strip of glass in the door. Mulder was half-sitting, half-lying, his head on Krycek’s lap. One of Krycek’s arms was lying across Mulder’s chest, as if he’d been holding him in place. His other hand seemed to be stroking Mulder’s hair, though when Scully opened the door and pushed the chair in, his arm was resting on the back of the seat and she wondered if she’d imagined it.

* * * * *

MULDER’S HOUSE
EIGHT DAYS AGO 

“I guess this might be your half-sister?” said Scully, pointing at a profile in the Facebook search results showing a heavy blonde woman.

Krycek peered at the picture on the screen. “Oh yes, that looks like it could be Sarah.”

They were sitting side by side at Mulder’s desk, Scully’s laptop in front of them. Scully scrolled slowly through the posts on Sarah Morrison’s Facebook public timeline, then paused to give Krycek time to look at a public album of pictures of his sister and her family at Puyallup Fair in Washington State the previous year.

“Wow. That’s Brad!” he exclaimed with surprise. “He was her boyfriend in college. I guess they must still be together!”

“Sometimes you just meet the right person,” said Scully neutrally.

“Like you and Mulder?” said Krycek, flashing his bright teeth at her.

Scully pursed her lips, unwilling to discuss her relationship with Mulder. “Except we’re not together anymore.”

“Right.” Krycek paused thoughtfully. “Does that mean you can both date other people?”

“Yes, of course.” Scully thought the chances were pretty slim at her age. And Mulder had always been too single-minded to date even when he was young and handsome. “Now, have you read everything? Mulder should be back from inspecting his sensor array soon.”

“Sensor array,” repeated Krycek with a chuckle. He ran his hand through his overgrown hair. “You can tell he’s a Star Trek fan.”

He pointed at a picture on a nearby board and Scully allowed herself a tender smile at the childhood photo of Mulder with his sister.

“Yes, apparently, he wanted to be Mr. Spock when he was a kid,” she said.

Krycek laughed. “Well, I wanted to do Mr. Spock when I was a kid!”

Scully was tempted to say she had liked Spock too, but bonding over their formative lust for Leonard Nimoy didn’t feel appropriate. She noted Krycek’s reference to his sexual orientation, but returned her attention to the screen. When she scrolled down once more, her eyes fell on a post a couple of years old; glancing at Krycek, she could tell from his serious expression that he had noticed it too.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You didn’t know, did you?”

The post was a collage of pictures, most showing Krycek’s mother with her children; one near the center was of Mrs. Krycek with her youngest son. Krycek was as Scully remembered him best, with short hair and rounded features. He wasn’t a bad looking man on that picture, his receding chin and overhanging brow masked by the straight angle. When she had seen a picture of his mother as a young woman in Krycek’s file, Scully had been struck by her resemblance to Marita Covarrubias; but it was less pronounced in this picture, her impeccable blonde hair framing gaunt features that spoke of a long illness.

“10 years since Mom died,” said Sarah Morrison’s caption. “Still miss you so much. Hope you’re happy with Alex and Paul in heaven!”

Krycek was staring at the screen, his small, long-lashed eyes shinier than usual. “Shit,” he muttered. He tried to say something else but didn’t manage until he’d swallowed a couple of times, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his long, thick neck. “I mean, she was ill, and it’s been a long time, so I—I shouldn’t be surprised.”

Scully hesitated, unsure what the protocol was when your prisoner discovers his mother has died. She thought about her own mother’s death barely a month ago and decided that after his help that morning, stealing and piloting Tad’s helicopter to bring them here, Krycek probably deserved more than comforting words. She placed her hand on his shoulder; he struggled for a moment, his wet eyes still fixed on the screen, and then suddenly turned toward Scully and wrapped his arms around her. She hugged him back, struck once again by how large men were, his broad shoulders barely fitting in her embrace. After a moment, he pulled back and she let go of him.

“Heaven, huh?” he said. He wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand, trying to keep his face turned so she wouldn’t see. “She probably didn’t get the memo about how evil I was.”

“Well, I suppose she just remembers her big brother.” She observed Krycek thoughtfully. “Would you like to meet your sister again? You know, just because you’re in custody doesn’t mean you can’t see your family.”

“No.” Krycek shook his head. “She thinks I’m dead and hanging out in heaven with Mom and my brother. Better to leave it that way.” He stood up abruptly. “I, uh, I think I’ll go take a shower.”

“Sure, take all the time you need.”

As Scully watched him go, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for him; years of confinement in a lab, subjected to medical experiments which would have been horrifying if he remembered them, and then custody with two middle-aged FBI agents at a house in the middle of nowhere. Thinking about their sleeping arrangements for that night, she grabbed Krycek’s bag and went upstairs to prepare the guest bedroom, excavating the bed from under Mulder’s boxes.

When she had finished, there was no sign of Krycek; the bathroom was empty, except for a pile of clothes that included his underwear. After checking that he hadn’t gone downstairs, she found him fast asleep in Mulder’s bed. Her first instinct was to wake him so she could dress his wounds and make him sleep in the other room; she knew Mulder wouldn’t be pleased to find him there. But he was curled into a fetal position, an exhausted man who had just lost his mother on top of everything else that was happening to him.

She left him and went downstairs. She straightened up some of Mulder’s boxes and papers, then turned on the lights and sat in front of her laptop. She had done this every night at one time, taking advantage of Mulder’s absence to put some order into his life, and then studying at his desk while she waited for him to come home. She missed that. She had always enjoyed her own company, quite content to read books or study. But she had missed knowing that after the moment of solitude, she would have someone to talk to about her studies or the mundane thoughts that had crossed her mind, someone who would make her laugh and hold her as she went to sleep. The simple, pleasurable company of the man she loved.

* * * * *

MULDER’S HOUSE
SEVEN DAYS AGO

When she came out of her makeshift bedroom in the den the following morning, Scully was surprised to find Krycek awake and looking through Mulder’s kitchen cupboards. He was wearing the jeans and camouflage tank top the dogsitter’s uncle had sold them, and had parted his overgrown hair in the center. She thought he looked a little like Ashton Kutcher in That Seventies Show.

“Oh, hi, Scully,” he said cheerfully. “I’m making coffee and I’ve found some pancake mix. Want some breakfast?”

“Uh, sure. But let me see your hand first. I didn’t have time before you fell asleep last night.” Scully went to get a fresh bandage and quickly dressed Krycek’s injured hand again. “It’s healing normally, but you probably shouldn’t use it for a couple more days.”

“At least I got plenty of practice of doing things one-handed back in the day.” Krycek flexed his hand and winced. “I don’t know why I grabbed that man’s knife like that. That was dumb. And then I only winged him with your gun. I’m really off my game.”

Given the game he’d been in back in the day, Scully didn’t think that was a bad thing. Though she offered to help, Krycek insisted on making coffee on his own, and then set about reading the instructions on the pancake mix. He had moved the pieces of Mulder’s broken kitchen table into a corner, so Scully sat on a chair close to the counter and put her coffee down by the microwave. She reflected that Krycek looked more relaxed and alert than she’d seen him since his return.

“I take it you slept well last night,” she remarked. “I used to sleep in that room sometimes, when I was working late and didn’t want to disturb Mulder.”

“Oh, you lived here together?” he asked in surprise.

“For a few years,” she said. “That was a while ago now.”

Krycek looked as if he wanted to ask her more about Mulder, but seemed to think better of it, and started to prepare the pancake mix.

“Do you know if Mulder has a radio?” he asked after a while. “I’d like to listen to some music. If that’s okay.”

“I don’t know about a radio, but I do know he has Bluetooth speakers,” said Scully. “We can probably connect that old tablet I gave you later.”

“Cool. I just have this song in my head and I figure if I listen to something else, it might go. I mean, it’s not like that ever works, but it’s something to try. I kept thinking about this song when I was—well, whatever happened to me.”

To Scully’s amazement, Krycek started to sing.

“If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old-time movie
About a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see.”

He caught her surprised look and shook his head. “Mom had the record. Can’t even remember who sang it now. Some boring white guy with a guitar. And maybe those aren’t even the right words. I don’t know why I even remembered it.”

“Perhaps it was the first song that came to mind when you thought you were a ghost?”

“Yeah, that and Unchained Melody,” said Krycek with a grin. “Lucky none of my exes took up pottery.”

Scully laughed in spite of herself. “You have a good voice.”

“Yeah.” Krycek shrugged. “It wasn’t very useful in my line of work. Here you go, first pancake.” He slid it off the frying pan onto a plate. “Doesn’t look too bad, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t. Thanks.”

Scully helped herself to some maple syrup she found in the fridge. She sat down again and observed Krycek with interest. “Do you remember anything that happened while you were in the lab?”

“No, not really.” He paused a moment as he spoke, a flicker of distress crossing his features. Scully surmised that he was lying about how much he remembered. “I mean, I remember seeing Mulder at that trial or whatever it was. And your son in Wyoming.”

“Yes, you did say you remembered those,” said Scully.

“Nobody could see me,” he continued, flipping his pancake with a deft shake of his right wrist. “It was—I guess it was lonely. I hated that. Feels good to talk to people again.”

“Well, we’re social creatures. There’s a reason solitary confinement is the worst punishment in prison,” said Scully.

“I don’t know, the one I was in had some pretty creative punishments,” said Krycek with a shrug. “I did talk to Mulder, though, so I guess that’s why I was thinking about him when I escaped from the lab.”

“Did you talk to anyone else?”

“I—I don’t know.” Krycek put his pancake on a plate and poured another measure of batter into the pan for the next one. He ate his pancake standing up at the counter. “I remember some things, some people. Sometimes I thought people could see me. Maybe some of them were psychic or hybrids, I don’t know. And now I don’t even know if they were dreams or reality.”

* * * * *

Mulder was staring at him in a prison cell. He looked older than Alex remembered, careworn after more than a decade of pursuing the X-Files. “You’re not real,” he said. “Maybe not,” admitted Alex, because for all he knew, this was just a dream.

Marita was combing her hair, oblivious to Alex’s presence. Her cat, sitting on the dresser in between her and the mirror, looked at Alex and hissed.

His ex-boyfriend was celebrating Eid with his family. Everyone was complimenting his wife on her beautifully embroidered outfit, and the children were laughing and opening their presents. One of the babies stared at him and smiled when Alex thought about smiling, and for a moment, he imagined that the baby could see him, that he was really there, wrapped in the warm embrace of a loving family.

A little girl was dancing in her pajamas in front of the mirror in her bedroom. She had a towel wrapped around her waist and green pantyhose on her head which she had adorned with hair clips. One of her toys was hovering beside her, as if held up by invisible string. She stopped dancing and stared at Alex through the mirror.

A young man who looked vaguely familiar was working at a desk, his brow furrowed in concentration. He seemed below average height, his short neck and stocky stature suggesting a condition that had stunted his growth. His thick hair had a strange parting as if a long scar went from ear to ear. Looking at his laptop screen over his shoulder, Alex understood none of the scientific diagrams he was reading. “Wow, you must be some egghead,” said Alex with a laugh. The young man suddenly straightened up and looked around him. “What the hell was that?” he exclaimed.

The boy on the road took a picture on his phone, his frown exactly like Mulder’s when he was puzzled.

* * * * *

“The young man must have been Gibson Praise,” said Scully with surprise. “He was born with spina bifida, that explains his short stature. I’ve stayed in touch with him. I sent him a present when his son was born a couple years ago.”

“Oh. I remember him now. Kid who could read minds. That was—interesting.” Krycek started making another pancake, his joviality gone. “Glad to know things worked out for him in the end.”

Scully tried to remember Mulder’s various theories about ghosts. “I know you weren’t a ghost, but most psychic apparitions affected either loved ones of the deceased or unrelated people with pre-existing psychic abilities. I suppose we can theorize that hybrids like Gibson Praise or the little girl you saw have extra-sensory perception. That would probably explain the people you saw or who saw you.”

“Psychic apparitions,” said Krycek with amusement. “You’ve been hanging out with Mulder for too long.”

“Perhaps so, but Mulder has demonstrated mild to acute ESP at various stages in his life. It makes sense he’d be able to interact with you. And your boyfriend and Marita Covarrubias were your lovers.”

“Lovers,” scoffed Krycek. “I didn’t even like Marita. I only needed her because of her connections in the Consortium. And she was just using me too—for muscle. And sex, I guess.”

“Yes, I know,” said Scully placidly. “She told me.”

* * * * *

FBI HEADQUARTERS
SIXTEEN YEARS AGO

Scully flushed the toilet and left the stall, still feeling nauseous. She wondered if it was the Chinese takeout that had made her sick, or the salad she’d had for lunch. She had no time to consider the question further as she realized she wasn’t alone. Marita Covarrubias had just entered the restroom, and was trying to fix her hair, which had come undone on one side.

“Oh hi,” said Covarrubias. “How are you feeling? I noticed you looked a bit green earlier.”

“Oh, probably just something I ate,” said Scully quickly. “I’m fine.”

“Well, at least you know you’re not pregnant, right?” said Covarrubias. She gave Scully a grim smile when she noticed her surprised look. “You’re an abductee like me. It’s funny; I never even wanted kids, but I guess you always think maybe someday.”

“Yes,” said Scully. She dismissed the pang of regret that arose wherever she thought about the failed IVF treatment a few months earlier. “I didn’t know you were an abductee too.”

“Not quite like you,” said Covarrubias darkly. “I didn’t get the flashing lights and fake UFO treatment. I didn’t even get the happy pills to make me forget. Just everything else. Punishment, I guess.” She paused, a haunted look on her features. Then she started doing her hair again. “I don’t suppose you have a bobby pin? I told him not to touch my hair, but do they ever listen?”

“Krycek?” asked Scully tentatively.

“I think all the testosterone in that room was going to his head,” said Covarrubias with a laugh. “Jesus, I almost expected the guys to pull them out and start measuring!”

Scully smiled guardedly at the crude joke. She had to fight the instinct to leave the room immediately; she’d never been the type of woman to gossip in the powder room. But this was someone who knew the truth about Mulder’s line of work and Scully’s own abduction. Besides, it would be rude.

Covarrubias readjusted her skirt and suit jacket; she caught Scully looking at her and her smile faded.

“Don’t worry, I know the Beast doesn’t turn into Prince Charming in real life. I don’t even like him that much.”

“I guess you like something about him.”

