torch 1997

Disclaimer: Most of the characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions; the ones you don't recognize belong to me, and so does this story. This is a work of speculative fiction, and no copyright infringement is intended.

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Ghosts I: I know where I'm going

"You're an accident waiting to happen
You're a piece of glass left there on the beach
Well you tell me things I know you're not supposed to
Then you leave me just out of reach" — U2, Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

It's a cold night. I can feel it trying to get in through the single glass pane of the window I'm leaning against, the chill sinking into my muscles, making them stiff and slow. It doesn't matter any more. In a way I welcome it, the way it makes me feel numb, the way its little, awkward, clumsy pains distract me from all the higher levels of thought I should be operating on.

It doesn't matter, because my reflexes are already shot to hell. I keep catching myself off-balance, and not just because of this sudden loss of symmetry. The ridiculous truth that lost limbs hurt has already been proven to me, over and over.

And it's not just my arm.

It should be a simple matter to retrain myself, to compensate. To reclaim my body. It used to be so purely me, the whole of my self, my consciousness extending to the edges of my skin and to the very limit of my senses. The I that acted and the I that thought were the same. I was one.

Now I'm not sure who the hell I am. Something has changed. Oh, that's so obvious, isn't it. 'Something has changed' — yeah, you got your arm cut off, didn't you notice?

Yes. I noticed. But it's more than that; much, much more. It's my mind that needs to be retrained, not my body. I feel as though I need to learn all my old thought patterns over again. I've been warped out of shape like a vinyl record accidentally left leaning against a radiator, twisted out of my self by the sheer heat of him.

Makes me wonder if he has the same effect on other people.

I don't want to think like this now. I don't need to think like this now; I have the rest of my life to plan, the next few days, the next few seconds. If I don't play the game of staying alive, no one else is going to play it for me, that's for sure. And look at this room, this overdone, faux-genteel, second-rate place with its gruesome elegance and dusty corners. This is no place to die — well, not for me. The wall paper is disgusting, it looks like one of Mulder's ties. Death by bad taste and not even a view of the Nevskij Prospekt to make up for it. I don't think so.

The arm they gave me is lying on the table. It's ugly, it's cheap, and as prostheses go, it doesn't work very well. Not that that should come as a surprise to anyone. This is Russia. I expect it fell off the back of a medical truck when someone happened to be passing. It adds a certain horror movie air to the scene: any minute now it will leap at my throat. What an X-file that would be.

It's not that I don't love this country; you can get away with murder here, and I frequently have. But it's not always the best place to be, depending on what you need. And I need—

I have things to deal with. Matters that need to be seen to. An organization to deceive. Well, several, actually. Places to go, people to kill, all that jazz. What I need is to come out of this damnable coma state and start acting again. There are lots of things more important than a certain FBI agent's pouty lower lip. Or the fact that he hates me. I already knew that. I knew it long before it all started. I knew he was trouble, I knew I shouldn't even try to bring him in. I knew.

Yeah, where were those sensible thoughts when I joined the imbecilic militia, when I started fiddling with my best bomb recipes, when I crept away to send receipts to a certain basement office? My mistake to think he would be grateful. I sigh, run my hand through my hair. An idiot, that's what I am. I've wasted time, done things the most complicated way, and now I've had to waste Peskow too, and if there's one thing I don't like it's killing an assassin. Difficult as all hell, for one thing. And it does tend to draw people's attention.

But he kept asking me why he hadn't been allowed to touch the two FBI agents. Kept asking in a way that told me that pretty soon he'd be asking the people he believes to be our mutual superiors, not me. And I can't afford any more questions like that; people are suspicious enough as it is. It's a tough life; lose your arm in the service of your country, more or less, and people still look at you like they think you're going to pinch the silver.

I know I don't exactly have an ideal track record. But it would be convenient if people would trust me once in a while.

Maybe I should have let Peskow pick Scully off, at least. But no, if there's one thing I know, it's that I don't ever want it to be possible for Mulder to find out that I was behind anything happening to Scully. He'd probably cut me up for fish food. And the worst part is, I might let him.

Now Peskow's lying over by the wall, staining the paper, not that that makes it any worse. Half my mind is figuring out what to do with him, the other half is wondering about what he said. Peskow was an unimaginative type, not the kind of guy who'd make things up for the fun of it, especially not with his dying breath. At least I don't think so. He may have had unplumbed depths of malice and cruelty.

Because he laughed at me, right before he died, a bloody bubbling breathless kind of laugh, and told me he knew the truth about Leyden Creek. Maybe it was some kind of twisted revenge, a deathbed curse. But how did he even know enough to speak of Leyden Creek?

This apartment will just have to go, I decide. It's been convenient enough, but since Peskow is gone, his apartment can go with him. I'm tired, but not so tired that I can't start a fire. There's plenty of flammable material here. I set things up as quickly as I can, then leave.

Outside in the street, I pause. I can see the flames through the windows and they're spreading fast. I sigh. What the hell. Let's keep the damage to a minimum. Drawing a deep breath, I yell "FIRE!" and just before I take off down the street I see people come running out.

I spend the rest of the night walking around, trying to decide what to do. There are so many matters that need to be taken care of, but only two things stand out in my mind. One of them is Leyden Creek. The other... ah, the other. My mind is thick with obsession. I wonder if this is what it feels like to be him. To be so driven, not by necessity, but by the irrational and absurd.

One thing drew me, now two things draw me, in roughly the same direction. I think it's time for me to take a discreet detour. Without telling anyone. I figure as long as I know what I'm up to, no one else has to; in fact, I would prefer that they didn't.

So I make my way to the airport towards dawn, ignoring the faint nagging voice in the back of my mind that tells me this is another bad idea. I have all the papers I need, and all the money I need as well. What with one thing and another, I never got around to paying Peskow. It's surprisingly easy to get on the Stockholm plane. I sleep most of the way; once I get there I spend a few dreary hours walking around the airport wishing for a decent shop and sneering at the souvenirs. Maybe I should take Mulder a stuffed moose.

On a plane I'm always someone else. It's protective coloring, I become whoever I have to be, the name on the passport, this non-existent person who is traveling from point a to point b on some peaceful inoffensive business of his own. Don't look at me. Don't notice me. I'm cute, I'm fluffy, I'm harmless.

It would work better if I didn't have such a weakness for leather jackets, I guess. At least I don't have to wear a suit any more. I hated that, especially those suits. I know I was supposed to look like an impressionable young thing for Mulder to take under his wing, but really.

I'm watching the guy next to me out of the corner of my eye; he's typing self-importantly on a laptop that means a lot to him. I'd like to get my hand on a computer. A modem. Toss a few messages out, stir things up a bit. I smile, surprised at myself; maybe I'm waking up again. Maybe I've stopped losing my mind.

Then I remember where the plane is taking me. Right. No doubt about it.

I've gone completely crazy.

In its own way, that thought is reassuring. Once you're crazy, that's it; you've stopped falling. There is something soothingly final about having let go of everything that used to hold your life together, all the everyday sensible things, the codes that rule our lives. I'm fully aware that mine might be different from nearly everyone else's aboard this plane, but at least I used to have some; my life had structure, it made a certain kind of sense. It was a practical allocation of resources.

Not any more. I'm in the grip of something else, something that has no sharp edges, something that's wrapped me up in its fuzzy embrace and refuses to let me go. Madness is a nice name for it.

I sleep for the rest of the flight, dreaming strange dreams of warmth. Something that soothes the chill out of my soul.

We land on schedule. I know I'm not thinking clearly when I get off the plane. I know it, but I can't actually do anything about it; it's like having a fever that no amount of rational thought will bring down, provided one were capable of rational thought in the first place.

But when did I not know how to get through an airport? I can do it on autopilot. Not even that thought manages to jolt me out of my driven daze. When was the last time I did anything on autopilot? Reflexes shot to hell, indeed. I'll blame it on jet lag, on post-traumatic stress, on the weather, on the devil, on anything, really, except what it is.

And my heart starts to beat faster at the thought. It won't be long now.

I pay the cab driver, enter the building. I know perfectly well where I'm going. Here's the door, and I pause for a moment to laugh a little, silently, at the number on it. Wonder if everyone else does that, too. Then I knock, and wait. If he's not here I'll just have to wait longer. Nevertheless the sound of footsteps, the sound of the door being opened, takes me completely by surprise.

Just a crack, the door opens just a crack and he's there in the shadows. It's not so dark that I can't see his face. Not so dark and then he steps forward a little and the light falls on him, and everything finally clicks into place like a weapon locking on to its target and I am here, wholly and fully here, alive again. I smile innocently at him. "Hi."

And surprise, there's a gun pointing at me. "Go to hell," he says. His voice. That voice. "We had so much fun last time you want an encore, is that it?"

"What did you do to me," I say, not really asking, because I can't figure it out. I want to lean against him, melt against him, break like a wave against the solid rock core of him that's remained unyielding through pain and obsession and heartbreak. More than I, he was built to last. "What did you do to me?"

He watches me, turning more bewildered than angry, gun still in his hand. "Nothing," he says. "I didn't...." I slump against the wall and the jacket slips off, and there's a small still moment of shock, his face suddenly quiet. "They got you?" he asks.

"What does it look like?"

"I wasn't responsible for that," he says, trying to sound hard and failing, and I'd laugh if I could, truly, I would.

"I know that," I say, "forget that, it isn't important," and my lost hand stings in reproach. Not important, that I am no longer whole? Oh, but that's not the loss that pains me most. I look up at him. "Can I come in?"

Now his face turns blank with another kind of shock. "Come in?"

"Yeah. You know. Come inside. Sit in a chair. Talk. You could offer me a beer, maybe."

His eyes narrow. "Something has happened to you. Did you take a blow to the head? Or was it a full frontal lobotomy? I'm the last person in the world who's likely to offer you a beer, you murdering son of a bitch."

I shake my head. "No, that's Scully. You're somewhere in the top five, though. Okay, forget about the beer then. But a chair?" Slowly I straighten up again; I'm moving through treacle here, can't he see that I'm no threat? Everything in me, all that I am comes undone at the sight of him.

The wariness is still there as he stands aside and motions for me to step in through the door. It's only common sense; he probably doesn't want the neighbors to find him in the hallway waving a gun at a man in a leather jacket. That kind of thing is liable to give people funny ideas. Out of a leather jacket, now; I bend and pick it up. He's looking at the place where my arm used to be and the disbelief is plain on his face. Yeah, I know the feeling, Mulder. Trust me, I know.

But you don't, do you, you trust no one. I walk inside. "The same lovely ambience as always. Grunge went out of style, Mulder." He looks as though he's about to hit me. And I know he packs quite a punch. "If I can't have a beer, how about some Kool-Aid?"

"What the hell are you doing here?!" he bursts out, kicking the door shut behind me and pointing the gun at me again as though believing it will actually have an effect. "Talk, Krycek." I'm half expecting him to slam me up against the wall again; it seems to be his favorite method of communication lately.

You might not think it to look at me, but I bruise very easily.

"I'm paying a visit," I say, turning my back on the gun, on him, walking into the living room. It's almost completely dark, lit only by the glow of the computer screen. "I see you're still too cheap to buy new light bulbs."

That does the trick. He grabs hold of my arm roughly and spins me around. He's reckoned without my changed center of gravity, and so have I, for that matter; I stagger sideways and then I just let myself fall when he lets go. I end up lying on the floor at his feet; it takes about three seconds before I start to laugh.

And once I've started I can't stop. I lie there and I laugh and laugh until my stomach hurts and I can barely suck in air. In some strange way, it clears my head a little.

"I could just shoot him," he says as if to himself. "At least that would shut him up."

"S-sorry," I offer, my voice unsteady. "It was just — never mind." On reflection, I think I'd better not explain it. Instead my curiosity makes me ask, "Why don't you shoot me?"

He shrugs. "I want to hear what you have to say for yourself first. Once you're dead, well—"

"On ne meurt qu'un fois, et c'est pour si longtemps," I agree. He gives me a strange look. "You really want to kill me, though." Another chuckle, but it doesn't turn into a full-blown attack this time. The strange look he just gave me is nothing to the one he's giving me now.

"Are you trying to talk me into something, Krycek? Because it just might work."

"I know," I say, and I do. But I've seen my death in his eyes before, and it's not there now. He looks off-balance. I can relate to that. Slowly, I roll up into a sitting position. "You're not hitting me, either. I barely recognize you. What happened, did Miss Manners give you a few pointers on how to treat guests?"

"You're not a guest," he says. "What do you want?" His voice still has an edge to it. I could listen to it forever. It's adorable when he tries to sound tough, like a pitbull puppy dreaming of greater things. "You said you thought I did something to you."

"Oh, I know you did," I say. "I'm here, aren't I?" Another funny look. He's just specializing in funny looks tonight. I shrug. "It's complicated."

"We have all night." I can't quite suppress my grin at that, and he takes an involuntary step backwards. Then his jaw sets. "Talk."

I'm not quite sure where to start. "Can I have a beer?"

"No, you can't have a fucking beer!" he bursts out. Anger brings him closer again. He's looming over me, gun still firmly in hand. I just can't be afraid of him. Even though this night may end up with him killing me, fear isn't part of the equation. And what the hell, it would certainly be the most personal death of all the ones I have to choose from, the one that meant the most to someone.

Who knows, it might even make him happy for five minutes.

"Okay, okay," I say, "forget about the beer. Never mind the beer. I don't want a beer. Are you happy? Does that make you happy?" And a moment later, "What does make you happy, Mulder?"

He stares at me for three seconds, give or take a heartbeat, and then he goes to the couch and sits down and stares some more. Finally he says, "Is it just me, or have you completely lost whatever questionable sanity you once possessed? Or are you on drugs?"

"It's you," I say. "It's definitely you. Hey, I know what this looks like. I can't believe we've spent ten minutes together and you haven't hit me or asked me an offensive question."

"What happened to your arm?"

"Ah, now I know it's you and not an alien clone. My arm? It got cut off by those guys in the woods, what did you think happened?" I shrug, and look at him. That's a mistake. It's the eyes, that's what it is. Those terribly, terribly gentle eyes. I can't stand it. "I see you got lucky."

He looks at his own two hands. "Yeah." A ghost of a smile, barely visible in the dark, "I guess I lied about the hook." I don't say anything; he knows I don't know what he's talking about. Then he looks up abruptly as though I'd spoken. "I told Scully once that when I was a kid I wanted a pegleg, or a hook instead of a hand. You going to get a hook, Krycek?"

"I might," I say. "I could wear it on Sundays."

And then he's off the couch and right in front of me in one smooth movement, grabbing me by the collar of my shirt and dragging me up into a standing position. I let him do it. He's so close now I can feel the heat coming off him, more than just the heat of his body, the burning intensity of him, the flame inside that makes him who he is.

"What the hell are you doing here? What do you want?" he asks again, quietly. I open my mouth and he twists my collar tighter. "Tell me you want a beer again and you're losing another body part."

"That's really crass," I say, wishing my voice were a little steadier. "I can't believe you said anything as tactless as that."

For a moment he actually looks guilty, and then he looks mad enough at me for making him feel guilty to slam me into another wall. I guess I'm lucky we're in the middle of the room. I guess. Then again, I want him to, I want the wall at my back and him pressing into me and asking me questions, his face so close, it doesn't matter what he says, what I say. I'd deal with the bruises, for that.

That's the name of my madness. Yes. My madness has a name, and its name is Fox Mulder. And I know I'm in trouble when the voice in my mind takes on such a Biblical flavor. For a moment I flash on the memory of his body on top of mine, and then oblivion.

"I don't have to be polite to the man who killed my father."

"Did Miss Manners tell you that, too?" He shifts his grip on my collar and his fingers brush across my throat. Suddenly it's hard to breathe, and it has nothing to do with the collar twisting even tighter. Can't he feel it, feel the sparks fly? There's nothing in his face to indicate that he does, but then again, I think this subject could probably distract him from his own imminent death. The only thing that works better is mentioning Samantha.

"If you're here to try to cut some kind of deal, it's not going to work," he says, to my surprise.

"I told you, I'm just here to see you."

"Don't get cute with me." Now there's disgust in his face. "I know you're after something. You want another night on Skinner's balcony?"

"Not really," I say, "unless the weather improves." Thinking warm thoughts did not help all that much. Although even then my thoughts about him were quite heated. "I'd prefer to stay here." I reach up to twist his fingers loose and all at once he presses the gun against my neck. "You don't have to do that, Mulder."

"Do what?" he asks, not shifting his hands.

"Point that thing at me." Great, now I have Christine Lavin singing in my head. If I have another laughing fit he probably will shoot me. I look at his face, at his eyes, and that sobers me as nothing else. Of course it gets me drunk as nothing else, too. I can feel it again, that slow insidious pull. I want to fall into him, drown myself in him.

I don't know how much time has passed when I realize I'm still staring at him and he's still staring at me, and I want him so badly I think I'm going to die. He holds a gun to my head and all I can think of is how much I want to kiss him. No, I haven't quite been myself lately, why do you ask? I know I'm shifting forward; I seem to have no control over my muscles any more.

Abruptly he steps away, lowers the gun. He looks at me, seems about to say something, changes his mind. Finally he says, "All right, damn it," and leaves the room. I blink. He just walked out and left me alone here? Come to think of it, he hasn't even checked if I have a weapon.

I do, of course. I may be insane, but I'm not stupid. Standing there in the middle of the room I watch the annoying screen saver; Captain Hook has been chased by the crocodile three times by the time he returns. I guess the Fates knew I was coming. Damn those ladies, anyway; they've had it in for me my whole life.

He holds something out to me. It's a beer can. There's another one in his hand. He hasn't hit me, he's offering me a beer — I'm not the only one who's lost it, apparently. "Why aren't you trying to kill me?" I ask. "Or at least beating me up for some obscure piece of information?"

"I'm trying to be subtle," he says. "I'll get you drunk and you'll tell me everything."

"I hate to tell you, but one can of Miller Lite isn't going to do the trick." I look at the beer can, then at him, and I swear he almost blushes. He takes it from me, opens it, hands it back. Smiling a little, I drink. American beer. The things we do for—

"Why are you here?" he asks abruptly, as if hoping the shock will make me choke on the beer and die.

Lowering the beer can, I lick a stray drop of this revolting beverage off my lower lip and say, "It's just a friendly visit, Mulder. Two buddies hanging out and drinking beer together." I almost say we can go shoot some pool or watch a porn movie, but I'm pushing my luck as it is. And my luck has never been particularly good when he is around.

He looks at me, takes a swig from his own beer can, looks at me again. "Tell me where your loyalties lie, Krycek. I thought you were on your own, trying to get back at Cancerman. What the hell was that business in Tunguska all about? Are you really a Russian agent?" It sounds sweet, almost a little naive.

I wonder what he thinks it means. Does he think 'Russian agent' is something like 'FBI agent', an identity that includes a certain pattern of behavior, adherence (more or less) to a certain set of rules? If he ever watches the news, he should know better. I like the word agent, though. Agent provocateur. Agent of change. I like to think of myself as an agent in the chemical sense of the word, causing reactions wherever I go.

He's still watching me, waiting. And I wonder what, exactly, he is waiting for. Will anything I say make a difference? What I say and what he hears may be two very different things. It's part of his charm, I suppose.

Trust no one.

I want to believe.

These two seemingly contradictory rules operate simultaneously and at full force inside him. It's a wonder the stress isn't tearing him apart.

So does it matter what I decide to tell him? I'm sure he has an opinion already. Sure, he wants to believe, but I know damn well he doesn't trust me. Only sensible, of course.

Anyway, neither 'yes' nor 'no' seems appropriate, and the longer I look at him, the less it seems to matter. "What do you think?" I ask, surprised by how husky my voice sounds.

He shakes his head slowly. "I don't believe you are." His eyes harden. "I don't think you're capable of that kind of loyalty to anyone. Or anything."

"What you think doesn't always correspond to reality, Mulder," I say. "Don't think emotionally, think logically. You think I'd have the time, with my background, to be a Russian agent as well?"

He lifts an eyebrow. "Your background? For all I know you were pulled out of a cloning vat the day before I met you."

That makes me smile. It always reassures me to hear that he isn't quite as gullible as I sometimes fear he is. I drink some more beer. "You didn't put any drugs in this stuff, did you?"

"I'd've been tempted if I had any truth serum at home," he says. Then he suddenly looks appalled. I can guess what's happened inside that convoluted mind of his: he remembered who I am, who we are, that he is standing here very nearly enjoying himself, fencing verbally with the man he believes killed his father. Fox Mulder has hit me, left me handcuffed on a balcony, dragged me across three continents, forced me to help him break into a place everyone on the inside would give half their remaining life to get out of, knocked me out in the back of a truck, landed me in a place where I got my arm cut off and abandoned me there. But God forbid he should actually talkto me.

"Maybe I'm here for revenge," I say softly. "For this," and I gesture at the left side of my body.

"I told you I wasn't responsible for that," he says, but he sounds a little uneasy, a little defensive.

"You didn't hold the knife. But I would never even have been there if it hadn't been for you."

There is a moment of tense silence and then he grabs me again, fingers digging into my shoulders. He's so angry I think he's forgotten that he has a gun; nothing but physical contact will do. I'm not about to argue. "What about the things you've done to me? What about Scully? What about my father, you rat bastard?" he hisses. "Revenge? You think you suffered?"

I've dropped the beer can and it's fizzing at our feet, soaking my shoes. "Having your arm amputated without anesthetic is pretty painful, so yeah, I think I suffered," I hiss back at him. "And I'm sorry about your father." Damn, I didn't mean to say that. He's getting to me.

He always did.

His eyes are wild. "You expect me to believe that?"

"I don't expect you to believe fucking anything, Mulder." I manage to take a deep breath. "Except your carpet's going to look ugly with a beer stain." And if you don't stop looking at me like that, I'm going to kiss you.

There is another silent moment, and then, to my complete and utter surprise, the hand digging into my left shoulder moves down and brushes lightly across the scars, through my shirt. "I'm sorry," he says.

I draw breath for a quick comeback, but unaccountably it catches in my throat. I swallow hard. My eyes are burning. I'm not going to cry, I'm not, I'm not. I want to fall forward into his arms and ask him to hold me and never let me go. Instead I wrench myself away from him, turn my back, struggle to regain control. I feel dizzy.

When I've breathed for a while I turn my head and look at him out of the corner of my eye. "Can I use your phone?"

"My phone?" He watches me warily.

"Yeah. I want to call out for pizza." His face is blank. He's never heard of pizza. "Or maybe Chinese?" Still no reaction. "You like Chinese, Mulder? Or did you already have dinner tonight?"

"No," he says finally, "I didn't. You're — uh — you're hungry?"

"It's that genius IQ of yours," I say admiringly. "Amazing, the way you figure things out. Yeah, I'm hungry. All I've eaten in 36 hours is some airplane food."

"Pizza," he said. "Pepperoni."


"Extra cheese."

"You've got a date." I pick up the phone and pause trying to remember the number — what the hell has happened to my memory lately? — and he takes it away from me, dials, orders.

Then he gives me a sideways look. "Some date. You didn't even bring flowers."

"Next time," I promise him easily. This is what got to me in the first place. No one warned me, when I was planted in the X-Files. Oh, they gave me plenty of warnings. They said he was moody, mildly crazy, emotionally unbalanced, neurotic, obsessive, highly intelligent. They never mentioned his sense of humor, though, or his beautiful eyes.

Neither of which can be blamed, really, for the way I feel. There's just something about him. Where I shift with the seasons and the tides, he digs his heels in and refuses to move, even though it means pain and failure over and over again. His sense of identity is stronger than mine... oh, that should surprise you, Alexei? He's never pretended to be anyone but himself.

Now he leaves the room again, going out to the kitchen, and for lack of anything better to do I follow him. He tosses me a cloth. "Better try to mop the beer up, I guess."

"Oh. Yeah." There's something funny about how well he's taking this. I'm not so intoxicated by his presence that I've stopped wondering about the odd little details of life, and this is one. "You haven't asked me about the Tunguska experiments, either."

He's walking out of the kitchen again and passes right by me. "You want me to? All right. Who's really conducting those experiments?"

"I can't tell you." Then I sigh in resignation at the 'so surprise me some more' look he's giving me. "We're never going to have a decent conversation if you insist on playing both sides in your head. And for the last time, why aren't you trying to kill me?"

"Did you come here intending to commit suicide?"

"No. But the last time we met you were hitting me every chance you got. What's changed since then?"

"I did some reading," he says cryptically. When we get back into the living room the beer's all but soaked into the carpet but I do my best. Looking at the stain I'm suddenly reminded of Peskow's blood on the wall, his cold eyes, his words about Leyden Creek. Where the hell am I going to start? The phone rings and Mulder picks it up. "No, I wasn't watching a movie. Yes, I would have told you. I'm not ashamed of my disgusting habits, Scully."

I almost cross myself. Now there's someone who'll never be distracted no matter what I say or how fast I say it. She's lovely, of course, but I hope he won't invite her over to share the pizza. It's going to be hard enough to come up with something to convince him.

"I have company," he says in his most casual tone of voice. "Want to join us?" Whatever she's saying has him chuckling into the receiver. "I don't know where you get these ideas. Beer and pizza. No? I could get you mineral water and a salad."

Sitting back on my heels I look up at him; he looks back, unfazed, raises one eyebrow and goes right on talking to Scully. "Suit yourself. I'll tell you the details tomorrow. — Oh, I think you do want to know—"

It seems she hung up on him; he's looking at the phone with an affectionate glare. I breathe a small sigh of relief. No Scully. Good. She's necessary for Mulder's survival, but personally I like to stay a long way away from her. I get up and walk into the kitchen again, wring the cloth out and rinse it. While I'm busy doing that, he answers the door, and the apartment starts to smell of pizza. It's such an incongruously domestic scene, I almost start laughing again.

We eat in the living room. I get to sit on the couch. The other end of the couch. It's a bit complicated to handle those long strands of cheese with just one hand; a good thing Mulder isn't too tidy either. My fingers get greasy and several times I almost drop the new can of beer he gave me. I probably look like the worst klutz in the world, which is good, considering I want to be as non-threatening as possible.

He finishes before I do, but then, he has an unfair advantage — more fingers. Leaning back against the armrest, he looks at me and says, "Now tell me why you're here."

A lot of possible answers float through my mind. All of them are true, more or less. I wonder which one he'd like best, which one he's looking for; he has to have an agenda of some kind, he's acting so differently. Staring at his forehead, I wish I could see right through it. I need to know what's going on in there. He frowns at me, probably thinks I'm taking too long, that I'm sitting here making up a story. "I want you to help me," I say.

The look he gives me cuts like a laser. "There's another guy you want intercepted at the airport? Your last scheme wasn't too brilliant, was it?"

"I'm the one who took the fall." I drink some more beer. Awful. "Can we take your objections for granted and move on to the important part? You're going to go along with this anyway." Meeting his eyes squarely, facing the flare of anger there, I say, "You knew I'd say something like this, didn't you. You could have said no from the start. Or shot me. No need to buy me pizza."

His smile isn't nice. "Maybe I just wanted to play with you a bit before killing you." But the expression is all wrong for a face like his. That mouth wasn't meant to look cruel. And I'm staring again, lost in a sudden fantasy of running my tongue across his lower lip, opening his mouth with mine, kissing him, drowning in him. What a silly word obsession is, what a pale shade of this state of frantic passion.

"You don't do things like that. You're the good guy." I return the smile, very sweetly. It's interesting not knowing what will make him snap; last time we met I grew to expect blows at any moment, and I was being meek then, baring my throat, hoping that surrender was the way to go.

This time I haven't thought it through and when he starts moving, I start moving; my fingers close around his wrist before the back of his hand can hit my face. We sit like that for a moment, facing each other across an empty pizza box, the rich, heavy smell of cheese almost sickening now.

"Do you want my help?" he says quietly.

"Yeah. But I don't want to be your punching bag again, Mulder. I had a different deal in mind." I take a slow breath. "Can we go back to having a civilized conversation?"

He nods. "Yeah." Then he gives me a look. "I don't know what came over me. Normally I'd never try to beat up a cripple."

If I went ballistic every time someone insulted me I would have died at an early age. This is a new one, though; this spot so newly sensitive, I have no armor that covers it. Suddenly it hurts all over again. But I'm not going to lash out, I'm going to sit here and be reasonable if it kills me.

"I hope you'll remember that," I say coolly and release his wrist. I pause for a moment and then go on as if nothing had happened. "There's a place called Leyden Creek in southeast Virginia — you know it?" It could be a shrug, or a nod. "I need to look into a few things that happened there and I want you to help me."

Mulder's still being nasty. "Why the hell should I want to help you?"

I tilt my head and look at him. "Taken a good look at your pineal gland lately?" I can see that he knows what that means, although he tries to hide it. There's a certain look he gets, when something is bothering him and he absolutely does not want others to notice. Anyone who's been around him for a day or two gets to recognize it.

"I'm fine," he finally says, curtly.

"Sure you are," I agree. "But it's still in there. It can be triggered, did you know that, by the injection of certain—"

"Maybe I'd rather have it there than trade with you, Krycek."

I bite back a sigh at the fierce melodrama of those words. The man just does not have any common sense. "Oh, give me a break."

His eyes narrow. "Never. Not ever again." And I decide right there and then that I'm going to make him trust me again. I'm going to make him understand why I crawled under that wire after him, if it kills me.

I sigh and lean back, look at my watch. It's late. "Can you go with me to Leyden Creek? Tomorrow?"

"I have a job," he says dryly. "Tell me what happened there and I might be able to check the databases."

"No good. I know what the official lie is, Mulder. That's not what I need."

"You can go to Leyden Creek yourself," he says. "Why do you think you need me along?"

I grin at him. "You're famous for turning up where you're not supposed to be and asking dangerous questions. No one will be surprised. If I did it, I'd be taken around the corner and shot." Well, depending on who found me first. "You, on the other hand, will be perfectly safe." As safe as he's ever been.

"According to you. But if there's one thing I know, it's that I can't trust you." He uncurls and stands up, picks up the empty pizza carton and walks away. I stay where I am and listen to him rummage around in the kitchen. He'll talk himself into it if I leave him alone. What's left of the beer is stale, flat and extremely unprofitable; I put the can down on the floor, kick my shoes off and curl up in the corner of the couch.

I'm getting sleepy. There's a strange feeling stealing over me and it takes a while before I can be sure what it is. Relaxation, and more than that, security. This is the last place in the universe where anyone will think to look for me, and thus possibly the only place where I can fall asleep in the certain knowledge that I'll still be alive when I wake up.

Mulder comes back, stops and looks at me. "Wake me up when you've decided," I say.

"Don't fall asleep on my couch," he says warningly.

"Why not?" I barely manage to smother a yawn. "I have to sleep somewhere."

"But you can't stay here!" His eyes narrow. "I could always take you to Skinner's place again."

I shake my head. Yes, I have a personal agenda, yes, I need Mulder's help, yes, I'm prepared to put up with a lot for this. But if Walter 'Think warm thoughts' Skinner hits me again, I'm going to try to kill him. And that will make this whole deal fizzle out faster than a bottle of champagne dropped in the desert.

I don't tell him that. I just say, "Tie me up, beat me, shoot at me, use me as a sex slave, I don't care, just don't leave me on that damn balcony again."

"You're not exactly my first choice for a sex slave." His voice is dry but there is actually a twinkle in his eyes. He thinks I'm joking.

Too bad.

"So I'm not Pamela Anderson. Anyone ever tell you with standards like that, you'll never get laid?" I close my eyes again, rest my head against the back of the couch. Right now I'm too tired to be anyone's sex slave, to be honest. I hate jet lag.

"There are limits to how far I'll lower my expectations." He walks closer. "Get up, Krycek." I refuse to move a muscle. "Go sleep in the bedroom. I have things to do out here. I'll sleep on the couch."

So he's letting me stay. I'm careful not to smile as I force my eyes open, stretch, and get up from the couch. After a detour to the bathroom I come back again to find him in front of the computer. "How about lending me a toothbrush and a pair of pajamas?"

The look on his face is absolutely priceless and I'm about to retreat and savor it quietly before falling asleep when he actually gets up from where he's sitting, stalks past me and rummages around in cupboards and closets. I watch, speechless, until he comes back and presents me with a blue toothbrush and a pair of sweatpants. "Now shut up and go to bed. I don't want to hear anything more from you until tomorrow."

I bite my tongue in order not to say, 'yes, Daddy,' and go back to the bathroom. Brushing one's teeth is an unfairly underrated pleasure. Putting on a pair of sweatpants last worn by a man whose lower lip would drive even the Pope to masturbation is better, though. Going into the bedroom, slipping between the sheets, feels like falling into his arms. I curl up and hug the pillow close. He's letting me sleep in his bed. He'll probably burn the sheets tomorrow.

Well, I'm here, and I'm still alive, and he may be coming with me to Leyden Creek. So far, so good. I've lost my mind, on the down side, and beyond a doubt someone out there is after me for killing Peskow, in addition to all the other people who are after me for various other reasons. Talk about America's Most Wanted.

I'm lying in Fox Mulder's bed, and the sheets smell, faintly, of him.

I fall asleep.

* * *

He jerked upright out of uncertain sleep, wondering about whiplash damage. It wasn't the first time he'd nodded off in front of the computer; one time he'd woken up with his forehead pressed against the screen and a closer view of the 'Bill Gates does Windows' screen saver than anyone should have to endure. When he blinked the sand out of his eyes and pushed the sliding glasses back up again, he found that he was staring at a web page about Leyden Creek, California. Well, that was definitely the wrong place; no help there. And all he knew about the Virginia Leyden Creek was where it was.

Mulder leaned back in the chair and considered his options. He could sit up all night searching the net for information that obviously wasn't out there. He could go sleep on the couch. He could go into the bedroom and shoot Krycek. Part of him thought that that was the most appealing alternative. He tried to imagine how peaceful a world without Alex Krycek would be. What it would be like to fall asleep at night knowing that the man who had killed his father was finally dead and gone.

Okay, so he wasn't ultimately responsible. But he'd pulled the trigger, hadn't he? It was so damn tasteless of Krycek to claim to be innocent. Not to mention pathetic. The man could at least take responsibility for his actions. He wasn't just a villain, he was a lying, two-faced, cowardly, betraying, amoral little—

Taking a deep breath, Mulder straightened up again, took a sip of cold coffee and immediately regretted it. He logged off, turned the computer off and watched the blank screen instead. He wasn't going to kill Krycek in cold blood. For one thing, the annoying son of a bitch was right: Mulder knew he couldn't do a thing like that. For another, the thought of the information that might, with patience, coaxing and a spot of torture, be extracted from Krycek made his heart beat faster. He'd allowed anger to cloud his judgment last time. Now he was going to keep his temper under control at least until he had wrung every possible useful fact out of his former partner. Of course, if the process left Krycek screaming, so be it.

As to the black cancer... there it was, the thought he had been trying to avoid. Krycek was lying. Had to be. Sure, they'd put that stuff on him, but that was the vaccine, wasn't it, and he was fine, wasn't he? He'd never felt better. Leaning back in the chair, he tried to sense if there was anything amiss with his body. He could feel nothing. It had to be a bluff.

