torch, February 1999

A little thing intended to make Te happy. Do not archive this story without permission.

Begin again

"I liked the blue one better," Krycek said, studying himself in one of the mirrors.

Scully stopped trying to smooth those last three hairs into place, and turned around in time to say "No" in unison with both Mulder and Skinner. Skinner was leaning back in his chair, looking amused; Mulder didn't even look up from his notes.

"Great," Krycek muttered. She couldn't tell if he was serious or just complaining for the sake of it. It had taken the three of them to persuade him into first trying on and then buying the sober grey suit. Not to mention getting a haircut. Even after that, he'd periodically mumbled something about turning up in jeans and t-shirt and what was the big deal, anyway.

"Give it up, Mulder," Skinner said, twitching the papers away from under Mulder's nose. "It's not as if any of us are going to forget the facts."

"I just want to make sure that we get everything in the right order." Mulder looked forlornly after his papers as Skinner stuffed them into his briefcase. Then he took his glasses off and slid them into the breast pocket of his grey suit. "This is an important moment."

"You're nervous," Scully said with a little relief in her voice. "I thought it was just me." Her hand went to her hair again, and she forced it back down to her side. Without looking in a mirror she was sure to just make things worse.

"I'm not," Mulder instantly denied, stretching his legs out in front of him, crossing and recrossing them. Scully's eyebrow lifted and the corner of her mouth twitched. Watching him fidget made her more comfortable. It was so normal.

"How about you, Krycek?" Skinner asked. "You got your own collection of butterflies?"

"No." Krycek had turned away from the mirror and was wearing his blankest, blandest face. "What's to be nervous of? They ask questions, I answer. It'll be just like the last two years."

"Only without the car chases and the explosions," Mulder said. "I hope."

Skinner frowned. "You're not going to claim you were only a source of information for us during those two years?" That made Mulder sit up and take notice. "You worked with us. We all worked together."

"Well, eventually we did," Scully said. She, too, eyed Krycek sharply. "It's too late to pretend you don't know us. Wear your suit and be a hero." Krycek scowled at her. She scowled back. Two years of learning to trust this man rather than hate him — he wasn't going to get away with distancing himself from them now.

The door to the dressing room opened with something that might have been a knock, and a tousled head looked inside. "Two minutes," it announced and vanished again.

Mulder made an abortive gesture towards briefcase and papers, then took a deep breath and stood up. "Let's get out there," he said.

Scully nodded. She and Skinner herded Krycek between them, and they went out to explain the decline and fall of the alien takeover to the TV cameras.

* * *

"Oh, God," she sighed, leaning back against the elevator wall. "We did it." Her stomach rumbled faintly; she hadn't been able to touch any of the myriad snacks provided either before or after they went on the air. Mulder was grinning, giddy, expounding to a tolerantly listening Skinner on some theory about changes in the patterns of migrating birds and how this related to TV and radio signals. Krycek looked shellshocked. She socked his arm gently. "You still there?"

"Yeah." An attempt at a smile faded again. He'd handled the whole thing well, she thought, except when he'd been asked what he was going to do now that this was all over. Of course none of them had really been able to answer that question.

They came down into the parking garage and paused. Even Mulder fell quiet. Then Skinner said, "I booked a table for four at Lila's. I think we deserve a good dinner."

Scully wanted to hug him. They all piled into Skinner's car and drove off. In the passenger seat in front, Scully played with the radio, finding something cheerful. It took them forty-five minutes to get to the restaurant, where they were met by warm smiles and seated at a very good table. Looking warily around the room, Scully found that everyone was, in fact, not staring at them. Probably not more than, oh, half the guests were giving them their undivided attention.

Picking up a menu, she decided to ignore them all, and instead talked Krycek into sharing a bottle of wine with her.

"I want to write a book," Mulder said eventually, when he'd run out of birds.

"That's not a bad idea," Skinner said. "It would give people deeper insight into this than any of the newspaper articles have been able to do."

"Oh, I don't want to write a book about this." His sweeping gesture managed to include the food as it arrived, but that was probably by accident. "I want to write a book about all the other X-files that people still don't believe in. I mean, let's face it, my credibility will never be better than it is right now."

Krycek rolled his eyes and raised his wineglass. "A toast to absent friends," he murmured, "in which, of course, I include Mulder..."

"Who is on his own planet," Skinner agreed, but with a smile.

Scully just shook her head and laughed. The food was wonderful, the wine warmed her, and as the evening continued she felt herself unfolding into a frighteningly serene happiness. Things that had gone wrong in the past and things that would no doubt go wrong in the future couldn't touch her.

"I want to go on vacation," she said. The others all paused in what they were doing and looked at her. "I do. Somewhere," she thought about it, "warm and quiet."

"Away from all this?" Mulder said teasingly.

"Some of it." It wouldn't be the same without the three of them, but she doubted she could take all of them with her. They wouldn't fit in her suitcase. She didn't have enough suntan lotion.

Over dessert, Skinner finally opened his mouth and said, "I want to travel, too." Maybe it was humor gleaming in his eyes or just the candles reflecting in his glasses. "We saved the world, might as well get a good look at it."

"What about you, Krycek," Scully asked, as the interviewer had done, "what do you want to do?"

And now as then he said, quietly, "I don't know."

Mulder was folding his napkin into neat squares. She'd never seen him do that before. He put it down by his plate, put his hands on the table and said, "It's time for me to go home." His voice didn't change as he went on, "Alex, do you want to come with me?"

Krycek looked up, and Scully realized the candles weren't bright at all. "Yes." Finally. They got up slowly, walked out slowly, a full foot of air sparking with electricity between them.

When they'd left she turned to Skinner, who was still staring after them, holding a raised fork with a bite of carrot cake on it. "Did it really surprise you that much?"

"No." Skinner put the fork down. "More."

She wanted to laugh. Instead she said, "Let's get some more coffee. Where exactly did you want to travel?" And he looked at her and smiled.

* * *

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