“Yes. His gun.” Covarrubias’s smile warmed. “And okay, maybe not just in the literal sense. I don’t know if he’d win that measuring contest, but it’s what they do with it that counts, right?”

“Um, I guess,” said Scully awkwardly, wondering how she’d ended up in a conversation about Alex Krycek’s penis.

Covarrubias pulled a lipstick out of her pocket and started to apply it. “Anyway. What I like most about him is his desire to kill Morley—Cancerman, as you call him—and put an end to all those bastards who used us as incubators and playthings.”

Scully acknowledged her comment with a thoughtful nod. “Ms. Covarrubias. Is there really a spaceship out there?”

“Yes.” Covarrubias turned and looked her straight in the eye. “An actual alien vessel, not even one of our replicas. That’s our gift to Mulder. An alien ship in exchange for the FBI turning a blind eye while we settle some old scores. Does that seem fair?”

Scully’s sense of justice told her that these criminals—the man who had murdered Mulder’s father and this woman who had been complicit in the Consortium’s crimes—deserved to be brought to justice. But she knew Mulder felt differently.

“Finding that spaceship could be the culmination of Mulder’s life work,” she said. “Final proof of the alien invasion and the human conspiracy to aid it.”

“Yes, it is,” said Covarrubias. “Now let’s go back and see if anyone has punched Alex yet.”

Chapter Text

MULDER’S HOUSE
FIVE DAYS AGO

“Wanna dance, Agent Scully?”

Scully looked up in surprise at Krycek, towering over her chair in Mulder’s living room. “Er, I don’t think—”

“It’s not like I can dance with Mulder,” said Krycek jovially. He indicated the sofa, where Mulder was fast asleep, his head resting on the back and a light snore rising from his open mouth. “Besides, I don’t do line dancing. There’s no one else, and this might be my last chance before I go to jail. C’mon, just one dance.”

Scully hesitated, certain that this was a bad idea. On the other hand, Krycek had cooperated with her interrogation all day, before cooking them a surprisingly good anniversary meal, and she knew he’d been doing Mulder’s laundry and cleaning in her absence. She took his hand and let him fold her into his embrace.

Now the party’s over
I’m so tired
Then I see you coming
Out of nowhere

“They played this at my prom,” said Krycek, his voice a low rumble.

Scully tried to imagine Krycek as a teenager and smiled. The wine was making her lightheaded and Krycek’s arms felt surprisingly comfortable. This did feel a little like her high school years. The days of dancing with boys at chaperoned events, the feeling of a strong, tall body against hers...the dilemma of whether to ignore the hands inching down to her backside and the hardness pressing against her stomach, afraid that she would be rude if she put an end to the dance. But she wasn’t a shy teenager raised to place boys’ feelings above her own anymore; she leaned back to give Krycek a pointed look.

“Uh, sorry, feels nice,” he said sheepishly, raising his hands back to her waist and putting a small amount of distance between them. He leaned down to murmur in her ear as if Mulder might overhear them. “And you’re kind of hot, you know, Dana—Can I call you Dana?”

Scully laughed. “Oh, god. I’ve been with Mulder so long, I don’t even think of myself as ‘Dana’ anymore.”

“Well, I’ll call you Scully if you call me Alex. I don’t like being called Krycek.”

Scully made no promises and let their slow dance continue, feeling pleasantly drowsy. This time, she didn’t protest when he drew her closer, probably not even conscious he was doing so. She thought maybe she should be flattered, though she knew this was nothing personal, just a natural craving for human contact after his years in the lab. She reflected that human contact was kind of nice after her years of celibacy too. If she wasn’t standing up, she thought she could almost drift off to sleep in Krycek’s strong arms.

She was jolted out of her pleasant reverie when Daggoo barked to be let in again—she’d almost forgotten she had let him out earlier. She hastily stepped away from Krycek, muttering an apology, and went to open the door. When she turned back, Krycek was gently easing Mulder into a lying position. Scully watched him pick up a blanket by the sofa and was struck by the almost tender way he pulled it over Mulder.

“Hmm … could have a threesome,” murmured Mulder.

Krycek laughed. “Not in the state you’re in, Sleeping Beauty.” He glanced up at Scully. “Must be remembering when he used to watch porn until he passed out back in the day.”

Scully decided not to say that, as far as she knew, Mulder still did that. He’d even done it when they were living together; the predictable vacuity of porn apparently providing calm to some over-stimulated part of his hyperactive brain. She’d even watched some with him. She dismissed that train of thought.

“I guess he’ll be okay there. I’m just next door if he wakes up. I should go to bed too,” she added, stifling a yawn. “Thank you for the meal and the drinks. It was a very pleasant evening—Alex.”

Krycek picked up his can of Coke and held out her wine glass. “Okay, but one last toast—to the X-Files!”

* * * * *

LATER THAT EVENING

When Scully checked on Mulder after brushing her teeth in the bathroom upstairs, she was surprised to see no sign of Krycek. She knew he hadn’t come upstairs while she was there and was seized with a sudden fear that momentarily overcame her drowsiness. Alarmed, she went into the den, where the surveillance equipment was kept—thinking she might catch sight of him on a camera if he’d absconded—and found him lying with Daggoo on the couch that she had been using as a makeshift bed. He was on his side, fully dressed, and reading Mulder’s book by the light of a lamp. He looked up and smiled at her.

“Turns out I am in it. Who knew I’d made such a big impression?”

Scully was fairly certain he was only mentioned a couple of times in the book, and never by name. But the wine she had drunk earlier was making her sleepy, so she just acknowledged the remark with a noncommittal nod and waited for Krycek to explain his presence in what was effectively her bed.

“Uh, anyway, Scully—could you do my back? Just so I’m all prepped for the night. Sores are still kind of, well, sore.”

Scully blinked at him. “Oh, sure. I have the bandages here.”

Krycek stripped to the waist and lay face down on the couch. Daggoo settled farther down, by his legs, and Scully sat on the edge of the couch to renew the dressings on Krycek’s back. His skin felt soft and warm, and she wondered if he really did think she was hot. She caught the thought and rolled her eyes. He’d told her she looked “weird” only a few days earlier: of course he didn’t think she was hot. He was only thinking about sex.

“Scully, what was your prom like?”

“Oh, you know,” said Scully dismissively, surprised by the question. “Lots of eighties music. I was wearing a dress that looked like a meringue and my date was a gawky teenager in a cummerbund. The usual.”

She smiled at the memory of Marcus making a move on her just as Sylvia and that idiot Berwood set fire to the room next door. She had eventually told Mulder about it, after unwittingly telling Eddie Van Blundt when he was impersonating him, but she didn’t feel Krycek needed to know.

“Yeah, that was me, the gawky teenager in a cummerbund,” said Krycek with a chuckle, his voice partially muffled by the pillow he was lying on. “And my girlfriend’s dress was kind of awful. Big puffy sleeves like Princess Di’s wedding dress. I think I burned the picture Mom took of us.”

“You had a girlfriend?” asked Scully with mild curiosity, noting that he hadn’t referred to her simply as a “date.”

“Yup. Going steady. I was doing the whole normal thing in senior year. I guess we both got something out of it: I got laid and she got a cute boyfriend. It didn’t last long. I was too into guys.”

“Were you already dating men back then?”

“No,” said Krycek darkly. “I was blowing them down at the truck stop.” He curled his lip in disgust. “It was pathetic.”

“I guess you had to do what you could.” She hesitated, then decided that honesty might breed honesty. “My brother is gay. My brother Charlie. He told my parents one day when he came home from college, and—it didn’t go well. He left the next day and never came back. Not until Mom’s funeral last month. He called her before she died, though, so I guess they made their peace.”

“Last month? Shit, I didn’t know your mom died so recently.” Krycek lifted himself up on his elbows and looked at her with concern. “And there I was getting all emotional about my mom dying ten years ago. Only a month. You must really miss her.”

“She was my best friend,” said Scully. Her only friend aside from Mulder, she reflected.

“Your brother’s a hell of a lot braver than I was.” Krycek lowered his eyes and Scully was struck by how long his eyelashes were. “I never told my mom about the guys. Maybe she guessed, I don’t know; I only ever brought girls home. High school, army, FBI, Consortium: there was never a good time to be out and proud,” he said with a bitter laugh. He watched Scully packing up the medical supplies. “Oh, uh, can you do the ones on my ass too? Only I’ve been sitting down all night and um—”

Scully watched him lift his hips so he could ease the jeans down. Fighting the sense of unreality that came with her mild inebriation, she removed the existing bandages, ignoring his hiss of pain as they pulled on his hairy skin. He settled down again, though, his mind apparently on other things.

“You know, there were times, when I was with my girlfriend, where I could imagine doing the normal thing,” he said. “If I’d asked, I think she’d have said yes, and then we’d have had kids and all that. But then a guy I—I knew told me he’d lived that lie and I’d hate myself if I did it. So I dumped her. Mom kicked me out. Threw all my stuff out in the yard. Well, there was a bit more going on because—well, Mom and Bob blamed me, but it was her choice in the end. I would have been a crappy dad.”

Scully wondered how much she should read into Krycek’s choice of words. “I guess you don’t find out until you try,” she said noncommittally. She remembered what she had found out when she became a mother and firmly dismissed the unproductive line of thought. She finished applying the new bandages and sat back. “Okay. You’re all done. You can go up to bed.”

Krycek shifted onto one elbow, making no move to pull up his unfastened pants. “Feels nice when you do that.”

“When I put the bandages on?” said Scully flatly.

“Yeah. I mean not because of the bandages.” He bit his lip. “Just, you know, when you touch me, it feels nice. Like when we were dancing. It was kind of hot.”

Not liking where this seemed to be going, Scully crossed her arms and gave him a withering look. “I’m sure it does but I’m a bit old to be propositioned, Krycek.”

He looked up at her through his lashes. “I’d go down on you.”

“Glad to know there would be something in it for me,” said Scully evenly. “But you’re not my type. And from the sound of things, I’m not yours either.”

“I like a bit of variety,” said Krycek ruefully, though he sat up and gave her a sheepish smile. “But you’re right. Not because of the age thing. I even had a crush on a guy in his seventies once.” He ran his hand through his overgrown hair. “I’m sorry, I’m so hot these days. I don’t know what they did to me, but it’s like I’m on fire.”

“Maybe a side effect of the process that revived you.” Scully smiled at a memory that came back to her. “I remember Mulder telling me his theory about zombies, how they’d want to do all the things they’d done when they were alive. Eat, drink, and dance, he said.”

“Version I heard was eat, drink, and screw. Guess that’s me.” He chuckled and stood up, pulling on his clothes. “Actually, I guess that’s most guys. Most of the ones I’ve dated anyway.”

He gave her a wide grin. He had fine, almost effeminate features that weren’t to her taste, but for a split second, she imagined what it would be like to sleep with him, to throw all professionalism and self-respect out of the window for a few minutes of insanity. She wondered if she would even enjoy it and shook her head at the ludicrous thought.

“You still love him, don’t you, Dana?” said Krycek more seriously, looking down at her. She noted the use of her first name despite his earlier suggestion, but let it go. “You still love Mulder. I should have thought of that,” he added as if speaking to himself.

Scully wondered what he was talking about, but was too tired to ask. Suddenly overcome with exhaustion, she lay down on the couch and closed her eyes.

* * * * *

THURSDAY, MARCH 10TH, 2016
MOTEL DINER

“You know, I felt bad about me and Mulder when I realized you still loved him.”

“Right.” Scully stopped watching for Mulder through the diner window and turned to face Krycek. “So that’s why you slept with him again last night?”

“Well, okay, so I’m not a saint.” Krycek gave her a sheepish grin and toyed with the saltshaker in front of him. “But it’s nothing serious. Him and me. I think we both fantasized about it back in the day and now that things are different, might as well have some fun.” Krycek laughed as if a thought had just occurred to him. “You ever watch that tape he used to have: the one where the cop got cornered by that bad guy and then that nurse showed up?”

Scully realized to her horror that she knew exactly which one he meant. She made an indistinct noise that was neither a lie nor an admission.

“That was hot,” said Krycek. “I watched it once when I was waiting for him. There weren’t a lot of videos like that back in the day. You got gay videos or you got straight videos, nothing, you know, more creative. Anyway, I figure he sees me as the bad guy in that video.”

“Does that make me the nurse?” asked Scully before remembering how the video had ended.

“If you want.” Krycek gave her what was no doubt meant to be a charming grin. “Bet Mulder would like that. Maybe we could surprise him.”

“Well, yes, I think that would definitely be a surprise,” said Scully, giving him a stern look. “I see you’re still suffering from that side-effect of your resurrection.”

“What? Oh right, yes, the zombie thing. Well, you know, Scully, you only live—oh.” He paused, his expression suddenly serious, and breathed in slowly a few times.

“Are you okay?” asked Scully with concern.

“Yeah, just—it’s like my heart was racing and then everything in my chest went cold for a second.”

Krycek looked sufficiently distressed that Scully took his pulse; even with no timer, she could feel that his heart rate was abnormal. It slowed to a regular rhythm as she counted the beats, and he gave her a worried look.

“That’s the second time today,” he said. “And it happened yesterday too. Do—do you think this is what happened to the mice?”

“I’d have to ask Dr. Webber,” she said thoughtfully. “Maybe there’s a way to buy you more time.”

“If there is, I don’t know if she’d give it to me. Can’t blame her. I remember I met her once, you know, back in the day. She told me she was Samantha Mulder’s clone and she remembered Bill Mulder as her father. Said she’d never forgive me for murdering him. Guess she got her revenge.” He sighed. “It’s okay, though. With everything I’ve done, I don’t deserve a second chance anyway.”

“I believe everyone deserves a second chance,” said Scully earnestly. “I didn’t know you very well before, but I think the last few years have changed you. You’re not the same man who committed those crimes.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Krycek twirled the saltshaker. “You know, I was a good boy when I was a kid. Just—shit happened. You know, family, school. I soon figured out the best way to avoid getting beaten up was to throw the first punch. Except I wasn’t very good at fighting. But then a friend of Bob’s, Mr. Arntzen, he had a gun shop in town and he taught me to shoot. I was good at that. I pulled the gun he gave me on this boy at school. Guy called me Boris because he said Mom was Russian. I got suspended, but it felt good. After that, I was the one who started the fights.”