But he'd go along with it. Let Krycek think he'd succeeded at his silly attempt at blackmail; if the rat bastard was lulled into a false sense of security he might let a few things slip. And what he didn't let slip or told voluntarily Mulder would get out of him by any means at his disposal. Meanwhile, what the hell was he going to do about Krycek's demand that he should go to—

The phone rang and he banged his elbow, scrambling to pick it up. As a result he sounded even more surly than usual when he answered. "Yeah, Mulder."

"Agent Mulder, you are going out of town tomorrow morning to a place called Leyden Creek in Virginia." His mind went blank. "I received a call from—"

"What?" He still hadn't caught up, his thoughts had tripped on the words 'Leyden Creek' and had all the air knocked out of them.

"Mulder, are you listening to me?" There was annoyed impatience in Skinner's voice. "You and Agent Scully had better drive down first thing in the morning. Contact Detective Larkin, he's in charge of the case. He'll give you all the information you need."

"Sir." Mulder tried to get his brain to work again. "Wait a minute. I — Leyden Creek? What's the X-File?"

A barely audible sigh floated through the telephone wires. "Ghosts." Skinner did not sound impressed. "There's been a series of car accidents in the same place, and all the survivors claim the accidents were caused by ghosts. Larkin doesn't think so, but he'll assist you in any way he can."

Mulder frowned. "But if he doesn't, sir, how did this case come to us? And at..." He looked at his watch. "At eleven thirty at night?"

There was a moment of silence. "You had better call Agent Scully. I don't want to be the one who wakes her up. Contact me when you get down to Leyden Creek." Then Skinner hung up, and Mulder was left staring at the phone.

He spent some time cursing under his breath, considered calling back, then thought better of it. If Skinner wasn't talking, he wasn't talking, and Mulder had yet to come up with a way to persuade him. One of these days he was going to have to see if the AD was ticklish.

Ghosts? He couldn't see Alex Krycek haring all over Virginia because of some rumored ghosts. Of course this case might not have anything to do with Krycek's suggestion. Then he snorted with sudden laughter. Of course not. And pigs might fly. Where the hell had it come from, that was the question. The appearance of Krycek combined with Skinner's stubborn silence made him think conspiracy, but ghosts?

Mulder picked up the phone again and dialed, waited patiently through several rings before his partner answered. "Scully, it's me. Skinner called, he's sending us out of town on a case."

"Now?" She sounded more annoyed than alert, but then there was a moment's pause while he heard the rustling of bedclothes and tried to imagine what kind of nightgown she wore, and she went on, "Tell me about it."

"We don't have to leave till tomorrow morning," he reassured her. "We're going to Leyden Creek, it's something like a five-hour drive, if my maps are right."

"Under ideal circumstances," she said. "I can come by and pick you up. Around seven thirty?"

"I don't have a passion for rush hour traffic." Maybe it was a conspiracy to get the two of them, and Krycek, killed on I-95.

"I don't either, Mulder, but I think we'd better get there before the day is over," she said reasonably. "And it's never as bad going out of town. Now tell me about the case."

"The case? I don't know much yet. There's a Detective Larkin with the Leyden Creek PD who'll tell us the details when we get down there. Skinner said they're having trouble with ghosts that cause car accidents." There was another of those little Scully silences that spoke volumes. This time he was inclined to agree with her. "Yeah, I'm not thrilled either. But I guess we'd better look into it."

"I'll pack for a few days, then," she said, "just in case. Is there anything else I should know?"

Mulder hesitated. He could tell her that Krycek was here, that the AD's phone call wasn't the first time he'd heard the words Leyden Creek tonight. But if he did say that, she'd be here as soon as she could and neither one of them would be getting any sleep tonight. Scully wasn't going to approve of his casual approach to Krycek. It would be soon enough to spring that particular surprise on her tomorrow. By then he might actually have figured out a good way to explain what the hell he thought he was doing.

And he might have found out what Krycek's interest in Leyden Creek was, too. The more he thought about it, the less likely it sounded that he and Scully were really being sent there to chase phantoms.

"No," he finally said. "We'll have plenty of time to talk things over during the drive."

"Yes," she agreed, "we will." Then a slightly teasing note crept into her voice. "Mulder, you sound awfully grim. Did Skinner's phone call ruin your date?"

He blinked, then remembered their earlier conversation. "Nah, we'd already finished the pizza, and I never even got to first base." Then he tried to imagine what the expression on her face would be like if she knew who he was talking about — the last person in the world he'd be found necking with on the couch. Mulder thought about that. Maybe not the very last. Somewhere in the top five, though.

Hell, couldn't he even come up with his own lines any more? At least the words reminded him of Scully and he zoned in again in time to hear her say, "You can tell me the whole sorry tale tomorrow. Sleep well."

"You too," he said absently, and sat for a while with the phone still in his hand, thinking about what the morning would be like. More than slightly tense seemed to be a safe bet; Scully would not appreciate finding out that he'd kept her in the dark, if only for a few hours. Mulder sighed, and got to his feet and stretched. She was right, he should get some sleep.

In the bathroom he looked around for some sign of Krycek's presence to complain about, but found nothing. Mulder grudgingly brushed his teeth and found himself wondering how you got toothpaste onto the brush when you only had one hand. Ten minutes and a number of rather messy experiments later he scowled at himself in the mirror and turned out the light. Nothing wrong with having an inquiring mind, but this was taking things too far. Maybe he should wake Krycek up and tell him there was an old Fugitive rerun on TV.

Okay, he told himself, going into the living room again and sitting down on the couch, so it bothers me about his arm. That was perfectly normal. The idea of losing a limb was extremely disturbing to most people, and when the Russian couple had suggested it to him he'd just about hyperventilated, trying to say no fast enough. It occurred to him that Krycek was, if anything, being unnaturally calm about it, and in the face of some provocation, too.

I'm allowed to provoke him, Mulder thought, he killed my father. There was his black mood back again. He leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to relax. Had to think clearly, think things through...

He blinked awake again, wondering what he was hearing, and how much later it was. His neck ached. There it was again: a sound as soft as a whisper, and then a muffled thud. Pause. Whisper. Thud. The same sounds over and over again. Mulder slowly tensed his muscles and thought about getting up; Krycek was doing something weird in there, in his bedroom. What the hell had possessed him, letting the man sleep in his bed, lending him a toothbrush, for heaven's sake! He should have tied Krycek by the ankles and hung him out the window.

There were no footsteps to warn him: his guest moved as quietly as one of the Leyden Creek ghosts, suddenly he was just there, in the room. Shitshitshit. Mulder started to inch his hand towards his gun. He'd made a mistake, a major mistake.

Except Krycek wasn't even looking at him. The man bent his neck, straightened it again, rolled his shoulders. Then he flowed across the room in slow motion: two steps, a turn, a long stretch that wasn't quite a kick. Back again. And again. On the couch, Mulder watched between his lashes, seeing the awkwardness, the sudden fits of imbalance, the attempts to compensate. Over and over, step, turn, the languid kick, everything done at an impossibly slow pace that had Mulder's own muscles aching in empathy.

Gradually the movements grew smoother and easier and blended into each other, until Krycek did a perfectly executed kata, so well balanced that one almost did not notice it featured no left arm strikes or blocks. Then he stopped abruptly and turned his head and looked at Mulder. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"That's all right," he said inanely, and became aware that he was staring. Krycek noticed it at the same time and turned away, hiding his left side in the shadows. But that really was not necessary, neither the gesture nor the dark look in the man's eyes, any more than a classical statue needed to apologize for having lost arms or head to the ravages of time. The intrinsic grace was still there, the sheer power of expression. That would always mean more to the viewer than—

Wait a minute. Had he just made a mental comparison between Alex Krycek in sweatpants and Nike from Samothrace?

Mulder shook his head slowly. He tried to imagine a headless Krycek with wings, and started to chuckle. "Sorry," the sculpture in his living room said yet again, brusquely. "I'll go back to bed."

"Set the alarm, would you?" He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of this earlier: the best way to keep Krycek off balance was to pretend he wasn't dangerous. To treat him like a friend who was staying the night. Despite the darkness Mulder thought he could see small sparks of shock in the man's eyes. "Scully's coming at seven thirty, I have to be up and dressed."

That hadn't been shock. This was shock.

"Scully?" Pause. "Why?" It had to be nervous tension that was making Krycek's voice so husky. Either that, or he found Scully extremely attractive. Well, that was his funeral, no need for Mulder to worry about that. It was a slightly disturbing thought, though. No, more than just slightly disturbing. He found that he really did not like the idea of Alex Krycek having lecherous thoughts about Scully, and never mind that she was fully capable of ripping his balls off and feeding them to him with one hand while conducting an autopsy with the other.

Mulder only realized he was scowling when Krycek, more collected now, raised an eyebrow at him. He cleared his throat. "She's coming to pick me up. We're going out of town on a case."

"Now you tell me," Krycek muttered. "That was the phone call?" So he hadn't slept through it. "And I bet you don't know when you're coming back, either. Where are you going?"

"We're driving down to a little place called Leyden Creek," he said and had the pleasure of seeing Krycek look well and truly stunned again.

But only for a moment; then he recovered and jumped ahead: "She's not going to like having me along."

Mulder sat up and tried to smooth his hair back into some kind of order. So Krycek hadn't expected this. Not with that look of surprise. Then he immediately grew suspicious. He'd seen Krycek fake just about every single normal human emotion; nothing said this was genuine. "Who said you were coming along? Tell me what I'm looking for—"

"You know I'll follow you down anyway. It makes more sense to go together." Krycek was staying in the darkest part of the room and there was no way to get a good look at the expression on his face, but then Mulder had decided that that didn't say very much anyway.

"Scully will hate it," Mulder predicted confidently. "If you go anywhere with us she'll want you in handcuffs."

"I didn't know she was into that," Krycek said. "I thought that was just you and Skinner."

"We've warped her." Mulder swung his legs down and rose from the couch, walking over to where Krycek was skulking in the shadows. "All right, tell me what the hell is going on." There was no reply and he had a strong impulse to hit that sulky mouth, feel the lower lip split under his knuckles. Mulder reined himself in. This emotional overreaction to Krycek had been amplified by every single act of betrayal, but he should be used to it by now, should be able to think around it. Okay, so he was still rattled by the man's presence, his heart beat faster and something inside twisted this way and that, but he'd be damned if he let Krycek notice. "You're not asking me to believe that it's a coincidence we got this case tonight, are you? You show up telling me to go to Leyden Creek and hours later Skinner calls and tells me to go to Leyden Creek. What's so fucking interesting about this place?"

More silence. Just when Mulder thought he would hit Krycek, to get something, anything out of him even if it was only a squeak, the man said slowly, "I don't know why Skinner's sending you there. Didn't he say what the case was?"

"Of course he said what the—" Mulder took a deep breath. "Krycek. Tell me what you want to find out in Leyden Creek. I'm not taking another step with both you and Skinner trying to keep me in the dark."

"So you choose me to pick on," Krycek sounded almost amused.

"You're here, he isn't," Mulder pointed out. "And you're a sick, twisted, lying bastard and he isn't, so your motive's bound to be more interesting. Tell me."

There was a glint of a smile in the darkness. "All right. I don't know why you ask me questions when you're not going to believe a word I say anyway, but..." The smile vanished again and he wondered if he'd imagined it. "Two people died in Leyden Creek ten years ago. I want to find out what really happened."

The silence lengthened, until Mulder had to ask, "That's it?"

"That's it."

Mulder found himself leaning closer, trying to work out what kind of an expression was on the other man's face. He realized he'd perhaps put himself in an impossible position with this idea of trying to pick Krycek's brains for information. Since coming back from Russia he'd told himself he would never trust anything that man said ever again, but he had to believe that Krycek did have some vital knowledge and could be induced somehow to hand it over. Right now Krycek didn't seem willing to hand anything over. Mulder started to wish he hadn't agreed to this new no hitting allowed rule; well, it wasn't too late to change his mind if Krycek turned out to be really difficult.

Eventually he asked, "Who were they and what supposedly happened to them?"

"Married couple on their way home from vacation, died in a car crash," Krycek said curtly.

With a sigh, Mulder grabbed Krycek's shoulder and pushed him over to the couch and made him sit down, then sat down himself. "And if you went there and asked questions about this married couple you'd be taken around the corner and shot, right?"

"Yeah," Krycek agreed, sounding perfectly serious. He was sweaty from the workout, and in the soft light coming from the window, his skin seemed to glow. "If there really is something wrong."

"If?" Mulder blinked. Then he thought about it. "Car crash. Car crash." Skinner's words rose in his mind again. Car accidents caused by ghosts. "You think they saw a ghost?" If that wasn't an expression of genuine surprise and bewilderment, he'd give up sunflower seeds. The look shaded over into slightly belligerent suspicion. Krycek thought Mulder was making fun of him. Well, he wasn't; he'd save that for later, a treat during the long drive. "Never mind."

"Is that your case?" Well, whatever else he thought about Krycek, he had to admit that the man wasn't stupid. "Sounds like fun. I've never seen a ghost." At least not all the time.

He debated with himself what to say, how to say it. Mulder found himself full of weird conjectures and paranoia, but worst of all, curiosity. Coincidence was out of the question. This meant something, and he found himself quite eager to go down to Leyden Creek. The old familiar sensation of forces beyond his control starting to roll up their shirt-sleeves in preparation for another round was there, but he felt ready to do battle with the few weapons at his disposal.

That meant taking Krycek along. It was hard to say whether Krycek's presence was an advantage or a liability, whether Krycek was a secret weapon or a chink in his armor, but all in all, it was probably better to keep the one-armed bastard where Mulder could see him. And not let him talk to any strange men, Mulder thought and almost laughed. Then he shook his head.

Most importantly, he had to make Krycek tell him all he knew. "Why are you interested in this couple and their car accident?"

"Maybe it wasn't a car accident." Krycek sounded so serious about it, you'd think that possibility was both unique and shocking. Mulder nodded and waited for the rest of it, but Krycek was silent again. He'd been talkative enough before, even if he hadn't said anything that made sense. Maybe Scully would do a better job of worming information out of him.

Mulder sighed. It was three in the morning, and at least one of them wasn't thinking clearly. "Go back to bed," he said. "If you get up before I do, don't mess up all the clean towels. And if you decide to shoot me in the middle of the night, wake me up first so I don't miss it."

Standing up, Krycek stretched, then hitched up the sweatpants that rode dangerously low on his hips. "I've no interest in shooting you," he said, sounding for once more cordial than sulky. "Same goes there, Mulder: if I'd wanted to kill you I'd've done it already. So don't have any nightmares on my account." He walked away from the couch and vanished into the bedroom.

"Yeah, hope you sleep well too," Mulder muttered. He lay back on the couch and had time to decide that he really had to stop sleeping in his clothes, before his eyes closed.

~~ There was music in his dream, all the stars drip down like butter, and he was running fast down the slope of a hill thinking with each step now, now, now I'll break free, now I'll learn how to fly. I will.

And when the ground disappeared from under his feet he had time for a moment's utter exhilaration, before he fell. ~~

His heart was hammering wildly and he felt clammy, disgusting. What a stupid dream, he thought. It wasn't even a familiar, specific horror. Just a dream of falling, hell, everyone had those. When he sat up he found himself still dizzy and faintly sick. Maybe it was the pizza. Too much cheese could give anyone bad dreams.

Mulder put his feet on the floor, and after a few moments, stood up and stepped over next to the window. It was still possible to make out the fuzzy shape of an X on the glass pane. He didn't think he'd cleaned the windows once since he'd moved in here; it was a miracle he could still see out of them. He'd like to think that it was the presence of Alex Krycek in his apartment that made him sleep badly, but the truth was, he didn't feel particularly threatened. Just odd.

The street outside was dull to watch, no ghosts, no morphing aliens. He turned away and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. Maybe he should try to get some more sleep. Instead he went out into the kitchen and drank some water, then went to stand in the open bedroom door. He'd counted to three before he heard a sleepy voice, "I was supposed to wake you up." Krycek was watching him, eyes barely visible over the bundle of bedclothes.

"It's not exactly morning yet," he said, wondering what his own reaction time was. "I just couldn't sleep."

"Try some warm milk," Krycek said. "Or did you come here to ask for a lullaby?" He sat up, apparently wide awake now and not at all disturbed at having been dragged out of sleep. "I'm not sure I know any."

Mulder leaned against the wall and rubbed at his neck again; he felt a little stiff, something about the position he'd slept in hadn't agreed with him. "I think it's because you're the most human of the lot," he said, starting an explanation in the middle with no clear idea of how he'd gotten there. "If you weren't part of it, it would all be the cool ones, the powerful ones, the big players."

"You like me because you can hit me," Krycek said, following his thought processes with disturbing ease and sounding rather pleased about it.

"I don't like you," Mulder said coldly, straightened up and closed the door. It was either that or walk over to the bed and punch Krycek, thus proving him right. He went to the couch and threw himself down and tried to relax. It was impossible to imagine hitting Cancerman, for instance. Sure, he hated the black-lunged old devil and wanted to see him go down in flames. But he knew it would take success on a grand scale to accomplish that. With Krycek everything was more intimate, a universe where guns or fists might settle their affairs, where contact was direct and to the point — I try to kill you, you try to kill me. And he did, in some perverse way, like that.

Except that now they had established some kind of truce, and he would have to make do with words.

Mulder got up again, past wondering how many times he'd done that this night, went and got himself a blanket and kicked his shoes off on the way back to the couch. He tugged on his tie until the knot loosened and he could pull it over his head. Then he slumped down on the couch, wrapped the blanket round himself and told himself to go to sleep.

* * *

Something cold and wet fell on him and his eyes flew open. Krycek was leaning over him, about to shake his shoulder. "You're dripping on me," Mulder muttered. Krycek must have just come from the shower; his hair was wet and he was only wearing a towel. So he'd slept right through Krycek moving around in his apartment. He should get his survival reflexes checked.

"Sorry," Krycek said, not sounding the least bit sorry. "It's just past seven." Mulder sat up, scowling. "I guess I stayed longer in the shower than I thought."

Great, so he had less than half an hour to wake up and look intelligent before Scully turned up. "Get out of my way," Mulder suggested, unwilling to actually shove at a half-naked Krycek. The towel might fall off. When the man moved away he sat up and rubbed his eyes. That didn't help. "I'm taking a shower. Go see what there is for breakfast. Or did you do that while I was asleep, too?"

Krycek ignored the sarcasm. "No." He started to walk towards the kitchen. "And I didn't use all the clean towels, either." Not ignoring it, then, but being sarcastic right back. Damn him. Mulder was in a mood right now to resent anyone who was more awake than he was, which meant just about anyone who was awake.

He went into the bathroom and glared at himself in the partially steamed-up mirror. Flinging clothes this way and that, he stepped into the shower and scrubbed himself vigorously, and actually felt a lot better when he emerged again. The good mood even lasted through his shave, and he went out and got dressed and gathered a few things together for the trip. Without thinking much about it, he included jeans and a sweater, and running gear. He only paused when he couldn't find his favorite sweatpants, and remembered why.

Mulder scowled, flung everything into a bag and walked out to the kitchen. There was an unfamiliar scent in the air: Krycek was making tea. "That's probably a couple of years old," Mulder pointed out. "If you'd asked me I would've said I didn't have any tea."

"Good thing I didn't ask you, then." Krycek sipped at the tea, and made a face. "It's better than beer for breakfast. Don't you ever eat anything besides takeout?"

About to retaliate, Mulder figured he'd better check on the contents of his refrigerator. Well, there was beer. And some more beer. Half a bottle of vinegar and something dried and brown at the bottom of a jar that might have been mustard in a previous life. Some extra hot curry paste, and the remains of a loaf of bread that looked suspiciously fuzzy and green. He couldn't make even Alex Krycek eat that bread.

"If you ask Scully nicely, I'm sure she'll stop at a Seven-Eleven." Krycek made another face and went on drinking his tea. There was something different about him now... well, he was dressed, for one thing. Same jeans as last night, and a blue shirt that looked uncannily familiar. "Hey! Where do you get off wearing my clothes?!"

Krycek choked on the tea; by the time he'd stopped coughing Mulder had taken the mug out of his hand and was tapping his chest with an accusatory finger. "I needed something clean to wear," Krycek finally wheezed. "You don't want me along smelling like twenty hours of plane travel."

"But that's my shirt!" Mulder said, wondering why he felt so ridiculous saying that. It was his shirt. Then again, he'd already lent Krycek a toothbrush and let him sleep in his bed. He was on shaky ground complaining about shirts.

"You can have it back," Krycek offered and started to unbutton it. Mulder shook his head violently and thrust the tea mug back at him again, forcing him to take it and stop fiddling with the shirt buttons. He looked at the one sleeve hanging empty, and had to stop himself from touching it. God, that must have been so painful. Looking up again, he found Krycek scowling at him. "I don't want your goddamn pity, Mulder."

"Yeah, well, there isn't anything else for breakfast." They locked eyes, glaring, until there was a rattle at the door and Scully let herself in. The angry look in Krycek's eyes faded into nervousness. Good.

"Mulder?" The brisk sound of Scully's heels tapping on the floor. He'd know that walk anywhere. She came into the kitchen, probably drawn by the smell of tea, and stopped short, then pulled her gun out so fast Mulder didn't actually see her hand move. Krycek wasn't as disconcerted by this as one might expect. He was probably used to it; he raised his hand, still holding the tea mug, in a rather sarcastic gesture.

"It's okay, Scully." Mulder opened his mouth to explain some more, then realized he didn't have the faintest idea what to say. With her clear rational gaze asking him what the hell he thought he was up to, the whole idea of having a tea-drinking Alex Krycek in his kitchen seemed completely absurd. The Mad Hatter and the March Hare would have fit right in. Was he Alice? Or the Dormouse, sleeping snugly while the enemy was all about, and he was getting his literary references mixed up, too, wasn't he.

"Okay?" She kept the gun trained at Krycek. The tension didn't show in her face, but it was there in her voice. "What is he doing here?"

"Good question," Mulder admitted, then turned to Krycek. "You have a five-hour drive to explain the whole thing. It's got something to do with our case," he added to Scully. She looked at him, then at Krycek, who had gone back to drinking his tea with an expression of disinterested calm that could drive any right-thinking person to homicide, and then at Mulder again, and finally lowered her gun and jerked her head backwards. "All right."

He followed her out of the kitchen and braced himself. Scully holstered her gun but kept an eye on the kitchen door. "Mulder, that's Alex Krycek in there. Do you mind explaining to me what is going on?"

"I'm not sure," he admitted, then went on quickly before the look in her eyes turned into words, "but I think it's something important. He showed up here last night and tried to talk me into investigating something for him." She opened her mouth to speak again but he got in ahead of her, "Something that once happened in a place called Leyden Creek. Then a bit later Skinner called with this case and wouldn't tell me anything about it except where it was."

"Oh." Scully looked a little more understanding, but not any more pleased. She could see the implications as well as he could, but she was far less prone to taking risks. "Mulder, we can't take Krycek along. I don't trust him and neither do you. There's obviously more to this case than meets the eye—"

"That's why we need to take him along," Mulder interrupted her. "He's said he'll go down to Leyden Creek anyway. I'd rather keep him where I can see him. He knows something about this, Scully. Don't you have some nice dope to shoot him up with so he tells us everything?"

"No," she said sternly, then glanced towards the kitchen. "I'm going to regret this."

Mulder sighed. "You and me both, I guess. But like you said, there has to be more to this than what we've been told so far. Skinner wouldn't say anything when I pressed him. But Krycek..."

"Krycek would say anything," she said. Scully was so disturbingly good at pointing out the logical flaws in his reasoning, and she'd certainly found the weak spot here. It was the same question that he had been unable to resolve all night: could he believe in anything Krycek said?

At the same time, he had a strong feeling that they would get more out of this, and faster, if Krycek did tell all he knew. This had to be bigger and more important than it seemed on the surface; the appearance of Krycek, Skinner's midnight call... Mulder chose another argument. "Well, do you want him sneaking around behind our backs and probably getting in the way?"

"I want him in a holding cell," Scully said. Her eyes narrowed and she gave him one of her mind-reading looks. "Mulder, are you telling me the whole truth? Is it just that he's persuaded you he could be useful, or is there something else going on here?"

"Nothing," he said quickly.

But there must have been something showing in his face, in his eyes, because she went on, "I agree that Krycek could probably give us some vital information if he decided he wanted to, but you're being very — well, your attitude towards him seems to have changed. And he's wearing your shirt."

"Scully," then he caught on, "Scully, you can stop that line of thought right there." He leaned back against the wall to hide his sudden tension. She really thought he was fucking Krycek? Christ. Just went to prove that one of them didn't know the other as well as he'd always hoped. "Look, there is something else, but—"

The sound of footsteps made him break off and he turned his head to see Krycek coming out of the kitchen, putting his feet down very deliberately. Such unexpected politeness. Was the man trying hard, or was he being sarcastic again? "Sorry to interrupt your tête-a-tête," he looked from one of them to the other, "or your lovers' spat, but we have a five hour drive to hash things out. Maybe we'd better get going?"

Time to assert himself. "Let's get one thing clear, Krycek," Mulder said. "Whoever is in charge here, it is not you. It never will be you. We can go back to doing things the hard way, you know. It all depends on you."

Krycek didn't answer, and there was a look in his eyes that made Mulder feel rather grateful that he didn't. He just stood there. Scully pushed her hair back behind her ear on one side and her back seemed to straighten even more. "All right, Mulder, we'll bring him. I hope you've considered the amount of work it will take to keep him under constant surveillance. We should at least handcuff him."

"To what?" Krycek asked and Mulder had the horrible suspicion that the man was on the verge of yet another of those insane laughing fits. Scully looked bewildered as Alex Krycek obligingly held his one hand out towards her. "I guess you'd better decide who's going to drive right now."

Stepping closer, Scully ignored the outstretched hand and caught at his empty sleeve, then looked up at Krycek in her most professional manner. "Did you have an accident?"

"Yeah," he said. "I fell in with some bad company."

"You did that a long time ago, Krycek," Mulder said, unable to stop himself.

Krycek ignored him, saying to Scully, "It happened in Russia. They thought they were doing me a favor." He shrugged, and Mulder thought he might have bought that quick dismissal if he hadn't seen Krycek turning away into the shadows last night. "So you might want to reconsider the handcuff idea— Hey!"

Scully's hands were swiftly undoing shirt buttons. "Mulder told me that the local population offered to perform some very primitive surgery on him. Have you received any medical attention since this happened?" Krycek tried to stop her, but she swatted his hand aside. "If you're coming along with us, I want to at least make sure that you're not suffering from any type of post-amputation infection..."

Her voice trailed off as she pulled the shirt down from Krycek's shoulder. Mulder took a step forward. He'd never considered himself squeamish, and if he ever had been, the work he did would have burned that out of him a long time ago. But in the clear light of day, these scars were horrific enough to send a shiver down his spine. It was probably the fact that it had almost happened to him that made him react particularly strongly.

"Have you finished staring?" Krycek asked, sounding a lot more tense now.

Recovering from her shock, Scully probed the scar tissue, then held Krycek's shoulder and rolled it this way and that. "No sign of infection," she said, "which is probably a miracle considering how badly this was done. I believe you would need additional surgery in order to be comfortably fitted with a working prosthesis. It depends on how badly the remains of the joint were damaged. For approximately how long were you in pain after the anesthetic wore off?"

Krycek made a sound that no one would have taken for a laugh. "Anesthetic?" He stepped back out of Scully's reach and pulled the shirt up again and started to button it as quickly and firmly as she had unbuttoned it before. "I passed out from the pain, I don't know if that counts." When he'd finished buttoning the shirt he tucked the loose sleeve into the waist of his jeans, and faced both of them, chin ever so slightly lifted.

Before Scully could ask yet another medically-related question, Mulder decided he'd better take charge of the situation. Standing here discussing Krycek's missing arm wouldn't get them anywhere, he thought. "Let's go," he said. "We have a long drive ahead of us. And Krycek, I'm sure we can find something to cuff you to."

As he passed them both to go get his luggage, he thought he heard the faintest of whispers, "You and your bondage fetish." Mulder muttered darkly to himself as he went into the bedroom. The sweatpants were lying folded on the bed, and without thinking about it, he stuffed them into the bag before shrugging into his coat and picking everything up.

Scully and Krycek were waiting at the door, Krycek back in the black leather jacket and trying to get his hair to look tidy by the inefficient method of running his fingers through it, while Scully watched him disapprovingly. Maybe he really does have a crush on her, Mulder thought and felt himself grow as disapproving as Scully herself. Then he relaxed again. It wasn't as though Krycek had even a snowball's chance in hell of getting lucky with her. Particularly not with that stupid haircut.

They went out into the street and Scully unlocked the car. She looked thoughtfully at Krycek. "Maybe we can cuff him to the door in the back."

"I'm sure you can," Krycek said. "Look, I want to come along. I'm not going to run away." He opened a car door and got into the back seat by himself. Scully looked at Mulder; they both shrugged, and got into the car, Scully in the driver's seat. It wasn't until they'd driven for ten or fifteen minutes through the early morning traffic that the silence was broken, as Krycek said, "So how about that Seven Eleven?"

Mulder was about to tell him that he was shit out of luck, when he realized he was hungry too. "I didn't have any breakfast," he said to Scully. "Maybe we could stop somewhere and pick up coffee and a Danish. Our early start's ruined already and traffic on 95 is going to be hell anyway."

"Worse than that," Scully told him calmly. "There's been at least one accident this morning. I heard about it on the radio when I drove here. I'll stop somewhere once we're off the beltway and out of all this." Her brief gesture encompassed the greater DC area and all its traffic problems quite neatly.

Mulder nodded and settled back, trying to come to terms with the situation. He wondered if Scully was angry with him for sticking them with Krycek. Or, well, Krycek had added himself to this party, but if Mulder had said no, or arrested him, or shot him, or... Damn, he thought, I have absolutely no idea if I'm doing the right thing.

He suppressed the next thought, which sounded suspiciously like, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, period.

Silence reigned in the car as they left DC. Scully was concentrating on the traffic, which was admittedly bad, though perhaps not bad enough to deserve all her attention. In the back seat, Krycek was staring out the window, his face expressionless. Mulder could feel himself starting to fidget, made a conscious effort to stop it, and then found his fingers twitching and his foot tapping again. It was going to be five very uncomfortable hours.

There were things he needed to discuss with Scully, but he just couldn't do that with Krycek listening in the back seat, and he wanted to start pumping Krycek for information, but felt slightly constrained by Scully's presence. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. He took a deep breath and started to go over what he knew so far. Krycek wanted to investigate a couple of deaths that had occurred in Leyden Creek ten years ago. Krycek wanted Mulder to investigate because he thought if he did it himself he would get killed. But—

"So if you would get shot for poking around Leyden Creek asking questions," Mulder said, turning around to address Krycek, "why do you want to come with us there? Isn't that just as bad as going there on your own?"

"How could anything happen to me in the company of two Federal agents?" Krycek smiled a little too innocently. Then his eyes met Mulder's and he stopped smiling. "If you and Agent Scully ask the questions, no one will know who I am. You can do things the official way. I'd have to go through different channels, I guess you could say."

It was an answer that made a lot of sense, but Mulder didn't feel entirely satisfied by it. He was sure Krycek was hiding something. But then Krycek was always hiding something. He went back to his train of thought. A few hours after Krycek had arrived at Mulder's apartment, Skinner had called with a case, giving no other reason for the late phone call, and no information beyond the minimum X-file description. Why couldn't it wait till morning? Had anyone seen the files from Leyden Creek?

Could it be a coincidence? At least he felt sure he could answer that question. No, it couldn't possibly. He twisted in his seat again. "Who knows you want to look into this?"

"No one," Krycek answered immediately. Then he looked thoughtful. "At least I don't think so. The man who gave me the information is dead."

Mulder was tempted to ask what he'd died of, but instead he said, "And the person who gave him the information?"

"I don't know." There was that uncommunicative look again. But then Krycek looked at him, and at Scully, and went on, "I don't think anyone gave him any information. I think he knew because he was there. He told me he knew the truth about Leyden Creek."

"And what did you know about Leyden Creek previously?" Scully asked, speaking up for the first time. They were off the beltway now, and although her voice sounded cool she looked fairly relaxed.

"Only that there was a car accident and two people died," Krycek answered.

Scully turned her head slightly and looked at Mulder, and he could see the same thoughts running through her head that had come to him last night. Their case: ghosts that caused car accidents. Knowing Scully, she was thinking that there were no ghosts, and Krycek's involvement was just additional evidence of that.

But the accident Krycek wanted to look into had been ten years ago, and if he had understood Skinner correctly, this was a recent case. He could sit here and speculate all the way down to Leyden Creek, but he didn't think it would do much good, he needed more information. He also needed breakfast. "Scully, I think this would be a good place to stop."

She turned off, drove past the gas pumps and parked next to a battered blue pickup truck. Mulder got out of the car and waited for Krycek to get out as well. He gripped the man's arm and steered him towards the entrance while Scully locked the car. "What do I have to say," Krycek asked quietly, "to make you believe that I'm not going to run away?"

"Krycek." Mulder pushed the door open. "I have no reason to believe a single fucking thing you say, ever again. This trip isn't a vacation. You're along because you might be useful. Don't get cute."

Scully came up behind them and they all walked inside. Krycek ignored both of them and went in search of food; Mulder was about to follow him when Scully's hand on his arm stopped him. "Mulder," she said, "there's something you're not telling me." She glanced quickly at Krycek, who seemed absorbed in trying to choose between a blueberry muffin and a cheese Danish. "There is another reason, isn't there, why you agreed to take him along? Why you're being so nice to him? Why you're letting him—"

"Scully," it was a strain to keep his voice low, "how the hell can you think I would do a thing like that? I wouldn't touch Alex Krycek if he were the last primate left on earth, I—" He broke off. She was staring at him as though he'd lost his mind.

"That's not what I thought," she said, sounding a little faint. "I thought perhaps he was blackmailing you somehow. Is he?"

Mulder looked away, fixing his eyes on a display of candy bars while he tried to conquer a sudden rush of embarrassment. So he'd misinterpreted her before. Thank God for that, but how could he ever have thought that Scully would suspect him of sleeping with Krycek? He had to be going out of his mind. No sane person would even consider the idea, and Scully was extremely sane.

He had considered the idea, was the next thought. He was the one who had believed that was what she was thinking; it had to mean his sanity was slipping. Mulder took a deep, resolute breath and thought about Scully's question.

"Yeah," he finally admitted. "Well, he thinks he is. I'm not buying it," he ignored the uncertainty that gnawed at him; that would have to wait until he had time to let Scully examine him, "but he's easier to deal with this way. It's too much work to keep hitting him and dragging him around."

That actually got a smile out of her, and Mulder was so relieved to see it, he abandoned the conversation and went to get himself something to eat. Krycek was already paying for his coffee and his cheese Danish, and his blueberry muffin, and his donut, and... Mulder raised an eyebrow. Anyone who ate like that ought to resemble Jabba the Hutt. Probably just a question of time.

Back in the car again, he sipped at his coffee; it was moderately awful, but he drank it anyway. Scully had bought an apple and was munching it as she drove. The mingled smells of apple, coffee, and donuts created an agreeable atmosphere, and Mulder felt himself relax a bit. Good. He had no time to waste; there was a case to be solved.

Ghosts causing traffic accidents. God, the excitement of it. Between that and watching Alex Krycek eat donuts, he'd take the donuts any time.

But they were on their way. The sooner they got there, the sooner they could deal with this case, and Krycek would be out of his life again. He drank some more coffee. Couldn't be too soon for him.

Ghosts II: And I know who's going with me

"How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!" — Shakespeare, Sonnet no 95

"All my sins...
I said that I would pay for them if I could come back to you
All my innocence is wasted on the dead and dreaming" — Counting Crows, Angels of the Silences

The silence in the car is tense, but not unbearably so. I don't know what Mulder and Scully have been saying to each other during our brief stops, but they haven't left me behind yet, although they had a perfect opportunity to 'forget' me in the restroom back in Colonial Heights. Then again, Scully would never deliberately set me free to prey on society again (God, I can hear her say it), and Mulder is either hoping for more information out of me or worrying about his pineal gland.

Blackmail isn't nice. Useful, though. And I really don't like the idea of Mulder being a ticking black cancer bomb ready to be set off by anyone who knows the secret. He's bad enough in his natural state.

In the clear light of day, I should start being sensible, think clearly about things and leave the mad intoxication of last night behind. I have to be prepared for anything that might happen down in Leyden Creek. I know I'm heading into enemy territory and I'm going in blind. I should make plans. Instead I spend most of the ride watching the back of his neck, the line of his jaw.

He's not really beautiful, in the strictest sense of the word. That's not what it is. He's just himself, uniquely, irritatingly, irrevocably himself, and it hurts to look at him, and I can't tear my eyes away.

It feels as though my awareness of him fills up the car and makes the air a little thicker. I wonder if Scully can feel it. I wonder if he can feel it. I'm tempted to roll down the window to make sure we can all breathe. Right then Scully finds our exit, turning off the 460 with the same smooth efficiency that has taken us all the way from Washington, and as she does so she tilts her head slightly and says, "What were you planning to tell the Leyden Creek PD about him?"

He comes out of one of those Mulder-trances and says, "I don't know, his shoe size?" I can't see the look she's giving him, but it's obviously having an effect, because he goes on, "There's no reason why there shouldn't be three agents assigned to this case."

"Were you planning to pass him off as a Federal agent?" With Scully outrage is a subtle thing, and she can pack the quietest words full of meaning.

"Well, we know he can pull it off." A light comment, but his voice scorches, even worse than Scully's. I don't know what to say. I was a Federal agent, of course I can pull it off, but—

"Apart from the fact that he doesn't have a valid FBI badge, they know we're coming. Do you want this Detective Larkin to call Skinner and ask him why there's suddenly three of us?"

"Parthenogenesis," Mulder says happily with the air of someone about to do combat for a theory. I wonder why he's in such a silly mood. Scully points at a road sign that says, Leyden Creek 3 miles, and he slumps down a little like a boy who's been told he won't get a fire-breathing dragon for Christmas. "Maybe we can say that he's your boyfriend and you can't live without him."

"Not on your life," she says, and I breathe a relieved sigh. That's one charade I know for certain neither of us could keep up. And it wouldn't get me onto the sites, anyway. Scully's fingers tap the steering wheel. Then she cranes her head and catches my eye. "Can you pretend to be our psychic consultant?"

I'm relieved to see that she goes back to watching the road again as soon as she knows she has my attention. "I'm not psychic," I say. Not as far as I know, anyway.

Scully sighs. "You just have to pretend to be psychic. I'm sure that's not beyond the scope of your acting abilities."

"He looks all wrong," Mulder says critically. "No self-respecting psychic would run around looking like a refugee from the James Dean fan club. We'd have to stop somewhere and get him something nice in crushed velvet, and a bunch of crystals he can wave around." The temperature in the car is suddenly below freezing. He notices at about the same moment I do. At least he's not slow to understand. "Scully. I'm sorry."

And so am I, because I can tell she's debating which one of us she'd like to hurt first, and it's probably going to be me. Mulder may have brought up the subject, but she knows I was involved in her sister's death. One of my least favorite moments. It's strange, come to think of it, how many of my least favorite moments in life have involved these two.

Eventually she draws a slow breath and says, "We could pass him off as the last primate on earth."

That makes him chuckle, and harmony is restored. I don't get it, but then, I'm not supposed to, and it doesn't really matter. I'm just pleased that they're in a good mood; it makes all of this easier. Easier for me, and probably easier for them as well. I dig my hand into the pocket of my jacket and pull the last Hershey's kiss out of the bag. Any minute now, we'll be there. I find myself watching the road intently, wondering, was it here, down that slope, against that tree, where did it happen?

I've never been here before. Never felt I needed to go.

"Scully," Mulder drawls, "if you see any ghosts, drive straight through 'em." She smiles, and I catch her eyes in the rearview mirror and smile back. She knows, and I know, that if anyone sees any ghosts he'll be yelling at her to stop the car at once.

But nothing happens and we pull up safely in front of the Leyden Creek police station, a square uncompromising building next to the bank and across the street from Laura Ann's Diner, Delicious Home Cooked Meals. I wonder if Laura Ann lives in the diner or if she's engaging in a spot of false advertising. I wonder if there is a Laura Ann.

Getting out of the car, I stretch my legs and straighten my spine. It feels great to be out in the fresh air again. To be able to breathe and look around. I don't like staying in enclosed spaces for too long, not even cars. Mulder and Scully head straight for the door to the police station, not even taking a moment to survey the street or note what it says about the town. I guess to them it's just another place, one where they don't particularly want to be.

Still, out of habit I look around, slot the layout of the street into my head, what buildings there are, the stores, the cars, the people, which way is north. This looks like a peaceful little town, and I nod to myself. Then I follow Mulder and Scully inside.

They've already been met in the hallway by a lean, graying man who introduces himself as Steve Larkin. He shoots a quick, suspicious glance my way as I join the group, but then goes on tersely to explain that there's been another accident, only this morning. "Same place. Janine Kendrick was driving into town to visit her daughter." He raises his voice to be heard over the rattling of an old dot-matrix printer and several conversations going on behind a glass partition to our left. "I've been out on another case; I only just heard about it myself."

Scully is calmly professional. "We'd like to interview Mrs. Kendrick."

"You can't. She's dead." Larkin's chin juts out. It's hard to tell if he knew and liked her, or if he just feels protective of this entire little town and wants to keep it, and its problems, to himself. He's not the police chief, but he acts as though he is. Now that I've seen him, I wonder who turned this case into an X-file, who first mentioned the word ghosts. It wasn't this man.

Mulder and Scully start to speak at the same time, then stop and start over, sorting themselves out. I try not to smile — usually they interact so smoothly, it's nice to see them fluff their lines for once. She wants to view the body; he wants to see the site of the accident. Larkin doesn't look too pleased at the idea of an FBI stranger getting her hands on Mrs. Kendrick's body. He tells Scully the facilities are nothing like what she is used to, but she just nods and insists anyway, until he agrees.

"If you give me directions to the place where the accidents have occurred—" Mulder begins as Scully walks off, guided by Larkin's frazzled-looking assistant, but Larkin cuts him off.

"I'll go with you. Just let me get my coat." Larkin disappears into another room. Mulder walks outside, and I follow him. He's got that look on his face, that faraway look in his eyes; a look I have good reason to recognize. His mind is working on this case. Someone needs to keep an eye on the rest of him.

I wonder if I have the time to go over to the diner and get a cup of coffee. Today's specials are chalked up on a blackboard propped in the window. A grilled cheese sandwich Laura Ann style might work wonders, settle the uneasiness in my stomach. "You're not going anywhere." I thought Mulder was still in a trance, but he's grabbed hold of my arm and he's shaking his head, scowling.

I think about explaining that I would have brought him along, but then Larkin comes after us, shrugging into his coat; he heads for a slightly battered police car. So does Mulder, not letting go of my arm, and I sigh: I guess I get to sit in the back seat again. Larkin stops with his hand on the car door and nods at me. "Who is this?" he asks Mulder. "I was told two agents would come down, you and Agent Scully."

"I can't tell you that," Mulder says, and again, I try not to smile. He opens the car door and gestures at me to get in. While I appreciate the courtesy, it isn't as though I have a choice. "I take full responsibility. Consider him an observer."

Larkin doesn't like it, that's easy enough to see, but he doesn't mention it again as they, too, get in the car. We drive down the main street and turn south. I relax a little. As long as Larkin accepts my presence, it doesn't matter how grudging he is about it. Whenever you can get away with it, the best explanation is no explanation at all.

Mulder is asking Larkin about the previous accidents. The one this morning was the fourth. The first one involved two necking teenagers, mildly drunk; the surviving girl's claim to have seen ghosts had been dismissed as an attempt to shift at least a little of the blame away from herself, and a weak attempt at that. Mulder wants to see her; Larkin looks like he's having teeth pulled. The second accident was one of the bank tellers going to work. He lived long enough to say they scared me before breathing his last in the ambulance.

"And that didn't make you reconsider the girl's statement?"

"No, Agent Mulder, it did not." I'm starting to wonder about Larkin. He must be one of those people who live in a perpetual state of resentment. He certainly puts a lot of work into that attitude of his. "Dan Bettens had an argument with his sons that morning over them having driven without his knowledge in an illegal dirt race in Sauberville. Another boy was crippled for life in that race. Bettens was upset and worried and didn't have his mind on what he was doing."

Mulder nods. "That would make it even more likely that the sudden appearance of something he wasn't expecting would startle him enough to make him go off the road."

Larkin looks as though he'd like to argue with that. Then he ignores the comment altogether and instead says, "Third time, five ladies on their way home from a Tupperware party went into the ditch. No serious injuries, but they were all pretty shook up. The driver claimed she'd seen something, but she couldn't describe it."

"I'd like to interview the girl first," Mulder says. When Larkin gives him a look he elaborates patiently, "The girl who survived the first accident. Linda Pulaski? If we get hold of her now I can talk to her when we get back."

"She's in school." Larkin is clutching at the steering wheel, his knuckles white with annoyance. "Which is where she should be. Stan and Elizabeth have had enough trouble with that girl—"

"This is a Federal investigation." And nobody gets in Mulder's way when he wants to mess around with a witness. Particularly not a small-town detective who wants to protect his own people. I could almost feel sorry for the guy if he weren't such a bore. "I'm sure her parents would like her to cooperate, and I'm sure the girl herself would like the truth about her boyfriend's death to come out."

"Girlfriend," Larkin corrects, one corner of his mouth twisting as if this is a lemon no one but him has ever bit into before. If he's hoping for it to have any kind of effect on Mulder, he must be sadly disappointed. Now if one of them had been Bigfoot, or whatever the local equivalent is, he might have gotten a reaction. The only reason Mulder would be interested in two teenage girls sleeping together would be if they let him watch.

We're coming down a slope and crossing a low bridge over what might be a stream in another season. The road climbs again and then Larkin pulls in to the side, at the top of the knoll. There's a large walnut tree growing here, and there's the remains of Janine Kendrick's car, wrapped around it. Mulder gets out. He's all concentration now, and Larkin gives him a look of grudging admiration. That lasts all of three seconds, maybe, until Mulder's dug his cell phone out of his pocket and thrust it at the detective. "Call the school," he says and heads towards the wreck without a single backward look.

"I think you'd better do it," I say as I get out of the car, too. Hey, I don't care if Larkin hates me, and to judge by the look he shoots me, he wouldn't mind if the earth opened up and swallowed both me and Mulder. I've seen a fair bit of small-town hostility towards the Feds, but this is ridiculous. Not my problem, though.

I walk towards the wreck, too, but don't go too close to where Mulder is doing his own poking and prying. Nothing's been tidied up here apart from the removal of the body. I can see the bloodstains fine from here, and I'm hardly going to pick up on any psychic residue from Mrs. Kendrick's last moments on earth. Her accident isn't what interests me.

Instead I take a deep breath and look around. Behind the tree there's a low stone wall that curves to the left and then heads up the next gentle incline towards a large, run-down barn about a quarter of a mile from where we are standing. It's a pretty place, but not safe. The road makes a forty-degree turn right at the crest of the knoll, the kind of thing that locals get used to but that runs strangers off the road. It would be easy enough for an accident to happen here. To anyone.

I head towards the road, but away from the police car. Walking along the road for a while, I turn when I hear Mulder start to call out something. He's emerged from the smashed car and I suddenly realize that the only thing that's stopping him from yelling at me to get my ass back there is that he knows it might not be a good idea to proclaim my name out loud in these parts. That's very considerate of him, since the only other person within earshot is a law enforcement officer. He must remember that I said it might get me killed. I've no idea whose side Larkin is on. His own would be a good bet. I give a reassuring wave and look at the scene in front of me.

Driving from this direction, a little too fast. Trying to turn where the road turns and failing, suddenly heading out across the grass and dirt, braking too late, hitting... the walnut tree? The stone wall? I can picture both, easily enough. I'm not sure it matters. I start to go back again, slowly, tracing the imagined path with eyes and feet. Trying to reconstruct. Larkin's looking from me to Mulder as though he can't decide who's the weirder. I feel like telling him I've never been able to figure that out, either. But instead I study this place, committing it to memory. And try to imagine what it would have looked like ten years ago.

Mulder comes striding to meet me, moving like a nervous racehorse. "Don't try to sneak away," he says under his breath. I shake my head absently, and find my eyes drawn again to follow the line of the stone wall, all the way up to the barn. "I don't know what you're after, but we're here now, and you'd better start—"

He breaks off as Larkin comes up to us and hands the cell phone back to Mulder. "We can pick her up from school when we drive back. I had to talk to the principal and her parents," he adds, as though that's the worst thing that might happen to anyone around here. Maybe it is.

"Good," Mulder says and draws breath to ask something else.

I get in ahead of him. "There was another accident here ten years ago, wasn't there?"

For the first time, Larkin gives me his undivided attention. I'm not sure I like that, but what the hell. "I don't remember every single car accident," he says. Probably a lie, too, in a small town like this. "I guess there was one, yeah."

"Married couple from out of state," I say, figuring I'll just go on reminding him until he can't pretend not to remember any more. "Andrew and Margaret Davis. Both died. Was it right there, in the same spot?" I gesture at the site of the accident and feel it draw my eyes again.

Mulder's looking at me as though I've suddenly sprouted wings, or grown horns, take your pick. Larkin just looks tired, but he stops prevaricating. "Yeah," he says, "pretty much. I was doing road patrol then. They missed the tree — barely — and went into the wall. Messy." There's a nice little piece of understatement, and I ignore the way it makes my stomach start to churn with cold nausea. "It's a tricky piece of road for strangers," he adds with a shade of his previous belligerence. I'm not about to argue, since I reached the same conclusion myself.

"What's up in that barn?" Mulder asks. I don't think he's ignoring what just passed between me and Larkin. It's in there somewhere, in his mind, and I know he's busy drawing his own conclusions. I know I'm going to have to tell him sooner or later anyway. I want to see how much he can figure out on his own, find out if that sixth sense of his is still operative.

"Nothing much," Larkin starts to explain, and I allow his comments about some long-dead farmer to become so much noise as I watch the place again, wondering if I'm missing something. There's movement up by the wall, beyond the tree; probably a small animal moving around in the grass. This place is unnervingly rural. If it weren't for the car wreck and the bloodstains it would look downright sweet. There's a movement up there again, and I try to catch sight of whatever it is, a rabbit maybe, or a cat from a house nearby?

Mulder's decided that we're going back now, and he puts his hand on my arm again and shakes it. It must be so frustrating for him not to be able to drag me around and slap me to get my attention the way he did before. The thought of the look on Larkin's face if Mulder kept hitting me every five minutes almost makes me wish he'd do it.

"I just thought I saw something up there," I say and take a couple of steps that way. That must be the exact spot. Past the tree, Larkin said. I know it's ridiculous to think that I can find any sign of it now, ten years later, but I go up there anyway, passing Mrs. Kendrick's car without a look.

Mulder is right behind me and Larkin follows as well. We probably scare the poor animal away before we've come closer than ten feet. I get right up there, next to the wall, and put my hand on it. Some of the stones are shifted slightly out of place here, but then that's true of spots here and there all along its length, for as far as I can see. Doesn't mean anything. Then I find a small fragment of rusted metal twisted into a narrow space between two of the stones.

And I'm certain that it was here, right here.

When I turn my head I find that Larkin is watching me with a slightly scornful expression on his face; Mulder is trying to hide his annoyance and bewilderment. "Find anything?" Larkin asks sarcastically. "Do you sense anything?" He has a clear opinion of the X-files, all right. I wonder how Mulder feels about letting me carry the burden of weirdness this time.

I turn back and carefully pry the piece of metal out of there, and hold it so hard it digs into my palm as I stand up. "Not really," I say. "I just thought I saw something up here."

"You're going to have to do better than that," Larkin says and walks off back towards the police car again. He's going to be wonderfully cooperative, I can just tell.

Mulder comes to stand right next to me. "Next time you decide to pull the psychic consultant business," he hisses, "tell me first. I want to know what I can expect from you here, K—"

"Call me Alex," I suggest. He doesn't look too pleased with the idea. But when I take a step to follow Larkin, he does as well. "I just wanted to get a look at this place. It's where the first car crashed."

"How do you know that?"

"Larkin said so," I say, a little surprised that he doesn't remember. "Besides, I found this." It's actually something of an effort to open my hand, I've clutched the piece of metal so hard. I'm aware that Larkin, who's reached the car and turned around, is watching us. So is Mulder. He just nods.

We walk back together and I try hard not to walk too close to him. It's difficult. The knowledge that Larkin is watching us helps, though. That man is going to think we're strange enough as it is; he doesn't need to get any more ideas about us. Twice, I look back over my shoulder because it feels as though that place right by the stone wall is watching me. The grass moves again.

Mulder doesn't hold the car door open for me this time. I'm disappointed.

Larkin gets in and starts the engine, and as we're driving off, I think I see something out of the corner of my eye, up behind the tree. Maybe it's just my paranoia. No one can know that I've come down here. Peskow's dead; Mulder and Scully are the last people who'd call my former employer with this information, even though they did have plenty of opportunities when we stopped for gas. No one else can possibly know anything. No one can know that I am here, let alone why I am here.

And then my eyes suddenly, unaccountably blur, and anything I might have seen is lost, and I concentrate on staring straight ahead instead, watching the road, nails digging into the palm of my hand.

Even when the moment passes, I don't look back and I try not to look at Mulder. That way lies madness. Well, too late to do anything about that. That fight was lost long ago. But when I look at him for too long, I am completely consumed with wanting him, and I want to at least try to keep my wits about me for a little longer.

Larkin drives us in sullen silence to the Lukas Cranach Memorial High School and asks us to stay in the car while he goes in and gets Linda Pulaski. Well, he doesn't ask so much as order. Mulder just nods and the moment the car door closes behind Larkin he turns around in his seat and looks at me. "Talk fast, Krycek. What were you expecting to find up there?"

"That stone wall is perfect to hide behind," I say. "Or the walnut tree would do, too. It's so quiet out here in the country, you could hear a car coming from a mile away." Thinking about it for a moment, I add, "The wall's probably the best bet. If you move up a bit you'd have a clear view of the downslope towards the south. Plenty of time to get ready."

He's frowning. "You don't think there's anything in this ghost theory? You think we're dealing with a couple of kids dressed up in bedsheets, is that it, Krycek?"

He almost looks hurt. I shake my head, realizing that I'm about to say I'll believe in any number of phantoms, for him. That's not the point here. "I don't know anything about that, Mulder. You're the one who's looking for ghosts."

"And what are you looking for?" The look he gives me burns and I'm about to answer, when his cell phone rings. He swears under his breath and digs it out of his pocket. "Mulder." I watch his face change minutely, and know that it's Scully on the other end. "So what did you find? Mm hm... I never doubted the car accident as such. Was there anything else?" There is a brief pause, and his eyes go wide. "Did you take it out? Can you check it out under a microscope? If we send it back to — yeah, but— We're on our way back, Scully, we just stopped to pick up the girl who was in the first accident. I'll be right there."

"What is it?" I ask as he puts the phone away. If I thought he burned brightly before, he's incandescent now. She told him something important.

And he's so immersed in the idea that he tells me without thinking about it. "The Kendrick woman had an implant at the back of her neck." I don't know who is the more surprised: Mulder that he just told me this, or myself at hearing it. I shake my head a little. This is bigger than I thought. No way is it just a coincidence, but what the hell does it mean?

Before I can frame another question discreetly enough, Larkin comes back with a girl who would much rather not be here. She's got that scuffling teenage walk, shoulders hunched, kicking at the ground and raising little clouds of dust. Her pale hair is clipped short and half of it is dyed orange. The whole town must know who she is. I like her already.

Larkin opens the car door and she gets in next to me, takes one look at Mulder, then turns to me and gives a crooked grin. "Nice jacket."

"Thanks," I say as Larkin settles himself in the driver's seat again and revs just a little too much, pulling out of the parking lot. He really shouldn't burn rubber that way where the teens can see him. It sets a bad example. The girl doesn't like him; he doesn't like her. I hope Mulder isn't planning to interview her when Larkin's around. "Nice hair."

She runs a hand through it self-consciously. Then she glances towards Mulder and catches my eyes again, and mouths the words ugly fucking tie, man! I nearly pull a stomach muscle trying not to laugh out loud, and she's so pleased at my reaction, her blond, almost invisible eyebrows wiggle.

"Linda," Larkin says heavily from the front seat, "I want you to cooperate with Agent Mulder and get this over with as quickly as possible so you can get back to school again. You know you can't afford to let your grades slip—"

"I only had one more class this afternoon, and I'm going to miss that anyway, and—"

"And you have homework to do." I wonder if Larkin takes such a personal interest in every bored teenager in town. Linda's lips move again — asshole! — and I have to hide another smile. "The sooner you can put this unfortunate incident behind you the better."

At least half the disapproval in his voice is aimed at Mulder, for making him drag the girl out of school. But she can't know that. "Unfortunate incident!" I'm starting to wonder why Mulder hasn't gotten into this yet, as her voice rises, and cracks. "Annie's dead!" She turns her head sharply and stares out the window, defying us to notice that she's crying. In the front seat Larkin bites off a curse, and Mulder turns his head and looks at him.

I put my hand on the girl's shoulder anyway and she doesn't shrug it off. After a while she turns towards me, carefully ignoring Mulder and Larkin. She's holding the tears back, keeping her sobs trapped between clenched teeth. I wonder if Mulder will manage to have the dead girl, Annie, exhumed. It's been two weeks; she has to be buried by now. No way can he get a court order because he wants to look for implants. Still, it makes you wonder. Not even Scully is going to claim that this is a coincidence — she can't possibly.

I dig around in my pocket and find a wad of Kleenex that's clean except for a couple of chocolate stains. "Here." Linda Pulaski blows her nose defiantly. Her mascara's running. The new southern belle.

"Linda." Mulder's squirmed around in his seat again. The look he's giving her would make the bottom of my stomach fall out if it were directed at me. She looks completely unaffected. "We want to find out what really happened that night, to you and Annie, and you're the only one who can help us."

Her chin comes up. "Yeah? I know how that goes. I tell you I saw ghosts, you pat my head and wham, I end up on Prozac and Annie's still dead."

"My partner and I investigate paranormal cases. That's why we're here." Slowly, she meets his eyes and I can see a spark of hope there, a faint touch of amazement at the thought that someone might actually listen to her.

She nods. Then she blows her nose again, and flicks a quick glance at me. "You two are the ghostbusters of the FBI?"

"I'm not Agent Mulder's partner," I tell her. Not any more, Linda. I was once. I'm not sure whether I miss those days or not. At least this way it's more honest. "I'm just an observer. He's a very good ghostbuster, though." I can't resist teasing Mulder like that. Linda chuckles. She probably sees the way he looks at me better than I do.

Larkin doesn't say anything else as we get back again and he parks carelessly outside the police station. I bet he plays poker with Linda Pulaski's father every Thursday night. I bet he's a really nice guy when you get to know him. We all get out of the car and he takes Linda's arm and starts to lead her inside; she shoots him a look that by rights should peel the skin right off his face.

Mulder is about to follow them and I stop him, touching his arm. Any excuse will do. He scowls at me, and maybe it's just because he's so focused on talking to the girl that he doesn't want anything getting in his way. Or maybe he's regretting having me along. "What, Krycek? Another ghostbuster joke?"

He's about to turn away and head inside without waiting for an answer, so I tighten my grip on his arm to stop him. Maybe I won't ever let go. "Mulder. Go easy on her. She looks tough but she's about to fall apart."

"I don't need you to tell me how to conduct an interview." He grabs my wrist and pulls my hand away. "And I don't need you to give me lectures on compassion."

I shrug. "I was just being practical. You push too hard, you won't get anything." And as much as he'd like to deny it, he does push them hard. He thinks everyone else can take as much as he can, thinks nothing of letting others relive their pain over and over because he does it all the time. And I know that as soon as he finds out the truth, he'll be doing it to me too. But I'm better prepared to cope with it than Linda Pulaski is. She never asked to be given a Fox Mulder third degree.

Mulder walks inside. I hang back for a moment, scan the street again. It looks much the same as last time. I'm hungry, and I give Laura Ann's diner a longing look before following Mulder.

It's the same chaos as last time, with phones ringing and printers clattering, and right in the middle of it Scully is trying to tell Mulder about Mrs. Kendrick's implant, Larkin is trying to tell Linda she needs to work on her grades, Mulder is trying to tell Larkin that he wants to talk to Linda alone, and Larkin's assistant is trying to convince someone to come to the phone and talk to AD Skinner. I just stand back and watch the show.

After a while the name 'Skinner' gets through and Scully gives up her attempt to explain things to Mulder and follows the assistant, who plainly adores her already. Now it's just Mulder and Larkin arguing. "I prefer to do this alone or with just my partner present."

Larkin doesn't want Mulder to have his way, no matter if it's reasonable or not. "She'll feel more comfortable if someone she knows is present during the interview. She's a minor. I could call her parents—"

"Forget it, Steve." Linda Pulaski steps in between the two men. She barely comes up to Mulder's shoulder. "Don't drag Mom and Dad into this. I'll talk to him," she jerks her head at Mulder, "if you stay out of it. He's a Federal agent, he's not interested in my grades, for chrissakes."

Scully comes back and defuses what might have turned into an ugly situation. "Detective Larkin, Assistant Director Skinner wants to talk to you." Larkin scowls, nods, and walks off towards the phone. "Mulder, you didn't tell me that we were supposed to call Skinner when we got down here."

"I forgot." He shrugs. "What did he say?" Scully shrugs in return. She doesn't really know what Skinner wanted either. I remember Skinner's way of saying nothing, and keep my mouth shut. Mulder seizes the moment to ask Larkin's assistant where he can find an empty room, and they go off with Linda Pulaski.

Scully looks after them for a moment, then turns to me with barely perceptible reluctance. "Did you find anything at the accident site?"

I shake my head. "No new evidence, no. But there are several good hiding places around there."

She gives me a different look; thoughtful and serious as if she's weighing evidence in her head. "You think the accidents were arranged — that someone was deliberately targeting these people?"

I'm amazed that she'll discuss these things with me. But then I realize she's trying to find out what I'm after. It has to come out sooner or later. "I think that's a lot more likely than ghosts. But it sounds like the most impractical setup for killing people that I've ever heard of."

Those words remind her of who I am again and her face closes up. "I'm sure you have the experience to judge that."

I take a deep breath, then lower my voice. "Mulder told me that you found an implant in Mrs. Kendrick." Scully turns her head sharply and looks up at me again. I think the look means Mulder's the one who's in trouble, not me. "Maybe you should take a look at Linda Pulaski. And I don't know if you can ask to have the body of the other girl exhumed, or Mr. Bettens, but..."

"Mulder will want it," she says under her breath. "But we have no grounds to ask for it." Her words remind me of their legal and moral limitations, what they will and won't do, what they can and can't do. In my line of work, you sometimes forget the rules other people operate by.

She's pulled a small glass vial out of her pocket and is turning it over; the tiny piece of metal inside makes a clatter so soft it's almost lost in the noise that surrounds us. I can't help staring at it. I've never actually seen one before. Quite an educational trip, this.

Larkin comes back again. He's scowling, but then he's almost always scowling, so it isn't easy to guess what Skinner may have said to him. Hopefully it was something about full cooperation being required of him on pain of eternal FBI disapproval. I wonder if he mentioned my presence. I wonder what Skinner said. I decide not to wait for him to tell me. "Detective Larkin, do you still have the files on Mr. and Mrs. Davis accessible?"

I figure it's not very likely; it's been ten years. But to my surprise, he nods without any visible surprise. "Back in the old archive." He jerks his head towards the back of the building. "Lou!" Larkin's assistant appears again out of nowhere, looking even more nervous. Probably thinking that Larkin's going to ask about Mulder and Linda. "Go get the Davis files."

"I'll just go along," I say and cut between Larkin and Scully, following the harried Lou. As we walk away I can hear Scully ask Larkin if Annie Clough has been buried yet. He doesn't know what he's in for. I look at Lou. "You know where all the files are?"

Lou nods. "Well, we had this one out only last week." I stop as if I've run into a wall. Fortunately Lou stops, too, and starts to jiggle the archive door open. It swings up with a heavy metal creak and Lou hits the light switch; fluorescent lights rattle into action, showing file cabinets, shelves, and what appears to be at least fifty years of paperwork. Lou heads unerringly for one of the shelves. "Should be right here."

"How come you had it out?" I ask, trying to sound unconcerned. "I mean, it's been ten years."

"These guys came by," Lou's voice is a little muffled, "they were working on a missing persons case and just wanted to make sure." That's a nice vague explanation. Lou, I think, is rather a trusting person. But I don't believe Larkin is, and his lack of surprise seems suddenly more ominous. "Jeez," Lou sniffs, "I used to think the dust was bad enough but now the whole place stinks of cigarette smoke. I'm asthmatic, you know."

And ice settles into the pit of my stomach. Oh, fuck.

"Yeah, those smokers are the worst," I agree when I can breathe again. "I knew a man once who left cigarette butts everywhere." Moving up behind Lou, I scan the floor, then crouch down. Right. I knew it. I scoop it up and look at it, although I really don't have to. Then I put it in my pocket in time to have my hand free for the file that Lou hands me. "Thanks."

"No problem." Lou is already heading for the door again, and I follow. "I'm glad you people decided to investigate this case. I knew it was an X-file, and to actually have Fox Mulder down here!" Lou sounds quietly happy, like someone about to watch a good movie. Larkin must hate that. "I have to get back to work. Will you be all right on your own?"

"Yes, of course. Can you tell me where Agent Mulder is?" Lou points at another door, and I nod my thanks and walk that way.

I slip inside quietly, to find bare white walls and a bare gray floor. Mulder sits facing Linda Pulaski across a rickety table; she's cradling a mug of coffee in her hands, staring down into it. The door clicks shut and Mulder turns his head, probably expecting Scully. When he sees me his eyebrows draw together. "I'm interviewing a witness here."

"It's okay," Linda Pulaski says, and he looks at her. "He can stay. He's kinda cute." Mulder doesn't look as though he's about to agree with that assessment, but I didn't really expect him to. I take a chair, sitting down at a distance from the table, where the light from the one window will fall on the files. The knowledge that they've almost certainly been tampered with makes me hesitant to touch them. I can't believe anything I find in here, can I? Some of it can be verified by asking Larkin, if Larkin tells the truth. Lou's too young to have worked here ten years ago.

Still, there has to be something in here. I flip the file open. "So you'd only had a couple of beers," Mulder says, "and you were taking Annie back home. Can you tell me what happened then?"

He's being gentle, and I'm oddly relieved as I browse through a typewritten report. Larkin is not a writer, far from it, but he does include a lot of detail. He describes the scene of the accident. It sounds exactly the way I imagined it. The people in the car were dead, but he called for an ambulance anyway.

"We were driving pretty slowly, and I knew the hill was coming up so I was concentrating on the road 'cause it's tricky, and Annie was — anyway, I told her to knock it off, you know?"

"So you were being careful." There was nothing wrong with the car. Road conditions were excellent, apart from that damn curve, of course. "Then what happened?"

"I thought I saw something run across the road, like maybe a rabbit." Her voice is hushed now. "And I followed it with my eyes and I saw... they were standing up by the tree. And I couldn't look away and Annie saw them too, and she screamed and grabbed at me and I lost control of the steering wheel, and..."

"What did you see, Linda?" Mulder's voice is soft and reasonable, the voice of someone who will accept whatever he's told. But underneath that is the tension, the escalating expectations, the wish for wonders, and truths, and miracles.

I flip past the last page of Larkin's report and the next thing in the file is — photographs. I freeze and the file slips from my hand and falls to the floor, papers scattering everywhere. Linda jumps and spills coffee on the table. "I'll help you with that," she says quickly, turning away from Mulder's intense gaze. She gets off her chair and crouches on the floor next to me. Mulder's about to curse me for distracting her. Then she makes a sound in the back of her throat, a hoarse sound that turns into "Oh God, ohgodohgodohgod..."

"What is it?" Mulder asks, getting up. I hear him but I can't turn to look at him because I'm looking at her. She's pale and sweating, and she's holding the photographs in her hand, staring wide-eyed at them. Mulder puts a hand on her shoulder and sees what she's seeing. "Damn it," he says to me, then to her, "You don't have to look at that."

Linda tilts her head back finally and looks up at him and then at me. "It's them," she says, her voice little more than a whisper.

"What do you mean?" Mulder asks softly. "Who is it? Have you seen these people before?"

"I saw them." Too flat to be hysteria, the thread of emotion almost buried beneath a landslide of shock. "I saw them, right there. That — it's — even the blood, it's exactly..." Her voice catches on a rasping sob and then she drops the photo and lunges at me, burying her face against my shoulder.

I put my arm around her. My hand is shaking, but I try to stroke her hair. Mulder kneels down next to us and picks up the photos the police took at the site of the accident, and the morgue shots. He looks at me and for once there's no resentment in his gaze, just that burning need to know. I feel trapped by it, by my sudden knowledge of the interrogation to come. I've known it would happen, but not like this. Then he gets to his feet abruptly and walks out of the room, leaving me with a sobbing seventeen-year-old girl and a lot of questions.

"I'm sorry, Linda," I say. I can't tell her it's okay, because I don't think it is. And I can't say anything sensible, either. She saw them. She saw them. There's no way her reaction now could be faked; her shoulders are shaking, her whole body is shaking with the shock.

"It was horrible," she says into my shoulder. "Oh God — Annie — what if Annie — what if that happens to her—" Then she can't speak any more, and she's still crying when Mulder returns again. Scully's with him, and so is Larkin. I see Larkin open his mouth and I manage to catch his eye. He shuts his mouth again.

Mulder comes to kneel next to us again. "Linda, your parents are coming to get you," he says softly. "You want a glass of water or something?" She shakes her head.