Scully hesitated. “Is that what happened with Richard Rosenthal? You argued and you shot him?”

Krycek gave her an alarmed look, but said nothing, his eyes wide with apprehension.

“I got my colleague to look up the people on your list,” explained Scully. “She told me about a Richard Rosenthal who was murdered in Seattle in 1983. A robbery gone wrong according to the police report. He’s the man on those pictures in your box. And his name is on your list.”

Krycek stared at her a moment, apparently trying to collect his thoughts. Then he seemed to cave in, all the bravado fading away.

“Insurance wouldn’t pay up for his kids if he died of ‘gay cancer,’ and he couldn’t—He was so sick.” Krycek blinked a few times. “That’s why the Consortium recruited me. His doctor worked it out and told them.”

“Dr. Charne-Sayre,” said Scully, two of the puzzle pieces in her mind finally clicking together. “In the early 1980s, she was part of one of the US teams trying to identify the cause of AIDS. She worked at a clinic in Seattle. I wondered if there was a connection when I realized that was where you met Rosenthal.”

“She was experimenting on patients at the clinic. Seeing if the black oil could be used to fight the virus or maybe the other way round. Maybe that’s why I survived when it infected me again. I heard the French couple who were infected before me died of cancer. And maybe that’s why I never got sick.”

Scully gave him a wry smile. “I didn’t want to make assumptions, but given your lifestyle and the time—I’m sorry. You were so young, That must have been tough.”

“Yeah.” He looked down at the table. “But you know, Fowler threatened me, but I wanted to do it. They didn’t force me to do all those things. Killing people, abducting you. I liked working for the Consortium. I figured I was going to hell anyway, so why not get paid for doing stuff I enjoyed?”

The waitress came to ask them if they wanted to order drinks while they waited for Mulder. Scully ordered a glass of wine and Krycek, a Coke.

“There’s no hell, by the way,” he said when the waitress left. “When I died, I didn’t see anything.”

Scully decided not to argue about the likelihood of him remembering an afterlife when he was revived. The waitress brought them their drinks and Scully sipped her wine, wondering if she should go and knock on Mulder’s door.

“Did you find out anything about your son’s adoptive parents?” asked Krycek.

“Not a lot. They’re just ordinary people,” said Scully with a sigh. “An insurance salesman and an accountant. They’ve always lived a quiet life in Wyoming, never on anyone’s radar. Still married as far as we could find out. Maybe that’s what he needed. A stable home, an uncomplicated life.”

She ran her fingers down the cold stem of her wine glass and paused. So many thoughts and memories about William had been crowding her mind since Mulder became sick. Thoughts she didn’t want to share with Mulder for fear of reopening his wounds too. He rarely spoke about William and had hardly known him at all, but whenever the topic came up, she could feel that he too was haunted by William’s absence.

“I always imagined I’d be like my mom,” she said softly. “But I wasn’t. I realized as soon as I had William. I’ve rationalized it as Mulder being away and post-natal depression and not knowing what William really was and where he came from. But the truth is, I didn’t feel the way a mother should. It was—to be honest, it was a relief to give him up.” To her surprise, Krycek took her hand. She looked down at it, his large hand wrapped around hers and voiced the worst fear of all. “I—I don’t even know if he’s really Mulder’s son.”

“He’s definitely Mulder’s son,” said Krycek with emphasis. “Morley and his men were kidnapping abductees and that’s how they became pregnant, but I don’t think they were, um, inseminating them. I think they did something that made the abductees, you know, not barren anymore.”

Scully just stared at him; the horror of what had been done to her rendering her speechless once more. Krycek’s thumb idly rubbed the back of her hand as he looked out of the window.

“And now he’s doing it again to those girls,” he said, his lip curling in disgust. “I wish I had more time. And a plan.” He gave her a weak smile. “Guess it’s just as well I don’t. My plans always turn out badly. Look at what happened at El Rico. Oh yeah, I’m going to get rid of the Consortium. Fuckers took their families with them.”

“That wasn’t your fault. The rebels killed them, not you.”

“Like Luis killed your sister, not me? They’re still dead.” He sighed. “Keep thinking about them. All of them. Like, I mean, Rich was sick and I put Duane Barry out of his misery, and Fowley was a cold-hearted bitch, but you know, mostly it was people in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now, I just keep thinking about them. Before, I was just always struggling to survive, you know, so I could forget. But I’ve kind of had a lot of time to think. And, I mean, what do you do when you feel bad about something you can’t fix?”

“Personally, I pray,” said Scully, even though she knew his question was rhetorical. “And all I can say is that if you truly repent, then you will be forgiven. You must strive to be worthy of that forgiveness by living a better life.”

“Living a better life, huh? I guess I haven’t killed anyone this time around. That’s a start.” He looked down at her hand still in his. “You’re a good person, Dana Scully. I’m glad I brought you back after your abduction and Mulder’s had you in his life. He was lost without you.”

Scully stared at him, distant memories of being carried and left in a hospital hallway surfacing slowly.

“You’ll save Mulder, right?” asked Krycek earnestly. “I mean, he’s going to live on and get all those answers I never gave him. Finding your son will save him?”

“Yes,” said Scully, and though she couldn’t rationalize why, she believed it. “You really care about him, don’t you?”

Krycek smiled. “Does it matter? Maybe I just really liked that swimsuit.” He looked up at the doorway of the diner behind her. “Oh, hey, Rip Van Winkle is back with us.”

* * * * *

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

“Can you keep it down?” asked Scully, crossing her arms for added effect. “Mulder is sleeping just next door, you know.”

“Oh, right I didn’t realize it was that loud,” said Krycek, looking contrite.

He’d removed his sweater and was just wearing the camo tank top. The loud music was suddenly turned down low and Monica came to join him at the motel room door.

“Sorry, Dana, I was just having a talk with, um—”

“Alex,” filled in Krycek.

“Right,” said Monica with the tone of someone who didn’t think that information was important.

“Why don’t you come in and join us, Dana?” suggested Krycek. “I’m making the most of my last few days on Earth.”

A familiar sweet smoky smell wafted out of the room and Scully realized they probably hadn’t been doing much talking. Or maybe they were comparing notes on working for Cancerman; a subject that no doubt worked better when stoned.

“No, thanks.” Scully stepped away from the door, intending to leave them to it.

“Wait, is Mulder okay?” asked Krycek with sudden concern.

“As I said, he’s sleeping,” said Scully wearily. “The machine is doing whatever it does and he’ll hopefully be better in the morning. I better go back to him.”

Monica put her hand on Scully’s arm. “Dana, maybe you should get some sleep too. I’ve got to go back before Spender notices where I am, but I can watch him for a bit if that helps.”

“No, I’ll do it,” said Krycek. “I know how the machine works. She’s right, you should get some sleep.”

* * * * *

LATER

Scully watched as Krycek lowered his lips to Mulder’s in a tender kiss. Mulder smiled up at him and reciprocated, running his fingers through Krycek’s short hair. Then he turned to Scully, lazily drawing her nearer. He sighed with contentment; his eyes fluttered closed and he appeared to drift off instantly into a peaceful sleep.

Krycek lay and watched him, as if trying to memorize his face.

“I should go,” he said finally, sitting up. “This really isn’t a three-person bed.”

“No, it isn’t.” Scully watched him get up and get dressed, uncertain what the protocol was under these circumstances. She felt he deserved something more than indifference, but was equally grateful to have Mulder to herself. “You’re going back to your room?”

“No.” He pulled his sweater over his head. “I’ve got some stuff I need to do. I—I’ve been thinking about what you said. About living a better life, and helping people. And then I think I’ve found a way to get to Wyoming even though the flights are full. I’ve got the Van de Kamps’ address so I’ll meet you there when I’m done.”

“Oh, okay.” She rolled her eyes. “Yeah. ‘Oh, okay.’ You’re still the prisoner we’re supposed to take back to Skinner next week. I shouldn’t let you go.”

“Oh sure, because you’re going to explain this to him,” said Krycek, though his smile belied the implied threat. He sat on the edge of the bed beside her. “I’m never going back to prison, Dana. If I’m going to die anyway, I might as well do something useful with the time I have left.”

Scully opened her mouth to protest, but Krycek kissed her before she could speak.

“Good night, Dana. You two get some sleep, yeah? I’ll see you in Wyoming.”

Chapter Text

FRIDAY, MARCH 11TH, 2016
WYOMING

Mulder eyed the Van De Kamps’ house with apprehension as Scully drove slowly down the road through the darkening woods. It had been another long day. Their flight to Jackson was delayed by nearly two hours as every plane in North America seemingly took to the skies together after being grounded during the crisis. They had struggled to find a rental car and got lost several times as they searched for the Van De Kamps’ last known address.

“Do you suppose they still live here?” asked Scully, her small voice echoing Mulder’s own fears.

“I don’t know,” said Mulder. “Looks like their car is there, but all the lights in the house are out. I don’t think anybody is home.”

They parked behind the Van De Kamps’ car and walked up to the front door. Scully knocked loudly, but there was no answer. Mulder noticed an empty dog bowl and some chew toys on the porch, though there was no sign of their owner. Walking around the house, they discovered a pair of bicycles lying abandoned in the grass at the back of the house. Mulder looked up at the basketball hoop attached to the wall.

The back door was locked but the wooden frame was weak enough that Mulder only had to put his shoulder to it once and the frame splintered. A little shimmying, and he was able to open the door.

“What?” he said when Scully gave him a look. “We’ve come this far. Besides, we might find something.”

Despite her disapproval, Scully followed him into the kitchen. There were dishes on the rack by the sink, and also in the dishwasher underneath. The chairs around the kitchen table were out of alignment as if they had just been used but there was a thin layer of dust on everything.

“They’ve been gone a while, but they must have left in a hurry,” said Mulder, wrinkling his nose when he opened the refrigerator.

“I guess they had time to pack, though,” said Scully. She had moved into the hallway and when Mulder joined her there, she pointed at the grey outlines on the walls, where photo frames had been removed. “I’ll look upstairs.”

In the utility room between the kitchen and garage, Mulder found a gun safe, but its heavy wooden door was locked and he couldn’t tell if any weapons were missing. The living room at the front of the house was decorated in a rustic style, with ancient farming tools hanging on the wall and two large sofas opposite each other. There were hand-carved wooden figurines lined up above the large stone fireplace. Mulder found a monitor and printer on a desk by the stairs, with a keyboard and mouse, but whatever they’d been connected to was gone. There were papers in a filing cabinet; business documents, tax returns, receipts, instruction manuals, medical bills going back 20 years. The Van De Kamps seemed to favor a pragmatic approach to filing, where papers were stuffed out of order into hanging files—mostly under “Misc.”

Mulder found nothing related to William among the papers, and he went upstairs to find Scully. The first room he looked into was the master bedroom. The bed was made, though the patchwork quilt was wrinkled as if something heavy—like a suitcase—had been laid out on it and then hastily removed. There were some toiletries and books on the nightstand, and the wardrobe was full of clothes and the usual miscellaneous trappings of rural family life: empty suitcases and backpacks; skis, snorkels and hunting gear; a box full of obsolete electronic equipment; a bag of children’s clothes on the floor, its top layer covered in cat hairs. The room opposite looked like a guest bedroom; the double bed was unmade, the mattress covered by a crochet bedspread; he noted with amusement that one corner had another visible circle of ginger cat hairs.

The next room was a girl’s bedroom, its purple walls decorated with blue butterflies, and Mulder wondered for a moment if they’d come to the wrong house.

He found Scully standing in the next room. This one unmistakably belonged to a teenage boy. Posters of the solar system and the latest Star Trek movie adorned the walls, and there was a basketball by the empty desk. Scully ran her hands over the books on a shelf by the bed, her fingers lingering a moment on a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

She pressed play on a CD player that was gathering dust in a corner. Despite its obsolete appearance, it was still plugged in and made a high-pitched whirring sound as it picked a random track. The clear soprano voice of a young Joni Mitchell rang out. Mulder and Scully exchanged a bemused look.

“I was not expecting that,” admitted Mulder.

Scully gave a little shrug. “Maybe it belongs to the girl.”

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you’re sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry but you’re not ashamed
Little Green, have a happy ending

Mulder stepped closer and took Scully in his arms. She wrapped her arms around him and they stood in silence for a moment.

“She found her in the end,” said Mulder softly, his chin resting on her hair. “Joni Mitchell. She was reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption.”

“I know.”

They let the song play, still locked in each other’s embrace in the room their son had occupied. Mulder remembered what Scully had told him of her conversation with Krycek. He too had often wondered if he really was William’s father, and now he asked himself whether it even mattered when William had occupied so much of his thoughts for so long. Maybe William was an experiment, willed into existence by Cancerman’s nefarious plans. But he was still Scully’s child and had always been Mulder’s son in his mind. Whatever happened, Mulder was determined to treat him as such if they ever met.

“It’s getting dark,” he said after a few minutes. “We might have to camp out here.”

“Yeah. I don’t feel up to driving through those roads at night.”

They went downstairs and started to make plans for the evening. There was no cell reception in the area but Scully found the Wi-Fi password on the back of the family’s satellite router and they both spent some time catching up on the messages they had missed while they were traveling; updates on the hybrid children from Miller and Einstein, a terse message from Skinner that did not ask if they still had Krycek in custody. Mulder tried not to be too disappointed that there was nothing from Krycek.

Like Mulder, the Van De Kamps kept their basement well stocked with food, and they were able to make themselves some dinner. Later, Scully made the bed in the guest bedroom upstairs and they lay in it together, listening to the strange creaking of the unfamiliar house, wondering where the family had gone, and holding each other until sleep overcame them.

* * * * *

Mulder woke up alone the next morning, though he could hear noises downstairs and surmised that Scully was making breakfast. He enjoyed the sensation of waking up slowly for a while, smiling as he thought about his renewed relationship with Scully. Then he quickly checked his phone, got dressed and joined Scully in the kitchen.

“Any news from Krycek?” he asked.

“No. But I do have an email from Mila Makembese.”

“Who? Oh, Ms. Verhoeven’s grand-niece,” said Mulder, remembering. “The one who had William’s photograph. Maybe you should ask her if she knows where William is.”

“I intend to,” said Scully. “My message to her clearly struck a chord. She’s sent me instructions to access a site that she says will ensure secure video communications. I’m setting it up now.”