I look at him. "Kleenex." He looks a little surprised and it's Scully who comes forward; she hands me some tissues and I get to wipe Linda's face and persuade her to blow her nose. We get to our feet finally, a bit unsteadily. She's still holding on to me. Scully, Larkin and Mulder start a low-voiced conversation over by the door. Linda doesn't let go until her parents get there. The moment they walk in the door she moves away from me and they descend on her, with Larkin in tow.

I'm about to say something. but Mulder and Scully come to get me. Mulder grabs my arm in his usual way and drags me out of the room. Scully walks briskly alongside of us, nods at the infatuated Lou, and holds the entrance door open as Mulder more or less shoves me outside. It's late afternoon now and the light has changed. I look up; the sky is beautiful.

We cross the street and enter Laura Ann's. No one says a word as we find a booth and settle in, Scully scooting over to make room for me on the vinyl-clad bench. Only now do I notice that she is carrying the file; everything's been shoved back carelessly and bits and pieces stick out. I can glimpse the edge of a glossy color photograph.

A waitress comes to our table at once. She wears a blue and white checked dress and an apron, and unashamedly checks Mulder out as she hands him a menu. Scully orders a salad. Mulder asks for a bowl of chili. I want the creamed chicken corn soup, and a turkey and bacon sandwich on rye, with a side order of coleslaw. "And a glass of Coke, no ice. And a cup of coffee. And—" I'm about to order a piece of chocolate cake when Mulder looks at me across the table. I shut up and the waitress walks away.

Well, we didn't have any lunch. And it's getting closer to dinner. And... and I always eat when I'm upset. My shirt — no, Mulder's shirt — is still damp from Linda's tears. Scully, who sits by the window, puts the file on the table, and a tense silence reigns until we finally get our food and can count on being left in peace for a while. I try the soup. It's pretty good. I have time for about two spoonfuls before they start in on me.

"I take it this case, the death of Mr. and Mrs. Davis, is the reason why you wanted to come down here," Scully begins, and I simply nod. She tucks her hair back behind one ear. "And you don't believe in ghosts?"

I don't know what to say. I don't want to believe. The memory of the horror in Linda Pulaski's voice makes me shiver. I can deal with it. But I find myself praying silently that it isn't true.

"Krycek." I turn my head to look at Mulder instead. For once the impact he has on me is a welcome distraction. "Who were these people?" He taps the file.

At least I can answer that. And I'm so tired, I can't find the words to dress it up; I just say it, staring into his eyes.

"My parents."

* * *

He didn't know what to say at first. Krycek had gone back to eating his soup right after dropping his little bombshell, head bent forward, face carefully blank, but when Mulder looked more closely he saw the white-knuckled grip on the spoon. So Krycek did have feelings in there somewhere. Obviously it took a lot to bring them out.

His parents. Really.

Mulder pulled the file closer and flipped it open, taking another look at those photographs. They weren't your average plain morgue shots, these had been taken at the site of the accident and they seemed deliberately set up to resemble stills from a horror movie. It was hard to make out what the couple might have looked like before death and a stone wall had rearranged them. It was even harder to try to make out some fleeting resemblance to the man across the table.

"Davis?" he said finally, without closing the file. "You told me your parents were Cold War emigrés from Russia."

Krycek didn't look up. "They were. Taking a new name on arriving in the US is a good old immigrant tradition." Another spoonful of soup. "Makes it easier to blend in, for people who want that kind of thing."

People who are up to no good, Mulder's mind automatically translated. That seemed to run in the family.

"But your name is Krycek," Scully said. She was sitting very still, a piece of tomato speared on her fork, studying Krycek's profile closely. Behind the cool assessment in her voice was something else, and Mulder did not have to think very long to identify it: a reluctant sympathy. It was the last thing he'd have expected Scully to feel for Krycek. Then he looked at the photos again as she went on, "Isn't it?" No answer. "What is your name?"

That earned her something that mostly resembled a smile. "Alex." Krycek — Alex — appeared to be in love with his soup. "Look, we have a lot more important things to think about—"

"No," Mulder disagreed. "It's time for you to come clean, Kry—whatever. This is where you tell us everything you know." He was aware that Scully was giving him a look, and if she thought he was being a jerk towards Alex Krycek, then that probably meant he was. But what the hell was he supposed to say? They had to get past the lies somehow. The man's own words about Linda Pulaski came back to him: looks tough, but is about to fall apart.

"You owe us the whole story," Scully said, not quite so coldly. "Finally."

"You can call me Krycek. I changed my name legally before joining the FBI." Krycek pushed his soup bowl aside and started picking at his sandwich. "There is no story. I used to believe my parents died in a genuine car accident, before a professional killer told me he knew the truth about it. Now I want to find out what happened."

It sounded so simple, Mulder was inclined to doubt it just for that reason. But Krycek wasn't faking anything, emotionally. His voice was flat, almost harsh, his face still expressionless. Even a bad actor could have done it better. "It seems that it might be related to our investigation," Scully said, and despite the way she qualified her statement, Mulder could tell she'd decided to treat this information as part of the case.

Well, they had to. It seemed pretty damn clear that there was a link, and nothing like what he had been expecting, either. "We have to find out how they died," he said. "Scully, you think we can exhume the bodies?"

"Not without more evidence of a link between the cases than we already have, which amounts to nearly nothing," she said. "We don't even have enough to get a court order for exhuming Annie Clough. And after ten years, there wouldn't be much you could tell from, well. I think we should start by looking at the autopsy report."

"Why do you want to look at Annie Clough?" Mulder asked, and at the same time Krycek said, "It isn't there."

All three of them looked at each other and finally Scully said, "One thing at a time. At Krycek's suggestion, I want to find out if Annie Clough had an implant. And I'd like to take a look at Linda Pulaski, too, if we can convince her parents to let her be examined."

Krycek snorted softly. "Just ask her." Then he went back to eating his sandwich.

"You think there's a connection between the implants and the accidents?" Mulder looked at Scully in surprise. It wasn't a Scully-type theory. Then again, she'd just said it had been Krycek's suggestion. "Then I suppose we should interview the Tupperware ladies too. I'd rather talk to Linda Pulaski again and find out if her girlfriend had ever mentioned anything about an abduction experience."

Scully nodded briskly. "We can do both. The deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Davis may have to wait a little. And as I said, the obvious place to start is the autopsy report."

Mulder started to flip through the file again. "It's not there," Krycek repeated. And it wasn't. Looking up, Mulder met Krycek's dark gaze. "And I have a pretty good idea where it went." The man put his sandwich down and started to root around in his pocket, only to bring out a cigarette butt. It lay in the palm of his hand, silent witness. "Found it in the archive. Lou said a chain-smoking bastard had been there asking for the Davis file a week ago."

Leaning forward with his elbows on the table, Mulder found himself glaring at Krycek as though he could wring the truth out of him with just his eyes. He certainly wished he could. "What the hell are you getting us into?"

Krycek scowled. "If I'd known this would happen, I wouldn't have come here. I don't know what's going on any more than you do." He turned his head to look at Scully. "When you talked to Skinner, did he say anything about why you'd gotten this case?"

She shook her head reluctantly. "All he said was to tread carefully around Larkin because he's known to be prickly."

"That's all?" Krycek gestured expressively with his one hand. "And how often does he call just to check on you, when you're out in the field?"

"Do you think Skinner set us up?" Scully only looked mildly shocked. Mulder scowled. Trust Krycek to see betrayal and double-dealing everywhere. So do you, his mind told him. But with Krycek it was all so sordid. He flipped over another picture in the file.

"Not necessarily," Krycek said, and Mulder gave him a sharp look. "But maybe someone put pressure on him. Maybe there's more going on behind the scenes here than you've been told." Again, he opened his hand, and the cigarette butt, its MORLEY legend faint but clearly readable, seemed to laugh at them. Then he put it back into his pocket and went back to eating his sandwich.

Mulder drew a deep breath, but right before he started to speak, Scully caught his eye and shook her head. She turned a polite smile on Krycek. "Would you excuse us for a moment?" The smile she got in return was more ironic, but he rose and gestured at her to get out of the booth, then slid back into his seat as she walked off. Mulder followed her.

She went across the diner and stopped by a board where notes about used baby carriages for sale vied with brightly-colored fliers for attention. Evening classes in macrame. A day trip by bus to Colonial Williamsburg, lunch included in the price. Five kittens needing a home. Mulder sighed and then cleared his throat, as Scully was still studying the noticeboard. "What's your cunning plan?" he asked.

"I think we should be careful," she said seriously. "It was your idea to bring Krycek," he winced at the reminder, "but I don't think things would have been much different if we hadn't, and he was the one who discovered Cancerman had been here."

"If he's telling the truth."

Her eyes suddenly danced with laughter. "Don't you sometimes get a headache from all that paranoia? I don't think he'd lie about that when we could just ask Lou about it."

Mulder had to smile. "Yeah, I think Lou would tell you anything, Scully." She socked his arm; his smile broadened. Then the realities of the situation came back to him. "So he's been here and screwed with the case already, probably removed vital information, whatever was in that autopsy report, and God knows what else. And when Krycek says he thinks someone might have put pressure on Skinner about this case, it's pretty obvious who he has to mean. I don't like this. It all adds up to that smoking son of a bitch trying to lead us around by our noses again, and I've had enough of that."

"Maybe," she said softly. "It's clear that someone has a hidden agenda. But we can't just give up the case and go home. Whatever is happening here, it's killing people, Mulder. Whoever's behind it all, we have to try to stop that."

He drew a deep breath, and felt something come pouring back into him, something his nerves and his irritation had kept from him. She was right. And he'd been so distracted, he'd almost forgotten his sense of purpose. Looking at Scully he saw the calm good sense in her eyes, and her own resolve, different from his own yet working so well with it. "So where do we start?" he asked. "There's Linda Pulaski and her family, Annie Clough's family, Janine Kendrick's family, the Tupperware ladies..."

"Do you want us to split up?" she asked. "It's past four now. I can get the names of the women who'd been to the Tupperware party from Lou." She looked up at him. "And you get to keep Krycek."

"But it's your turn to baby-sit him now," he whined and was rewarded with an amused smile. "I think if anyone knows anything about Annie Clough's abduction experiences, it's probably Linda Pulaski."

"Be careful with her," Scully said neutrally.

"What am I, an ogre? First Krycek and now you. I don't pull witnesses' nails out and put burning matches between their toes." They both turned around. Krycek was sitting where they'd left him, flirting with the waitress. "Do you trust him?" Mulder asked abruptly.

"No." Her voice indicated he shouldn't have had to ask. "But I do think he'll cooperate with us if he thinks it's in his own best interests. And I don't think all that pain is an act." Then she started to walk back to the table ahead of him before he could answer. Mulder followed her again, thinking about her words. Pain. All that pain.

Krycek scooted in, making room for Scully. He had persuaded the waitress to give him chocolate cake with a double helping of whipped cream. Scully looked tolerantly amused when she sat down, like an adult at a McDonald's birthday party. "Come on, then," Mulder said, leaning with one hand on the tabletop.

"I think we have time for Krycek to finish his food first," Scully said blithely.

"No, we don't," Mulder disagreed, even as he sat down. "We'd be here till tomorrow, he never stops eating, haven't you noticed?"

Krycek actually laughed, and pushed the plate towards the center of the table. "I'll share," he offered, and Scully picked up the spoon from her coffee — when had she ordered coffee? — and took a tiny bite. Mulder took a moment to enjoy the sight of Scully eating something unhealthy, then turned back to the file again. It drew him irresistibly, in much the same way that chocolate cake appeared to draw Alex Krycek.

Another look at the photos was enough to make him lose any appetite for cake. It was impossible to tell whether the couple in the car had any injuries inflicted before the crash. They couldn't have seen ghosts — they were the ghosts. Would a mere accident drive them to haunt the place and drive others to their deaths? Mulder flicked a quick glance towards Krycek, wondering if he could ask the man whether his parents had been the vindictive type. Then he decided not to risk it right then. Scully would break his metatarsals, stomping on his foot under the table.

He flipped through everything again, hoping against hope there was some other clue hidden in here that had escaped him. The autopsy report was still missing, of course. The list of possessions found in the couple's car yielded absolutely nothing: clothes, toothbrushes, things any vacationing couple would have. The bad photocopy of the man's driver's license was still as uninteresting—

Mulder froze, staring at the face in that grainy, gray-shaded picture. He bent closer and tried to be certain, traced the man's features again and again. Tried mentally to subtract a few pounds, tone down the jowls, add some more hair. Then he looked up to find that Scully and Krycek were both watching him with their spoons in their hands. One small corner of his mind wondered at the way Scully had gone from utter disapproval of Alex Krycek's presence to sharing a padded diner seat and a piece of chocolate cake with him. But that wasn't important right now.

"Scully," he said, "do you remember those pictures my mother showed me of my father and his old friends, way back when?" She nodded uncertainly. Mulder put the photocopy down in front of her and pointed at the man's face. "He was in there." Looking up, he caught Krycek's eyes. "What else aren't you telling us?"

"I thought you knew," Krycek said. "My father worked with your father on a couple of projects for a while, before he went to teach at UVa." Something changed in his eyes. "I thought you knew," he repeated a little uncertainly, almost pleadingly.

"No. I didn't." Mulder felt a sharp stab between his eyebrows; screw paranoia, this was the kind of thing that gave him a headache. "This has to stop," he said roughly. "You spring one more surprise like this on us, and I'll ask Larkin to lock you up with the town psycho and make you eat the key. Is there anything else you haven't mentioned?"

"My father told me he'd stopped being involved." Krycek's voice sounded dull now. "I think he lied to me. I think he was killed, they both were killed because of something that's going on here. Probably killed by the man who told me he knew the truth."

"And now," Mulder made himself say, "other people are seeing them and getting themselves killed in the same place."

Scully and Krycek turned identical skeptical glances on him. If he hadn't been angry he would have laughed. So Krycek's claims to have a genuine interest and belief in the X-files had only extended to conspiracy issues. Naturally enough, Mulder told himself. But Linda's recognition of the picture of Krycek's parents had not been faked. And when he looked more closely, the look in Krycek's eyes was more that of someone who did not want to believe.

"I'll get Lou to lend me a car," Scully said, breaking the silence and putting the keys to their rental car on the table. She looked at her watch. "We can meet back here again around seven."

Mulder nodded. "Fine." Then he looked at her as she stood up. "Scully—"

"Skinner mentioned that Kim had booked rooms for us," she said, and walked towards the exit. He followed her with his eyes until she was outside, then shook his head at the waitress, who seemed ready to head over again.

"For such a confirmed skeptic, she's a good mind-reader," Krycek commented. "Where do you want to start, with Linda Pulaski?"

"No." He shut the file and gripped it securely. "With you. We'll talk in the car." Krycek just nodded, slid out of his seat and went to the door. Mulder was about to leave as well when he caught the reproachful gaze of their waitress. He sighed, and fished out his wallet.

When he got outside Krycek was waiting on the sidewalk, looking across the street to where Scully was having an intense conversation with Lou. "There's someone who's found true love," he said, grinning. "Do you have Linda's address?" Mulder nodded. "Well, do you know how to get there?"

They crossed the street together, and Krycek waved cheerfully at Scully before getting into the car. She acknowledged him with a moderate scowl, and Mulder felt a surge of annoyance. If anyone was going to tease Scully, he would be the one to do it, not Alex damn-his-eyes Krycek. He drove off, half his mind occupied with showing him the map of the town that had been pinned up in the corridor at the police station.

"Did you know what your father was working with?" he asked, making a right turn and seeing Scully and Lou vanish from the rear view mirror. "Did you know what they were up to all along? Did you want," his voice was getting all quiet and angry and he couldn't stop it, "to be just like him when you grew up?"

"No." Krycek suddenly sounded tired. "No, I never wanted that. Look, Mulder, I don't want to talk about this."

"What, you don't have any pretty rationalizations?"

"Not any more."

Mulder felt a kind of obscure pleasure in that, in the words, in the hurt that he could hear in Krycek's voice. All that pain, Scully had said. "I want to know what the hell is going on with you, Krycek. I want to know what else you're hiding."

"No, you don't," Krycek muttered. He was staring straight ahead, studying the road. "I asked you to help me find out what happened to my parents, Mulder. I didn't ask to be analyzed as well. If it's a bonus, you can keep it."

Next right, his mind told him and he made the turn, coming to a stop outside a pretty white house with green trim. There were two cars in the drive already, a battered Volvo station wagon and an almost new Subaru. He turned to Krycek. "You really are Russian," he said. "I'm convinced. You're like one of those dolls, secrets inside secrets, made to be picked apart. I guess it's useless to wonder what you're like deep down, when there probably isn't anything there."

"That's very poetic, Mulder," Krycek told him gravely and got out of the car. Mulder got out too, more slowly, and paused for a moment. He looked at Krycek across the car roof. Then he closed his eyes, opened them and looked again, trying to see, and see past what he saw. He had to fight his anger. It was getting in the way of this investigation; that was what Scully had been trying to tell him before. He couldn't bring the case into focus properly when stray thoughts of Alex Krycek kept tugging him from concentration into anger.

But he's a lying bastard and he killed my father, his mind said. He helped with Scully's abduction. He's blackmailing me, damn it. Then again, this might go faster if he and Krycek could cooperate a bit better. Might be easier, and then he'd be rid of the man. And no closer to understanding what went on inside that devious mind. Mulder scowled. Alex Krycek, psychological X-file.

It seemed even Scully could look at the rat bastard and see not just a man involved in the death of her sister and her partner's father and her own abduction, but someone in a lot of pain. And if she could do that, he owed it to her to try to keep friction between himself and Krycek to a minimum. But it was going to be hard, when nearly everything Krycek said and did only served to fuel his anger.

He locked the car door, reflecting that it was probably unnecessary, and walked up the drive, dodging a fallen tricycle. Krycek followed him and came up on the porch just as Mulder knocked on the door. It opened almost under his hand, and he realized the woman who looked at them must have heard the car, must have watched them and wondered.

"Mrs. Clough?" As he fished out his ID, he sensed Krycek's surprise. "I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder, with the FBI. I'd like to talk to you about your daughter."

She was a tall woman with bleached blonde hair and delicate bone structure; her large, deep-set eyes clouded over and for a moment he thought she was going to shut the door in his face. "All right," she said instead, gracelessly. "Come in." Then she paused and looked at Krycek. "And who is that?"

"I'm sorry to impose, ma'am," Krycek said smoothly. "I'm not here in any professional capacity, I'm merely an observer. I can wait outside if you prefer."

Mrs. Clough looked at him for a moment longer, then seemed to lose interest. "Doesn't matter. You come inside, too."

They both followed her into a neat kitchen; flowers on the table, no breadcrumbs. She turned around and leaned against the counter, reached out without looking and pulled a cigarette from a packet lying by the bread box, lit it, and watched them steadily while she took a deep drag and then blew the smoke out slowly. "I'm sorry to intrude on your grief," Mulder said, thinking that neither Scully nor Krycek, his most persistent critics, could find any fault with that. "I know it must be difficult for you, but—"

"Just ask whatever it is you want to ask," she interrupted him. "This to do with Linda Pulaski?" Mulder opened his mouth to reply. "She killed my daughter. Killed her and lied about it, driving drunk like that, it's a shame. She was always getting Annie into trouble."

He thought that that was very likely true — Linda Pulaski was the kind of girl who got other girls in trouble, probably on a regular basis. But it wasn't because she'd been drunk that night that Annie had been killed. There was no point arguing with Mrs. Clough, though. This woman wouldn't take heed of arguments. Nor would she even notice if he handled her with kid gloves. Instead he said, "Did your daughter ever say anything to you that led you to think she might have had an abduction experience?"

Silence reigned as she watched him over the cigarette. Then she flicked it into the sink, almost as if daring him to comment on it. He wondered who kept the house so clean. "You shouldn't listen to what Linda Pulaski says," she said. "Annie always had a vivid imagination, but Linda was the only one who took her seriously."

"I take it you and your husband didn't believe her." Mulder was half aware of Krycek moving in the background, looking at something. He refused to turn his head and watch the man. "What did she say about it?"

"Nothing that made sense," Mrs. Clough said shortly. "Not then. She embroidered the story as she got older." Suddenly her face crumpled into tears. She turned her back on them both, leaning her hands against the counter top.

Mulder was about to reach out and touch her shoulder when Krycek's hand on his arm stopped him. He turned his head and saw Krycek jerk his head silently towards a framed picture on the wall. Stepping closer, Mulder saw that it was a collage of old vacation photos, the same smiling people squinting into the sunlight in various different locations — here in front of the White House, there part of a guided tour around Monticello, and standing in front of the red-brick buildings of the University of Virginia. That was the picture Krycek was pointing at. A much younger Mrs. Clough, holding a small child who had to be Annie. Mr. Clough in the same striped sports shirt he'd worn to Monticello. And Krycek's father, standing between them, smiling benevolently.

"I've never met them," Krycek said in a low voice, anticipating his question. Mulder turned around, to find that Mrs. Clough was wiping her face with a tissue and giving them a hostile look.

"I think it would be better if you came back when my husband is home," she said, her voice making it more of an order than a suggestion. Mulder didn't really mind; he wanted to talk to Linda Pulaski, and Krycek. The way the woman had reacted to the abduction suggestion, she probably wouldn't be able to give any details anyway.

But first he smiled at Mrs. Clough and gestured at the photos. "Is this an old friend of the family?"

She came closer with a few brisk steps, and looked, then immediately looked away again. "No," she said shortly. "We met him when we were walking around the campus."

"So why did he get to be in the picture?" Krycek asked.

"I don't know!" she said, making it sound aggressive. "That was years and years ago, I barely remember. Because he was friendly, I suppose. Showed us around, explained things to us." She walked closer to them, just about shooing them out. Behind the forceful manner her eyes were full of splintered glass.

"And you've never seen him again?" Krycek was already by the door and Mulder followed him, tossing the question over his shoulder. Out on the porch, he was relieved to get a breath of fresh air. "Never met him here in Leyden Creek?"

"No." She stood with one hand on the door, prepared to close it behind them. Only the angry suspicion in her eyes made her hold back another moment. "Are you really investigating my daughter's death?"

"We are looking into all the recent accidents," Mulder said. "We believe there may be a link between—"

"Come back when my husband is home," Mrs. Clough said. Then she shut the door. Mulder stared at it for a moment, then he turned around and went to the car, almost tripping over the tricycle again. When he looked at Krycek he found the man appearing serious and preoccupied, and he allowed it for a while as they got into the car and pulled out of the Cloughs' driveway.

His mind was turning over everything about the case, the facts, and the hints, and the unspoken things that colored the whole investigation. Mulder concentrated on driving, letting things work themselves out at their own pace. The question that filtered itself out was, "What did your father teach at UVa?"

"Biology," Krycek answered readily enough. "Although he didn't teach much, he mostly did research."

"Not medicine?"

"No. He had a medical degree from the Soviet Union, but he chose not to practice here." Krycek turned his head and looked at Mulder. "She was lying. She knew him."

Mulder nodded. He found a convenient spot at the side of the road, pulled off and turned off the engine. Dusk was falling but he could still see Krycek's face well enough. It was closed, uncommunicative, and even the expressive eyes were held firmly in check. Everything was shut away. "Bothers you, doesn't it, that strangers know things about your father that you don't?"

"It's amazing how perceptive a psych degree makes some people. What will you come up with next?"

He had to push; the blank facade had to crack sooner or later. Mulder got his fingernails underneath an edge and tugged. "Did he ever tell you what project he was working on for the consortium?"

All the fire he could have asked for was suddenly there in Krycek's eyes. "No. Did your father ever tell you anything—"

He didn't know he was going to do it until his hand was around Krycek's throat. "You killed him before he could say anything. Don't you fucking talk to me about my father."

"He had over thirty years to tell you his secrets," Krycek said dryly. "It's not my fault he procrastinated." Then he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The fire was gone just as abruptly. Or perhaps just banked down, hidden away. "If you move your thumb half an inch to the left and press a bit harder, you can kill me." Mulder left his hand where it was, and watched Krycek's profile, trying to see a likeness to the man in the photographs. After a moment Krycek turned his head and opened his eyes. "What's the matter, don't you want to see me die in agony?"

"No, I want to see you live in agony," Mulder countered.

Krycek unexpectedly smiled. "That's all right, then," he said. Mulder released the man's throat and put both hands on the steering wheel instead. He spent a few moments working out how to get to the address he'd been given for Linda Pulaski from here. His fingers could still feel Krycek's throat and he wondered what would have happened had he really moved his thumb, applied pressure. "Genetics."

"What?" The man did not look like a villain. It was the nose, probably, the way it tilted up slightly, lending Krycek an air of childish innocence that not all the leather jackets in the world could change. Krycek might want to be a big bad guy but he just looked like a bad little boy.

"The research my father did. It was mostly to do with genetics." Their eyes met in silent awareness. Mulder started the car.

* * *

It's getting dark. In every sense of the word. I sit back and relive the little scene of a few moments ago, watch his hands on the steering wheel, remember that touch against my neck and throat. Yes, I know it's sick. But God, how I want him to touch me. I want it so badly, it's like a constant ache in me, worse than the phantom pains in my missing arm.

And it distracts me from what is really going on here. Maybe it was a mistake to maneuver Mulder into this investigation. He may find the truth, but what else will he find along the way? If we're allowed to find anything at all. I keep expecting to smell cigarette smoke. I should get out of this now, before it blows up in our faces. Before everything falls apart.

But I need it. I need to know. I need...

I turn my head and look at something else instead, the houses, windows starting to light up now, people moving inside. This is a pretty town; only a few architectural horrors from the sixties and seventies prevent it from being a complete idyll. It's one of those places where everyone knows everyone else and nobody locks the doors, even now. It's so cosy, it would make a perfect setting for a Stephen King novel.

Or an X-file, of course.

Mulder's driving quite slowly and I realize he's looking for a street number. He hasn't told me where we're going, just as he didn't tell me before, but this time it has to be Linda Pulaski he wants to talk to. Her parents may not like that idea, after the scene not too long ago at the police station, but I don't mention that. We'll find out.

It does feel strange to sit here, thinking while he drives, working on a case. It's been a long time, a very long time. I remember who I was then and I want to laugh, or cry. He's still the same. The same driven, tormented, obsessed, beautiful idiot. I wonder what it would take to change him, but probably I don't want to know the answer.

We pull up into yet another driveway that could be the twin of the Cloughs'; Mulder hasn't said a word to me since we got moving again, and now he just gets out of the car and walks towards the house. I follow him, of course. I wish he'd talk to me, tell me what's going on in his mind. He rings the doorbell, I join him and we wait together until the door opens.

"Hey." It's Linda herself, looking a little more collected now. She's changed into a loose pale yellow dress, sleeveless, that shows a small tattoo high up on her left arm. A heart. She nods at Mulder, nods at me, then gives me a slight smile.

"I'm sorry to intrude," Mulder says, "but I'd like to ask you a few more questions."

A shadow crosses her face. She takes half a step backwards. I try to catch her eye. "It's about Annie," I say, knowing that that will make her see things differently.

Mulder gives me a look. He wants to do this his way. And it's not as though I'm his partner any longer or anything like that. But Linda nods and draws breath to ask us to come in, when a man comes up behind her and she turns around instead. It's her father, and I see now that he has the same pale hair and square chin. He looks over her shoulder at us and his brows draw together. "Yes?" he says forbiddingly.

Mulder goes into his Federal agent spiel again; he can draw that badge of his so fast, I wonder if he practices in front of a mirror. "I'd like to ask your daughter a few more questions."

"You upset her enough last time." Pulaski comes forward. He's a big man, has the kind of heaviness that comes with long, hard physical labor, and I wonder what he does for a living. The house is so firmly upper middle class.

"It's okay, Dad." Linda shoves her father aside with an ease born from long practice. "I'll talk to them." He takes a few steps back again. "Come on in."

"Thank you," Mulder says, and we do. Pulaski still doesn't like us being there. I look around for his wife, wondering what Linda's mother might look like, but she's nowhere to be seen. Linda leads us into the kitchen while her father hovers. She turns around and catches my eye.

"You want a Coke or something?" I nod, and she opens the fridge and gets a couple of cans, then pauses and gives her father an assessing look. "We're going up to my room," she decides. He looks about to protest. "You don't like to hear me talk about Annie anyway," she says, and her voice could cut glass. I can feel the anger coming off him in waves, but he doesn't follow us when Linda shows us the way. Up the stairs and to the right.

She has a comfortable room, quite large and with a slanted ceiling. I'm surprised, because the bed is not only made but covered with a pretty quilt, and there are no dirty clothes on the floor. There is, however, a large poster of Courtney Love right next to the book shelves, which are packed to overflowing. Linda puts the Coke cans down on the bedside table, takes one and opens it, drinks and hands it to me. I drink as well and try to keep the smile off my face as I turn and offer it to Mulder. He just looks at me; I shrug and hand it back to Linda. She winks at me, and I can't hold the smile back any longer.

"I need to ask you a few more things, Linda," Mulder says. He looks all wrong in here, with his trenchcoat and his serious expression. And the restlessness shows in him, the wish to just get on with this, the way he doesn't like my being there and distracting her. When he looks around the room his gaze falls on a chart of various genital piercings pinned up over the bed. A corner of his mouth twitches.

"Go ahead, then," she says and sits down on the bed, curling up with her legs crossed. She catches my arm and pulls me down beside her, and there's something slightly desperate in the way her fingers link with mine. Any other girl would have been holding her mother's hand now. When she drinks some more Coke the gesture is more defiant than relaxed.

Mulder, of course, doesn't mess around but goes straight to the heart of the matter. "Did Annie ever tell you anything that led you to think she believed she had been abducted by aliens?"

"Aliens." She doesn't seem all that fazed by the question, a perfect match for Mulder at that moment. "Yeah, she told me." Linda pauses and spends a few moments staring at her poster of Courtney Love. Her hand closes around mine, hard. "She had this little mark that she touched when she got nervous. She liked me to kiss it."

"At the back of her neck?" Mulder asks softly. Just when I'm about to give up all hope he folds himself up and sits on the floor like a teenager, looking up at Linda with a concerned expression. She nods, and brushes her fingers against her own neck almost unconsciously. "Could you feel something hard there, like a little piece of metal?"

"How do you know all this?" she asks. Then she tries to crush my knuckles again as terror comes into her eyes. "You didn't — you haven't—"

"No," I say, stroking the back of her hand with my thumb, trying to persuade her to ease up a little. "Even if there were grounds for getting her body exhumed, it would never happen this fast, and it probably never will happen."

"I know it doesn't really matter," Linda says. "It's not really her any more, is it?" I don't quite know what kind of reassurance would work best, so I just hold her hand. "I just don't like... I always hated it when other people touched her." Mulder ignores this, seemingly oblivious to the bite of love and pain in her voice; he gets us back on track again.

"According to Annie's mother, she was a child when it happened. Did Annie tell you how old she was? Did she tell you anything about how it happened?" It doesn't matter how gentle he makes his voice, the questions are always the same, hard, determined. It's the truth he's after, but he doesn't do it out of cruelty. It's as if he believes the truth will help them, too, those who are caught in his furious cross-examinations. The truth will set them free. Right.

"Her mother never listened, what would she know about it!" Curling up more comfortably, Linda goes on, "I knew her then. We've known each other since we were three. She was always there, she was my best friend forever." A tiny pause, and then raw shock, as it hits her again. She drops her head forward and stares down at her hands and her nails bite into me, but I don't mind.

"Were you with her when it happened?" I ask. "The abduction, I mean?"

"Yeah. Well, sort of, you know?" There's a name inside the heart on her arm. Annie. "I thought it was all my fault when she disappeared, 'cause she'd never have gone out there to play if I hadn't talked her into it. I dared her. We were all scared of the old Mitchell barn."

"Why?" It's Mulder on his best behavior. He doesn't snap it out, he just slides the question into her narrative, carefully, naturally.

Linda shrugs. "The usual thing, someone had seen lights out there once at night, someone had heard a funny noise, you know how kids get," she says, with all the seventeen-year-old disdain she can manage. "We told each other horror stories about it, so of course I had to go out there."

I carefully work my hand free of her grasp and bend down and pick up the Coke can, drink some more, set it down again. "Go on," I say, "tell us what happened when she disappeared."

She looks appraisingly at me. "Why do you only have one arm?" she asks.

"The other one got cut off."

"Well, you're cute anyway," she says as if that settles the matter, and reclaims my hand. I want to smile but I have to look away for a moment. Mulder, on the floor, is watching us both as if we're mutating into a different species in front of his eyes. He ought to understand that she's still in shock, with all that training of his. Even I can tell. But I have no idea what the expression on his face means.

"Did you see it happen?" he asks. "Did you see anything strange at all?"

Linda shakes her head. "Annie had found some pansies, it was early summer. She said they were dying and I went down to the creek to get some water for them. When I came back she wasn't there any more. I looked and looked for her, and then her parents came looking for us both."

"How long was she gone?"

"Two days. The whole town searched the woods for her. Then she turned up again almost exactly where I'd last seen her. Everyone thought she'd gone into the barn and been shut in somehow, and wriggled out again. She had these bruises and scrapes all over." Linda pats arms and legs as if to illustrate. "She couldn't speak much then but later she told me that there had been these strange people who had hurt her."

"Strange people?" Mulder leans forward. "Not aliens? Did she describe them?"

"She just said, strange. I mean, she was a kid then, you know? Later she didn't want to talk about it much. She had nightmares, though." Linda looks protective, defensive, as if Mulder's questions imply that Annie could have done better, gathered more information. I can't reach to kick him. "She said they had big eyes, and they hurt her."

"The Mitchell barn." I shrug out of my jacket; it's warm in here, I don't know why Mulder isn't sweating in that trenchcoat of his. "That's out where the accidents were, isn't it, the one up on the hill there."

"Yeah." Now it's her time to lean down and reach for the Coke. After she's swallowed some of it she offers it to Mulder again and to my immense surprise he shifts closer and accepts the can. "She only said they had big eyes. Oh, and they were real pale." His face lights up with a mixture of anger and delight, like someone who's had his worst suspicions confirmed and is pretty damn pleased about it. "Do you believe me?" she asks, and now she's asking him, not me. "Do you believe this happened to Annie?"

"I believe it," he says. "It's happened to other people." Samantha doesn't get a mention, instead he drinks some more Coke. "Is there anything else you remember, any other detail she told you?"

Linda shakes her head, pauses to think, then shakes her head again. "I always thought she'd tell me more," she whispers. Then she clears her throat. "Annie had a thing about needles. After it happened. She went crazy when she had to take shots, I had to hold her hand. She was going to go see a specialist in Charlottesville in a week and she'd asked me to go with her."

Mulder nods in perfect understanding and for a moment his face is unguarded, his eyes are clear and open. Everything shows. It's like being kicked in the stomach. And I know he's thinking about what happens to the abductees, to those little girls. Thinking about the one who was never returned. I wish I hadn't made fun of that a moment ago, even of it was only in my mind. It means so much to him, this is why he can be so relentless, put everyone else through so much. And I can't argue with that, now.

The grip around my hand tightens again, and I look at Linda. She looks from me to Mulder and back again. We're not exactly behaving the way government agents should, I'll grant you that. He never has, and I'm not an agent any more. Mulder straightens up a little. "Do you think you can talk about it again now — the accident?" he asks. "Perhaps you'd like your mother to be with you."

"No." Linda shifts on the bed. She reaches out with her free hand and grabs a pillow, wraps her arm around it. "She's not home, anyway. It's okay. If, if I don't have to look at those pictures again."

"Of course not," I say immediately. Mulder's got the file with him, and I can understand that; I'm just as pleased he's not letting it out of his hands, God knows what else might disappear if we took our eyes off it. But she doesn't have to look at that again.

I don't want to look at that again. I look at Mulder instead. He's unbuttoned the trenchcoat and he's leaning back against the wall next to a wicker laundry hamper. When he tilts his head back like that, the line of his throat is irresistible. Well, almost irresistible. I don't jump off the bed and pounce on him, much as I would like to. Linda brings my hand along with her own up to her face, to prop her chin on. She'll keep me from any improper behavior.

"The couple you saw," Mulder says, "were they doing anything, or were they just standing there?"

"They just appeared." A shiver runs through her. "Or he did. She was more... cloudy somehow. They could have been moving, I don't know. After Annie screamed I didn't really notice much of anything, I was just trying to control the car, and she was yelling that he was dead, that she didn't want him to get her."

My throat hurts and I swallow, painfully, look for the Coke and find Mulder still has it. He has drawn his own conclusions and I get in ahead of him with the question, just because I have to. "Did it sound as though she knew who he was?"

"How the hell should I know? It was all just chaos — what's your name, anyway?"

"Alex." I stare at the Coke can in Mulder's hand longingly and to my surprise he moves forward and holds it out to me, but I can't work my fingers free of Linda's grip without hurting her. Instead she takes the can and hold it to my mouth. I close my eyes and drink, and then she drinks.

"Alex," she says experimentally. I like the way it sounds, coming from her. "I don't know, okay? I'd never seen him before that moment. And I don't know who Annie would have known that I didn't know."

"Who was Annie's doctor?" Mulder asks. I can almost see little wheels turning inside his head. But I told him—

"Dr. Skeat, same as everyone else here." Linda looks bewildered. "Her parents took her to someone in Charlottesville when she was a kid, but she goes — she went to Walter Skeat for at least the last ten years."

And Linda with her, holding her hand. She seems to be good at holding people's hands. I flick my thumb against her chin. "How come she was going to go to a specialist? Was she ill?"

"They were going to run a blood test and check for something." Linda shrugs. "I don't really know, it was something that just came up out of the blue not long ago. Her parents told her she had to go. And I wanted to get some stuff from UVa anyway. We were both going to apply there."

"I see." Mulder gets to his feet and walks over to the window and looks out. It's dark now. Linda lifts the Coke can towards my mouth again and I shake my head. It's kind of her. But it makes everything so obvious. Suddenly I want her to let go of me. "Thank you for your help," he says, turning around again. "We might be back to ask you a few more questions eventually."

"That's all right." She shrugs and tries to look careless. "Drag me out of English class and I'll love you forever." I stroke her chin again and she releases my hand, and I flex my fingers to get the blood back into them. When I stand up, she does as well. Mulder returns from the window and Linda walks us down the stairs and all the way to the door.

Her parents are in the kitchen. I can hear them talking together and the sound of dinner cooking. Mr. Pulaski appears in the doorway, backlit by the kitchen lamp, and scowls but says nothing. I wish I could put some money into Linda Pulaski's college fund. "Take care," she says to me, and I blink in surprise.

Then we're outside, and as we head for the car, I can hear an argument breaking out in the house. Mulder hears it too; his shoulders tense up, but he keeps moving. And we're not here to be family counselors, really. We get into the car and I look at his profile in the dim bluish light. "I told you my father didn't practice medicine here in the States."

"I think we've already established that there's a lot you never knew about your father." But he doesn't make it a challenge this time. He sits there for a while longer, then shifts in his seat to face me. "You're not being very professional towards Linda Pulaski."

"You're the Federal agent here, Mulder, not me. It makes her feel better to hold on to someone. I don't know why it's me, but I have no reason to stop her." I flex my fingers again. "Not unless she breaks something. She's got a strong grip."

"Just think about what you're doing," he says, dry disapproval layered through the words as though he believes I'm planning to sneak in through the bedroom window and ravish her in the middle of the night. Then he goes on to say, "I'll ask Scully to check Annie Clough's medical records."

"You think there's anything left to check?" That stops him for a moment, hand on the ignition key. So he hasn't thought about that, or at least tried not to think about that. "Someone's been here before us, Mulder. Maybe he's still here somewhere." I fight the urge to look over my shoulder. "We have to count on the possibility that anything to do with this case may have been tampered with, or destroyed. If I'd known, I wouldn't have asked you to look into this."

"Getting nervous?" There's no telling if it's a taunt or not from his voice alone, and I can't see his eyes properly now that it's so dark.

"Yeah, and if you had any sense, you would be, too." Then again, if he had any sense, he wouldn't be Mulder.

"If you ask Linda Pulaski nicely, I'm sure she'll hide you under the bed."

That does make me laugh. "Could you talk to Skinner and ask him how you got this case?"

"He didn't want to tell me," Mulder says thoughtfully. Then he frowns. "He started to say that he'd gotten a call, but I interrupted him." Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, he starts to dial.

I lean back and wait. Sitting in a car in the dark like this makes me feel like a teenager, like we've parked here to make out. Too bad it isn't true. I wonder if I could get him in the mood by whispering sweet nothings in his ear, or if he's only turned on by serious dirty talk about near death experiences, demonic possession and sordid experiments involving mutated frogs and clones of high-ranking government officials. I wonder what kinds of sounds he makes in bed, if he's quiet, if he moans, if he'd scream for me if I did everything exactly right. If he'd ever let me—

To get my mind off that track, I ask, "Will Skinner be in his office this late?"

He shrugs. "We'll find out." The sound of that one word, 'we', sends a strange feeling through me, a mixture of fear and champagne. Suddenly I have to struggle to sit still. "It's Mulder. Sir, I have to ask you—" He runs a hand through his hair and looks exasperated. "I'm sorry, I forgot to call. Agent Scully said you didn't have any particular information." Then he freezes and very pointedly does not look at me. "I see. Thank you, sir." His voice is like ice. A deep breath and he goes on, "Where did this case come from?" There is a longer pause. "I can't tell you that. Yes, but—"

I let him sit and stare at the phone in his hand for a few moments before I clear my throat. "What did he say?"

"That rats always leave a sinking ship." Mulder lifts his gaze from the cell phone and turns it off. "Someone asked him to pass on that message to me."

I drop my head into my hand and swear quietly to myself; when I run out of words I switch to Russian, which is a better language for swearing in, anyway. Mulder just sits there and doesn't say anything. I feel like pounding my fist against the car door, but my fingers still hurt from Linda's fierce grip. "How did he find out?" I finally growl. "How the hell does he know?!" I turn my head and stare at Mulder. He knows I am not referring to Skinner. "The only people who know I'm in the country are you and Scully."

"And you think the first thing I did when you fell asleep in my bed was call Cancerman and tell him about my surprise visitor?" God, but he's angry. "It would be no more than you deserve," he hisses. "You betray everyone, don't you, sooner or later? Me, him, the militia, the Russians... no wonder the whole world wants to kill you."

"I've noticed," I say. "Do you want to kill me?" There is a moment of silence. "Do you, Mulder? You can if you want to."

"You make it sound like deciding to have another slice of chocolate cake. Weren't you the one who told me yesterday I don't do things like that? Guess what, Krycek, you were right. You're the amoral son of a bitch who does things like that, not me." He draws another deep breath, fingers closing around the steering wheel as if around my throat again. "I don't know how you manage to live with yourself, but I won't end it for you." A moment later he adds, "Skinner asked if you were with us."

"Thanks for telling him." While I don't think Skinner would set my enemies on my trail as long as I'm with Mulder and Scully, God only knows what he might choose to do when we go our separate ways again. I've always suspected that he has fewer scruples than Mulder, that he wouldn't mind any kind of rough justice catching up with me. I shouldn't have hit him so hard in that stairwell.

"I didn't tell him."

"You said you couldn't tell him. Skinner's not stupid." Then I shrug; even if Skinner decides to hand me to my former boss on a plate, he won't do it as long as I'm with Mulder and Scully, probably. He does look out for them.

Mulder ignores my comments. "He said he had been given a message not to let this case come to our attention." My respect for Skinner increases again. "Then he received this second message, apparently about you. He's worried." I try to picture a worried Skinner. It isn't easy. "He thinks you've set me up. You seem to think I've set you up."

"I'm sorry," I say. Once again I turn to look at him, thinking the darkness will keep me safe. "I don't really think either you or Scully would do that. And I'm not setting you up either. I'd never sell you out to him." An unwilling laugh rises in my throat. "He wouldn't let me stay alive long enough to try."

Then I bite my tongue as he says, "Nice to hear you have such noble motives, Krycek." I didn't mean it like that, but it's no use trying to take it back. Mulder finally starts the car, and I struggle with the seatbelt to give myself something to do and not have to look at him. I am tangled up in a barbed net that stings me whenever I move; there's no telling where the next hook will sink into me. Even breathing can hurt, around him. I wish I could look at him forever.

It's not far from the Pulaskis' home to Laura Ann's diner. Nothing is far from anything here in Leyden Creek. There aren't many street lights, but the moon is up, cool, white and distant. As we drive, I collect myself enough to say, "Lou said they were here last week. It's possible they cleared the evidence away and left. But I don't know how they knew we were coming, particularly not when Skinner was told not to let you have the case."

Mulder is silent, and I think he may still be angry. But when he does speak he sounds merely thoughtful, an intelligent man faced with a puzzle to solve. "They didn't know we were coming. Not that Scully and I were coming. But they may have been expecting someone." He turns his head briefly and looks at me. "It could be you've been set up after all."

I think about Peskow, dying, telling me about Leyden Creek with his last breaths. If he'd been told to give me that hint, if he knew what it would mean, it would explain his struggling to get the words out in the face of death. If he thought it would get him a posthumous revenge... but if he was in league with them, I'll eat my gun. It doesn't make sense. Maybe if I'd waited a bit longer I would have gotten something more useful out of him.

"It's possible," I agree cautiously. And if it is true, it means that it's the presence of Mulder and Scully that's keeping me alive. "Can you lend me some money?"

"What? Why?" Mulder actually starts to reach for his wallet for a moment, a small motion but I don't miss it. "Don't tell me, you want to buy something to eat again."

"I should leave. The sooner the better." My mind goes over the alternatives, not that there are many. "There's an airport in Wakefield—"

"Leaving the sinking ship already?" The softer his voice gets, the more it tears into me. "I thought you wanted the truth here. I should have realized the truth could never be as important to you as your own safety. And weren't you the one who said nothing could happen to you in the company of two Federal agents?"

"Listen, lisitsa—"

"If you try to bolt I might be forced to arrest you," he says, ignoring what I said, which is probably just as well. I feel like biting my tongue off.

"Consortium assassins have a talent for hitting the wrong person," I finally get out. He should know that's true. "If they're really after me, they wouldn't have any objection to going through a lot of people to get at me. Perhaps not you, but very likely Scully would be at risk." And he will not want to put Scully in this kind of danger, he cares far too much about her for that.

"You'll just have to stay with me, then," he says in a voice that will not take no for an answer. I bite my lip, hard, and hope that any sound might have made was covered by the steady purr of the engine. Oh God yes, lisitsa. I want to stay with you. But I don't want to get you killed. "Do you want to know what happened to your parents or don't you?"

There is a tense silence that lasts all the way down the main street. He parks right outside Laura Ann's and gets out without waiting for an answer. I follow more slowly and look across the street at the police station. Mulder's already got his hand on the door handle and he turns to look over his shoulder; I know he won't let me set off on my own, so I join him and we walk inside.

Scully is standing over by the noticeboard, apparently engrossed in the recreational possibilities that the Leyden Creek community has to offer, but she turns her head quickly enough when we approach. "Is it going to be macrame after all, Scully?" Mulder asks teasingly.

"As long as I don't have to look at more Tupperware," she says. Her eyes take in both of us as she goes on to ask, "Are you hungry?"

I nod, and Mulder shoots me a sideways look. Then he says, "We might as well eat something." Neither he nor Scully ate more than a third of what they ordered, last time. She leads the way to the same table and we settle in, in exactly the same places — Scully by the window, me next to her, Mulder across the table from us. He picks up the menu and looks at it, which is ridiculous; Scully takes it out of his hand and runs a finger down it, her eyes counting calories.

I look at Mulder instead. "I do want to know," I say quietly. "I just wasn't counting on complications like these." After a short pause I go on, "You probably won't believe me, but I wasn't out to get you and Agent Scully into this kind of trouble."

"What kind of trouble?" Scully asks behind the menu. Our waitress appears, as if on cue, and I know the look I give her is a little too suspicious. She's the same cheerful girl who was here before, and she's still checking Mulder out. He still doesn't notice. She stands with her pencil poised and her smile looks warm and genuine. According to her name tag, she's called Susie. We all order quite quickly, and as the waitress walks off, Scully repeats, "What kind of trouble?"

"I called Skinner," Mulder says. "He was told not to give us this case, so he did. And he's gotten another message. It seems someone knows Krycek is here with us." Perhaps he meant to go on, but Scully is already nodding; she knows as well as I do who 'someone' is. And despite the way I feel about Skinner, I admire his guts.

Scully raises an eyebrow. "What can we expect?" It takes me a moment to realize that she's asking me, not Mulder.

"I wish I knew," I say honestly. "Mulder thinks he tried to lure me down here and that you two are just unforeseen complications. If that's true you can probably expect to find me dead sooner or later." I pause for a moment and consider the few facts we have. Another idea occurs to me. "But we may not be dealing with anything so direct. I'm not sure he would try to kill me outright at this time, it could upset the balance of things. If he's cleaned up here, as it seems he's tried to, maybe all he's hoping is that I'll get in trouble on my own."

"Perhaps," Scully says calmly, "he hoped to get you in trouble with the Leyden Creek PD."

* * *

Mulder leaned back and watched the two of them exchange ideas. You'd never guess that Krycek was a back-stabbing little rat, or that Scully loathed him, from the way they talked to each other. Despite being so utterly different it seemed they had momentarily found common ground in professional behavior. Although Krycek's profession was rather unlike Scully's.

The waitress returned and it became apparent that Krycek still did not know the meaning of the phrase cholesterol count, not to judge by the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, buttered corn, biscuits and gravy on his plate. The thank-you smile he turned on the waitress made her blush. Fortunately, Scully seemed far less susceptible to Krycek's rough-edged leather jacket and stubble charm.

He waited until all the plates were distributed and the waitress had retired to the kitchen before saying, "Never mind the police department. It's probably revenge. He thinks seeing the ghosts of your parents will break you without any real effort on his part. Trying to save something from the wreckage."

"What wreckage?" Scully said.

"But I haven't seen any ghosts," Krycek objected.

Mulder paused for a moment and looked at them both. He was used to Scully's treatment of his theories, but if he had to put up with it from Krycek as well, he was putting in for combat pay. Didn't he have enough trouble in his life as it was? He didn't like the way Krycek turned a little more light-hearted when Scully was present. If it were left to him he'd dredge Krycek's mind and soul like one would dredge a harbor, probably turning up just as much disgusting crap in the process, too.

"You felt something when we were out at the accident site." He made it a statement, not a question, but got the expected answer anyway.

"No." Krycek stared down into his mashed potatoes. "No, I didn't." Then he looked up and his eyes were dark with denial. "I didn't!"

"We should try going back without Larkin." Krycek shook his head. Mulder held his eyes for a moment longer, trying to convince him through sheer force of will. "You might see something."

"I don't want to!" Krycek kept his voice low, but the suppressed violence in his words made Scully lean a little away from him, as if to make room for it all. "All I wanted was to see the place itself. Now I've done it."

"And the fact that Linda Pulaski claims to have seen your dead parents means nothing to you?" It wasn't hard to choose the words, they seemed to come by themselves. Krycek actually flinched, and Mulder felt no regret, only calm certainty that he'd hit the right spot.

"She could be mistaken." Krycek was still speaking quietly, still under control. "It was late, she was upset, she's still upset. She'd say anything if she thought it meant she didn't kill Annie by careless driving. And anyone would freak out on seeing those photos. They probably brought it all back to her, how Annie must have looked after it happened."

Mulder speared a piece of steak and ate it, waiting while Krycek wound his way through the frantic rationalizations. "Linda said she recognized them. Annie Clough was a skinny, blonde sixteen-year-old girl. She did not particularly resemble your father. And Linda claimed to have seen ghosts long before she saw the photos."

"It may be a case of mass hysteria," Scully said calmly, cutting through the tension between them. "Two of the women I interviewed also claimed to have seen some kind of ghostly apparition by the walnut tree." Despite the way she sounded and what she said, Mulder felt himself grow suspicious. "It's very likely that they'd heard of Linda's story before their own accident occurred, too."

"Did you give the women a physical exam?" he asked.

"Yes." Scully concentrated on her trout.

"And did you find anything?" Mulder kept himself patient. He shouldn't have to drag information out of Scully like this. The conspiracy theory that occupied most of his thoughts right then was that Scully and Krycek had decided on a joint course of action just to frustrate him. Krycek might not care about the case in general, but Scully was the one who had reminded him that they had to solve this before someone else died. He remembered the look in Linda Pulaski's eyes as she'd sat there quietly, holding Krycek's hand. Remembered the way her voice had sounded.

"Two of them have implants," she finally said, and looked up from her plate to catch his eyes before he could ask the question. "One of the ones who says she saw something, and one who said she didn't notice anything at all."

"You should have brought one of the pictures to show them," Mulder said, "to see if they too would have recognized the people in it."

"You saw what kind of effect it had on Linda Pulaski," Scully said, reproachfully. "It's pointless to put people through that kind of thing — they'd be so shocked by the photographs, they wouldn't be able to judge rationally whether they recognized the faces. What you can see of the faces."

Mulder was about to argue. Then he shrugged. He felt certain that the women in that car had seen Krycek's parents. What he didn't know was why. "I want to see their medical records. Not all of them, just the two with the implants."

"Why?" Scully wondered. "It's highly unlikely their physician would have noticed the implants. In fact, if he had, he would probably have removed them, so..."

"I want to know if either or both of them went to a doctor in Charlottesville up until ten years ago."

"I can call and ask them."

"You think my father was behind all this, don't you," Krycek said tiredly. "He's dead, Mulder, you're never going to find out. If there ever was any evidence, it's gone."

Mulder slapped his hand down on the case file, angrily, protectively. "What was in here, what was down on paper might be gone. But what's in people's memories might still be there. And you were the one who wanted to know. Have you changed your mind?" His voice turned nasty and taunting, and he let it. "Is it getting to be too much for you, Krycek? Don't you want to know the truth about daddy?"

"Fuck you." Still tired, but with steel underneath, Krycek fought back. "You can cast him as the villain if you want to. But my mother died there, too." And the rush of pain at that moment was far too open for Mulder to ignore. More clearly than he wanted to, he remembered hospitals and white walls and waiting forever. "If it makes you feel better to do this, go ahead. Do things your way. As long as you're looking for the truth, and not just evidence that everything is the way you want it to be. You want my father to have been just like me." Then he paused. "No. You want my father to have been worse than your father."

The silence was so awful and complete that the sudden sound of Scully drawing an uncontrolled breath was louder than a gunshot. Mulder stared at the tabletop and clenched his hand around his fork and tried not to reach across and stab it into Krycek's lying throat. He breathed, shallow breaths, around the sudden black pain. The bastard fought dirty. That shouldn't be a surprise.

"We're going out to the accident site again," he said, surprised at how even his voice was. "Tonight. Scully, you might want to call those women before we go and ask them about their medical history and what doctors they've seen. Better eat up fast, Krycek, if you're going to manage putting on those extra ten pounds before you have to go back to Russia again."

Krycek leaned back, away from the food, away from Mulder. His face had closed up again but his eyes were still wide open, as if he didn't care if anyone looked into them, looked into his soul. Mulder wanted to shake him, hit him, anything. New rules now. It wasn't going to be like that again, was it. Nothing was going to be like it had been, again. If only Krycek hadn't mentioned... He took a deep breath. His father.

How dared Krycek sit there and talk like that about a man he had killed. Mulder tried to squash the thought that it was because Krycek actually knew something about it. He didn't need to think about this right now. Didn't need to be reminded of his father or of anything besides the details of this case that he was, damn it, going to solve somehow even if Cancerman had fucked with the evidence, even if Krycek was full of shit and denial, even if it started raining frogs and hot coals over this goddamn little town.

The soft beeps of Scully's cell phone were a distraction, and he half-listened as she talked to the women, making little matter of fact notes on a paper napkin. Krycek wasn't touching his food again, and Mulder knew that was because of what he'd said. Sulk all you like, he thought vindictively, it won't help, we are going out there again. You wanted help, you're getting help, you can damn well live with it.

Susie the waitress returned and gave Krycek a concerned look. "Is there something wrong with the food? Don't you like it?"

Krycek looked up and slowly, a smile appeared on his face. "The food is fine," he said, his voice a little husky, nothing more. "I guess I'm just not as hungry as I thought I was." He gestured for her to take the plate away and she did, looking a little regretful that all that good food would go to waste.

"Do you want something for dessert?" Krycek shrugged. "Well, think about it," she said with a wink, and walked off towards the kitchen. Mulder watched the way Krycek's eyes followed her. There was no hunger there, no desire, just cool assessment. He felt his skin crawl.

"I don't care if she's on the menu, Krycek, forget about it." Mulder turned to Scully, who had finished her calls and tucked the phone away. "What did they say?"

She looked at them both, one after the other. "Both of them had been going to a Dr. Davis in Charlottesville for a while, ten to twelve years ago, for a special treatment for persistent sinus infections." Mulder raised an eyebrow. Scully nodded. "It's an unusual thing to be sent to a specialist for, unless it's far more serious than what both women described. I'll make a few calls tomorrow and find out if Dr. Davis was ever licensed to practice medicine here."

Krycek merely shrugged. "I don't know. He never had a practice of his own though, not a real..." His voice trailed off. "He used to treat me when I was a kid. Get me pills, shots when I needed them. Would that have been illegal, if—"

"If he wasn't licensed to practice, yes," Scully confirmed. "It doesn't seem to have done you any lasting harm," was that really humor in her eyes, "and I assume he knew what he was doing, if he had medical training in the former Soviet Union, but it was definitely illegal."

"He was a doctor," Krycek said, staring out the window for a few silent moments. Then he said, "They always told me that he was a doctor. I don't know." There was another pause. "He did know what he was doing."

Scully just nodded, and Mulder tried as hard as he could to ignore the wealth of implications behind those words, and got to his feet instead. "Come on," he said. "We're going back out there."

"Mulder." Scully sounded tired. "It's dark already, you won't be able to see anything. And we haven't even checked into our motel yet."

"Ghosts come out at night, Scully." These ghosts apparently came out in the daytime too, but all that meant was that it didn't matter what time they went there, and the sooner they went the better. Mulder looked at Krycek, who was leaning back still, with his head against the wall of the booth, turned sideways to look out of the window. He could see the pulse jumping at the base of Krycek's throat. "It's only eight thirty, it's not like we'd be going to bed now. Get going, Krycek, we have a case to solve. The case of the Phantom Physician."

"Yeah, and you're Nancy Drew." Krycek got to his feet and Scully moved out after him. "I'll go pay for dinner." Mulder let him go, feeling oddly confident that Krycek wasn't going to bolt. Scully raised an eyebrow as she stopped by him.

"I used to think that I disliked Krycek's assumption that we're all on the same side now," she said.

Mulder waited for her to go on, but she just stood there, and watched Krycek until he turned his head and did too. The man was paying Susie the waitress, flirting slickly with her; it all seemed to be automatic. "And now?" he asked.

"You're certainly making it clear to him that we aren't." Krycek leaned over the desk by the cash register to look at something the waitress was pointing out to him. Mulder thought they were looking at a tourist map, something like that. When he straightened up again the leather jacket slipped off his shoulders, and he bent down to pick it up.

Susie the waitress's smile stiffened into a mask, and when Krycek stood up again she was pretending not to look at his missing arm. Mulder watched as Krycek turned to stone; he could guess that the man's next smile was going to be ten times as fake as Susie's, and a hundred times more convincing. Her lips moved in a feeble excuse and then she vanished. Krycek stood where he was, so still it was hard to tell if he was even breathing.

"I'm not going to feel sorry for him," Mulder said. He didn't realize he'd spoken out loud until he saw Scully look up at him again.

"Come on, Nancy," was all she said as she headed for the door. Mulder sighed. He was going to have to hear that for a long, long time. Damn Alex Krycek.

It was a lot cooler outside now and Krycek struggled into his jacket, a motion that should have been awkward, smoothed out by time and practice. Mulder unlocked the car and looked across the street to where light spilled out from the police station. He'd be glad not to have to talk to Larkin until tomorrow, but he had a feeling the man was expecting some kind of progress report. Maybe they should call him at home, but what did they have to report? He was used to pushing his theories into the faces of uncaring and unbelieving local detectives, but right now, he just damn well did not feel like it.

Scully got in next to him, and Krycek was in the back seat again, staring out the window, barely acknowledging their presence as they drove off again. The darkness that hadn't been all that noticeable on the main street turned into a presence in its own right as they got out on the road and Mulder found himself driving more slowly than he normally did, waiting and watching.

He wasn't sure if he expected anything to happen out at the accident site or not. He was sure Krycek had felt something, noticed something when they'd been here before, however much the man might like to deny it. That spooked look and the odd behavior that had convinced Larkin that Krycek was some kind of tame FBI psychic (tame psycho, his mind whispered) had been more than just an act. And wouldn't Krycek's parents want to appear to their son?

It all depended on why this was happening. And when he searched his mind for the stray facts and random clues that would shape up into a beautiful whole, they refused to come. Mulder scowled, then saw the black on black silhouette of the walnut tree, the twist in the road. He slowed even more, and pulled over in the same spot Larkin had chosen before. If anyone went off the road tonight, they'd be sped on their way by Avis, not a stone wall.

They all sat in silence for a moment, as Mulder turned off the engine and cut the lights and night fell all around them. It was dark. Really dark. He glanced up at the spot next to the walnut tree and saw nothing.

"This is ridiculous," Krycek said from the back seat. But then he shifted around, opened the door and got out of the car. Mulder followed and a moment later Scully got out as well. It was a clear night and stars glinted up there, twinkling lights he had not considered friendly for over twenty years. All around them was the sound of the night-time countryside breathing. Krycek seemed unaffected by it; he just took a couple of steps away from the car, and stood there. "I don't feel anything."

Mulder walked away from the car too, up towards the tree. Sometime during the afternoon, the remains of Janine Kendrick's car had been taken away; the wheels of investigation would keep turning, and he felt sure that no one would find anything wrong with the brakes, with the steering, with anything. He turned around when he'd reached the walnut tree and leaned his back against it, watching Scully and Krycek and the car and the night. "What did you feel when we were here before?" he asked in a far kinder voice than he would have believed himself capable of. "You saw something."

"Just the wind in the grass," Krycek said. "Or maybe a small animal running around." He was coming closer, moving slowly, as if testing the ground. "It wasn't anything like what you think, Mulder. I don't see ghosts."

"I wonder." He leaned his head back against the tree and looked up through the crown; the night sky looked better this way, seen through a lace-work of heavy black branches. "Are they trying to warn others away from the place where they had an accident themselves? Sure as hell isn't working. Or are they trying to," he couldn't resist putting a Gothic spin on his words, "lure innocents to their doom?"

Krycek was standing in the same spot now as he had been this afternoon, shoulders set defiantly. "Bullshit, Mulder, you don't believe that. You think it's something to do with the implants." He ran his hand over the stone wall lightly, an almost caressing touch. "They all had implants, they were all treated by my father over ten years ago. And this is supposed to start things happening now? The time frame is all wrong."

"Linda said Annie's parents were going to take her to a specialist for no particular reason." He barely noticed Scully coming up to them, going over the site in her own methodical way, with a flashlight.

"You don't know that it was for no particular reason. Linda just didn't know."

"We can check the medical records, talk to this Walter Skeat about her, and about the other women, see if they had been referred to a specialist too." Mulder pressed one hand against the tree trunk, picking carefully at the bark. "And Annie's parents knew your father."

"Yeah," Krycek finally admitted. "Yeah, they probably did."

"How do you know that?" Scully asked, turning her flashlight off and coming to join the conversation. "Did they mention him during the interview?"

"They were standing with him in a framed photo on the kitchen wall," Mulder said. "We can show the driver's license to those women, Scully. Not the photos from the accident. Just to make sure he's actually the Dr. Davis they went to back then." He did not feel any doubt at all of how the women would respond, but everyone else needed the confirmation, and it was all right, really. He would be right, and Scully and Krycek would admit it.

"All right," she said. "And I assume you want to ask them about possible abduction experiences, too." He nodded. "Mulder, these women are highly strung, and might be eager to please. I think there's a large chance that they could simply tell you what they think you would like to hear."

"Scully." This time it mostly made him want to laugh. "You really think I am incapable of seeing through that?" He did have training, after all. He had interviewed witnesses before. And he could tell when people lied to him. Most of the time, he amended, as he looked from Scully to Krycek.

"I just wanted to mention it," she said in her primmest voice, the one that meant she wasn't going to let him get at her thoughts if he'd keep shooting her conclusions down. Mulder felt a little sorry, but at the same time it still annoyed him that he was the one with the psych degree and both Scully and Krycek persisted in treating him as though he knew nothing of human nature.

He knew the darker side, he thought to himself. He knew that a little too well sometimes. "Meanwhile," Krycek's voice cut through his musings, "I still don't sense anything, and it's getting cold."

"Have you even tried?"

"Mulder, I don't know how the hell I'm supposed to try." Krycek sounded completely exasperated. Sounded, in fact, like a man who had been dragged away from his dinner by someone whose company he did not enjoy to stand in a cold field on a dark night trying to contact ghosts he didn't believe in. "Buy an ouija board for next time, and now can we please get back in the car?"

"In a moment," Mulder said, pushing himself away from the tree. Only now did he notice that the grass was slightly damp and his trouser cuffs were soaking up the moisture. He went over to where Krycek was standing, the first accident site, and knelt down by the wall where Krycek had picked out a piece of metal. There was nothing there now, as he ran his fingers over the cracks and gaps.

"You're going to get bitten by something," Krycek muttered. "It was only the one piece."

Scully walked past them. "What's that building up there?" she asked, peering through the darkness.

"The old Mitchell barn," Mulder and Krycek replied at the same time. They broke off; Mulder looked up at Krycek, then slowly rose again, bracing himself against the wall. Two decisive strides, and then he vaulted over the wall, the effect slightly marred by his coat catching on one of the stones. Mulder took off over the field, and heard the two others scramble to follow him.

"Mulder," Scully clambered down and tried to trail the beam of her flashlight on him. "Mulder, where do you think you're going? If it's just an old barn—"

"It's where Linda Pulaski said that Annie Clough was abducted," Krycek told her and Mulder turned his head to see that Krycek was also on the other side of the fence now and striding along by Scully's side. He didn't slow down. The blacker than black solid shape of the barn ahead drew him. It had happened somewhere around here. Two little girls playing, one of them went away for a few moments, and the other... what had happened to the other? They'd found her here two days later, hysterical, cut and bruised.

And with an implant at the back of her neck, an implant no one else ever saw and believed in. Once again he remembered the pain in Linda Pulaski's voice, the way she'd clung to Krycek's hand. Could imagine her as a child, trying to explain what had happened to Annie, there one moment, gone the next and she couldn't help it, couldn't help it, it wasn't her fault.

He bit down on the inevitable associations, and kept walking, fast.

The barn seemed a lot bigger and less run down when he came up next to it, though as dark as it was, he knew he wasn't really seeing much. Mulder got his flashlight out and started looking around for a door; he was prowling along one long blank wall when Scully and Krycek caught up with him. "Larkin was lying," he said, crouching down to check the stone foundations. "This place hasn't been abandoned for fifteen years."

"He said that?" It was Krycek who asked — Krycek, who'd been there when Larkin had talked about it. Mulder ran a hand over the one small opening he'd found, feeling at the edges. "A cat could get through, maybe," Krycek said, bending down as well. "Not a child."

"There has to be a door." He straightened up and made for the nearest corner, stumbling a little at the uneven patches in the ground that he couldn't see. It wasn't that the barn was freshly restored, it was just not very run down. Around this corner were the big doors, big enough to drive a tractor through, tightly closed and chained up. He tugged at the chain, just on general principle. It moved, but the doors didn't. "Krycek? How are you on picking locks?"

"Mulder." Scully sounded annoyed and he didn't know if it was just because she was wearing the wrong shoes for a hike across the countryside, or if there was more to it. "You can't go around breaking into buildings in the middle of the night." He thought about pointing out that it was only around nine, decided against it. "We can do this tomorrow, through Larkin, if you really want to get inside an old barn."

Krycek ran his hand over the lock, and shook his head, a small decisive motion. Mulder looked at the doors again; there wasn't even a crack. "She can't have gotten in here, either. What's wrong, Krycek, is it too difficult for you?"

"I'd need two hands for it," Krycek said dryly. "I don't see why you want to get inside, either. She was never in there. She can't have gotten in there, even if people think she did. This just strengthens the abduction theory, so what do you think you'd be looking for?"

He backed away a couple of steps and looked at the large dark shape of the barn looming in front of him. It was too solid. "Something's wrong with it," he said patiently. "Everyone thinks this place is a ruin, the old Mitchell barn where kids are warned not to play because they might get trapped. But no one can get inside, and it's obviously well maintained by someone even though the former owner has been dead for fifteen years and his heir lives in Maryland and has never been here."

"It's odd," Scully agreed, "but it doesn't have anything to do with our investigation. Probably someone's taken advantage of the absent owner to use this place for extra storage or something."

Mulder scowled at the lack of cooperation, and started to move again, determined to at least walk around the whole building before he returned to the car. Away from Scully's flashlight, his eyes started to adjust and he could see quite well, barn and fields and distant trees, and a thin white mist rising. It was getting colder. He followed the third wall almost to the end before he found the smaller door, set into the wooden wall and of a piece with it — only his fingers sliding along the surface discovered the crack. Absurdly, he tugged at it with his nails before raising his voice to call the others. "Over here." It didn't yield, and he felt further, to a keyhole. "I've found another door."

"God, Mulder, don't you ever give up?" Scully should know better than to ask him questions like that. The narrow beam of her flashlight caught his hand neatly just as he tried to poke at the lock with one of his own keys. "What do you think you're going to find in there? Whatever it is, just wait until tomorrow. This is illegal, Mulder, you can't do this."

"You're going to damage the lock like that," Krycek added. "Or your key."

"Fine. You do it, then, you're the one who has experience with breaking and entering." Dark as it was, he could tell Krycek was looking at him. But then he went to work, taking something out of his pocket and bending close to the lock. Mulder turned to Scully, who had her mouth open to protest. "If she wasn't abducted, she may have been kidnapped. Does the idea of a human agency behind her disappearance seem so implausible to you, Scully? And if she was kidnapped right here, and returned right here, she might have been held right here."