Mulder looked over her shoulder at the message on her screen. “I’ve used that one too. She’s pretty up on online security for a teenage girl.”

“Well, if she’s a hybrid as we suspect, she has good reason to be concerned.” Scully frowned, switching between the instructions and the software she was installing, then launched the chat application. “Oh, looks as though she’s online right now. Well, I guess there’s no time like the present.” She glanced at Mulder leaning over her. “Maybe it’s best if I talk to her first.”

“Yes. Wouldn’t want her to be spooked by a creepy old man,” said Mulder good-naturedly. He went to toast some frozen waffles Scully had found.

It took a couple of minutes for Scully to establish the connection. Glancing at her screen from an angle out of the camera shot, Mulder noticed that the girl had kept her camera off, even though Scully had hers on.

“Miss Makembese, thank you for getting back to me,” said Scully. “As I explained in my email, I’m Agent Dana Scully with the FBI here in the United States. Your name came up in connection with a case we’re investigating. I wanted to ask you about a picture you had stored in your Facebook account.”

“Yeah, I found your email in my spam folder this morning. How did you even get that picture?” The girl had a hint of a European accent—presumably a Belgian one—but otherwise sounded American. “Does Facebook just hand everything to the US government?”

“We’re looking for a boy, Jackson Van De Kamp,” said Scully, evading the question. “He’s disappeared along with his family. We know he took that picture on his phone a few months ago. We were wondering how a copy of it came to be in your possession.”

“Oh, you know, I just saw the picture on the internet. I must have accidentally uploaded it to Facebook. It’s nothing to do with me. Just some photoshopped hoax to make it look as if some guy who died years ago is a ghost. I don’t know the guy who took the picture.”

“Do you know the man on the picture?” asked Scully with curiosity.

“No, why would I? I mean, it was taken in Wisconsin or wherever that thing in the background is. I live in Brussels. So yeah, I can’t really help you, sorry.”

Smelling a rat, Mulder put down the waffle he was eating and stepped into the frame. “I think you do know that man,” he said. “The file in your Facebook account is called alex.jpg. Alex Krycek talked to the boy, but he didn’t tell him his name. Which means you’re the one who renamed the file.”

“And who are you?” asked Makembese aggressively. “I thought I was just talking to Agent Scully.”

“I’m Agent Scully’s partner, Fox Mulder.”

“Fox Mulder?” repeated Makembese, her tone softening. “The Fox Mulder? The one who wrote the book about the Consortium, the hybrids and the alien invasion? You have a great imagination, mister.”

Mulder pulled up a chair and sat down so that he was in the frame beside Scully. “I think you know it’s the truth. You’re a hybrid yourself.”

“What, you think I’m an alien?” laughed Makembese. She turned on her camera to reveal a pale teenager with shoulder-length dark hair and heavy bangs. “Do I look like an alien to you?”

Mulder stared at her, trying to work out who she did look like.

“Jackson Van De Kamp is a hybrid too. He’s also our son,” said Scully quietly. “Your name came up when we searched a US government databank for people whose DNA matches his.”

“Is that how you found me?” asked the girl with sudden concern. “The US government knows where we live? Is that why some of the girls have been abducted?”

“We don’t believe they know where you all live, but the people responsible for the crisis are looking for you,” said Mulder. “I don’t think they know about you specifically. The name in the database is ‘Mila Verhoeven.’ We only found you because Alex Krycek convinced a Facebook employee to help him look for you in Brussels. But given that Edith Verhoeven was Krycek’s landlady back in the day and helped him escape our custody earlier this week, it wasn’t much of a stretch to realize the name on the list of hybrids was a smoke screen and you’re actually the same person.”

Makembese swore and then stared at her screen. “Wait. What do you mean, Alex escaped earlier this week? That’s not possible. He died before I was born! He’s been dead for years.”

“I take it you do know Alex Krycek, then?” asked Scully.

“Well, yeah, he was mentioned in his book,” said the girl without missing a beat, pointing at Mulder.

“Not by name,” retorted Mulder. “And there sure as hell aren’t any pictures of him in the book. The truth is, you know him, and you know what he looks like. I think you had visions of him after his death, same as I did. You recognized him on Jackson Van De Kamp’s picture and that’s why you kept it after you cleared out your Facebook account.”

Scully gave Makembese a sympathetic look. “You’ve seen him since he died, haven’t you? He mentioned a girl who saw him.”

“Those were just dreams,” said Makembese warily.

“Not quite,” said Scully. “After his death, Krycek was revived by former Consortium doctors and used in their experiments. We think that’s what caused the psychic visions you and Mulder experienced. He escaped from their lab a couple of weeks ago and has been helping us with the search for our son. It’s hard to explain, but we believe Jackson Van De Kamp is the key to stopping what is happening to you all. If there’s any way you can help us get in touch with him, we would be very grateful.”

“Yes, I’m sure you would,” said Makembese. She looked over her shoulder, giving them a clear view of her short, pointed nose and slightly receding chin, and waved her hand. A door clicked shut off screen.

“Okay, so I’m a hybrid. And I know about what’s happening right now. The plague, who’s responsible and why they’re doing it. And I sure as hell don’t want to become some baby machine,” she said, a horizontal crease of disgust appearing at the top of her nose. “So I guess that means I want to help you. Trouble is, I don’t know much about the boy who took that picture. He calls himself Harry Potter because he’s the kind of stuck-up moron who would. We’re just on a chat together. One for freaks like us. He posted the picture and said he’d had this weird vision of a ghost who said ‘Fox Mulder’ and ‘mashed potatoes,’ and then vanished. He asked me about it because I know stuff.”

“Because your mother worked for the Consortium before she went to work at the European Commission,” said Scully quietly. “Before she married your step-father Olivier Makembese.”

Makembese scowled at the camera, but after a moment’s hesitation, she sighed and gave a little shrug. “Yeah. Look, I’m not letting you on the forum. We’re not Facebook. But I’ll give Tyrion your details. He might know how to get in touch with Harry.”

“Tyrion,” repeated Mulder with amusement. “As in Tyrion Lannister?”

“We don’t use our real names, obviously.” Makembese rolled her eyes with all the world-weariness of a fourteen-year-old. “Tyrion created the board. He isn’t one of us, just someone who thought we’d do better if we talked to each other. I don’t know why. They’re all so lame, whining about their abilities and stuff.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Look, I gotta go.” She seemed about to end the call but then hesitated, the cynical expression lifting momentarily from her even pale features. “Was he really looking for me?”

“Yes,” said Scully softly. “I think he wanted to know you were okay.”

“Oh,” was all Makembese said. Her eyes narrowed again. “Well, good luck, I guess! I hope Tyrion can help.”

She closed the connection. Scully gave Mulder a curious look.

“Tyrion Lannister. You recognize that name, don’t you?”

“I always told you to watch Game of Thrones,” said Mulder with a chuckle. “Tyrion Lannister is one of the main characters. He’s the dwarf.”

“The—Oh.” Scully’s face lit up with sudden understanding. “Well, I don’t think we need to wait for Miss Makembese to pass on our details to him.” She picked up her phone. “I have a hunch that his contact details are right here. No wonder Gibson was so interested in William last time I talked to him.”

“You think Gibson Praise is Tyrion Lannister? I’d say it’s a small world, but I’ve already written a whole book about it.”

As Scully started to compose a message to Gibson Praise, Mulder thought about the girl.

“Do you think Krycek knows?”

Scully looked over at him and nodded. “Yes, I’m sure he does.”

* * * * *

“Gibson confirmed that he’s ‘Tyrion Lannister,’ but says he doesn’t have access to the email addresses of people in the forum. He’s sent ‘Harry Potter’ a private message but doesn’t know if he’s online. Or if he’ll want to talk to us.”

Sitting on the Van de Kamps’ couch, Mulder nodded. “So what do we do, sit around here and wait for him to get back to us?”

Scully sighed and sat down beside him. Mulder raised his arm and she curled into his embrace.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I was so certain that finding William was the way to cure you that I didn’t even question that he might not want us to find him.”

“Yeah. That’s what Krycek said too. But maybe he was thinking about Mila.”

Mulder remembered the Depeche Mode song Scully had described a few days earlier, the one Krycek had been listening to at the house.

I’ve got to get to you first
Before they do
It’s just a question of time
Before they lay their hands on you

He wondered what fate awaited the hybrids at Cancerman’s hands and allowed himself to entertain the momentary fear that William might already be in his clutches. He also wondered where Krycek was. Scully too seemed lost in thought, and when she spoke again, it turned out those thoughts hadn’t strayed far from his own.

“I hope he’s okay. Krycek,” she clarified, looking up at Mulder. “Well, I hope William—Jackson—is okay too. And—and that we’re not too late. But Krycek wasn’t well. I don’t know. I guess we’ll hear something eventually.”

“Yeah, he usually turns up like the proverbial bad penny,” agreed Mulder.

Scully gave him a knowing smile but said nothing. Mulder leaned back on the comfortable sofa and closed his eyes, remembering the night at the motel with satisfaction. Now that would be a story to tell his grandkids if he ever had any. Then again, maybe not.

When he woke up a while later, Scully had moved to the other sofa by the window and was fast asleep, her phone discarded by her hand. Mulder watched her for a moment; he noticed for the first time that she was wearing less makeup, the harsh black eyeliner and mascara gone from her large sandy-lashed eyes, and the lack of foundation revealing her freckles and the frown line between her brows. He realized he had missed seeing her in unguarded moments like this, and wondered what the hell he’d been doing, sulking in the house all those years instead of begging her to take him back.

After a moment, though, he decided he needed to stretch his legs. He hefted himself off the couch, reflecting that what had once been an easy gesture was now a chore that made his middle-aged body creak. He put it down to the disease and promised himself to live another fifty years if he ever recovered from this infection.

In the meantime, he decided to do a bit more investigation now that it was daylight. He went outside to inspect the family car, and then walked around the house. It occurred to him that the Misc. folder in the office might contain names and addresses of people they might have gone to stay with, though he wasn’t in the mood for poring over paperwork. Observing the abandoned car and bicycles, he wondered if they might have simply gone somewhere on foot, or gotten a ride from a neighbor. Or maybe they had another car. With no clear idea other than a wild hunch, Mulder picked a random direction and walked into the wooded area behind the house.

He’d strolled for about fifteen minutes when he heard a shriek, followed by a dog barking. Alarmed, he drew his weapon and headed toward the sound, in the opposite direction from the house.

“You crazy? Someone might have heard that!” said a boy’s voice.

“You move one step further, I’ll scream again,” replied a girl. “Dad told you to stay put. He’s gonna kill you when he finds out, buttmunch!”

Through the trees, Mulder saw Scully running toward the forest, no doubt looking for him and also drawn by the noise. He didn’t have time to signal to her or even holster his weapon before the arguing kids and their dog crossed his path.

The girl was about twelve or thirteen, with rounded features and dark hair drawn back in a ponytail. The boy was taller, with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes behind round glasses, his freckled face pale around a prominent nose and full lips. He was holding a shaggy light brown dog on a leash, and looked with alarm at Mulder with his drawn weapon. A stone suddenly flew off the ground and knocked the gun out of Mulder’s hand. The dog started barking.

Mulder swore and held his injured hand, just as Scully pushed through the undergrowth to join them. She looked at the boy with wonder.

“William!”

* * * * *

“Ow! Guess that magnetite wore off,” grumbled Mulder as Scully put a Band-Aid on his hand.

They were back in the Van de Kamps’ living-room, where they’d been joined by the whole family. The Van De Kamps were lined up together on one sofa while Mulder and Scully sat opposite them, by the window. The dog lay at Jackson's feet, completing the image of family unity.

“It lasted until he was in kindergarten,” said Mrs. Van De Kamp. “I mean, we obviously didn’t know anything about magnetite back in those days. We only found out what he really was and the whole story about hybrids a couple years ago when this Tyrion Lannister got in touch.”

“We knew there was something, of course. He started having problems when he started school,” continued Mr. Van De Kamp. “Nothing serious, just things happening to kids around him.”

“It got better after Brianna started school too, though. I’ve often said she’s the one who has saved him. I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t been there.”

“Mo-om!” protested Jackson in a low voice. Though she was sitting beside him holding his hand in reassurance, his sister gave him a smug smile and he scowled at her.

“Well, I don’t,” insisted his mother. “I don’t know what you’d have gotten yourself into with your powers if it wasn’t for her.” She turned her attention back to Mulder and Scully. “It’s funny how things go. We’d been married ten years. We’d tried everything and finally gave up, decided God didn’t mean it to be. Then we spent almost two years on the adoption waiting list until Jackson—William—came to us. We were told his name was William, but my sister’s boy was already called William, so we named him Jackson after my late father. And then two months later, I discovered I was pregnant, like we were getting two blessings at once. And he is a blessing,” she added, addressing Scully. “There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t thank God you—you let us have him.”

Scully nodded, but said nothing, her face impassive.

“Tyrion explained who you were in his message,” said Jackson. He looked at Mulder. With his red hair, Mulder thought he looked more like a Weasley than Harry Potter. “And why you needed me. To save you.”

“Yes. Stem cell treatment appears to be our best bet at this point,” said Scully with a reassuring smile to Mr. and Mrs. Van De Kamp. “I can arrange for Will—Jackson to accompany us to a suitable medical facility. We’ll make sure he’s safe and secure.”

“Right.” Mrs. Van de Kamp sounded a little dismayed by Scully’s clinical tone. “I mean, we certainly wouldn’t want Mr. Mulder to die.”

“If you think Jackson’s stem cells can save him—” said Mr. Van de Kamp. “Only problem is, we were told to go into hiding because the virus meant the start of the colonization. That the people behind it were abducting kids like Jackson. That’s why we were hiding in the Johnsons’ cabin in the middle of the woods. So now you say you want to take him to a medical facility and do something to him. I mean, I know this man Jackson’s been talking to vouched for you but—”

“You can rest assured that we’ll do all we can to keep him safe,” said Scully, addressing the parents and not looking at Jackson himself.

She sounded calm and collected, but Mulder noticed how white her knuckles were as they gripped the packet of bandages. After all these years, he could see beyond the mask of professionalism. He took her hand.