"Right where everyone would have been searching for her?" Scully shook her head, diverted for the moment from what Krycek was doing. "Besides, what kind of evidence would you expect to find over ten years later?"

The door swung silently open behind them. Mulder turned around to find Krycek leaning against the wall, looking rather pleased with himself. Much as he'd like to wipe that look off Krycek's face, he had to admit to himself that he'd be on shaky moral ground objecting to the man's skills while making use of them for his own purposes. "Let's go in," he said, and gestured at Krycek to precede him. Krycek shook his head. "I wasn't actually giving you a choice."

"You wanted to go in and now you can. I'm not interested." Krycek couldn't cross his arms, but he shoved his hand into the pocket of his jeans and set his jaw. Mulder put a hand on the door. Krycek shook his head again.

"This is ridiculous," Scully grumbled. "I can't believe you talked me into this." She ducked under his arm and walked in through the door. Her voice floated out to them, "And I want to make it clear that I'm only doing this because I believe you'd get into even more trouble if I let you go in here on your own." Mulder's first impulse was to go right after her. Then he looked at Krycek again.

"I'm not leaving you alone out here." He reached out and grabbed Krycek, realizing finally that Larkin wasn't around any longer, and shoved him forcibly in through the open door, into the darkness beyond. Going in after him, he saw the beam of Scully's flashlight outline a smallish room, and another doorway; saw her go through it. Mulder took two steps that way and walked straight into Krycek. "Don't just stand there," he said impatiently, "come on," and he pushed Krycek ahead of him again, through that doorway and into a large open space.

It wasn't until he stopped again on the dusty wooden floor, watching Scully train her flashlight on the corpse of a John Deere tractor and some metal junk that looked like torture instruments for giants, that he realized that the shoulder under his hand was shaking. Badly. He let go, and wondered if he imagined the small sound that followed, or if it was just a strangled cough. It was certainly dusty in here.

"There doesn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary here," Scully said, starting to walk along one of the inside walls. "For what it's worth, the inside does look as if it's been abandoned for a long time. I think you're wrong about possible maintenance, Mulder. Mitchell just built his barns to last. And we should leave immediately before someone catches us here and—"

Mulder walked along the opposite wall, shutting out the sound of her rational voice, concentrating. There was something about this place, some subtle sense of wrongness, something about how it sat here at the top of the hill and watched over the road below, over the walnut tree and the stone wall. Something that did not make sense. There were no tracks in the dust on the floor, apart from their own. There were no cracks in the walls. Annie Clough could never have gotten in here. There was something wrong.

"The walls are wrong." Krycek's voice was only a rasp, but it got his attention, and Scully's. Krycek was gesturing around the open space. "Too short, compared with the outside. Look down there," and he nodded at the opposite end from the large shut doors. Mulder was already heading that way, and Scully followed him, her flashlight showing a wall like the other walls. No door.

Stepping carefully around another of the rusty iron horrors on the floor, Mulder knocked on the wall, then felt foolish. Of course there was an open space on the other side; the question was, was it a field, or a secret room? There were no cracks in this wall either, no gaps between the planks. Scully went along it methodically, tapping the wall as well. Krycek just stood and watched them in near-paralyzed stillness, head down, hand holding onto the opposite shoulder, and Mulder felt himself start to get annoyed. He was about to ask the man to do something useful for a change, when Scully's "Look here, Mulder," got his attention.

She hadn't found a door, but a grille in the wall, its lower edge set flush with the floor. The grille was perhaps five inches high and ten inches wide, its metal slats suspiciously unrusted. Mulder knelt down, then mentally kissed his suit good-bye and lay down flat on the floor, trying to peer in between the slats. "Scully, give me your flashlight."

"You have a flashlight of your own."

"Yeah, but I'm lying on it." He accepted hers and angled the light in through the narrow openings. "Either that or I'm more excited by all this than I thought I was." She kicked his leg, but quite gently. Mulder wriggled in the dust and managed to hold the light steady and look inside, while Scully turned away.

"Krycek, are you all right?" Mulder barely heard the words. The flashlight played over a spotless floor, gleaming metal, the legs of a table, counters and file cabinets and — he almost dislocated his neck, trying to look higher — was that translucent glitter glass, tubes, what? It was a laboratory. It was an operating room. It was... his mouth twisted.

This was where Annie Clough had been for two days. This was the explanation. His killjoy mind did not kick in until a moment later, telling him this did not look over ten years old, and he had bare moments to consider that before there was a loud slamming noise and they all jumped.

"The door probably blew shut," Scully said, although she sounded tense. Mulder got to his feet as fast as he could, about to offer a less palatable suggestion, when he became aware of the raw sound of pure terror coming from Alex Krycek. When he turned the flashlight beam that way he only got a momentary impression of dark panicked eyes in a pale, pale face before Krycek bolted.

Scully bit off an exclamation and followed him, and so did Mulder, banging his shin on something that tore both cloth and flesh. He cursed loudly as he limped after the others, feeling a thin trickle of blood run down his leg. For a moment he was tempted to stay and try to find a way into that room instead, let Scully deal with Krycek. But she'd made it clear that Krycek was his responsibility, and he had her flashlight, and the entrance might be on the outside after all.

The door was open when he reached it, and he slowed down and went out cautiously, uncertain of what he might find. He saw no one right outside, but turning his head he caught a glimpse of Scully's trenchcoat disappearing around the corner. Mulder turned the flashlight off, pushed it into his pocket and ran.

He didn't catch up with them until they'd both stopped, down by the stone wall, all the way down the long slope. Krycek was crouched on the ground, head bent, his breath loud and rasping and coming far too fast. It had nothing to do with being out of shape. Hyperventilation caused by panic. Scully stood next to him, digging through her pockets. To Mulder's surprise, she actually produced a paper bag, shook out the sandwich crumbs, knelt down and instructed Krycek to breathe in it.

Satisfied that Krycek wasn't going to disappear, Mulder turned around and looked up at the barn again. He couldn't describe afterwards quite how he saw it; it was as if the whole place took a deep breath, as if an instant of freeze was followed by complete disintegration. Between one heartbeat and the next, the explosion hit; walls buckled outwards, the roof started to collapse even before fire ran over it, a wild dance of red and orange, and the sound of the blast made his ears ring. The shockwave drove him backwards until he hit the wall.

"Oh, shit," he breathed, the words lost in the noise. He managed three steps back before a hand took hold of his arm.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Scully, there was evidence up there — there was a fucking lab up there, in that secret room, I can't let it just—" Her grip tightened. "Scully."

"There's nothing you can do except call 911," she said. When she gestured towards the barn again he saw that most of it had gone down with the blast and it was burning fast, far too fast in this damp weather. Mulder nodded reluctantly. He stared at the dancing flames, willing them to leave him something, to let him have some proof of what he'd seen up there. Then he got his cell phone out and called.

Krycek was on his feet again by the time the fire trucks and police cars got there, leaning against the stone wall, Scully's fingers on his wrist as she checked his pulse. Mulder watched the firefighters drive up the dirt road to the barn, watched the police car that stopped half way there. Larkin got out and headed across the field towards their little group. It couldn't still be his shift, but here he was. Mulder felt his shoulder muscles tighten with fatigue and dislike. He deliberately did not acknowledge the man until Larkin was right next to them.

"What's going on here?" It sounded more like an accusation than a question. "What are you doing here? Who set fire to the barn?"

"We don't know that." It was a good thing Scully answered, she was the most collected of the three of them. "There was an explosion before the fire. I believe you'll find traces of—"

"An explosion." Larkin didn't shout, he just dropped the words heavily in their faces. "You're telling me someone blew up the old Mitchell barn, the most worthless piece of real estate in the state of Virginia, right at the moment when you just happened to be here."

"It's a cover-up," Mulder said. "Someone's trying to keep us from finding— Ouch!" Scully didn't just kick his leg, she managed to hit the spot that was already bleeding.

"We came out to look at the site of the accidents again," she said firmly. "Agent Mulder believed the ghosts might be more likely to materialize after dark." Larkin stared at her. She stared back. The fire crackled in the background. Mulder decided not to add to the tension; instead he turned his head to check on Krycek, who was still leaning against the wall, but breathing evenly now.

Finally Larkin said, "Take your car back and we'll talk at the station." He turned around and strode back across the field.

They stood together in silence for a moment, all of them watching the fire. Mulder tried to shrug his coat straight over his shoulders and realized that two flashlights in one pocket did not make for a high fashion statement. He pulled out one of them and handed it to Scully. "You lied to him." She looked up at him. "You lied to him."

"No, I didn't. I just didn't tell him everything." Mulder just shook his head.

"I don't trust him," Krycek rasped. "He'd love to accuse us all of arson." Stepping away from the wall, Krycek handed a neatly folded paper bag to Scully, who put it back in her pocket. Then he started to walk slowly towards the car.

"He wouldn't," Mulder said but then he got himself moving as well. He kept his eyes on Krycek, who was very deliberately not looking at the walnut tree or the spot beside it. Back over the stone wall and he scraped his shin again. "Damn." He rubbed the spot and his fingers came away slick with blood. "Scully, did you bring your taking-care-of-Mulder kit?"

Her smile was wry, but when she saw his fingers and his leg her brows drew together. "Everything I have is still in the car. Come on."

So he did, and sat on the passenger seat with his shredded trouser leg rolled up while she dabbed painful isopropyl alcohol all over the scrapes and cuts and taped them up despite his protests. "There's a reason I don't wax my legs, Scully. That's going to hurt, coming off."

"Don't be such a baby." She packed her kit away and stowed it in the trunk, got into the driver's seat, then paused with the door still open. "Krycek?"

A piece of deeper darkness within the darkness of the night moved. "Yeah." Krycek clambered into the back seat, shut the door and immediately rolled the window down. Scully started the engine and got them back on the road again. Up the slope, the burning barn had taken on the quality of a surreal painting, and Mulder half expected the glass his fingers found between it and himself, before he realized it was the car window. He rolled his window down too, and drew a last breath of smoke-laden air before they were pulling away from the scene.

Seeing the flames at a distance, he slowly came to realize that they would have been caught in the middle of that if something hadn't spooked Krycek so badly. He cursed softly at how slowly his mind was working tonight. Everything must have been set up well before they went inside. It was only because of Alex Krycek that they were still alive.

He twisted around in his seat and saw that Krycek was practically leaning out the car window, doing nothing but breathing, in a careful way Mulder recognized. "You have a problem with enclosed spaces," he stated. Krycek made a choked sound that caught in the back of his throat, and his shoulders started to shake again. "Damn. Scully, pull over."

Krycek was opening the car door almost before they'd stopped rolling, and just about fell outside, retching. Mulder rubbed at the spot between his eyebrows as he got outside as well. A problem, hell, this was a full-blown phobia. He walked around the car and found Krycek on his knees, spitting and coughing and not happy at all. "You say the nicest things, Mulder," he gasped out after a few moments. "A handy phrase for every occasion."

"We don't have any water." Scully sounded faintly troubled as she came out of the car too, bent down and put a hand on Krycek's forehead. "Will you manage the drive back into town?"

"Yeah. Give me a minute." Krycek's ragged breathing was already evening out again. He spat one last time and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand; Scully scowled reproachfully, and produced a tissue. It was put to good use. Mulder felt sure Krycek would have given a lot for a glass of water. He grimaced a little as the smell hit him and moved back a step or two.

It didn't take long before Krycek was back on his feet again. He swayed a little, but that was probably an after-reaction to the panic attack more than anything else. It hadn't been that bad, he hadn't lost touch with reality, Mulder thought, had known all the time where he was and what was going on. Still...

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know it would have that kind of effect."

"Neither did I," Krycek muttered, leaning against the car. There was a short moment of silence, and then Krycek shook himself, and looked up at them. "Let's go."

"Are you sure?" Scully asked softly.

"I'm sure." The hand that opened the car door shook, but not so badly that he didn't manage, and Krycek climbed inside with every line of his body screaming that he did not want to. Mulder met Scully's eyes and nodded; if Krycek felt he could go through with it, they'd better get going at once.

They drove back into town in silence, with Scully at the wheel and Mulder turning every ten seconds to check on Krycek, who was huddled up close to the open window and wouldn't look at either of them. When they parked in what had become their usual space outside Laura Ann's, Krycek was out of the car so fast Mulder almost thought he was going to bolt. But no, the man was still there when he and Scully followed.

Before Mulder could say anything, Krycek nodded across the street. Larkin was standing right outside the police station, waiting for them. "We're going to have to spend the rest of the evening explaining this to him," Scully said, sounding tired. "It was your bright idea, you can do the talking."

"Who blew up the barn?" he countered as they started to cross the street. "Okay, it was a hunch. But you can't tell me now that there's nothing strange going on out there."

"Only you, Mulder, would go looking for ghosts and find explosives."

Larkin was most definitely not happy. He didn't accuse his two visiting FBI agents of arson, but he couldn't believe they hadn't noticed anything out at the site. Neither, in retrospect, could Mulder. Someone had just about blown up a building around them, and they'd been busy making sure Alex Krycek could breathe properly. Priorities just a little off, maybe? He scowled his way through Larkin's questions, and Scully was absolutely no help. Krycek managed to sneak off to the bathroom; when he came back, he sat as close to the door as he could get and pretended to be invisible. He was pretty good at that.

When Larkin started to repeat himself for the third time, Mulder felt he had had enough of this. He shoved his chair back with enough force to make the legs squeak dangerously against the painted cement floor, and got to his feet. "We've told you all we know, detective. You've been asked to cooperate with us, not put us through third degree on something totally unrelated."

It galled him to have to say that, but tomorrow they'd have found the remains of the lab and he could claim a legitimate interest in them then. If he went out there now and pointed them out, he could say good-bye to any kind of cooperation from Larkin ever again. Not that he'd miss the man, personally, but Skinner wasn't going to like it. Not after warning them about Larkin in the first place. Imagining Skinner with an I-told-you-so look made Mulder long even more for a beer and some late-night TV.

Scully had risen, too. "Good night, Detective Larkin," she said sweetly. "We will be back tomorrow to sign our statements."

He looked at them both as if about to argue and then just nodded and made a shooing motion with one hand. "Try to see if you can remember anything else till then. You are trained observers, aren't you?" No one answered as they trooped out the door, feeling and probably looking like school children who'd been sent to the principal's office. Mulder had a momentary vision of himself as Calvin, and wondered if that made Scully Hobbes.

"I hope he develops hemorrhoids the size of bowling balls and acute phimosis," Krycek muttered on the way out, and Scully cracked up, laughing harder and longer than Mulder had heard her laugh in a long time.

"It doesn't really work like that," she finally wheezed, "but—oh, what a lovely thought." Mulder felt parts of himself twitch once his mind had tracked the word down, but he had to agree that it would be a just punishment.

The night outside was refreshingly cool after the airless room where Larkin had kept them, and he paused on the sidewalk, breathing slow deep breaths. "I'd settle for giving him permanent diarrhea, myself," he said, "but it would be too hard on Lou and the others."

When the chuckles died out they were left looking at each other. The street was quiet, the only sound coming from the police station behind them; there wasn't even a car in the distance. "They've probably given up on us at the motel," Scully said, and with the laughter gone, her voice was tired.

"They wouldn't do that, "Mulder said with more assurance than he felt. "Not with the FBI paying for the rooms anyway."

"It's past midnight," Scully said drearily, ignoring him. "We should have checked in before we went out to the site. We should have checked in before we had dinner. We should have checked in when we got here—"

"Scully." It couldn't be that she was sleepy, they'd been through worse. Far worse. But she did get cranky when people tried to blow them up. And that got him thinking. "I don't think we should stay there anyway. Someone seems to know far too much about what we're doing here. It would be easy to find out where Kim booked rooms for us."

"Mulder, it's past midnight," Scully repeated. "We're not going to find anything else."

"Laura Ann rents out rooms," Krycek said unexpectedly. He sounded a lot less tired than Scully. Presumably international villains kept late hours. Mulder looked across the street; there were still people inside the diner, all the lights were on, and the sign in the door said OPEN.

"Doesn't that place ever close?" It looked as warm and welcoming as it had before, and he had to admit it didn't seem like a bad idea.

"If you don't want to go to the motel, it's probably our best choice." Scully started to cross the street, and Krycek followed her. Mulder stayed where he was for a moment, and tried to think. Ghosts. Implants. Explosions. His mind drifted among random associations, Larkin's constant bad temper, Linda's ragged voice, the chain-smoking Mrs. Clough, Krycek's claustrophobia... Was it all connected? Or did the pieces belong to different puzzles, and he was a fool for trying to make sense of them?

He shrugged. Enough people had called him a fool over the years that he didn't need to do it to himself as well. The connection was here. It would come. He could only hope, painfully, that it would come before another car crashed against the walnut tree, before another house blew up around some people whose guardian angels were off duty.

Mulder was halfway across the street when he stopped as though he'd run into something. He stood where he was for a few moments. Feeling rather foolish, he sucked on his index finger and held it up in the air. After a few moments a door opened and closed somewhere behind him, and Lou's voice called out, "Agent Mulder? What are you doing?"

"Nothing," he said, feeling even more foolish. He waved a friendly good night and went on across the street, stopping at their car to get the bags before remembering that Scully had the keys. Instead he went into Laura Ann's. The warmth inside the diner was welcome, even if the greasy food smells weren't. Scully was standing just outside the kitchen door, negotiating with a blonde woman Mulder assumed was Laura Ann herself. As he thought that, she looked over at him, winked, and resumed her conversation with Scully.

Krycek was on reading duty at the noticeboard, hand in pocket, shoulders slightly hunched. Deciding that Scully didn't need any help, Mulder went over to join him. "There isn't any wind," he said. Krycek gave him a blank look. "There is no wind. So the door couldn't have blown shut."

The green eyes came alive, just like that. "Shit. If someone was trying to lock us in—"

"—don't you think they'd have done a better job of it? It was a warning. Someone was trying to save our lives. Or something."

"An angel? What do you think this is, a course in miracles?" Krycek kept his voice low even when he was being sarcastic. "Anyway, you don't warn people to get out of a building by shutting the door." The pulse was jumping in his throat again, and he glanced over at the window. "It could have been an animal or something."

"So you keep saying." Mulder turned away to watch Scully again; she was smiling, and he assumed that meant they had a place to sleep. It seemed useless to suggest to Krycek that the ghosts of his parents might actually be looking out for his well-being. And Mulder didn't think much of ghosts who killed Annie Clough and saved Alex Krycek. Family feeling was all very well, but that girl— A muscle in his cheek jumped and he tried to unclench his teeth.

After a few moments Scully said a final thank you to Laura Ann and came back to them. "This is going on your card," she informed him. "The rooms were described to me as simple but clean, which is all I'm asking right now. Let's go get our bags."

They had to carry everything up the narrow stairs at the back, and Mulder nearly walked into Scully as she stopped in the equally narrow hallway. "Here," she said, turning around and handing him a key. "I'm going to bed. Oh, and Mulder?" Her face was perfectly serious, but he hadn't worked with her for years without learning when he was being teased. "You still get to baby-sit Krycek."

She unlocked the nearest door and went through it, while Krycek chuckled in the background. Mulder turned around and scowled at him. Then he opened the second door and stepped inside, hitting the light switch. This was more like a room in a private home than a place that would be rented out to strangers; a hardwood floor with woven rugs, sturdy wooden furniture, a tall window, flowered wall paper. The door at the far end had to lead into the bathroom. There were two beds covered with quilts. There was no TV.

He frowned again, then dropped the bag so he could smooth out the crease between his eyebrows with the back of his hand. Mulder considered going over to knock on Scully's door and ask her if she had a TV. But that would not go over well, and besides, she probably didn't. He turned to look at Krycek, who was still out in the hall. "Don't just stand there. Come in and close the door." Then he paused for a moment, while Krycek came inside silently, and closed the door just as silently. "I don't remember you being claustrophobic."

"I wasn't." Krycek walked over to the window and stood with his hand on the frame, looking out. "Something happened."

Mulder claimed the bed by the inner wall for his own by dumping everything in his bag on top of it. "What?" he asked, pulling the sweatpants out of the pile and tossing them onto the other bed. "What happened?" He wondered if he'd packed Krycek's toothbrush, too.

"Remember the silo?" There was something in Krycek's voice that turned it from an innocent question into the first sentence of a horror story. "They locked me in there. In with the fucking UFO." Despite the flat tone, Mulder heard Krycek start to breathe a little faster.

"Don't have another goddamn panic attack," he said warningly. Then he turned around; Krycek was still facing the window, but he hadn't thrown it wide open. Not yet, Mulder thought and decided not to give him any reason to do it. "You didn't seem to have a problem when we got thrown in prison."

"There was a window." Krycek finally turned around, leaning back against the wall. A half-smile appeared on his face. "Besides, I knew I could get out again."

Mulder remembered running, the air burning his lungs as hoof-beats thundered behind him. He remembered a hoarse, half insane voice whispering and whispering; being thrown down on the floor, the needle sliding painfully under his skin; dimly remembered being trapped under the chicken wire as something slithered into his body.

He took two steps towards Krycek, who had known he could get out, then stopped. "Damn you," he said quietly. He went to lock the door from the inside, then went into the bathroom. The familiar routine calmed him down. Mulder paused halfway through brushing his teeth and looked at himself in the mirror. Was it in there somewhere? Inside him? What would it do to him? He spat into the sink, and tried to convince himself it was nothing. When he returned to the room, Krycek did not appear to have moved an inch. "How did you get out of the silo?"

"I don't know." It was no more than a whisper.

"What do you mean, you don't know? You were in there and now you're not. Something must have happened." Mulder shoved everything off his bed and kicked off his shoes. "Who got you out of there?"

Krycek finally shoved himself away from the wall. "I don't know." He went to the bed and scooped up the sweatpants, then looked up to meet Mulder's gaze. "I don't know. I. Don't. Remember." And then he went into the bathroom and slammed the door.

"Missing time to you, too," Mulder said, staring at the doorknob. Then he stripped down to his boxers and got into bed, and reached out for the remote before his mind reminded him that there was no remote. He turned on the bedside light instead, and lay staring at the light switch on the wall, hoping to develop telekinesis, until Krycek came back. "You didn't brush your teeth. Nasty habit, Krycek, no wonder you don't have a girlfriend." That got him a green glare. "It's in there somewhere," he waved a hand at the jumble at the foot of his bed.

Krycek, in sweatpants now, crouched down and rummaged through the pile. "Some people hang their clothes up so they don't get wrinkled." He disappeared into the bathroom again, but didn't slam the door this time. When he came back he turned off the overhead light before Mulder could ask him to, and got into bed. "You planning to sleep with the light on?"


"Oh well. Good night," Krycek said in a resigned tone of voice, and turned over to lie with his back to Mulder. Silence followed his words, a silence that started between the two of them and seemed to spread through the room, through the house, through this little town. Mulder tried to hear something, anything: a car going past outside, laughter from the few remaining customers downstairs, Scully snoring next door.

There was nothing. It was a terribly peaceful night. And it had been a long time since he'd actually slept in a bed, with real sheets. The unfamiliar sensation of soft cotton against his skin distracted him. He curled up and longed for a mindless late-night talk show. It was so quiet. The only thing he could hear was Krycek breathing a few feet away. Mulder concentrated on that sound, and closed his eyes.

~~ ...falling, falling, twisted out of shape by the speed of it, all the bits of his self working loose and scattering in the fall... ~~

He sat bolt upright, teeth clenched, jaw aching. It seemed as if only a few seconds had passed since he'd last looked at this room. The light was still on, everything was the same. Krycek's bed was empty. Mulder had his feet on the floor before he realized that the man was standing over by the window. He got up anyway and padded over on bare feet.

"Don't you ever sleep?" he asked brusquely, looking out where there was nothing to be seen. Krycek, or whatever the hell his name was, turned his head and smiled faintly.

"You should talk." Then he shrugged. "Got any leftover sunflower seeds or something?"

"We did have dinner," Mulder said, failing to sound reproachful. There was something oddly endearing about the way Krycek ate. Besides, most of that dinner was lying by the side of the road now. "I think I have a couple of after-dinner mints somewhere."

Krycek grinned. Then, slowly, the grin faded. Light from the street fell across part of his face, highlighting a cheekbone, throwing long spiky eyelash shadows down his cheek. "You had a bad dream." The aching muscles in his shoulders and neck knotted further. Mulder shook his head. "I heard you."

"Did I wake you up?"

"No." Krycek shifted further, and now Mulder could see the thin lines of pain around his mouth, the way his eyes shied away from contact as though it burned. "I was already awake." What he had taken for stillness was as far from peace as it could get. At that recognition, paradoxically, the twisting sensation inside eased up a little. Instead of feeling grateful, he had to push.

"What is it?" he asked roughly. "The alien? The silo? The room down there, where you're alone and at the same time not alone, and time never moves and nothing ever happens?" A fine tremor ran through Krycek, and suddenly Mulder was more aware than before of the darkness around them, of the walls that seemed more there than moments ago. Maybe it was catching.

"You pay if I break the window, Mulder." Krycek's voice was barely under control, the thinnest of ice over a deep dark dangerous sea.

"Or do they hold you down in your dreams, and come for you with a knife?" Even as he said it he knew he'd gone too far. Hurting Krycek did not soothe his own pain, it was more like fighting fire with fire. "Does it happen over and over again, and you can't stop it—"

The sound of Krycek's hand slamming into the wall made him wince. He had expected it to hit him, had been prepared for it, had waited for it. Now he felt oddly cheated. Mulder reached out and put a hand on Krycek's shoulder, the left one. The man spun around to face him. "Maybe," and now the ice had broken up and the depths were there, "maybe I dream about killing your father." The room turned cold.

"You killed my father."

"Yes, I did." He hadn't really been expecting that clean answer and now that he got it, it made him feel strangely empty. Drained. He looked at the man standing there and felt he might as well be looking at an alien artifact, something he had no chance of comprehending. "Aren't you going to try to strangle me again?"

Mulder shook his head slowly. He drew a fingertip along the window pane, feeling the chill, willing it to numb him. "No." He looked at Krycek again. "You dream about that?" Krycek nodded. "Nightmares."

Another slow nod. "Yes." Mulder looked more closely at him. Alex Krycek, former Consortium assassin and all around villain, was crying. Silent tears slid down his face, and he ignored them to look back at Mulder for a moment, before walking away from the window and getting back into bed again.

And I thought it was me he was hurting, Mulder thought slowly. He stayed where he was for a moment and tried to regain his balance, but he couldn't remember if he'd ever had one, if this roller coaster ever went past a point called sanity and if there were instructions for how to stop it there. Outside in the street, more nothing happened. He walked towards his bed and sat down heavily. The silence was back, worse than before.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he ran his fingers through his hair and bit his lip. He was tired and irritable and confused, his head ached, and all he wanted was to lie down and go back to sleep, a deep dream-free sleep. But that dreadful silence wouldn't let him. It ate at him, at his pain and at his defenses, until he stood up unsteadily and took the few short steps across to the other bed, and tugged at the covers.

"Move over." Krycek looked up, eyes wide and startled, soundless tears still sliding down his face. "Move over," Mulder repeated, getting into bed beside the other man. He wrapped the covers around them both, and stole half the pillow from under Krycek's head. "Now shut up and go to sleep."

Ghosts III: I know my dear love

"Pace non trovo, et non ò da far guerra;
e temo, et spero; et ardo, et son un ghiaccio;
et volo sopra 'l cielo, et giaccio in terra;
et nulla stringo, et tutto 'l mondo abbraccio.

Tal m'à in pregion, che non m'apre né serra,
né per suo mi riten né scioglie il laccio;
et non m'ancide Amore, et non mi sferra,
né mi vuol vivo, né mi trae d'impaccio.

Veggio senza occhi, et non ò lingua et grido;
et bramo di perir, et cheggio aita;
et ò in odio me stesso, et amo altrui." — Petrarch, most of sonnet no 134

"You're dangerous 'cause you're honest
You're dangerous, you don't know what you want" — U2, Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

I'm about to fall asleep.

Which is strange, because if you'd asked me to make a list of what I'd do if Fox Mulder got in bed with me, sleep would have come in right at the very end, after all other possibilities had been thoroughly explored. But here he is, warm and awkward next to me, all elbows and tired annoyance, and I can't figure out why he's done this, and I should ask him what he's up to, or possibly try to jump his bones. But my eyes, sore with tears, close of their own accord, and I just lie there and feel him close to me, alive. How someone as haunted as he is can drive away my own demons is inexplicable, but I feel hopelessly comfortable, and comforted. Sleeping in his bed has nothing on this. I drift off.

We're both restless sleepers. I float in darkness, wake slightly whenever he moves, sink back into sleep again; I think he does the same. And still it's better than any deep slumber ever was. There are no bad dreams, and the waking and sleeping blend together into a peaceful whole.

I come more fully awake once, when he turns over and his back is pressed against my side, skin against skin. It's intoxicating. It's like a drug seeping in through my pores. The simile my mind uses makes me remember the alien, the silo, the locked room, and my throat starts to close up, but I snuggle up to him, his presence holding the memories at bay, the sweet smell of him killing the taste of remembered oil in my mouth.

I sink into the warmth of his nearness and let it soothe me. I wish I could lie like this forever; suddenly I don't want to sleep again, don't want to lose a moment of this fuzzy pleasure, this sharp bright pain. To have him so close, so close...

But I do sleep, and when I wake up fully again, it's morning, and he's not beside me any more. I turn my head and see that the other bed is empty, too. Before I can really start to wonder, I hear a quiet rustling sound and see him at the foot of the bed, pulling a sweatshirt over his head.

He catches my eye briefly. "I'm going running," he says. Bending down almost out of sight, he ties his shoelaces, then goes to the door, unlocks it, and disappears without looking back.

I roll over into the memory of his warmth and try to understand what has just happened. But my mind can't move past simple facts. He got into bed with me. We slept next to each other. He just left. I want him to come back.

After a few moments I sit up, leaning back against the headboard. After a few moments more I'm ready to bang my head against the wall to stop my thoughts from going around and around. When did I ever entirely understand him? I told him that I killed his father, and he gave me the most perfect night of my life. It feels as though my skin has been permanently imprinted with the tactile memory of his body. He's gone running. And for once, I could not read the expression on his face.

Reluctantly, I get out of bed. I look out of the window, but there's no trace of him in the street outside. As I strip off the sweatpants, I realize that I could do with a good long run too, a hard workout, something that would shock my body into wakefulness and let my thoughts rest. But I've no shoes for running, and have to settle for the few moves and stretches there's room for in here. At least I feel better once I'm through. Some people rely on coffee in the morning to get them going, but this is cheaper and works even when you've forgotten to buy groceries. I go into the bathroom and turn on the shower. For a moment I regret the short workout anyway, because I don't want to wash away the memory of his skin against mine.

But then I realize it will always be there.

Once I'm clean I apply myself to the usual problem of getting my back dry. But the more I try to concentrate on mundane details, the more difficult it gets. I look at myself in the partially steamed-up bathroom mirror. Is this who I am? I used to know myself. Now I'm not sure. I know what I want, and it hurts. I don't quite know who I am, and that hurts, too. So much easier to think that I can change nothing, to merely survive, from moment to moment. But my mind has always wanted to move past the obvious. And I have responsibilities that I cannot fulfill here.

It's certainly not the first time I've been caught up in events beyond my control. That seems to happen to me on a regular basis whenever I'm around Fox Mulder. It's as if his presence burns every trace of reason out of me. He works on me like a drug, changing the way I think. By rights I should hate it. He cuts through me like a knife. He—

I lean back against the wall, and close my eyes, and breathe.

When I walk out into the room again, I realize I have nothing clean to wear. Suddenly there's no stopping the smile that appears as I turn to the pile at the foot of Mulder's bed and start to dig through it. He's not going to like this. But I do, oh, I like it a lot, wearing his clothes. Boxer shorts, t-shirt, socks, shirt. It's shiveringly intimate.

Once I'm dressed, my hand automatically reaches for the leather jacket to slip over my shoulders. But then I pause, and look at it, and finally shrug. I get my wallet, put it in the back pocket of my jeans, and leave the room. As I walk downstairs the muscles in my back draw tight and I'm glad I had that little workout after all.

The diner is almost empty. Scully is sitting at the usual window table, absorbed in what looks like a medical journal, one hand wrapped around a cup of coffee. Even in the gray light of early morning her hair gleams, clean and red. I watch her for a few moments until she looks up and sees me. There is acknowledgement; not a smile, but I walk up to the table and sit down, and we exchange quiet good mornings.

I look out the window and see that it's raining. A moment later a plate is set down in front of me — a stack of pancakes. I look up and find Laura Ann smiling at me as she pushes the bottle of syrup closer. "I don't remember ordering," I say with a smile.

"Eat up," she says and walks away again.

Scully has put her reading material aside and sits there watching me. I try to ignore it for a while, busying myself with the food, but it's very hard to feel comfortable chewing when someone's looking at you. So I meet her eyes instead. "You think it was irresponsible of him to leave me alone?"

"Unexpected," she corrects. And I almost smile, because of the way she doesn't say that she's used to Mulder acting irresponsibly. The pancakes taste great. The bell on the door tinkles behind me and Scully looks over my shoulder, her eyes warming into amusement.

I turn around and there he is, soaking wet. Rain has plastered the clothes to his body and a puddle is forming around him on the floor. He nods in acknowledgement, not really looking at either one of us, and goes up the stairs. Returning my attention to the pancakes, I try to make my heartbeat slow down. I wish he wouldn't walk around looking as though he's escaped from someone's most secret fantasies.



The pancakes are still delicious. I eat in silence and when I look up after a little while, Scully is watching me. She tilts her head and pushes her hair back behind one ear and I'm caught by the graceful economy of her gestures. A woman who wastes nothing. She'll hate it if I anticipate her, but I don't want to wait. "Go ahead and ask," I say.

It's impossible to know if I've taken her aback or not. She keeps watching me for a few seconds longer and then she says, calmly, "What are you blackmailing Agent Mulder with?"

That wasn't what I was expecting. I chew, and swallow, and put the fork down. Then I look for a napkin but can't find one. Instead I meet her eyes, and it's like standing on the tracks watching a train come towards you at full speed. I consider lying to her. Then I reconsider. "I offered him help with a medical problem he's been trying to forget that he has."

"He's in perfect health," she says. "I don't know what you've said to him, but—"

"But he was infected with the black cancer in Tunguska," I say. Her eyes widen, and for a moment, she almost looks frail. And then the train is moving towards me again, faster. "It takes repeated exposure for it to kill. Unless the virus is triggered by something. Then it can be," I drop my eyes, "virtually instantaneous."

"The only way we've seen the virus leave the body of someone who has been infected is at the death of the victim." I can't tell how hard she's had to fight for that detachment. "You're saying there is another way?"

"Yes." At least I think so. I pick up the fork.

"We have no reason to trust you." The way she speaks for him in his absence reminds me again, as if I needed a reminder, of what the two of them are to each other. But I've always known that. Besides, she's right.

"No," I agree, "you haven't." Damn this language and its insufficiently expressive pronouns. I go back to eating, aware that she is still watching me. After a while I add, "Of course, I didn't know then that you and Mulder would be assigned to the case anyway. A waste of good blackmail material."