“We didn’t just come because of that,” he said softly. He smiled at Jackson. “It was our decision to give you up to keep you safe. But—and I think I speak for both of us—a day hasn’t gone by where we haven’t questioned that decision and wondered how you were. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you like this, with a family who loves you. And who’s kept you safe all these years.”

“Uh, right!” said Jackson awkwardly. “I—”

He interrupted himself, suddenly looking out of the window behind Mulder and Scully. Brianna followed his gaze and frowned.

“Hey, isn’t that the guy you saw in your vision?” she said. “The one from Devils Tower?”

“Yeah.” Jackson’s expression darkened. “And I’ve had visions of the other guy too. The one with the cigarette.”

Chapter Text

“Well, isn’t this quite the family reunion!”

Cancerman observed the rustic living room with amusement as Mr. Van De Kamp let him in. The rest of the family stared at him with apprehension.

“What the hell are you doing here?” demanded Mulder, rising to his feet.

“Why, looking for you, of course.” Cancerman glanced over his shoulder with a smirk. “I’ll admit our mutual acquaintance isn’t renowned for telling the truth, but he was right on this occasion.”

Krycek walked in, gun drawn and an inscrutable expression on his handsome features. He was wearing dark pants and a black jacket—not the leather one, Mulder noticed—and looked much the same as he had the fateful night of William’s birth. He didn’t look at Mulder and Scully, his attention focused on Mr. Van De Kamp beside him.

“Hey, look here, now. This is my house,” said Van De Kamp, holding out his hand. “I won’t have anyone coming in here with drawn weapons. Not around my family. So you put that away or I’ll have to take it.”

“Or maybe you’ll give me yours instead,” said Krycek with a sneer, indicating the handgun still holstered at Van De Kamp’s side.

His sensual lips curled into an unpleasant smile and he nodded toward the sofa where the rest of the Van De Kamps were sitting. A couple of young, tough-looking men that Mulder didn’t recognize had come in through the back of the house. One of them was now holding a gun to Brianna’s head; keeping very still, the girl swallowed and looked around at the adults, wide-eyed and apprehensive, though she remained quiet. For a moment, Mr. Van De Kamp looked tempted to draw his own gun, but then he gave his wife a resigned look and handed the weapon to Krycek. The third man took Mulder and Scully’s guns.

The dog standing at Jackson’s feet barked; Cancerman observed it with disdain.

“Someone get rid of this creature before I shoot it.”

The henchman who had taken Mulder and Scully’s weapons moved forward, but Mr. Van De Kamp grabbed the dog’s collar and dragged it out to the kitchen. Remembering the gun safe, Mulder hoped Mr. Van De Kamp wouldn’t take the opportunity to do something stupid like get another weapon; Cancerman’s new henchmen didn’t look like the type to balk at shooting a young girl to keep everyone in line. But Mr. Van De Kamp returned empty handed, leaving the dog barking outside.

“I know you,” Jackson said to Cancerman. “You’re the man responsible for the plague. You killed all those people. Who the hell are you?”

“I am your father.”

Jackson looked uncertainly at Mulder and Scully. Glancing down in her direction, Mulder could see the hatred and disgust on Scully’s face. Cancerman laughed.

“Oh, they played their part. But much as you might consider that the breeder is the true progenitor of a thoroughbred, my contribution was far more than the mere supply of genetic material. You, my boy, are the culmination of decades of research. What began as post-war military fantasies of indestructible soldiers mutated from alien genes is now the reality of an entire race of superhumans, capable of reproduction and poised to take over the world within a generation.”

“Oh, so much for saving the planet,” said Mulder sarcastically, remembering their conversation in Spartanburg a few weeks earlier.

“I am saving the planet. The strain on natural resources has long been a concern of mine,” said Cancerman. He took out a fresh cigarette and lit it, ignoring Mrs. Van De Kamp’s disapproving look. “And don’t fret about the rest of the human race. This was merely a little cull to ease the strain. Enough to ensure government cooperation without stemming the flow of energy and information which is so vital to our modern life. I do not want the next evolution of mankind that I have created to be detached from the best—and worst—aspects of its past.”

“What do you mean, ‘created?’” asked Mrs. Van De Kamp with confusion.

Cancerman stood by the fireplace and smiled as if he had been just waiting for someone to ask that question. “Yes. Created. Oh, it’s been a long road. The original assumption of the men who started this project before me was that they could harvest ova from selected test subjects and grow hybrids on their own, but even with the brightest minds and the best alien technology, they couldn’t grow embryos to the fetal stage ex utero. While abducting subjects and fertilizing them through natural or in vitro means was easy enough, in utero gestation came with its own challenges: the need to keep the subject under constant medical attention to stop their body rejecting the embryo, the physical limitations of growing multiple experiments in one womb, the complications of keeping them sedated and ensuring they would remember nothing when they were returned to society. When I took over, I initially focused my team’s efforts on reducing the in utero gestation period. We leveraged advances in fertility treatment and pioneered new techniques to keep fetuses alive from an earlier point. By the mid-1990s, we were able to reduce the time needed to keep the subjects in the laboratory while increasing their yield, until one subject could produce a dozen specimens with only three or four months of absence. Then we made them infertile to ensure there would be no ad hoc experiments grown in the wild and let them go about their business.”

Mulder looked down at Scully’s pale face and remembered the three months of agony that had followed her abduction and Krycek’s departure. Looking around the room, he could see the horror on the expressions of the Van De Kamps; the two unknown henchmen looked fascinated; Krycek, on the other hand, was looking out of the window.

“The changes I oversaw worked,” continued Cancerman proudly. “Some of the experiments grew to childhood. A couple have even made it to adulthood, though they’re not people you would want to meet. Most died.” He picked up a wooden photo frame from the mantelpiece—probably hand carved by one of the Van De Kamps—and observed the family photograph briefly. “It eventually dawned on us that the experiments’ failure to thrive might be caused not by their genes or their medical care, but by their emotional environment.”

“Yeah, I bet that came as a shock to you,” said Mulder sharply. “Humans needing love.”

Cancerman continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Eventually, we found the solution that has worked best. At the start of this century, we gathered up some of the subjects whose ova we’d collected and made them fertile again so that they might breed and raise their hybrid children in normal settings, providing them with the childhood care and emotional stability which apparently forges strong, resilient individuals.”

“So what you’re saying is that you kidnapped random women to make us?” asked Jackson with a frown. He looked pale and Mulder wondered if he was feeling sick.

“Yes. We wanted to ensure a reasonably diverse gene pool from across the world, and to avoid Midwich Cuckoo-like clusters of hybrids that might draw undue attention. Well, I say that. There was some leeway in agents choosing women of their liking.” Cancerman glanced at Scully. “Not all your mothers were randomly selected.”

* * * * *

MARCH 1992

“This one.”

Carl placed his cigarette in his mouth and pointed at the photograph of a plain, freckled woman with glasses.

“Dana Scully? She’s a medical doctor with a degree in physics,” said Blevins. “She isn’t going to believe Mulder’s wacky theories.”

“Then tell her she’s been assigned to debunk them.”

Carl observed Blevins—looking, as always, for any sign that the man understood the full extent of what was happening right under his nose. Did he comprehend that Mulder’s theories were half-truths wrapped in lies and smokescreens that kept him endlessly in the fog while the reality was much greater—and maybe even worse—than he imagined? Carl thought of the many test subjects left damaged and insane from their experiments. Samantha and Cassandra begging him to stop…

Blevins was still looking at the picture. “She isn’t even hot. Don’t you want to assign him someone hot? Agent Anderson is hot. Plus she’s a bimbo who’ll believe anything.”

Carl looked at the photographs in the file and entertained a moment’s doubt. Was he letting his own interests cloud his judgment? There was only a passing resemblance: the diminutive stature, unsophisticated demeanor, the understated intelligence. But maybe that was the point. She had an air of Teena Kuipers. Maybe just enough to subconsciously remind Mulder of his mother without it being so obvious as to be repulsive.

He exhaled a cloud of smoke into the cramped, airless office and reminded himself that even the cleverest of men were easy to manipulate, and Fox would be no exception. He leaned against the filing cabinet in the corner.

“No. I want her. Bring her in.”

* * * * *

Cancerman dismissed his reminiscences with a sinister smile and turned to face Jackson.

“Yes. You, my son, are even more special than the others,” he said grandiosely. “You are named after a man who was once my closest friend, William, and whose family has always been a part of this project. Unlike the rest of your brethren, your genes are the result of not one but two experiments, the first harking back to the very early 1960s.” He waved his hand dismissively at Mulder. “But you are far superior. Yours are the purest hybrid genes, William. You shall father the next evolution of mankind with your hybrid sisters—”

“I’d almost forgotten how much you like the sound of your own voice,” interrupted Krycek suddenly. “Are we doing this or what?”

Cancerman pursed his lips in irritation, but continued, “Unfortunately, fifteen years ago, I was...interrupted before I could oversee the end of the project, and most of our records were lost.” Glancing at Krycek, Mulder saw him smirk, and surmised this was a reference to Krycek’s attempt to kill Cancerman. “But over the past few months we have been finding your people and gathering them in a safe place. The time has come for you to fulfill your destiny, William.”

“My name isn’t William,” said Jackson.

He raised his hand as if he was about to do something, but then stopped in confusion. The old man’s smile widened, the expression rendered more sinister by his disfigurement, and he pulled a strip of metal out of his pocket.

“I come in peace, William, but I didn’t come unprepared. This is the first sample of an alloy we’ve been working on. At your age, magnetite merely dampens your powers, but this will gradually drain your energy, making you weak and easily led. I’ve learned the lesson about creators needing to control their creations.” He turned to Krycek. “Take him to the car.”

“No!” cried out Mrs. Van De Kamp, though she glanced at the man threatening Brianna and didn’t move.

His features set in grim resignation, Mr. Van De Kamp put his arm around her. Brianna just sat very still and they all looked on helplessly as Krycek pointed his gun at Jackson and indicated the door. The other henchman went out first. As Krycek walked by with Jackson, Scully caught his arm.

“Alex, we spoke to Mila this morning. We know who she is. You know working with him is not going to save her.”

Krycek looked at her blankly for a moment, then smiled unpleasantly. “Last time I saw Marita, she was demanding money to make it go away. It’s none of my business if she changed her mind.”

“Besides, who wouldn’t want their genes to be part of the next evolution of mankind?” said Cancerman. “You may someday be revered as Founding Fathers of our new civilization.”

Krycek rolled his eyes. Mulder half expected Scully to make some remark about the lack of Founding Mothers in this eugenicist’s wet dream. But she was silent, observing Krycek thoughtfully, as if trying to divine his motives.

* * * * *

TWO DAYS AGO

“You know you don’t have to, Dana,” said Krycek, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.

Sitting beside him on the motel bed, Scully met his gaze with a searching look, as if to be certain of what he wanted. Mulder watched, leaning against the headboard a short distance from them, barely daring to breathe.

Krycek leaned in and brushed his lips briefly against Scully’s, an unequivocal statement of intent that made Mulder’s heart race. He knew Scully wouldn’t do something so intimate just to please him. There were a million reasons why she shouldn’t do this, and as many reasons why, sensible and self-aware as she was, he suspected that she wouldn’t do this. She glanced at him, and though he couldn’t suppress a smile of encouragement, he fully expected her to get up and leave.

But instead, she placed her hand on Krycek’s shoulder, giving it a tentative touch between a caress and a squeeze. Thanks to the alien artifact, still unwrapped under a towel on the bedside table, Mulder could sense all her feelings: curiosity, anticipation, nascent arousal. Her lips parted in a sharp intake of breath when Krycek undid the first few buttons on her pajama top and pushed the material aside to trail his lips down her neck and along her shoulder. Scully closed her eyes and hesitantly touched the back of his head, her hand small on his broad neck.

When Krycek straightened up again, his breathing uneven, he turned to look at Mulder. He smiled a smile without guile or threat, just a happy smile of joy. He reached out and took Mulder’s hand.

* * * * *

There was no sign of that smile on Krycek’s beautiful face now; just neutral, grim determination. The mask of the loyal henchman. Following him out of the house with Scully, Mulder told himself that there had to be something going on here, some plan Krycek intended to put into place. He had to believe he and Scully had not been so naive as to completely trust a man who was now going to betray them.

The man threatening Brianna had evidently been instructed to hold her hostage until Jackson was safely abducted. He led her out onto the porch to watch the proceedings and the Van De Kamps came out with him, holding each other and looking on helplessly at the men menacing their children. The other henchman opened the door to a black sedan parked behind Mulder and Scully’s rental car; he pushed Jackson into the backseat and then got in beside him. It looked for one moment as if Krycek was going to get in the driver’s seat, but instead he put his free hand in his pocket and leaned nonchalantly against the car as Cancerman walked slowly toward them.

The henchman in the car rolled down the window and frowned at Krycek. “Aren’t you getting in?”

“Yeah, no rush.”

“I’d like to thank you all for the part you played in this boy’s life,” said Cancerman, pausing halfway to the car, apparently unable to resist speechifying even in his moment of victory. “I might even get him to send you a letter when he’s settled into his new life with the other hybrids.”

Mulder moved closer to Krycek.

“You don’t have to do this, Alex,” he said.

“You’re right, I don’t,” said Krycek, fiddling with something in his pocket. He took a step toward Mulder and gave him an incongruously cheerful smile. “But maybe I want to.”

Confused by the mixed fear and determination suddenly buzzing in his mind, Mulder didn’t know how to react as Krycek suddenly pulled his hand out of his pocket and cupped his cheek.

“God, Mulder. I loved you so much, you have no idea.”

Then Krycek’s lips were against his and the astonishment and disgust of all the people around them was drowned out by tenderness and regret, the memory of intense passion and lingering affection, and a sudden, complete understanding of what was going to happen next.

“Alex—”

Mulder didn’t have time to say anything more before Krycek gave him a shove and deftly tripped him up. Mulder hit the ground with a thud, sprawling in the grass by the driveway. Scully immediately ran over to help him up, but he grabbed her arm to keep them both down on the ground. Her eyes widened with sudden comprehension when Krycek barked at Jackson to hit the floor and shot the henchman in the car through the open window.

A second shot rang out from the porch and Krycek grunted in pain as the bullet from the other bodyguard hit him in the chest. Undeterred, he shot at the dashboard of the car, shattering the electronics. Then, apparently oblivious to the bullets now riddling his body, he turned toward the house with a murderous look and pulled Van De Kamp’s handgun out of his other pocket.