For a moment there I think I have her; I think she is actually going to laugh. And then I think she might be getting angry. But before she can say anything, her attention is caught again by something behind my back, and I turn to see Mulder coming back down the stairs again, dry and proper in one of his expensive, if slightly wrinkled, suits. Laura Ann intercepts him as he passes the kitchen door and puts a plate of pancakes into his free hand. He comes to sit next to Scully and slaps the file down on the table as he sets down the plate. "Scully, do you still have the phone numbers for the ladies from the Tupperware party?"

"Good morning, Mulder." She hands him the bottle of syrup and he's startled into giving her a warm, slightly guilty smile. "Yes, I do. But we already established yesterday that they had been treated by Dr. Davis in Charlottesville."

"I want to show them the photo," he says stubbornly. "I don't want anyone saying to me later that there could have been more than one Davis there. The photo from the driver's license," he adds before she can protest. "And there are some more questions I'd like to ask them, too."

Scully is already fishing for her cell phone. "All of them, or just the ones with the implants? I don't think the others know anything useful—"

At least one of them said good morning, I think, amused, and sit back to watch them work. Mulder takes three bites out of his pancakes and then pushes the plate aside to get more room as he flips the file open and starts to go through it again. I look out the window, to check out the street and to avoid seeing those damn photographs again. Across the street I can see Lou coming in to work, looking unusually neat and well dressed. I wonder if Scully is going to appreciate the effort. She's busy apologizing for having woken someone up.

I turn back to the table and find that Mulder has put his glasses on to read Larkin's report; his head is slightly tilted to one side as he picks up the papers. My breath catches. I clench my hand, nails driving into my palm. That's twice in one morning he's done this to me, etched the picture of himself cleanly and forever into my soul. I hope Scully can revive me if I go into cardiac arrest. He looks so, so— I want to touch him so badly I can barely stand it. And yet I did nothing when he slept next to me all night. I couldn't.

"Mind if I finish your pancakes?" He looks up and for a moment he seems to look right through me, as though I don't exist to him. Then he just nods and gestures absently at the plate, and goes back to reading. I can see Larkin's report getting stowed away in there somewhere, letter by letter down to every single typo. Eternal life in Fox Mulder's memory. He is beautiful like this, in a Bauhaus kind of way; there is something perversely utilitarian about him when all his talents are focused on a single goal.

And I suspect I'm going to find out the truth about my parents whether I want to or not. Suddenly I've lost my appetite. I came here looking for evidence of Peskow's complicity in their deaths; Mulder came here looking for ghosts. I don't want him to be the one who's right.

"They're meeting in half an hour," Scully says, and Mulder frowns slightly as his concentration is broken yet again. He gives her a questioning look. "The women you want to talk to, the two with the implants. They're going to do some work in a greenhouse belonging to one of them. We can talk to them both at the same time."

"All right." He nods and goes back to the report. Scully finishes her coffee even though it's got to be cold by now; I stay where I am, quite still, simply watching. Something has changed, between all of us. For a moment I am seized with a senseless panic, whirling as vertigo, and I close my hand tight as if trying to hold on to what is real. I feel cold without my jacket. I feel naked and exposed and I don't know what I'm doing here.

Scully gets Mulder to move so she can get out, and heads for the stairs. I hesitate for a moment and then I follow her, catching up before she's gone more than a few steps. She turns her head and looks at me in the gloom of the stairwell. "You thought I was going to ask about my sister, didn't you."

"Luis killed your sister." We continue walking; she stays a step or two ahead of me on the stairs. "You know that."

"Yes." Then she stops and turns around. "But it was a mistake, wasn't it? She wasn't supposed to get killed." With her on a higher step, we're practically face to face. I try to read her, but that's never been easy and the poor light makes it even worse. "He was there to kill me. Someone sent him. Was it you?"

So she doesn't know I was there. My mind is turning over alternatives like the spinning combinations on a slot machine. "No, it wasn't me."

"He said you were the one I wanted to talk to. He intimated that it had something to do with you." I could almost laugh at that statement, it's so Scully. If it had been Mulder, he would have drawn conclusions long ago and by now he'd be so certain it would almost amount to evidence. But she doesn't function like that.

"Luis Cardinale would say almost anything," I say, "if he thought it would lessen the trouble he was in."

"Cardinale didn't act on his own." She shifts a little and now I can see her face more clearly, and wish I couldn't. "He was a killer for hire. I want to know who was responsible."

We stare at each other for a moment that grows longer and longer, and it's as if the air presses more tightly around me, drawn close by the force of her presence. Then I shrug it off, and move. "I didn't give the order, Scully. I was an errand-boy in those days," I say and walk past her, and we go up the stairs in tense and uncomfortable silence.

Inside the room, I get my jacket straight away and slip it over my shoulders, then, out of habit, check my weapons. I have everything I need now. I could just leave. There's a window right there and one in the bathroom, and if I can't climb down a drainpipe using only one arm, I deserve to fall. I could go away and never return, leave this investigation, leave Scully's questions, leave Mulder and his sweetness and his anger behind.

I could, and if I do I'll never find out what happened; I'll always live with the torturing uncertainty Peskow intended for me. I can stay. It's my own choice. I'm not being constrained, I'm not handcuffed and helpless. I turn my head and look at the wall as if I could see through it, to where Scully is making her own preparations to face the day. There's a dull ache in a spot right between my shoulder blades. I didn't lie to her.

It's still raining outside and I can hear it clearly from where I stand, every drop an individual tap against the glass of the window which is then blunted into submission, flattened out of shape, losing separate identity and turning into a blur of sameness. Such a gray day. I slip the jacket off again and rummage through Mulder's possessions for a sweater, find one and put it on. With the jacket back on I'm a little less cold. I didn't lie to her, and I stayed well away from the truth.

Well, I told Mulder once that there is no truth.

Going down the stairs again I find him talking to Laura Ann. He looks up as I come closer and his eyebrows move — he's seen the sweater. It's not as if I have the time to go shopping. Or money, come to think of it. Laura Ann smiles at me, and I smile back. So much of life consists of these simple rituals, little interactions intended to reassure. And I know how to do it. Passing for normal.

Scully comes down too, and Mulder heads for the door as soon as he sees her. I follow, tagging behind like a child whose parents are taking him to an art museum instead of the movies. Mulder folds the collar of his trenchcoat up; Scully has an umbrella. I get wet. I hate cold rain on my scalp, cold rain sliding down my neck. We all get into the car and drive off.

The woman we're going to see lives east of town, off a dirt road so uneven she probably drives a Land Rover. Scully and Mulder talk quietly in the front seat in that professional shorthand of theirs, and I eavesdrop, of course, but there's nothing new there. When we reach the house, I'm expecting some ancient shambling structure with peeling paint, something to match the road, but it looks newly renovated and the white walls gleam through the rain. There's a garden to one side that's probably lovely in the summer, and a paved path leading around the house itself.

Scully gets her umbrella up so neatly again that not a drop of water gets in her hair. "She said they would be in the greenhouse, around this way." She takes the path around the house and Mulder's right with her. He walks through the rain as though it's not really there. I lag behind a little, watch the garden. The greenhouse is small. This is going to be crowded. Another drop of water slides down my neck and in underneath my collar, and I move faster to catch up and get inside.

It's warmer in there, and nearly all the glass panes are steamed up. A narrow strip of tramped earth divides the space lengthwise, muddied and damp near the entrance. I close the door behind me. One woman is standing on the path talking to Mulder and Scully, the other is crouched some distance away, digging with a small trowel. She wears rubber boots and blue coveralls, and beneath the coveralls I get a glimpse of a pink fluffy cardigan, the pastel of it somehow oddly matching the pale blue rinse in her hair. I can't help but smile.

"Ms. Williams, you went to Dr. Davis in Charlottesville for several years, didn't you?" I can't see his face, but I have a suspicion of which look he's using as I see the effect it has on Ms. Williams. Apparently Mulder wasn't listening when Scully said these women might be easily swayed by his personal charm into saying just about anything. Or maybe he was listening.

"Yes, I did." Ms. Williams is younger than her friend, with a round dimpled face, her comfortable curves squeezed into slightly too tight jeans and a knitted sweater with a flower pattern around collar and sleeves. "He was such a sweet man, and a very good doctor, not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with Dr. Skeat, but he just doesn't have the same way with patients. Then again, he's a small-town doctor, he doesn't have as many people to practice on..."

While I try to get my mind to cope with anyone calling my father a sweet man, Mulder moves on as soon as she pauses to draw breath. "I'd like you to take a look at this picture." He holds up the photocopy of the driver's license.

Ms. Williams takes it out of his hand to hold it the way you'd hold a week-old kitten, and looks at it closely. "He looks so serious!" She laughs. "Leah! Leah, come take a look at this, it's Dr. Davis!"

The other woman gets to her feet and comes up to us, still armed with her trowel. She peers at the picture and nods. "So it is." She turns the paper around in Ms. Wiliams' grip, leaving an earthy thumb print behind. "Not a very good picture, but it's certainly him."

Mulder nods; he was expecting the confirmation, but he's pleased with it all the same. Then his face turns serious again. "Did you have time to finish your treatments with Dr. Davis before he was killed?"

"Killed?" Ms. Williams gasps and almost drops the picture. "Dr. Davis was killed? What happened? Oh, that's terrible, and his poor wife must have been devastated! Leah, did you know?"

Leah shakes her head. Scully is watching both of them closely; now she takes the paper before it falls out of Ms. Williams' hand. "I certainly did not," Leah says. "What a tragedy for his family. When was this?"

"Ten years ago," Scully says calmly. "Both Dr. Davis and his wife died in a car accident. Weren't you still undergoing a course of treatments with him then, for sinus infections?"

"No, we finished the treatments with Dr. Skeat, after Dr. Davis gave up his practice," Leah says.

"He what?" I don't realize I've spoken out loud until they all turn their heads to look at me. Ms. Williams acknowledges me with a fluttery smile, but Scully looks stern. Well, it isn't her father they're talking about.

"It was such a shame," Ms. Williams said in her breathless way. "He was such a wonderful doctor, and he always knew what to do about my sick headaches. Of course he gave Dr. Skeat detailed instructions, but it just wasn't the same, somehow."

Mulder and Scully must have been as stunned as I was, even if they didn't show it as clearly. Now they snap back into action, asking for dates, digging for details. I stand back and watch Ms. Williams. She liked my father, trusted him, she still calls him a sweet man. And I wonder what, exactly, he did to her.

"Ten days," Mulder says, his voice tight with excitement, "only ten days later."

"He said he was going on vacation," Leah says. "To Florida."

"He did go," Scully says. "The accident took place as they were on their way back." Mulder turns his head and looks at me briefly, as if he wants to ask something, but not in front of these two women. I nod shortly. They did go to Florida. I got a postcard. "Did Dr. Davis give any reason for his retirement?"

"He said he felt he had been working too hard," Leah says, "and that there were other things in life that were important, too. He was very devoted to his family."

"Oh yes," Ms. Williams chimes in, "he had photos of them on the wall, he was so proud of them. I always thought he retired because he wanted to spend more time with them — and then he only got ten days—" Her chin quivers. I can't stand to watch it; I turn around and stare hard at a patch of freshly dug earth.

I don't remember any family photographs.

After a while I get the feeling that someone is watching me. I turn my head slowly and find that it's Scully who has stepped back a little from the group. It's a very thoughtful look she's giving me, and I try to raise my chin and meet it calmly, but I just can't. I stand where I am, my shoulders hunched.

"This might seem like a strange question," Mulder says, "but I want you to think carefully before you answer. Has either one of you at any time experienced something strange that you didn't know how to explain? Missing time? Vivid flashes of memory associated with unpleasant physical sensations? Nightmares that seem almost like reality?"

I wonder dully why he doesn't just come right out and say it: have you ever been abducted by aliens? Maybe this is his attempt not to lead them. Scully is still looking at me.

"Dr. Davis said it was a side effect of my migraines," Ms. Williams says uncertainly. I think she's torn between her loyalty to him — my father — and her wish to make Mulder happy by giving the right answer to his question. "I'd get these flashes of white light and then I'd wake up later. Sometimes much later. He said it was a common reaction."

Mulder just nods, but it's obvious that he doesn't exactly credit the migraine theory.

"I've never had a migraine in my life," Leah says resolutely. "It was — I was going through the change then, and—" She falters and stops, and looks at Ms. Williams. "Do you ever dream about that, a sensation of being completely immobilized and helpless, unable to stop them—"

Ms. Williams shudders and nods. Mulder is watching them both. He's doing it again, drawing the pain right out of them, getting ready to ask another question. He won't stop until he knows he's gotten every last detail out of them. And Scully...

Scully is still looking at me.

Her skin is like porcelain, she's so pale, and her eyes are faintly clouded. And I know she is remembering, too. And she's looking at me. There isn't enough air in here. I wrench my eyes away from hers and walk towards the door, staggering as though I'm drunk; I almost fall outside. The rain is heavier now, and it covers me like a cold blessing. I stand a few steps away from the greenhouse door with my eyes closed and feel the drops hit me, feel my boots sink into the mud.

I didn't like the way she was watching me when those women talked about my father. But it was better than what followed. I curse silently under my breath at my sudden inability to walk this minefield. Of course Scully has nasty abduction memories that she tries to repress. Of course she's going to look daggers at me, if I'm around. There is nothing unexpected in that.

It seems Mulder didn't even notice, with his whole attention focused on the two Tupperware ladies. I dig my hand into the pocket of my jacket and hunt around, hoping that there might be a piece of candy left. Water runs down my face. It doesn't matter. I already knew how Scully feels about me; the last person in the world likely to offer me a beer, remember? It's surprising how tolerant she's been, so far. After that first encounter she hasn't even threatened to handcuff me to anything.

And I want her to stop looking at me when people talk about my father. I want her to stop looking at me as though she understands something.

I walk down along the length of a flower bed, looking at the empty earth. A worm is crawling up into the rain. I wonder what Ms. Williams will plant here and if Leah will help her. I wonder what grew here last summer. My mother had a garden. She never wanted any help with it; it was hers alone, a private joy that she was never ready to share.

This time the cold rain sliding down inside my collar is almost a welcome visitor. When I turn around and make my way slowly back again, the greenhouse door opens and an umbrella emerges, followed by Scully. I stop abruptly. Then Mulder comes out too, and I get myself moving. I join them on the path and listen.

"They were both abducted, Scully, probably several times. The missing time, the dreams—"

"The symptoms are perfectly consistent with severe migraines," she says and the color has returned to her face now. "And cases of extreme hormonal reactions during menopause are not uncommon."

"How about cases of near-identical dreams?" He's half teasing, half deadly serious.

"Nightmares, Mulder. You ought to know that bad dreams often follow a pattern based on humanity's most basic fears, dreams of falling, of being chased, of being helpless." On reaching the car, she shifts the umbrella into her other hand and waits for him to unlock the doors. "There was nothing specific in the dreams they described."

"He was part of it." Maybe Mulder is so used to her denial that he argues around it as a matter of course. "Davis must have known the implants were there, he must have recognized the symptoms, and he lied to those women and strung them along. And then all of a sudden he decided to retire."

"Do you know why?" It's Scully asking me, and I refuse to look at her; I climb into the car and wait as they, too, get settled and close the doors, leaving the rain outside. "Do you have any idea why he—"

"I didn't even know he practiced medicine here, how the fuck should I know why he decided to stop!" My voice is harsh even to my own ears. This isn't a good day. They both turn around in the front seats and look at me. "I don't know. I know they went on vacation to Florida, I got a postcard from Boca Raton, okay?"

They look at each other quickly. And then I see what I should have seen at once. Damn. "That retirement home," Scully says.

"Switching one project for another?" Mulder turns back and starts the car. I stare out the window until Scully stops watching me. "I think we need to have a few words with Dr. Skeat. He doesn't seem to have much faith in his own ability."

"There is nothing strange in sending patients to a specialist," Scully says. She finally shifts around again and looks at Mulder instead. "A responsible physician knows when he has to admit he's out of his depth."

"Both those women seemed pretty healthy to me," Mulder says.

I decide that my voice can handle speaking again, so I ask, "What are you talking about? What specialist?"

It's Mulder who answers. "Both of them had been referred recently to a clinic in Charlottesville. They have appointments there next week."

"Just like Annie," I say, and his eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror for just an instant. And I remember what it was like to work with him, when suddenly nothing I said was too far-fetched and I was the one trying to provide a sensible counterpoint to his wild hunches — quite a twist after my days at Quantico. There were moments when my secret agenda didn't matter, and all that was important was the sheer pleasure of watching his mind make sense of the puzzle pieces we found. Purpose and intelligence joined in a perfect match. The only jarring note was my own inability to participate as much as I wanted to, young innocent that I was supposed to be.

"Annie Clough?" Now Scully sounds thoughtful, too. "She was going to the Charlottesville clinic?"

"According to Linda Pulaski, yes. We should confirm that with Dr. Skeat and her parents, though." Mulder's really going all the way on this, determined not to leave anything out. Skinner must have come down hard on his last report.

I lean back against the seat again and make another futile search through my pockets for something edible, anything at all. Did I really finish a whole bag of Hershey's kisses yesterday? Apparently I did. We drive on along rain-slick roads back into town. I feel I know this place inside and out now, every street, every road. Not like Mulder, who has the map inside his head; more as though it's made its way inside me by osmosis.

Dr. Skeat has his practice on Bromley Street, and it's within walking distance of the police station and the diner. The waiting room is neat, elegant, with inoffensive prints framed on the walls and pale yellow curtains. We're met by a woman who matches the room, stylishly understated and not a hair out of place. Her name is Louise Chen, and she looks utterly unimpressed by Mulder's FBI ID. "I will ask the doctor if he has the time to see you."

"I can see there's a real rush," Mulder says, nodding at the empty waiting room. "This is a Federal investigation, Ms. Chen."

She nods once and walks through a door at the far side of the room. For a moment we all stay still and silent. The rain has eased up a little and is only a quiet patter in the background. Then Scully says, "What if he leaves by a back door?"

"You're the one who's convinced he's just an honest, hard-working physician," Mulder reminds her. She gives him a mildly annoyed look. "We have no real reason to think that he's part of this."

"Except that he should have noticed the implants," she points out. I wonder if she isn't being a bit hard on Skeat; the implants are hard to detect, and he may not have had any reason to go over the women's necks thoroughly. From Scully's comments, I have the impression that you have to know what you're looking for. If Skeat never noticed the implants, it could just as well be a sign of his complete innocence.

Louise Chen returns, carrying a clipboard. "Dr. Skeat will see you now."

We file in through the door, Mulder walking ahead eagerly, Scully following at a more composed pace. I go last, as usual, and try to look like an observer. Federal observers don't slouch around wearing leather jackets and muddy boots. I didn't shave today, either. I can feel Louise Chen compare my appearance with that of Mulder and Scully, and it's obvious she doesn't approve.

The man who comes to shake hands with Mulder is short and broad-shouldered, with steel-gray hair and wire-frame glasses. "What can I do for you?" he asks, sounding perfectly relaxed.

"We're looking into the recent accidents here," Mulder says, managing to sound friendly and at the same time convey a bare minimum of information. "We need to ask you a couple of questions about some of your patients."

Dr. Skeat opens his mouth to say something, but Scully gets in first. "I know that you must be concerned about the issue of confidentiality. But I think you will find that our questions do not disturb that issue as much as you may think now."

He nods slowly. "Ask away, then," he says.

"Annie Clough, Nadine Williams and Leah Byrne have all been treated by you in the past." Not quite a question, but Skeat nods. "And you decided recently to refer them to a specialist clinic in Charlottesville."

Dr. Skeat looks amazed. "No, I didn't." He draws his glasses down and looks at Scully over the frames. "I haven't referred them anywhere. There's nothing wrong with them — was nothing wrong with Annie."

Mulder and Scully look at each other. I keep my eyes on Skeat, and I'm willing to bet that he's telling the truth. Mulder picks up the thread. "Both Ms. Williams and Ms. Byrne have been called to appointments purportedly arranged by you. Are you saying you had nothing to do with that?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying." Skeat frowns. "And I'd like to know who's been sending misleading information to my patients!"

"We'd all like to know that," Scully says. "So there is nothing wrong with Ms. Williams and Ms. Byrne, and there was nothing wrong with Annie Clough, that you are aware of? No unusual conditions?"

He raises an eyebrow in perfect Spock imitation. "No, nothing. All three of them had persistent sinus infections a number of years ago, but they responded very well to treatment, and I've barely seen them since then except at their annual check-ups."

Mulder steps in again smoothly. "Did you ever have any reason to examine the back of the neck of these three patients?"

Skeat is Spock. "No. Should I have? None of them ever complained about anything that—"

"Dr. Skeat," Scully cuts him off as politely as possible, "were you the one to examine Annie Clough after her disappearance?"

"Only cursorily," he says. "I participated in the search, of course, and when she was found I checked her for injuries and took care of her scratches, but then her parents took her to the family doctor in Charlottesville for a thorough check-up later."

"Dr. Davis," Mulder says. "Were you personally acquainted with him?" Skeat shakes his head. "Were there more patients here in Leyden Creek who started to come to you after Dr. Davis gave up his practice, more than just those three?"

"Not many," Skeat says. "Ms. Williams, Ms. Byrne, the Cloughs, Janine Kendrick and the Bettens." He pushes his glasses back up and gives Mulder and Scully a sharper look, probably in response to the way they turned to each other when he mentioned those names. "Can you tell me what this is all about?"

"It hasn't struck you as odd that it's those patients in particular who have been involved in the recent spate of car accidents?" Mulder asks.

Now Skeat bristles, there's no other word for it. "Agent Mulder, are you intimating that they all suffered from something I failed to diagnose, that caused them to crash their cars? That's ridiculous. All of them were perfectly healthy."

"That's not quite what Agent Mulder meant," Scully says, shooting Agent Mulder a look that says if he claims something different she'll kick him again. I had no idea she employed methods like that to keep him in line; wish I'd thought of that when we were partners, then maybe he'd have thought twice before trying to ditch me all the time. "But Nadine Williams, Leah Byrne, Janine Kendrick and Annie Clough at least all had a metal implant of unknown origin at the back of the neck. The effect of the implant is unknown." Mulder opens his mouth and closes it again. "Am I right in thinking that you missed those implants when you performed the autopsies on Janine Kendrick and Annie Clough?"

"Yes," Skeat says stiffly. "I wasn't looking for — implants. Good lord, it sounds like one of those ridiculous alien abduction theories."

"Those theories aren't as ridiculous as you might think," Mulder says, an edge to his voice. "Nadine Williams and Leah Byrne show several of the characteristic symptoms of abductees, and according to her girlfriend, Annie Clough claimed that she had been abducted, claimed it repeatedly before her family got her to keep quiet about it."

"Annie Clough was a fanciful six-year-old child!"

"Then how do you explain those implants?" Mulder isn't getting loud exactly, but he's getting way too intense. The look Scully shoots him is slightly worried. "Advanced technology, hidden in the victim's body — to what purpose? Show him, Scully." He turns to her.

She exhales slowly, but takes out the glass tube she showed me yesterday. "I found this while examining Janine Kendrick," she says. "It is identical in appearance to metal implants that have been found in a number of other women, and was found in almost the same spot on each woman's body."

Skeat looks at the tube, then takes it out of her hand and peers more closely at the little metal object inside. He shakes his head slowly. "All right, that is peculiar. I never saw it either when she was alive or when she was dead, and I don't know what it means. But I still think this talk of aliens is absurd. Was there anything else you wanted to ask me — something I can actually answer?"

"Have you ever heard of the Quaid-Markham clinic in Charlottesville?" Scully is holding a letter that either Ms. Williams or Leah Byrne must have given her.

"No." Skeat peers at the letterhead. "Never."

There's a moment of silence as we all adjust to the fact that this interview is nearly over. "Thank you for your help," Scully says eventually. Mulder keeps quiet and just shakes Skeat's hand. Maybe he's embarrassed about his outburst before. Maybe he's trying to keep from giving another lecture about abductions. You never know with him.

We all file out of Dr. Skeat's room in the same order we went in, Mulder, Scully, and me. Louise Chen is at her desk, working on the computer, but she gets up and escorts us to the door. Mulder gives her an absent-minded smile. He should have tried that instead of his ID before, it seems to work much better. As we leave she says "Goodbye," and it sounds almost friendly.

It's still raining. As Mulder unlocks the car door, his cell phone rings. We all crowd into the car as fast as is compatible with our respective ideas of dignity, which means that Scully misses the initial "Mulder. — Where?" There's a pause, and she settles in. We're both watching him. "Do you have any idea who it is? — I don't think you can discount—" Mulder looks frustrated. "We'll come and assist you. — Well, do you have any objection to our participation? — Detective Larkin, I was part of the VCU originally, and my partner—"

He bangs the phone against the steering wheel and the resultant blare from the horn startles us all. "I take it he hung up, "Scully says dryly. "Mulder, what's happening?"

"Larkin's got a lead on what happened at the barn last night. They've been going through the ruins all morning, looking for traces of explosives and anything the bomber might have left behind, with a team from Norfolk. They've found tracks, and now he's staging a goddamn manhunt through the woods. And he doesn't want us to join in."

"Well," Scully says, "it may not have anything to do with our case. We have other things to—"

"I found a lab up there, and then someone nearly blew us to pieces!" He's gorgeous when he's angry. "I'm going to go back and look for traces of that lab, Scully. Larkin's bound to screw it up. I'm going up there right now."

She raises an eyebrow, but then she says, "All right. We'll just have to think of a good way to split up. You can go check the barn, I can go to the clinic in Charlottesville, and Krycek can interview Annie Clough's parents about her medical history."

It works. He stares at her, flicks a quick glance at me, then looks back at Scully again. Then he draws a deep breath. "Shock tactics, Scully?" There's a small smile on her face. "You want to go to Charlottesville?"

She nods. "We need to investigate whether there really is a clinic, and if it is genuine or a front for other activities. And it would be an opportunity to visit UVa and check Dr. Davis' background more thoroughly, and try to find out more about where, when and how he practiced medicine." There's a barely perceptible pause before she adds, "And on whom."

"It could be risky, Scully," Mulder says. "If this Quaid-Markham place is a front, going in and asking the wrong questions could be dangerous. I'm not sure you should go alone."

"One of us needs to stay here," she says, "and you're the one who wants to look into what happened at the barn."

"And with her medical training, Scully has a better chance of figuring out what's going on at the clinic, if there is a clinic, as well as understanding what might be left of my father's research," I point out. They both turn around and look at me as though they'd forgotten I was there. Then Mulder slowly, grudgingly nods.

"All right," he says. "We'll do it that way. You go to Charlottesville and I'll look into things here."

"And I'll go talk to Mrs. Clough," I say casually.

He turns his head and looks at me. "We'll both do that," he says, "before we go out and join Larkin."

"You're just hoping it will stop raining," Scully says. I smile and Mulder tries to look offended. Then he puts his cell phone away and starts the car, and we go down the street and around the corner and stop outside the police station.

Scully takes the rental to drive up to Charlottesville, and the look on Lou's face as she leaves is heartbreaking. Almost everyone has been called in on Larkin's hunt for the mysterious bomber, and we end up borrowing Lou's own car, promising to treat it kindly. It's a Superman-blue truck that should have been serviced five hundred miles ago. We settle in and I start to pick through the tape collection as Mulder drives. Lou likes country music. I can't find anything I could bear to listen to until I discover Michelle Shocked's Texas Campfire Tapes at the bottom of the pile.

Then I settle back and watch the rain falling on the windshield.

* * *

At least with the music on, he didn't have to think of anything to say. Not that he had to talk to Krycek. But with the music playing, it wasn't even an issue. Mulder stared straight ahead, kept his eyes and his mind on the road. You had to be careful driving in the rain. Nothing was far from anything in Leyden Creek, and it only took them a song and a half to get back to the Cloughs' home. This time only the station wagon was parked in the drive, and he paused in the act of turning off the ignition, wondering about the Subaru yesterday.

He missed Scully already, missed her steady incorruptible presence. He needed her to keep him balanced, now more than ever, when he had a tight-rope to walk. But he couldn't tell her that without telling her about last night. Turning his head, he studied Alex Krycek's profile and tried not to think about why he felt a sudden urge to let it impact with the dashboard.

After a moment Krycek shifted and met Mulder's eyes. One corner of his mouth quirked up. "Mulder, do me a favor. Stop looking at me like you're about to say your name is Inigo Montoya."

He didn't know whether to laugh or break the man's nose. But wound through both impulses was the awareness of how Krycek had looked last night when he'd admitted to killing Mulder's father. And that made it impossible to do either. After a few moments he said, far more calmly than he would have believed of himself, "It's bad enough that you're blackmailing me, Krycek, do you have to steal my underwear as well?"

"Hygiene is my one redeeming feature," Krycek said, seemingly relieved that they weren't going to go into that subject right now. "Are we going in?"

"Yes." He opened the car door and stepped out into the rain again. It was such boring rain, heavy enough to be annoying but not heavy enough to be interesting. It found its way in everywhere. Scully had taken the umbrella with her to Charlottesville, even though she wouldn't get wet during the drive and it probably wasn't raining there. She was so selfish. Mulder found himself smiling faintly as he stepped up on the porch. Then he turned around and looked down the drive. No Subaru. No tricycle. Station wagon in the exact same place, as far as he could tell.

Mulder rang the bell and waited. And waited. Nothing happened and he touched the bell again. He was aware of Krycek standing behind him slightly to one side, the slight tension and awareness resonating between them, fuzzily, like a radio with bad reception. They hadn't worked together in a long time. They weren't working together now.

"The light's on in the kitchen," Krycek said in a low voice, not really pointing it out.

Mulder nodded, and bent momentarily to look closer at the door. "And the front door isn't locked." He rang the bell a third time. The aggressive tone filtered out to them through the door, a sound that demanded attention. Nothing happened. Mulder glanced over his shoulder at Krycek, who nodded. A voice inside him whispered that he shouldn't let this be so uncomplicated, that he had no right and no reason to count on Krycek.

But there wasn't time to consider that. He slowly turned the doorknob and opened the door. The house was silent and still; he saw nothing in the hall, except for the light spilling out from the kitchen. Mulder walked in quietly. Aware, yes, that was it. There was no thought in this state of mind, he just knew things: his own balance, the presence of Krycek at his back, the exact move that would be needed to draw his gun if necessary.

Then he heard a sound, the faint rasp and flare of a match being lit. They both moved at the same time, down the hall to the open kitchen door.

Mrs. Clough was leaning against the kitchen counter again, newly lit cigarette in hand, head tilted back, eyes closed. The cloud of gray smoke surrounding her couldn't hide the tracks of tears and mascara down her cheeks. She looked as though she'd aged ten years since the day before; her hair was uncombed, her clothes wrinkled.

Mulder cleared his throat, and she opened her eyes slowly and straightened marginally, enough to face him. "So it's you again," she said listlessly, lifted the cigarette to her mouth and left it hanging there. "Can't you take no for an answer?"

Mulder looked quickly around the kitchen and saw that the immaculate air of yesterday had vanished. Nothing looked quite as clean and tidy as it had. Krycek went past him, moving into the room like a shadow. Clearing his mind, refocusing on Mrs. Clough, Mulder said, "We're sorry to intrude, but you didn't answer the door, and we were worried that something might have happened."

She made a dry sound that might have been a laugh. "Really." Then she seemed to lose interest in him and started playing with her cigarette again. The room smelled as though she had been standing there smoking since dawn.

"It seems we've come at a bad time, but there are some additional questions we need to ask you," he said, hoping to catch her attention. One shoulder moved in a shrug, but he couldn't tell if it was acknowledgment or indifference. Mulder forged ahead stubbornly, "Your daughter had been referred to a specialist clinic in Charlottesville, hadn't she?"

Another shrug. "Yes."

"The Quaid-Markham clinic?" Mrs. Clough nodded. "Do you mind telling me why?"

"She was just going to take some tests to do with her asthma," the woman said. Her voice sounded distant, and she still looked away, eyes following the coils of cigarette smoke that wound through the air.

"I've just spoken to Dr. Skeat, and he says that he never referred Annie to that clinic," Mulder said. The smoke and the way she stood made it difficult for him to watch her face closely. "He claims she was perfectly healthy and had no reason to go to a specialist."

"There must be some kind of mistake, then." Mrs. Clough let her cigarette fall into the sink with an air of faint regret. Then she turned her head to look at Mulder. "Is this really important?" she asked. "Annie's dead. She won't be keeping any appointments at that clinic or any other."

"I'm sorry to have to drag you through this, Mrs. Clough. But it may have some bearing on why she died."

Anger flared up so suddenly he almost lifted an arm to shield himself from it, from her burning eyes and hissed words. "Linda Pulaski killed her! Linda Pulaski got behind the wheel of a car stinking drunk and she killed my Annie, that's what happened! That's what really happened!" She was leaning out towards him now, spitting the words at him, and he could smell nicotine and alcohol on her breath. Mulder didn't know what to say; he reached out instinctively and caught her arm, steadied her as she threatened to lose her balance.

Krycek spoke softly into the silence that followed. "Why have you taken down the picture?"

Turning his head, Mulder saw that the framed collage of photographs they had seen yesterday was indeed gone, a calendar of delicate floral prints hanging in its place. He met Krycek's eyes briefly. Then Mrs. Clough wrenched away from him, stepping back to lean against the counter as before. She pushed her hair back fiercely. "I didn't want to look at the photos of Annie," she said.

"Of course not," Mulder tried to keep his voice a soothing murmur. "But do you happen to remember any more about that man in one of the photographs—"

"No!" After a deep breath, she visibly calmed herself down. "I told you, he was no one important, just someone we ran into on the campus. I never even knew his name, and if I did I've forgotten, it's been years! Stop asking me about it!"

"Perhaps your husband remembers better than you do," Mulder suggested. When that brought no response he went on, "Is he at home now?"

"No." This was a clipped word of denial, and far more convincing. "He's not."

"Well, I need to talk to him. Can you tell me where I can find him?" At those words she pressed her lips together, then turned around rather abruptly to hunt for another cigarette. "Mrs. Clough?"

"I'd like you to leave now," she said, not turning around.

Krycek could move so damn quietly, Mulder doubted Mrs. Clough heard him as he walked right behind her, stopping at the sink and fishing something out of it. "You smoke Marlboros, don't you, Mrs. Clough?"

"Yes," she said, a little surprised, a little irritated. "I don't want any stupid menthol women's cigarettes."

"And your husband?"

"He doesn't sm—" Then she turned her head and looked at Krycek and at what Krycek was holding in his hand. "Morleys. He smokes Morleys."

"We'd like to see him and confirm that," Mulder said, trying to control the slight adrenaline rush. Mrs. Clough looked straight at him and he caught a glimpse of sheer terror in her eyes before the heavy lids dropped down. "I know you're under a lot of pressure," he said softly. "But we can protect you, Mrs. Clough," he ignored the expression on Krycek's face, "if you just tell us the truth."