“Scully!” he shouted, throwing it at her as he continued his walk toward the porch.

He fired a well-aimed shot at the henchman’s raised gun arm, narrowly missing Brianna’s head. The henchman cried out and Brianna suddenly dropped down, pulling on his other arm. Unable to hold her up, keep the gun to her head and shook Krycek on the driveway all at the same time with an injured arm, the man let go of her and she ran into the house with her parents. The henchman took cover behind an ornate cast iron table, tipping it onto its side to serve as a shield and switching to shoot with his left hand. Krycek flinched as the man shot him again, this time straight in the heart. But the alien artifact in his pocket appeared to be working; Krycek paused only briefly before resuming his advance, shooting as he went.

Meanwhile, Cancerman had run to the other side of the car; Mulder saw him glance in at the broken dashboard and then give Krycek a look of grim admiration.

“Looks like you’re stuck here with us,” said Mulder as Scully helped him up. They went to join him by the car. “Guess you should have known better than to trust Krycek. Slow learner, aren’t you?”

Cancerman looked toward the house. “Well, it seems that problem is solved, at least.”

Following his gaze, Mulder realized that Krycek’s gun battle with the remaining henchman was finished. The Van De Kamps, now armed, had come out of the house again and were laying out the man’s corpse on the porch. Krycek was lying in the grass by the porch steps, though he was still moving; Mulder hoped the aging artifact would be enough to heal Krycek’s wounds.

“I knew he was lying about the girl,” said Cancerman sourly. “I saw her messages on the hybrids forum. All about the mother who gave up everything to protect her and her devoted father visiting her from beyond the grave. He has a photograph of her in his bag. I naively imagined he would bargain her freedom for his loyalty. Still, never mind. We’ll be rounding up the hybrids in Europe soon enough. And for now, I have what I wanted.”

He opened the car door and pulled Jackson out. The boy looked pale and sick, his eyes unfocussed and confused as he struggled to move; no doubt the effect of Cancerman’s experimental alloy. Cancerman led him to Mulder and Scully’s car parked in front of the sedan.

“I assume this is yours. Hand me your keys, please.”

“We’re not letting you go,” said Scully, aiming Van De Kamp’s gun at his head and flicking off the safety. “Not this time.”

“Oh, I think you will.” Cancerman glanced at the boy. “You may have given birth to him and nurtured him for a few months, but this boy is a stranger to you both. Mulder ran away and you gave him up.” He smiled. “Ironic to think that Marita Covarrubias and Alex Krycek were more devoted parents in the end.”

Scully moved closer, gun raised. Mulder considered getting his own gun, but it was in the sedan under the henchman’s corpse. Also, he wasn’t feeling too good.

“Why don’t you just let the boy go?” asked Cancerman as if it was the most natural request. “He will be king of the new world, father to the new human race. I made you that offer once, don’t you remember, Fox?”

“Yeah, well, I decided I’d look dumb in a crown.” Mulder shook his head. “If the boy is nothing to us, we have no reason to give you the keys. You’re not going to kill him.”

“No, but I will kill you.”

Cancerman pulled out a device from his pocket and flicked a switch on it. Mulder felt an overwhelming tiredness come over him, his muscles turning to jello and pain flooding his senses. He fell to his knees and struggled to remain conscious. Cancerman chuckled, perhaps at Scully’s dismay, and stepped closer.

“Put the gun down, my dear, give me the keys, and let this boy I created fulfill the destiny I created him for.”

“No,” said Scully with determination. “This stops here.”

His mind fogged with pain and exhaustion, Mulder watched as she raised the gun and shot Cancerman in the face. His prosthetic mask fell off and his body crumpled to the ground, the last expression on his disfigured features one of surprise, as if he had never expected one of his victims to fight back.

As soon as he was down, Scully ran over to the body and pulled the strip of metal out of his pocket. She threw it away as far as she could and then flicked the switch on the device. Mulder instantly felt better than he had for weeks. They stared at each other for a moment, across Cancerman’s lifeless corpse, stunned by disbelief that it could all be that simple.

“I don’t think your friend’s doing too good,” said Jackson awkwardly after a pause.

Mulder pulled himself slowly to his feet; the disease seemed to have abated thanks to the device, but it sadly hadn’t made him any younger. When he approached Krycek, he was shocked at how pale he was, lying in a pool of blood on the grass. Scully ordered Mr. Van De Kamp to watch over Cancerman’s body—perhaps fearing he might vanish again—and crouched down to examine Krycek. Even if he hadn’t been able to sense her feelings thanks to the artifact, Mulder would have known by the look on her face that it wasn’t good news. Krycek was still alive, but just barely.

He smiled when Mulder kneeled beside him.

“Hey, handsome,” he said in a raspy voice. He looked at the clouds in the blue sky above. Mulder could feel his calm acceptance of what was happening. “Better view than last time.”

“Yeah.” Mulder looked down at his blood-soaked shirt. “You have the alien artifact. Why isn’t it working?”

“Told you it’s worn off. You going to be okay now?”

“Yeah. Turns out Cancerman had a device to switch the illness off. They should try perfecting that for other diseases.”

Krycek smiled, but his breathing was labored. “Tell—Tell her—”

“I will.”

“Tell her I died years ago.”

His eyes fluttered shut, though his breath continued to rasp. Mulder looked up at the others; Mr. Van De Kamp was by the car, guarding Cancerman’s body, but everyone else was gathered around Krycek, their concern and empathy flooding Mulder’s mind.

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” asked Mulder in despair.

“He’s taken five bullets to the chest,” said Scully. “And one has pierced his heart. The only reason he’s alive is because the artifact is repairing some of the damage. I could try to remove the bullets but I have no surgical instruments and we’re at least an hour away from the nearest hospital. If I operate on him with what we’ve got, I’ll only do more damage.”

“Jack, you could do it!” exclaimed Brianna. “You can get the bullets out and heal him. You’ve done it before.”

Jackson shook his head as all eyes turned to him. “I—I can’t, Bri. He isn’t some shot garter snake I can just fix up. I wouldn’t even know how to get them all out without making more damage.”

Scully stared at him in wonder for a moment, as if lost in some memory. But then she refocused and smiled at him.

“Maybe you don’t yet. But I do.”

Chapter Text

OUR LADY OF SORROWS
ONE WEEK LATER

Mulder nudged the hospital door ajar to check if now was a good time to come in. He was greeted by the sound of music playing quietly from a tinny phone speaker; the room’s occupant was definitely awake.

Morality would frown upon
Decency look down upon
The scapegoat fate’s made of me
But I promise now, my judge and jurors
My intentions couldn’t have been purer
My case is easy to see

Krycek was lying amid a sea of tubes and sensors, staring at the opposite wall. He smiled weakly when he noticed Mulder standing in the doorway and turned off the music.

“Hi,” said Mulder, coming in. “Sorry I couldn’t come as soon as they transferred you. We’ve been busy since Reyes led us up to Cancerman’s hideout.”

Krycek nodded tiredly. “Figured you might be. Monica told me she’d been saving up a pile of stuff for the day of the big reveal. Gotta be a lot to look through.”

“It’s a shame she didn’t come to us sooner,” said Mulder bitterly. “Might have saved a few lives.”

“Yeah. I don’t think she really believed he was going to go through with it until he did.” He chuckled at Mulder’s dubious expression. “I’ve been there, remember. Each time, you tell yourself it isn’t that bad, you’re going to bring it all down from the inside, someday. But later, because right now, you’re safe from what he’s doing and you can do whatever the hell you want and it’s great. You wouldn’t have done the same in her place because you’re a fucking saint. But I think a lot of people would.” He grinned. “I hope she hooked up with that receptionist in the end.”

“The Irish one from the motel?” Mulder shook his head. “She didn’t say.”

Krycek frowned. “So is Morley really dead this time?”

“Yes.” Mulder sat on the visitors’ chair. “Scully conducted the autopsy herself. Found some evidence he’d been tinkering with his own DNA but nothing unexpected. We incinerated the body and made sure the ashes didn’t contain anything that might come back to life. I think that might finally be over.”

“And what about the kids?”

“His little breeding farm wasn’t far from his tobacco plantation down near Spartanburg. We stormed the compound a few days ago and the kids are being returned to their families.”

“That’s great,” said Krycek with enthusiasm. “A happy ending.”

He plucked at the hospital blanket for a moment before speaking again.

“So what happened with me? Last I remembered, I was lying in the grass with a great view of the sky. Figured that was a better way to die than last time. And then this. For a moment, I thought I was back in the lab when I woke up. Though I’m pretty sure Dr. Webber didn’t have one of those in her lab.” He pointed at the crucifix on the wall and shook his head. “It kinda freaked me out when I woke up. Thought maybe this was an afterlife and I’d been backing the wrong imaginary friend all these years.”

Mulder followed his gaze and wondered if they could ask to have the crucifix removed. Then again, he pictured the scary lady in charge of this ward and decided it might be best not to ask.

“Scully got you transferred to her old hospital as soon as you were stable enough,” he explained. “She said it was touch and go at the hospital in Casper. Jackson isn’t a healer like Jeremiah Smith, but he can apparently use his telekinetic powers to move things inside the human body and, I don’t know, fuse cells together or something. You still lost a lot of blood after the shootout and went into cardiac arrest a couple times while they moved you to the hospital. Jackson said he detected something ‘off’ about your heart which he thinks he fixed. He couldn’t explain what he’d done but you started getting better after that, so we brought you here. Scully is going to monitor you once you’re out.”

“That’s good,” said Krycek neutrally. “Guess she can check me out when I’m in prison. Maybe bring me a cake with a file in it too.”

“Well, actually, I think we’re going to let you go.” Mulder smiled at Krycek’s surprised expression. “We told Skinner we have you to thank for defeating Cancerman. It was a dumb plan, but it worked. And Scully argued your fifteen years in the lab were punishment enough for your past crimes. Skinner usually listens to her, so I don’t think he’ll have you arrested. It’s not like you’re in the system anyway. You’ll still have to tell us everything you know. Really everything this time. But once you’re out of here, you’ll be a free man.”

“A free man, huh?” Krycek chuckled. “Cool. Maybe I can become a masked avenger or something.”

“Or maybe you could go see your daughter.” Mulder shook his head, still wrapping his head around the idea of Krycek being a father. “Why the hell didn’t you tell us about Mila?”

“I was scared you’d lead Morley to her and he’d put her in his little breeding farm,” said Krycek wearily. “And to be honest, at first, I wasn’t even sure she was real.”

* * * * *

Marita was brushing her hair in front of a mirror. The cat sitting beside her on the dresser looked up at Alex and hissed. Marita rolled her eyes.

“Now what are you seeing, you dumb animal?” she said, absentmindedly scratching the cat’s head.

Looking more closely, Alex recognized the cat; it was Tallulah, the tortoiseshell he’d adopted when he was in the FBI. Marita placed her hand on her abdomen.

“Ugh, now the baby’s having a fit too.”

Intrigued by this interlude in the pain that had been his existence since as long as he could remember, Alex moved closer. The cat, now apparently recognizing him, stood and raised her head toward his hand. He instinctively placed his fingers between her ears but felt nothing. The cat arched her back and leaned into his touch.

None of this made sense. He was sure he’d been in pain. He was sure he had died. Parking garage. Skinner with a gun pointed at him. Mulder’s handsome face looking on with indifference. Then nothing until brief snatches of semi-consciousness. Some kind of hell, maybe, except he’d never believed in that. But now he was watching Marita and scratching his cat’s head with his hand. His left hand. The vision faded before he could make sense of it and the nightmare began again.

* * * * *

“Oh, ow,” said Marita through gritted teeth. “Oh, God. I hate you, Alex.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m sure he’s real cut up about that where he is,” said Edith without sympathy. “Don’t forget this was your idea. The clinic was all lined up but you chickened out.”

“He said he’d help. The hell he did. Should have known,” muttered Marita.

The women seemed to be in a wood cabin. Disoriented by the sudden shift of perspective, translucent green liquid and white lab coats fading away as the vision grew sharper, Alex stared at Marita’s half-naked form and struggled to get his bearings.

Marita grabbed Edith’s shirt.

“If it’s an alien, kill it,” she said urgently.

“Sure.” Edith showed her a large kitchen knife. “I told you, I used to butcher the chickens on my first husband’s farm. I got this. Now push.”

“Like I have a choice. Oh, Christ!”

Alex struggled to resist as the vision started to fade. He wanted to know if it was an alien. If he’d worked with Rohrer and Goldman for nothing, protecting a monster. His consciousness faded, dragging him back to pain and darkness. But after a moment, or maybe an hour, the vision cleared again and he was back in the cabin. The baby finally came out after a lengthy, bloody process that made Alex wonder how the hell the human race had ever multiplied the way it did.

“Oh, look, it’s a girl,” said Edith with a rare look of affection on her wrinkled features. “She looks just like him too.”

“Fantastic,” muttered Marita sarcastically, though she held the baby to her chest and gave a weak smile.

The baby gazed at Alex with blurry eyes. He leaned down for a closer look.

“Hey, sweetie.”

* * * * *

“She looked so sick. I couldn’t get in touch with you and I didn’t know what to do!”

As if to prove Edith’s point, the baby sat in her cot and gave a pathetic cough. Her nostrils were oozing some kind of greenish yellow snot. She looked at Alex and pointed, but the women ignored her.

“He said it’s just a bad cold and babies often look worse than they are,” continued Edith, following Marita around the room as she put things into a bag. “I didn’t give him her real name. I told him Mila was my great-niece. He won’t know there’s anything special about her.”

“I can’t take the chance. The FBI found me. They made me testify at some kind of trial for Fox Mulder! It’s only a matter of time before they find her too.”

Alex was getting used to these visions now. They’d become more frequent recently, giving him a connected narrative that convinced him he was seeing reality as it unfolded. A reality that he could sometimes even control, like the door that saved Mulder from Rohrer.

“But they let you go,” he said, though unlike Mulder, the women couldn’t hear him. “I told Mulder to let you go. They don’t know about her, you’ll be fine.”

Marita continued to pack Mila’s clothes and toys into the bag. “Mulder and Scully had to give up their son for adoption to hide him from the Consortium doctors and all the crazies who were after him. I can’t leave her here!”

“But you can’t take her,” protested Edith desperately as Marita picked Mila up out of the cot. “Please! She’s all I have left of him!”

“And she’s all I have left!” countered Marita, protectively clutching the baby.

“Okay,” said Edith with a sniff. “Okay. Let me give you some money. He left more than enough for me and the cat. My sister lives in Brussels. You go see her. I’ll tell her you’re dealing with a messy divorce and need some help setting up. They won’t find you there, right?”

“I’ll make damn sure they don’t,” vowed Marita.

* * * * *

Alex watched the little girl scribbling on a piece of paper. She was lying on her front on the floor, feet up and swinging in a lazy rhythm. He saw her sometimes, though never for long; disjointed patches of clarity in a never-ending night, like tuning an old TV set and getting snatches of images amid the snowy interference.

This time, though, the vision sharpened into clear focus until Alex felt consciously present in the room, as if he were really standing on the floorboards and looking down at the child. Marita was in the bathroom, talking on the phone, the urgency of her tone communicating the despair his half-forgotten French struggled to glean from the words. The apartment was tiny, little more than a bedroom with a kitchen in a corner and a bathroom in a cupboard. She was unable to pay the rent this month, begging for an extension until she could get her paperwork sorted and earn a living again.

Qui t’es, toi ?“ asked Mila, noticing Alex towering above her.

“I’m Alex,” he replied, unwilling to try out his rusty French even as a dead man. He crouched beside her. “You can see me.”

“You speak like Mommy,” said Mila with delight.

Looking at the door to the bathroom, Alex made a sudden decision. “Do you know numbers? How to write numbers?”

“Yes. Un, deux, crois, quat’,” she said happily, mispronouncing them in her little voice. She wrote the numbers correctly on her drawing, though, so he took a chance.

“I know numbers I want you to write down. They’re going to give your Mommy enough money to get things sorted out, okay?”

Alex began to dictate the number for his Swiss bank account. Years ago, he’d accidentally given Mulder the Englishman’s phone number by writing it down, so he had taught himself mnemonics to carry information in his head where others wouldn’t find it. He was surprised how easily the bank details came back to him. Mila wrote the numbers, but it was slow going; she kept getting distracted and wanting to talk about other things, and the numbers were so misaligned that Alex worried Marita would never understand them. In frustration, he took Mila’s hand and guided it.

“Mila, what are you doing?” Marita was standing in the doorway to the bathroom with a worried look on her face.

“I’m writing numbers to give you money!” said the girl brightly.

Looking down at the paper as he guided her hand to write the name of the bank, Alex realized that the handwriting no longer looked like Mila’s. It had become smaller and neater.

“Oh my God,” murmured Marita. She picked up the paper and looked around the room. “Alex?”

* * * * *

Mila was dancing in her pajamas in front of the mirror in her bedroom. She had a towel wrapped around her waist and green pantyhose on her head which she had adorned with hair clips. One of her toys was hovering beside her, as if held up by invisible string. She stopped dancing and stared at Alex through the mirror. The toy dropped to the floor.

“Hi,” he said, disoriented by the change of setting. He glanced at his left arm, confused to see it attached when he was certain the last thing he remembered was a surgical saw removing it. Or maybe that had been a nightmare and this was reality. He didn’t know anymore.

The room was clearly Mila’s bedroom, the walls papered with multi-colored unicorns and a mountain of soft toys on the bed and nightstand. A satchel backpack on the floor bore the inscription MILA MAKEMBESE.

“You’re not real,” said Mila warily.

“No, I guess I’m not. But I was just thinking about you.” He thought he had been, but he wasn’t sure. Nothing made sense anymore. He pointed at the green pantyhose. “I like your hair.”

“It’s my long hair I’m going to have when I grow up,” said Mila, pulling up one of the legs to show him the hair clips decorating it.

Edith was right; she did look like him. Like his father, like his brother. Another little piece of Krajiček pulled up from the gene pool.

She turned her head toward the door as a baby started crying. “That’s my brother Christophe.”

Alex could feel the pull away from her, dragging him back to darkness. “Well, nice to meet you again, sweetie.”

* * * * *

The room was still the same, faded unicorns gamboling on the walls. But now, the bed was bereft of soft toys, save one cartoonish horse with black and purple hair. There was a tube of lipstick and a box of tampons on the bedside table.

Mila lay on the bed, her long legs sprawled across the duvet. She was holding a flat electronic device—maybe some updated version of a Gameboy—and loud music blasted from a little speaker on her desk.

And everyone in line in the bathroom
Trying to get a line in the bathroom
We all so turnt up here
Getting turnt up yeah yeah yeah

Alex wondered if the song was referring to drugs, and if that was suitable music for a girl her age. Mila, meanwhile, was staring at him suspiciously. She put the device down.

“You’re back,” she said. “It’s been a while. I thought maybe I couldn’t see you anymore or something.”

“Adults usually can’t,” said Alex, forming the words with difficulty.

He remembered a baby smiling at him when he saw Majid celebrating Eid-el-Fitr with his family years ago. He felt a distant pang of sorrow at the thought of Majid, like an echo of the feelings he’d had when he was alive.

“Are you actually dead?” asked Mila with curiosity. “A ghost? Olivier—that’s my stepdad—says people have souls, so I guess if they do, then yours is trapped or something. But then you’d think with all the humans who have ever died on Earth, there would be a lot of ghosts around. And I might be all Sixth Sense about stuff, but you’re the only one I’ve ever seen.”

Alex struggled to make sense of her words, as if the years had made him unused to human communication.

“You’re beautiful,” he said finally. “So grown up.”

Mila frowned at him, irritated that he’d interrupted her musings about ghosts. But then her expression softened.

“Mom told me about you. Who you are.” She smiled shyly. “Says I look like you.”

Alex wanted to tell her to mind her mother, that even though they’d hated each other, they both loved her, and other things that drifted through his shattered thoughts like grains of sand in the wind. But the vision was fading already and Alex was too weak to fight it.

* * * * *

“That was the last time I saw her,” concluded Krycek. “When I woke up for real, it all seemed like a dream. At least until you said you’d seen me and I realized that meant I’d really seen her too.”

“You were lucky. That’s more than we ever knew about William’s life,” said Mulder wistfully.

“But you’ve got him back now, right?”

“Well, it’s not like we’re going to play Happy Families. He’s going to keep on living with his family in Wyoming.” Mulder smiled weakly. “But we’ll stay in touch.”

“Yeah, I guess you can’t really make up for lost time.”

Krycek stared at the crucifix for a while, lost in his thoughts. Then he seemed to bring himself back to the present and gave Mulder a tender look. Mulder braced himself for another declaration of affection like Krycek’s outburst at the Van De Kamps’.

“And what about you, Mulder?” asked Krycek softly. “You look way better than you have since I came back.”

“Yeah, I’m fine now.” Mulder gave a helpless wave of his hand. “Turned out Cancerman was controlling the disease with some kind of device. Flicked a switch and I was all better.”

“And you’re back with Scully too, I hope?”

Mulder nodded and smiled. “Yes. We’re both used to having our own space, but we’re thinking of sharing her apartment during the week. It’s closer for work. Then when we have to retire in a couple years’ time, we’ll see about spending more time in the house.”

“Got it all planned out, huh?” Krycek reached out and squeezed Mulder’s hand. “I’m happy for you both. Seriously. I think you deserve it. I remember when I— I didn’t mind being alone, but having someone was better. You know, when I was with Majid. The professor you spoke to.” Krycek paused a moment, as if lingering on the memories, then grinned widely. “And don’t worry, I don’t plan to get in between you. I mean, it was nice—”

“Yeah.”

* * * * *

Krycek was kissing him, full-mouthed and unrestrained. Like this might be the last time, and given what Scully had said about their respective state of health, maybe it was. Mulder dismissed the thought and enjoyed the moment, closing his eyes and idly running his hand down Scully’s naked back.

When Krycek suddenly pulled away, Mulder opened his eyes again. Krycek was leaning up on one elbow and watching him, waiting until he had Mulder and Scully’s full attention. Then he flashed the bright, wicked smile that Mulder remembered from Russia and moved down the bed. Mulder glanced at Scully and smiled at her open mouthed look of surprise. He drew her into a deep kiss.

* * * * *

Krycek’s voice brought Mulder back to the present.

“If I’m going to be around for longer, and a free man, I guess I need to make some plans too. My own plans.” Krycek chuckled gently, his fingers still loosely intertwined with Mulder’s. “Didn’t think I’d need to make any plans. Thought it would be all over, right there under the sky. It’s not like I can walk in on my family and friends and be like ‘Hi, sorry you thought I was dead all this time, but I’m baaaack.’ They’ve moved on with their lives.”

“Well, your boyfriend knows you’re alive,” blurted out Mulder. “I—I kind of told him. Mila too. So you won’t have to explain that bit to either of them,” he added a little sheepishly.

“You told them—” Krycek let go of Mulder’s hand and rolled his eyes. “Great. So now if I don’t go see them, they’re going to think I’m avoiding them.”

“You don’t want to see them?”

Krycek didn’t answer, but he looked thoughtful and Mulder was pretty sure he knew the answer.

“Maybe—” he started.

He interrupted himself when Scully came to join them. She was carrying her laptop and looked as if she’d hurried to get there from the office where Mulder had left her talking to her former boss.

“Um, Krycek. I have a call for you on my laptop.”

“A call?” Krycek took the laptop. “Oh.”

Leaning over to take a look, Mulder glimpsed Marita’s face on the screen. She had put on weight as she aged. Her hair was tinted a pale shade of blonde and Mulder wondered if, like Scully, her hair had gone grey after the illness that followed the removal of her chip.

“Well, I can safely say I never thought I’d see you again,” she said coldly when she saw Krycek.

“Yeah.” Krycek paused and then shook his head. “Christ, I’m so sorry.”

“And so you should be,” snapped Marita; though whatever Krycek was apologizing for, it seemed to mollify her a little. She sighed. “Do you want to speak with her?”

Krycek shook his head. “No. No, I don’t think she—”

“Well, tough. She’s right here and she wants to speak to you.”

Marita moved out of shot to reveal the girl Mulder and Scully had spoken to when they were at the Van De Kamps. Krycek stared at her for a moment, visibly overcome by emotion. Scully tugged at Mulder’s sleeve and they left the room just as Krycek found his voice.

“Hey, sweetie.”

* * * * *

“Happy endings all around,” said Mulder as he and Scully waited in the corridor.

“I suppose he deserves it. He suffered a great deal at the hands of Dr. Webber and I think he might be sincere about turning over a new leaf.”

Mulder chuckled. “He said he might become a masked avenger.” He schooled his features into an innocent look. “We could invite him over sometime if he stays in the area.”

Scully gave him an enigmatic smile. “Maybe. Our maybe he’ll want to live his own life without us.” She looked through the window in the door. “Oh, I think he’s done.”

“Short conversation,” said Mulder as they returned to the room.

“Yeah, she had to go to school.” Krycek frowned as he handed back the laptop. “You reckon I could get a passport to go to Europe?”

“Maybe,” said Scully, putting her laptop back in its bag. “We’ll have to see once you’ve provided us with the information we want. But I’m sure we can arrange something.”

“You could come and stay at the house if you need somewhere to live,” offered Mulder impulsively.

Krycek gave him an amused look. “Actually, I’m thinking I might stay with Edith. You know, sort through the stuff I left at her place. Maybe do some housework. Man, that woman never cleans anything.” He grinned at Mulder but then addressed Scully. “I can always come and visit sometime. If it’s okay.”

“I think that would be fine,” said Scully gently. “But I’m afraid we have to go now. We have a meeting about pension plans with HR,” she added when Mulder looked at her with surprise.

“Oh God, I’d forgotten about the pension plans,” muttered Mulder.

Krycek laughed and gave Scully a hug when she leaned over to kiss his cheek.

“We’ll come visit another time,” she promised.

“Well, I guess I’m not going anywhere for a while.”

Krycek held his arms out to Mulder when Scully moved away. They embraced briefly and Krycek’s hand lingered on his cheek.

“Don’t let the bastards put you out to pasture yet,” he said gently.

“Yeah. Working on it.”

Krycek turned on the music again as they left the room.

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments I kept
If you go walking in my shoes

Mulder wondered if that was true. And hoped he’d never have to find out.

Chapter Text

FBI HEADQUARTERS
2000

“Ergot poisoning?” repeated Mulder.

“Yes. Ergot poisoning. Probably from something I ate. Maybe the croutons in that salad I had before you left.” Scully wasn’t looking at him, her eyes on a stack of files on the table she used as a desk. “It explains my emotional overreaction to Daniel’s heart attack, the hallucination in the Buddhist temple, the faith healer. You know. The uncharacteristic behavior.”

“Uncharacteristic behavior,” repeated Mulder with amusement. “Like wild monkey sex with a co-worker?”

Scully looked over at him, outraged, as if she’d never had wild monkey sex in her life. Mulder chuckled and opened one of the letters that had arrived that morning.

“Mulder, I don’t want you to think—” she started. When he looked over at her, she tucked a strand of short red hair behind her ear and sighed. “It’s different for you. You’re the manly stud nailing his co-worker. I’m—some tramp sleeping with her boss.”

For a split second, Mulder thought she meant Skinner, but then he frowned. “I’m not your boss!”

“It’s your name on the door! And on the desk.” She gestured at the sign. “You know, when my dad heard I was abandoning medicine for a career in the FBI, he was disappointed because he said now, I’d never marry a doctor. Like the whole reason for me to pick any career was to find a man!”

Realizing that this was going to be a Serious Relationship Talk—possibly even a Break-Up Talk—Mulder put down the letter and straightened up in his chair to give her his full attention.

“I get it,” he said. “But there have been rumors about us ever since we started working together seven years ago. We’ve both dated co-workers before. We know how it goes. We’ve got to ignore all that.”

Though he’d always taken her cue and avoided displays of affection in the office, Mulder held out his arm. She pursed her lips and hesitated, but then came over and let him pull her onto his lap.

“We’ve got a good thing going here, Scully. I don’t know about you, but I’d even say the best thing I’ve ever had going”

“Having met some of your exes, I’d have to agree,” said Scully with a twinkle of amusement in her blue eyes.

“Exactly. At least you’re not actually evil like Phoebe and Diana!”

And Krycek, came the unbidden thought. God, Krycek. He’d almost forgotten. A vivid memory of bright eyes and warm lips in crisp winter air. What the hell had he been thinking?

“And I don’t have a cursed tattoo,” he added, earning himself a poke in the side.

“What’s that?” she asked, noticing the letter in front of him.

“They’ve finished making the movie. We’re invited to the première.”

“Oh, man. I’m not sure I want to see it.”

“Trip to Hollywood, all expenses paid.” He kissed her cheek, pleased that she didn’t pull away. “Nobody could accuse us of working…”

Scully laughed. Mulder hugged her close and rested his chin on her head. “Don’t worry about us, Scully. You’ll see, we’ll be investigating the X-files together until we’re old and gray.”

* * * * *

2018

“You look thoughtful, Mulder. Bit late for second thoughts.”

He tucked a strand of strawberry blonde hair behind her ear, careful not to dislodge the cream-colored fascinator that stood in for a veil.

“Thinking about us,” he said. “How we’ve ended up growing old together after all.”

“Speak for yourself,” she said with a bright smile. “I plan to stay young forever.”

“I could live with that,” he said, nodding gravely. “Always wanted to be an old man with a hot young wife.”

Scully laughed and then schooled her features into a welcoming smile as another group of people approached them across the lawn.

“Oh, Ellen, I’m sorry I didn’t have time to talk to you at the church. How good of you to come. Hi, Trent. And it’s a pleasure to see you again, Lucy. You know, I remember your husband when he was your son’s age. They look so alike!”

Mulder smiled politely and greeted Scully’s friend Ellen and her descendants: Scully’s godson, a young man Mulder only remembered as a small boy, and his wife and son. He looked out across the small crowd clustered around the house as the women engaged in a lengthy conversation.

Most of the guests were work colleagues or friends met through their work. Mrs. Sandeep, Scully’s nurse from Our Lady of Sorrows, had come wearing a brightly-colored sari and was talking to Mrs. Al-Zahawi, herself adorned with an ornate lace-trimmed headscarf; their respective husbands, dressed in far less remarkable Western suits, were making small talk with Dr. Ramachandran from Georgetown Hospital by the buffet.

Skinner was talking to Bill Scully, maybe discussing politics, judging by the passion he was displaying. Scully’s other brother, Charlie, whom Mulder had only met once before, at Maggie Scully’s funeral, seemed to have found some common interest with Mr. Van De Kamp; they were observing the field opposite the house, one or the other occasionally making a sweeping gesture as if speculating about yields or crops or whatever a field might inspire them to talk about. Charlie’s husband, a slim young man with a shy disposition, was standing by them looking bored.

To the side of the house, Dr. Webber and Jeffrey Spender were engaged in conversation; Jeffrey’s appearance and health had improved dramatically over the last couple of years, maybe as a result of Sonia’s experiments on Krycek. Nearby, their adoptive daughter Charlotte, the clone of Samantha as a child, was playing with Daggoo and laughing silently at the dog’s antics. Mulder had introduced Sonia to others as his sister; few of the guests remembered the quest that had once consumed his life, and simply accepted her as his relative. In a way, he felt as though he had regained a small part of his childhood family, albeit through a clone who only stored his sister’s memories without having actually experienced them.

Further away, Brianna and Jackson were watching Rachel toddle uncertainly across the grass, following her to make sure she didn’t fall and hurt herself. Mrs. Van De Kamp had kindly taken over the catering for Mulder and Scully’s post-wedding celebration; she had enlisted the help of Bill’s wife Tara, and the two women were busy keeping the outdoor buffet well-stocked with food they had cooked or reheated in the kitchen. Scully had been very relieved to accept their help and the women seemed to be enjoying the task.

As his eyes drifted back to the front of the house, Mulder noticed a new car parking behind the line on their access road. He raised his hand and smiled as the group came to join him.

“Hey, sorry we’re late. Forgot about the traffic,” said Krycek with a wide grin. “Hi, Scully. Congratulations.”

“I’m so glad you could make it, Alex,” said Scully, leaning up to accept his kiss on the cheek.

Krycek placed his hand on the shoulder of the shorter man beside him. “Uh, this is Majid. You know. My partner.”

“Mr. Mulder, Ms. Scully, I am pleased to meet you in person and I offer you my congratulations on the joyous occasion of your marriage,” said Professor Ben Salem with the careful enunciation of someone unused to speaking English.

“He always speaks like that,” said Krycek. He exchanged an amused look with Ben Salem; this was clearly an old joke between them.

To Mulder’s mild disappointment, the professor looked even more like George Clooney in the flesh. He had adopted a dandy style that reminded Mulder of a modern-day Quentin Crisp, wearing a suit with a colored scarf and a fedora. With his neatly trimmed grey beard, he looked handsome and proudly gay.

“And I guess you know my daughter Mila too,” continued Krycek.

Mila gave Mulder and Scully a polite smile and a shy greeting. Her dark hair had one streak each of purple and pink, and she was dressed entirely in black, except for a purple crocheted cardigan that was her only concession to the occasion. Though her eyes were circled with far too much dark makeup, Mulder could see that they were green like her father’s.

After some small talk about their voyage from Europe, Ben Salem said something to Mila in French which brightened her bored expression, and the two of them took leave with a vague gesture toward the buffet.

“She looks like you,” commented Scully.

“Yup. Same smartass personality too. Or so Marita says.” Krycek looked around the crowd and spotted Jackson, who was now hanging out with his girlfriend Amber by the buffet. He had left Brianna in charge of Rachel. “I see your son is here too. How are you finding things with him?”

Scully gave him a noncommittal smile. “Well, it’s been a little hard to form a relationship with him, both because we missed so much of his life and because he lives in Wyoming. But he’s stayed with us a couple times, and his parents try to include us in what’s going on in his life.”

“Mila comes to stay with us in Paris every couple of months,” said Krycek, giving his daughter a tender look. “Gives her mom a break from having three kids in the house.”

Mulder remembered something Jackson said recently. “I don’t know if Mila does this too,” he said, “but Jackson experiences strange visions sometimes. He told me the other day that there’s a parallel universe where the plague never happened but Donald Trump became President of the United States.”

“Donald Trump, huh? He used to play golf with the Englishman.” Krycek grinned. “No, Mila doesn’t have visions like that. Just telekinesis and a touch of telepathy, which is all freaky enough without parallel universes as well. I think we’ve got enough to worry about in this universe. Anyway, I’ll have to thank your son later. I never did last time. But I guess I owe him my life and my health.”

“Yes, you do look well,” said Scully, looking Krycek over.

Mulder had to agree with her. Krycek looked older, as if the years he had lost to the lab were starting to catch up with him. His dark hair and the partial goatee that made him look like one of the Three Musketeers were both threaded with silver. But he was slim and tanned; his new life seemed to be suiting him.

“No more problems with your heart, I take it?” asked Scully.

Krycek gave a little shrug. “Nothing serious. Majid insisted I get it checked out when I moved to Paris. Cardiologist is monitoring me, but no problems so far. Inshallah, as Majid would say!”

“Speaking of which, how was Mecca?” asked Mulder, remembering one of Krycek’s recent messages.

Krycek grinned, uncovering his bright white teeth. “Crazy. In a good way. We threw stones at the Devil to cleanse our sins, paid someone to slaughter a goat for us. Didn’t get struck by divine wrath for being sinful sodomites. Or arrested by the Saudi authorities. It was a good trip. Here, I have a couple pictures.”

He pulled out his phone and showed them a picture of himself and Majid in front of an elaborate mosque. They were both wrapped in white sheets and had shaved their heads and beards. Scully pointed at the tattoo on Krycek’s left arm on the picture; thin Arabic writing curling around his biceps.

“That’s new,” she said.

“It’s a verse from the Qur’an. About how unjustified killing is bad, but saving lives is good.” Krycek gave a little shrug and pocketed the phone. “I still think about the kids at El Rico sometimes. But my therapist has been great and working with Islamic Relief really makes me feel useful. You know, protecting the aid workers, organising the logistics, making sure the accounts are in order for financial audits, that kind of stuff. We’re doing some really good work. Saving lives.”

“Oh, so you are the Mirror Universe Krycek,” said Mulder, pointing at his goatee.

Krycek laughed. “Yeah. I’m not the man I used to be.”

“And a man of faith, too,” commented Scully.

“Well, no. I still don’t believe there’s anything supernatural governing our lives,” said Krycek. “But it feels good to be part of something larger than myself. In Mecca, we were there with people from all around the world, united with this purpose of experiencing the Hajj. People from Malaysia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa. A couple from Pensacola took that picture of us. So it was good.” He grinned. “Mind you, I felt kind of like that at the Depeche Mode concert we went to in Paris too.”

Scully smiled. “Well, I’m glad— Oh. Sorry. Rachel. No!”

Mulder turned to see what was happening but it didn’t look life-threatening. At least, he didn’t think there were any poisonous snails in Virginia. Scully extracted the snail from Rachel’s mouth and carried her back to the group.

“Sorry. We’re going through a phase of eating anything we can get our hands on.”

Krycek leaned down to smile at Rachel in Scully’s arms. “Hey, sweetie. How are you doing?”

Rachel scowled at him and rubbed her eyes. Scully adjusted her position and gave him an apologetic smile.

“She’s very tired and doesn’t like her flower girl dress,” she explained. “I’d better put her down for a nap before we have a tantrum. I’ll see you later, Alex.”

Krycek smiled and gave Rachel a little wave as Scully headed for the house. Then he turned to look at Mulder.

“Morley’s parting gift?” he asked.

“No idea,” said Mulder. “We’re just going to accept that she’s another miracle and get on with our lives.”

“Just accepting something without investigating it to death? You must be getting old,” said Krycek with a chuckle. He looked around the small crowd. Skinner was looking in their direction, his expression somber. “It’s going to be an interesting evening. People who killed me, people who tortured me—” He turned away from Skinner and Webber, and gave Mulder a suggestive grin. “And, well, people who did some other stuff with me. All feels like a long time ago. And now here we all are together, celebrating your wedding.”

“Well, you know. Love brings people together and all that.”

They were interrupted when Ben Salem came back to join them. Mulder noted that his plate of food included cocktail sausages. Krycek’s entire attention immediately switched to his lover. After a brief interlude of small talk, Mulder watched them walk off together. Scully came to join him, holding the baby monitor.

“They look happy,” she commented.

Mulder looked down at her. “Maybe it’s contagious.”

* * * * *

1994

“You ever think about having kids, Mulder?” asked Krycek.

They were stuck in traffic on Constitution Ave., barely two blocks from the Hoover Building. At this rate, it was going to take forever to get to the airport and reach San Diego.

Mulder was driving but he gave Krycek a curious look. “Kids? What brought this on, your girlfriend complaining about her biological clock?”

He had decided to roll with Krycek’s frequent mentions of a girlfriend, even though he suspected this nameless person didn’t actually exist.

“No. Baby sister talking about going to college.” Krycek shrugged. “I’m a lot older than her. I remember when she was born. Just thinking it must be weird when you have kids and they grow up. You got any brothers and sisters?”

“No.” Mulder let a long pause go by, then decided to come clean on the greatest tragedy of his life. “I had a little sister too. She was abducted by aliens when I was twelve.”

“By aliens?”

“There was a bright light and she levitated out of the room. I’m guessing it was aliens,” he said tensely, bracing himself for ridicule.

Krycek looked at him for a moment. “Could have been people using alien technology,” he said finally. “Tough break, though.”

“I’m sure I’ll see her again someday. That’s all I want.” He inched forward in the gridlocked traffic and glanced at Krycek. “What about you, you want kids?”

He was unprepared for the look of sadness on Krycek’s face. “Maybe. Nearly did once, but, well, we decided it wasn’t the right time. My parents divorced when I was a kid. I guess I don’t know what I’d be like if I did have kids.” He smiled wryly. “Families are complicated.”

Mulder thought about his parents, divorced and miserable, and how messed up his relationships with Phoebe and Diana had been. He couldn’t imagine ever rising above his family history to become a good father.

“Tell me about it,” he said with feeling.

* * * * *

And now look at me, he thought, rocking Rachel gently in the early evening sunshine. Krycek was talking to Sonia and Jeffrey by the buffet; it seemed to be a surprisingly cordial conversation, considering their mutual past. Jackson and his girlfriend Amber were sitting on the back porch a short distance from Mulder’s rocking chair, both engrossed in their phones, though Jackson was holding Amber’s hand. Mila was lounging on one of the garden chairs, similarly occupied with her own little window into the shared virtual world that was rapidly consuming modern humanity.

As he watched, Mulder saw Krycek check the time and say goodbye to Sonia and Jeffrey. He went over to where Ben Salem was talking to Mrs. Al-Zahawi and casually wrapped his arms around his lover from behind, briefly joining their conversation before pulling Ben Salem away. He glanced at Mila, then said something that made Ben Salem laugh, and took out his phone. A moment later, Mila looked up from her phone and scowled at him, the facial expression so familiar that it made Mulder smile.

Sensing that they were preparing to leave, Mulder hefted himself and his sleepy daughter off the rocking chair and came down to join them.

“Are you leaving?” asked Scully, coming over too.

“Yes, time for us to head off,” said Krycek apologetically. “We have a flight to Seattle in the morning. We’re going to meet the rest of the family over there. I told them I was in jail,” he added. “It’s taken a while to work up the courage to actually see them again.”

“It will all go well,” said Ben Salem, giving Krycek’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

Scully smiled. “I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you and meet your lovely daughter.”

A slightly less scowly expression appeared on Mila’s face and Mulder thought she might indeed look lovely someday if she dropped the goth look.

"Thank you all so much for coming," continued Scully.

She smiled at Mila and Ben Salem, then embraced Krycek briefly. Rachel reached for her and Scully took her out of Mulder’s arms.

Stepping back from Scully, Krycek appraised Mulder for a moment, as if searching his face for something. A trace of the handsome young man he’d once loved, maybe, or committing to memory the image of a distant friend now only known as strings of characters on an electronic screen. Then casually, without making a big show of it, he kissed Mulder lightly on the lips.

“Goodbye, Mulder.”

Mulder smiled. “Have a good life, Krycek.”

He put his arm around Scully and held Rachel’s warm little hand. They watched as Krycek and his family drove off in the light of the setting sun.