"I've told you the truth," she said flatly, her eyes showing nothing at all now. "I'd like you to leave, Agent Mulder, and—" She looked at Krycek, who had never given his name. "I'll ask my husband to contact you when he gets home." Her knuckles were white as she gripped the countertop.

"Do you know where your husband is?"

"Get out. Now." It wasn't a statement that could be argued with. Krycek looked a question at him and Mulder nodded. They went out of the kitchen, and she didn't follow them, but the force of her will was just about pushing them out the door.

They stood for a moment on the porch. The rain was heavier now, a silver curtain shielding the town from view. Everything was unclear here. Mulder sighed and turned his collar up, stepping out into the downpour. It was as though the analytical part of his mind was operating quite separately from his personal thoughts, turning the facts over and fitting them together. Oh, some of these things might not have been called facts by anyone else, but he felt no reason to doubt the truth. Things were starting to come together, beginning to shape up into an understandable whole.

"Mulder, snap out of it and unlock the doors." Krycek had his shoulders hunched against the rain and glared greenly at him across the hood of the truck. It was tempting to just let him stand there, but Mulder became aware that the rain was seeping down his back, too.

"She's been threatened with something," he said as they got into the truck and closed the doors. "She's too scared to tell the truth. That smoking bastard got to her—"

"A long time ago," Krycek said. "But I think we just missed him here." There was something in Krycek's voice. Mulder looked at him. Relief. "Maybe the husband's hostage for her good behavior."

"Maybe." Mulder drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. "Maybe not." He looked at his watch. Scully wouldn't be in Charlottesville yet. "What's going to happen if he finds out you're here?"

"He knows I'm here," Krycek said so quietly Mulder barely heard it. "He knows. This clean-up, it's to prevent you from finding anything that makes sense; he knows you're here and what you're doing. And that means he knows I'm here, too."

Mulder started the truck and backed slowly out of the driveway. The right windshield wiper wasn't working as well as he could have wished; it dragged across the glass with a squeaking sound. Krycek wasn't looking as afraid of Cancerman as he had yesterday. There was something purposeful about him, the tension of action rather than nerves.

That was good. He couldn't have coped with Krycek in a blue funk. He hated it when the man cringed; there was something so damn undignified about it. And it didn't make sense. Krycek had killed an armed man while handcuffed to a balcony rail, so he was obviously capable of considerable mayhem even in tricky situations. There was no reason for him to look nervous when Mulder waved a fist or a gun at him. Although Mulder admitted that Cancerman was another story.

"Things are starting to make sense, anyway," Mulder said. The streets were almost empty as he drove through Leyden Creek. His thoughts were moving along two separate lines of reasoning almost simultaneously, one concerned with Krycek's contradictory behavior, and one presenting the deductions so far in a mostly logical progression. "Your father was involved in an unsavory project," he threw another sideways look at Krycek, "and then, for reasons best known to himself, he bailed out."

"How do you know the project wasn't just shut down?" Krycek asked, although the tone of his voice indicated that he thought he knew. Looked like they were about to play a game of I'm-smarter-than-you-are. Might turn out to be just as enjoyable as roughing Krycek up. "That it wasn't finished?"

"Because of the way he broke the news to those women," Mulder said immediately. "It would have been the easiest thing in the world to wrap up their supposed treatments and tell them they didn't need him any more, except that he'd told them they needed to come to him for months more. So he made up the story about retiring, and bolted."

"Down to Boca Raton." Krycek sat staring down at his hand, head bent, the outline of his skull easy to see through the short hair. "Landing in the middle of another project, and I don't see why he did that."

"Maybe he had no choice," Mulder said. "They'd have tried to make him change his mind, you know. Talked to him. Tried to make him see reason. And when that didn't work—"

"—they killed him," Krycek finished flatly. "Peskow killed him, Mulder. He as much as told me so." Then Krycek lifted his head and looked at Mulder. "But Peskow didn't work for them. Not exactly." The green eyes sparked again, an electric sizzle of thought. "But if he'd decided to tell the truth, they'd all want to kill him."

"I thought you said there was no truth," Mulder couldn't resist saying.

"There isn't," Krycek said, his voice low and vehement. "These people can alter reality, they can change the past, they can construct the future. And anyone who tries to go up against them usually doesn't find out until it's too late."

Mulder discovered that he was gripping the steering wheel as if his life depended on it. There was more than just conviction in Krycek's voice; there was grief, and there was knowledge. It was the voice of someone who's seen more than he ever wanted to, and wishes he could forget. "You're not going to stop me by saying that."

"I know."

They had left the town behind now and were driving along the long upslope that would take them to the curve, and the tree, and what was left of the barn. The windshield wipers were struggling; the rain just kept growing heavier. As they topped the rise, Mulder saw the cars, the people, even the small clouds of ash that rose as something was disturbed among the ruins only to be rained down quickly and thoroughly.

He had to get Krycek to talk soon, to tell him who 'they' were and exactly what 'they' were up to. It was clear that Krycek knew a lot more than he was admitting to as yet. Mulder wanted the secrets that were hiding behind the darkness in Krycek's eyes, wanted them so badly he could just about taste it. There had to be a good way to make Krycek talk.

Mulder turned off the road, following the tracks up to the barn. Lou's truck complained but kept going until he parked behind a police car. That had to be the team from Norfolk still going over the barn, and he needed to ask them about what was left of the lab. There was no sign of Larkin. Probably out crashing through the undergrowth and frightening the wildlife, not to mention the suspect; Mulder hoped he was wet and miserable.

He was about to open the door when Krycek said, "Mulder." Turning his head, he met an unreadable look. "Thanks." Mulder almost leaned back in the truck seat again, to ask what that was all about, to disturb Krycek's stillness, to get his nails under an edge somewhere and pull, yet again. "For last night."

And then Krycek was out of the truck and Mulder scowled, jerking the door open on his side and slamming it shut once he was out in the rain. Damn the man. Damn him.

The rain wouldn't help. Running this morning until his muscles burned and his lungs ached hadn't really helped either. He'd woken up to find himself in bed with Alex Krycek and without being able to provide any logical explanation why. Only that wasn't what the first moment had been like. He had woken up out of a restless, restful sleep with a vague emotional impression that he'd been angry when he fell asleep, and he wasn't any more, and he was warmer than he usually was, and there was bare skin touching his skin. And then he'd turned his head just a fraction, and seen Krycek there.

Mulder dug his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat. He didn't know what the hell he'd been thinking last night. He hadn't been thinking. But he did know what he'd been thinking when he woke up this morning. It lay dormant under his skin, ready to be awakened again.

"Agent Mulder?" He recognized the policeman vaguely, but couldn't come up with a name. "Detective Larkin asked you to wait here for him... you and Agent Scully?"

"She had to go to Charlottesville. Where is Detective Larkin?" Mulder kept walking towards the remains of the barn and the policeman followed him. Krycek was already there, staring at the blackened ruins and then crouching down to examine something. The team going over the site gave him a look Mulder recognized as 'we're too busy to tell you to go away unless you actually touch something.'

"Detective Larkin is directing operations out in the woods." The policeman looked mildly puzzled at Mulder's satisfied grin. "I'm his liaison here."

"I see. Then why don't you fill me in on what's been happening? All I know is what Larkin told me, that he was out chasing the bomber. What makes him think the guy's still out there? It's been over twelve hours since the explosion took place. Whoever set it up could be on the other side of the world by now."

"The bomber tried to return here this morning." The man glanced over at where the field turned into forest. "Detective Larkin theorized that he might have left some damaging evidence behind that he wanted to remove."

"And has anyone found that evidence?"

"No, sir." Now the policeman eyed the team from Norfolk with less than complete respect. Mulder wondered if it had occurred to the man that Larkin could be wrong. Probably not. "But as soon as the man was spotted, Detective Larkin organized a search for him. He can't get away."

"He's been getting away quite successfully for almost three hours now," Mulder pointed out. "Mind if I ask, how does Larkin know it's the bomber he's chasing, anyway? Did this guy just pop out of the woods and yell 'I did it, I did it'?"

"No." No 'sir' this time. "He ran when he was spotted and he dropped some explosives as he ran. The same type of explosive that was used here, according to the experts."

"Oh." Mulder suddenly smiled. "Well, can't argue with that." He could, of course, but it was no use arguing with this man. He'd save it for Steve Larkin. "Did you get a good look at him?" The policeman shook his head. "Too bad. Thanks," he added almost as an afterthought, before walking over to the remains of the barn.

The team going over the site was led by a short, stocky blonde woman whose hair was pulled back into a tiny stub of a ponytail. She seemed to be everywhere at once, moving carefully so as not to disturb the evidence. Mulder wasn't surprised when she ended up in front of Krycek. Krycek looked up at her, then rocked back on his heels to get an easier view. "Did you find any sign that this end of the building might have been a laboratory?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Who are you and what are you doing poking around in the middle of my investigation?"

"He's with me," Mulder said, stepping forward and fishing out his ID to forestall the next question. "Fox Mulder, I'm with the FBI. Did you find anything? There were a lot of metal fixtures, it can't all be gone."

"Stainless steel," she told him. "But it's too early yet to tell what it was before it turned into modern sculpture. Keep your fingers out of there," she added to Krycek, who shot her a charming and untrustworthy smile and got to his feet, "there are lots of sharp edges, you might lose them if you're not careful — oh, I'm sorry." Her eyes flicked to his left side and away again.

Krycek shrugged. The charm was gone, turned off like a light. Mulder concentrated his attention on the woman. "Anything you find," he said, "any trace of that lab, I want you to tell me about it and document it very carefully." Her brows drew together. "I'm sure you'll do an excellent job, Detective—?"

"Anderson. Lieutenant Anderson. I'll tell you when I find something, Agent Mulder. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a job to do." She turned away, her eyes already on her co-workers. Mulder walked carefully along the side of the barn's foundations. The mud under his feet had been baked hard by the heat and now the persistent rain was beginning to soften the top layer yet again, making it slick and slippery.

"What do you think it's going to prove?" The question caught him off guard, and he turned around to find Krycek watching him. Mulder wished the man had at least shaved that morning. He looked scruffy and disreputable, more like a model for Leather Studs than a dependable FBI observer, which made it increasingly hard for Mulder to justify his presence in any convincing way. "So you find a few traces of a lab, so what? There's no way you can prove who used it and for what. Or that Annie Clough was ever in there."

"There might have been other evidence in there," Mulder said. "Something that showed what kind of experiments were being carried out."

"If there was, it's gone now," Krycek said, looking at the ruins. "That was the point, that was why this place had to blow. All that's left now is some melted hardware. Nothing specific."

"You sound as though you know what you're talking about." Mulder wasn't sure what to make of Krycek's calm certainty or of the distant look in his eyes as he watched the team carefully map out the ruined structures. It reminded him of something, but he couldn't put his finger on what.

"I'm a good guesser." Blinking as the rain got in his eyes, Krycek turned back to face Mulder again. "What do you want to do? Put on your red coat and join the hunt?"

"I never really took to fox-hunting," Mulder said dryly, then was disconcerted by Krycek's sudden chuckle. "Don't even think about making a joke, Krycek. I can't just walk out there and hope to run into Larkin. I need someone to tell me exactly where he went. And right now no one seems inclined to—" His cell phone rang and he broke off to take the call. "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me." The sound of her voice was reassuringly familiar. "I'm at the Quaid-Markham clinic. Except that there is no clinic here, it's been closed."

"Does anyone know when it was closed?" He turned his back on the barn and looked out across the field as he spoke. "Can you get inside and see if there's anything that might have been left behind?"

"I am inside. The janitor let me in. There's nothing here, Mulder, the whole place is empty. There isn't a single piece of furniture left. Even the wall cabinets have been taken down. According to the janitor, the job was finished yesterday."

"Damn." Mulder wiped away the rain that was trickling down his forehead towards his eyes. Krycek stepped into his line of sight, also looking across the field, towards the woods.

"I have the name of the moving company. I'll get in touch with them and find out who hired them. But I don't know if I'll find anything. I can't think of any reason why anyone involved in this business would have used his or her real name."

"What happened to your sweet trusting nature, Scully?" he teased. Krycek shot him a look that seemed mostly amused. "Don't forget to check on Davis at UVa." At those words, Krycek's face closed up again. Mulder wondered idly what the elusive Dr. Davis had really been like. From the Tupperware ladies' description he'd seemed like the Tom Jones of medicine, whose female patients would have screamed and thrown their underwear at him if they'd dared, but Krycek's reactions indicated that the man had not been quite such a walking wonder at home.

"I'm going up there now," she said. "Mulder, what did the Cloughs say about their daughter?"

"Mr. Clough seems to have gone missing," Mulder said slowly. Beside him, Krycek tensed as if he'd heard something, and Mulder strained his hearing — was that a distant shout? A shot? "Mrs. Clough knows something, but it looks like she's been warned not to say anything. We found Morley butts in her sink." That was a shout, and now he saw faint glimpses of someone moving among the trees. "Scully, I have to go, it looks like Larkin's hunting party is coming back. I'll call you later."

He shoved the phone back in his pocket and started to run across the field, aiming to intercept whoever was following the tree line. Krycek came along, and Mulder thought about telling him to stay out of this, but then he decided not to waste his breath. He concentrated on tracking the progress of the unknown person hiding in the woods, suddenly becoming aware of what perfect targets they made out here in the open. The distant shouts were coming a lot closer. That had to be Larkin's efficient manhunt giving an expert performance. There was a dog barking, too. Two dogs. Oh, joy.

They were suddenly in among the trees, and slowed down. Mulder cursed under his breath as he realized he could no longer see the running man he'd been tracking, and the sound of the yells and barks made it difficult to listen for his presence. He was being just as stupid as Larkin. Damn.

Entering a tiny clearing, they both stopped and tried to get their bearings. Mulder had his gun out without being aware of having drawn it. When he took a step forward his foot came down on a branch that snapped with a gunshot-loud crack.

"Just stand still, Mulder," Krycek said quietly, behind him; Mulder thought of several things to say to that, but then he heard the rustling and the panicked footsteps coming closer. When he turned his head, he saw movement again, coming closer. This was the man they were chasing. Whether Larkin was chasing the right man remained to be seen, but it was no use taking chances.

Metal glinted dully in the gray light. Mulder drew a deep breath. "Federal agent! Drop your weapon!" At first nothing happened, then the man came closer to them and Mulder could get a good look at him. He was in his early forties, stockily built, and wearing good-quality clothes that seemed to have been through a lot lately. The rain had plastered his dark hair to his head, and he was wild-eyed, looking quite ready to use the knife he was holding in his right hand. "Drop it!"

The man's eyes shifted from Mulder to Krycek and then back again. Slowly he nodded, and let the knife fall. Mulder didn't allow himself to relax much. Something about the way the man looked bothered him. "I've dropped it," the man said, his voice a little too bright between the labored breaths.

"Walk that way," Mulder nodded. "Slowly. We're going out into the open. Come on." He gestured with his gun and the man moved docilely. The shouts and barks were quite close now. The man took two more steps and then suddenly threw himself sideways, attacking Krycek. Mulder had time to think that he couldn't shoot, and then the man was lying on the ground and Krycek was crouched over him, scowling.

Krycek looked up. "He had another knife. Didn't know how to use it, though." Mulder went closer and looked down, still holding his gun. "Don't worry, Mulder. I didn't kill him." As he got to his feet, Krycek's mouth twisted and he pressed a hand to one leg. The knife had cut cloth and flesh, and blood was slowly soaking the black denim. "You get to carry him out of here."

Mulder stared at the man on the ground a few moments longer. Then he glanced up at Krycek. "Why didn't you ever do that to me?"

"Why, did you want me to? I can't keep track of all your hidden desires, Mulder." Krycek turned around and limped off towards the open field. Mulder watched him go, not even bothering to scowl at Krycek's smart-ass remark. He thought of all the times he'd held Krycek at gunpoint, hit him, pushed him around. Krycek had never fought back very hard, not even when he'd had two arms to do it with. He remembered Krycek saying, You like me because you can hit me.

Then three policemen, two dogs and Steve Larkin came running, and Mulder turned to face them. The dogs were straining at their leashes wanting to get to the fallen man, and Larkin frowned as prettily as ever. "Agent Mulder, did you shoot him?"

"No. He's just unconscious." At least Mulder hoped he was just unconscious. He wasn't quite sure what Krycek had done to the man; whatever it was, it had been quick and effective. He took in Larkin's muddy, bedraggled appearance and felt a lot better. "Who is this man? Do you know who he is?"

"Yes, I know who he is," Larkin said. "That's Siward Clough." He stepped across the small clearing and knelt at the fallen man's side, giving him a brisk once-over and standing up again with the second knife in his hand. There was blood on the blade. "He cut you, Agent Mulder?"

"No. Not me."

The unconscious Clough was handcuffed and carried out of the wood and put into a police car. Mulder was torn between amazement at finding someone called Siward and wondering just when this Siward was going to wake up. Had it really been this man who had blown up the barn? Maybe he'd just become unsettled by his daughter's death. Maybe running amok in the woods was his way of trying to deal with grief; Mulder had seen stranger things.

He headed over to Krycek, who was leaning against the truck. "How long till he wakes up?" Krycek shrugged. "I'll take you to Skeat first. You can walk to the police station from there when he's finished with you."

"Let's just follow that car to the station," Krycek said. "He should have recovered by the time they get there."

"You need to see a doctor, Krycek." Mulder nodded towards the cut on Krycek's leg. "I don't know if you need stitches or if it can be taped up, but in either case that knife was probably filthy. You're going to Skeat."

"Mulder." Krycek gave him a tired look. "I have no insurance and I have no money. It's just a scratch. Tunguska didn't kill me, this won't either." The casual tone was belied by a deepening darkness in his eyes. "I can clean it out in the bathroom at the police station."

"Get in the car," Mulder said, walking around to the left side of the truck and opening the door. He realized as he was about to get in that the rain had almost stopped. Finally. This was the kind of day that made him want to find the light switch. The gray sky gave the whole world an oddly closed-in look, as if heaven was the lid on a cage they could none of them escape from. He tilted his head back and looked for a break in the cloud cover, but didn't see one.

He got into the car and leaned across to unlock the door on the other side. Krycek climbed in and sat there looking unconcerned as Mulder started the car. He found himself wishing that Scully was there. It would have been fun to see her descend on Krycek with her medicine kit in hand. He turned the truck around carefully; the tires spun in the mud at one point, but then the downslope helped them get free and they got back down the hill and out on the road.

As he drove, he fished out his cell phone with one hand and dialed a number he could have recited in his sleep. She answered almost immediately. "Scully."

"Larkin caught himself a bomber, Scully. Or thinks he did." Only a few drops of rain fell now, and he turned the windshield wipers off, then had to turn them on again when those few drops turned out to be too much after all. "Annie Clough's father."

"Her father?" Cool surprise, very Scully. "That sounds strange. Do you think he did it?"

"I don't know." Mulder slowed down at an intersection. The police car that was transporting Siward Clough had already left them far behind, but since he wasn't going to the police station straight away, it didn't matter. "I'm not sure what his motive would be. If he knew his daughter was part of these experiments, wouldn't he have wanted to expose them instead?"

"Mulder, you have no proof that there were any experiments carried out in that barn," Scully said.

"He wouldn't be the first man to sell out a child to a project," Krycek remarked, not looking at Mulder. "At least they got to keep their daughter at home most of the time."

"Shut up," Mulder said between clenched teeth. Then he drew a deep breath. "Scully, are you still there? That wasn't meant for you, I was trying to silence the peanut gallery. Have you found anything new?"

"Not yet. The moving company was contacted by a woman who called herself Jane Smith. They've been paid; the money was transferred directly into the company account and they couldn't trace it. No one ever met Ms. Smith." There was the sound of a car door opening and closing. "I'm at UVa now, Mulder. I'll call you when I find out more."

Mulder put his phone away and looked at Krycek, who was leaning back, his lips pressed together. Much as he wanted to take his anger out on the man, he had to admit that Krycek might be right. The Cloughs knew something at least, or that cigarette-smoking son of a bitch wouldn't have gone to the trouble of scaring them into silence.

"Hey." Krycek pointed at the police station. "You're going past it." Then he raised his eyebrows. "Fuck, Mulder, you're taking me to the doctor, aren't you. Do I have to put it in words of one syllable for you? It's no use. I can't pay."

"I'll put it on my expense sheet." Mulder turned the corner and slowed down, looking for a parking spot as close as possible. He was lucky enough to find a large one. Lou's truck required ample space. "Your leg's still bleeding. Stop acting stoic and clenching your jaw, it makes you look like Skinner."

Krycek burst out laughing. It was a clear, honest sound, and Mulder was almost startled by it; he'd rarely seen Krycek look so unguarded. Shaking his head, Krycek opened the truck door and got out. Mulder got out as well, checking the sky once he was outside. If anything, it was getting darker. Krycek was still grinning as they went inside.

Louise Chen was behind her desk, entering something into the computer. The waiting room was empty, and although she tried to give the impression that Dr. Skeat was terribly busy, Mulder thought the practice might not be doing too well. Maybe the people in Leyden Creek were just too healthy. Krycek's lack of medical insurance brought a sniff from Louise Chen, and Mulder produced a credit card. It felt more than a little strange suddenly, but he couldn't drag around an Alex Krycek who was both unshaven and bleeding. That would be taking the scruffy look too far.

When Krycek was ushered in to see Skeat, Mulder sat down on one of the chairs in the waiting room and tried to marshal his thoughts and review the case so far. Ghosts and car accidents. That first mystery had almost vanished behind the second one as the lab in the barn and the stories of abductions had distracted him. He leaned back and stretched out his legs comfortably; Louise Chen shot him a disapproving look. At least she hadn't been flirting with Krycek, although she had watched the way he moved in those tight jeans.

Krycek believed that a man called Peskow had killed his parents. He'd looked almost sick as he spoke of it. He'd sounded as though this Peskow was someone he knew. But why had his parents returned to haunt the site of their death now, ten years later? Mulder couldn't doubt, despite Scully's and Krycek's protests, that that was what had happened. Linda Pulaski had identified Andrew Davis as one of the ghostly figures she'd seen on the night of the accident. She hadn't been drunk, and she wasn't a hysterical teenager.

With a start, he realized that he had forgotten to ask Leah Byrnes and Nadine Williams about the ghosts. Both he and Scully had been so taken aback by what the women had to say about Dr. Davis that they'd failed to remember the real purpose of their visit. Mulder shook his head slowly. But if the Tupperware ladies had identified their ghostly vision as Davis, wouldn't they have mentioned that? They had been genuinely surprised when told that Davis was dead.

Mulder dug into his pocket again, trying to find the note Scully had written for him last night. Well, it wasn't a note so much as a crumpled paper napkin that was starting to fray at the edges, but it had the names and phone numbers of the Tupperware ladies. He dialed Nadine Williams' number, and waited. And waited. Just when he'd decided that they were probably still in the greenhouse and he might as well hang up, he heard a click and a breathless "Hello?"

"Ms. Williams? This is Special Agent Fox Mulder. I'd like to ask you some additional questions, if that's all right with you."

"I — oh. Yes. Yes, of course." She sounded a little breathless still. "Leah, put it down over there. — I'm sorry, Agent Mulder. What did you want to ask me about?"

"About the car accident." He waited a moment, but she made no protest, so he went on. "Agent Scully told me that you had seen something at the site of the accident — some kind of ghost or apparition?"

Nadine Williams was silent for so long that he wondered if she'd hung up. Just as he was about to ask if she was still there, she said, "Well, Agent Mulder, I really don't know what it was. I saw something."

"Can you describe it to me?" Mulder realized that most people would probably hesitate to tell an FBI agent that they'd seen a ghost, particularly if they had had a few days to convince themselves that they hadn't. But Ms. Williams had confirmed to Scully that she'd seen something out of the ordinary that night.

"It looked like someone standing up by the tree," she said hesitantly. "I just caught a glimpse, really. I'm not even sure if I thought I saw two figures or just one. It was right before we went into the ditch, and then I didn't have time to look again."

"Did this figure, or these figures, seem familiar in any way?"

"No. No, I don't think so. It was more of an impression than anything else, something glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. I'm sorry, Agent Mulder. I'm not sure what I saw; Leah didn't see anything."

"But the driver did, didn't she? Mrs—" He consulted the napkin. "—Capozzola?"

"I think so. We haven't really had the time to compare our impressions." Ms. Williams sounded rather more collected over the phone than she had done when they had been face to face, in her greenhouse. "I think — I thought what I saw was a man. But that's really all I can say."

"Thank you, Ms. Williams, you've been very helpful. I'm sorry to have disturbed you." Mulder sat staring at the phone for a while, until he became aware that Louise Chen was watching him. He looked up and met her eyes. "Don't worry, you didn't overhear any state secrets."

The secretary neither smiled nor looked offended. She straightened the pile of papers in front of her with quick, efficient movements. Then she surprised him by actually speaking to him. "I didn't know the FBI was concerned with ghosts."

"The FBI has wide-ranging interests," he told her. "You'd be surprised. Why, have you seen any ghosts lately?" Louise Chen answered that with a raised eyebrow and a single shake of the head. Mulder gave in to a sudden impulse. "Ms. Chen, tell me something. That man who's in with Dr. Skeat right now — do you think he's attractive?"

Louise Chen looked genuinely taken aback. Then she smiled. It transformed her face, from severe to stunning. "Yes," she said, considering it, "yes, he is. Although he isn't really my type."

Mulder allowed his smile to become flirtatious. "And just what is your type, Ms. Chen?"

"My husband," she said, but traces of the smile lingered in her eyes. Then the door to the waiting room opened and her face turned carefully blank again as she returned to her paperwork. Krycek walked back in. A white bandage showed through the rip in his jeans.

"Nine stitches," he said, sounding cheerful. "I told you it was just a scratch. Can I borrow a pair of jeans?"

Mulder shook his head, but in resignation, not denial. If his aim was to keep Krycek reasonably presentable, those ripped and blood-stained black jeans had to go. He didn't want to try to explain why he was accompanied by someone who looked like a war refugee. "If you take good care of them. I didn't pack for two. And hurry up, I want to hear what—"

Mulder broke off, realizing he was about to talk about the investigation in front of Louise Chen. Only now did he remember that he had meant to go to the police station as soon as he'd dropped Krycek off here. He had to get over there and hear what Siward Clough had to say about his reasons for running around the woods carrying explosives.

"All right." Krycek made for the exit, tossing Louise Chen one of those Charm Level 10 smiles on the way. She preserved her composure, but only barely. The damn rat bastard should come with a warning label attached. Mulder sighed, and followed him.

As he was on his way out the door, he heard Louise Chen say something in a low voice. It sounded suspiciously like, "Wide-ranging interests?"

The sky still hung low over the town, gun-metal gray, and nothing cast a shadow. Krycek moved easily, without favoring his injured leg, so Mulder was inclined to believe him when he said it was just a scratch after all. Only a few drops of rain hit them as they went to the truck and got inside. Up the street, around the corner, this was starting to feel drearily familiar. He parked by the police station and turned to Krycek.

"Scully wouldn't like this, but..." Mulder had to admit he didn't really like it either. All the same, he'd be damned if he went with Krycek to watch the man change his jeans. He was an FBI agent, not a baby-sitter, no matter what Scully said. Digging the keys to the room out of his pocket, he handed them to Krycek. "Go over there, find something you can wear, then come back here. I have a feeling Larkin's going to want some kind of statement from you about Clough."

"Tell him you took Clough down with a Vulcan nerve pinch." Krycek opened the truck door and slipped out. He walked across the street, and Mulder watched him until he went in through the diner door. Not that that made any real difference, Mulder knew that much. Simplest thing in the world to walk out through the back door, to walk out later. He was counting on Krycek's interest in the case to keep him here, and perhaps he was making a mistake.

He got out of the truck himself and went into the police station, where he was met by Lou, who directed him to the same room where he'd talked to Linda Pulaski the day before. Mulder slipped inside quietly and stood by the door, studying the scene. Siward Clough was sitting on a chair with his elbows on his knees, shoulders slumped, cuffed hands hanging down, the sturdy policeman Mulder had talked to before standing behind him. Larkin sat facing him, grim-faced.

Clough slowly looked up. "I'm not saying anything until my lawyer gets here." He met Larkin's eyes for a moment, then let his head fall forward again. "Nothing."

"Damn it, Siward." Despite the words, Mulder had never heard Larkin sound so gentle. The detective leaned forward towards his prisoner and spoke with great intensity. "Why did you do it?"

The question hung in the air for a moment. Mulder shook his head, edging towards the door; he'd come back when Clough had his lawyer and things could get moving again. But just as he closed his hand around the door knob, Siward Clough looked up again. Tears were running down his face. "Annie always hated that place," he said.

* * *

When I enter the diner the smell of food wraps around me, warm and gentle, and I realize I'm hungry again. Susie the waitress is serving lunch to a group of men who look as though they're in the middle of a business deal. The place is starting to fill up already. I head up the stairs and quickly unlock the door to the room. Looking around, I see that everything is as we left it. If anyone's been here to search the place, they've been very discreet about it. I have to consider the possibility, though. He knows they're here. He knows I'm here. I'm still alive, and I plan to stay that way.

Instinctively, my hand moves towards my gun to make sure it's still there. I wonder how Mulder would have reacted if I'd shot Clough. Then I ponder the fact that I'm on my way over to the police station to talk to Steve Larkin. If he gets suspicious, if he starts checking up on me... Reluctantly, I decide that I can't go in there with my gun. It's too much of a risk. My mind is spinning tales of witness protection programs and false ID's, but it won't work if I'm carrying a gun I have no permit for.

I put those thoughts aside for the moment and take my jeans off. They're ruined, which is a shame because they were my favorite pair. I need to get some money. I have to buy a few things, and what I have right now will get me a cup of coffee, if I'm lucky. Mulder paid for the nine stitches in my left leg. Kind of him, but I don't suppose it means he's buying me a new wardrobe as well. I start to go through the pile of clothes and find only one pair of jeans, which makes the choice easy. They're a bit tight, but I'm not about to run around town in sweatpants, and I think he'd shoot me if I pinched one of his suits.

About to leave the room again, I pause with my hand on the door knob. Everything I'm wearing now is his except for the boots and the jacket. It feels strange. It feels as though I'm wearing him; it feels like having his arms wrapped around me. Suddenly it hurts, because it's not true, because the only cause at work here is necessity. I'm wearing his clothes, but it means nothing.

I go downstairs and find myself moving more slowly than usual, not wanting to face him with that thought in mind. I should be curious about Clough, about Mulder's conclusions, about whatever Scully has discovered up in Charlottesville, but my feet won't speed up. Dawdling by the noticeboard, I read about a new knitwear store in someone's garage, a yard sale several Sundays ago. The door opens.


It's Linda Pulaski, wearing a blue and green checked flannel shirt over a white dress with a lace collar. I don't know if it's a fashion statement of some kind, or if she just didn't care what she put on when she got up this morning. The orange half of her hair lights up this dull gray day. She's watching me with a half-wary, half-friendly expression. "Don't worry," I say. "I'm not going to ask you why you're not in school."

"I wanted to talk to someone." She's chewed her lips raw at some point between yesterday afternoon and now. Her eyes are clear, though. "I... I could buy you lunch."

I look out the window at the police station. He's expecting me. He — the thought strikes me with enough force to almost knock me off my feet — he trusts me not to disappear. But I'm not going to disappear now. Linda looks at me. I nod, then smile conspiratorially at her. "Let's make the FBI pay. Come on."

We go to sit down at the same window table Scully, Mulder and I have more or less staked a claim to, and she props her chin on her hands and doesn't look at me, looks out the window for a while. Susie the waitress comes up to take our orders and I wish it was Laura Ann instead. I order the soup of the day, and Linda, after a moment's hesitation, asks for fries, onion rings, and a chocolate shake. I'm starting to think we're twin souls, and I tell Susie I want onion rings too. She's shaking her head as she walks away.

"My mom would have a fit," Linda says. There's nothing defiant about the statement, it's just a simple fact. "She's always going on about my diet. Alex?" Her voice changes. "Have you found out anything yet? About the—" She doesn't want to say the words. "I heard the old Mitchell barn burned down last night. Do you know anything about that?"

"We were there," I say. I remember Mulder pushing me inside, the dark enclosed space, the sound of the door slamming shut. My heart starts to speed up. It was bad. At least Mulder and Scully were there with me, but that hadn't stopped the walls from starting to close in on me, hadn't kept me from remembering taste and smell and sound and...

"Alex." Linda's hand on mine brings me back to reality. "Alex, are you all right?"

"Yeah," I say after a moment. "Sorry. Just some bad memories." I shrug, turn my hand over and hold hers gently.

"I'm sorry too." I look at her in surprise. "I mean. I like being with you, because then I don't feel so alone. And if that means you feel like I do, if that means it makes me feel better that you don't feel good, then I'm sorry about that."

It's a bit convoluted, but I understand exactly what she means, and I squeeze her hand. "It's all right. It makes me feel better, too," I tell her, and then Susie comes back with the food.

The soup is close to being stew, thick with cream and potatoes and clams and big, tender chunks of fish. The smell of the onion rings makes my stomach growl. I don't remember ordering anything to drink, but Susie sets down a Coke in front of me; she refuses to catch my smile as she leaves, though.

"I've been thinking," Linda says and reaches for the ketchup. "I'm not sure any more that I'm going to apply to UVa. I always meant to go there with Annie, you know? I don't know how it would feel if I had to be there alone."

"Go somewhere else," I say seriously. "Don't spend years in a place where you're going to see her face every time you turn around. UVa's good, but there are other places."

She pauses, about to replace the ketchup and grab the salt. "You went there?"

I make a non-committal sound and apply myself to my soup. The things I learned when I went to college weren't taught by UVa professors. They have no bearing on Linda's future. At least I hope not. After a while I put my spoon down to reach out and steal a sip of her milkshake, and she grins at me. "You know I'm not really supposed to tell you anything about the case," I say.

"I know." She shrugs. "I think I just wanted to be with you. If that's all right."

"Give me some more of that milkshake."

We sit and talk about nothing much, nothing in particular, while I finish the soup and she picks at her fries. She likes Melissa Etheridge and I don't; I like the Indigo Girls and she doesn't. We even discuss the weather. I describe Louise Chen to her and she laughs. "Yeah, she's just like that, nothing makes her twitch. I bet if a rat ran across the floor she'd ask it if it had an appointment." I have to laugh, too. I wish Mulder could hear her. "Alex?" I've been called Alex more often during this lunch than I have in the past two years. "Why doesn't Agent Mulder like you?"

Sure, I'll answer that. I'll even give a summary of the theory of relativity as an encore. Then I meet her eyes. "He's got good reasons not to," I say.

Linda smiles blithely. "He's probably just jealous 'cause you're cuter than he is."

"You've got to be kidding," I say before I can stop myself. Briefly I wonder what the hell happened to my professional attitude. I used to be able to think before I spoke. Taking a quick breath, I go on, "Trust me, that's not it. He's wanted to put warfarin in my birthday cake for a long time now. You're better off not knowing the details."

"All right," she says equably, nibbling at an onion ring. "But I still think you're cuter. — I really want to get out of this town."

"You will," I tell her, "you will." And I know she will, and I hope she'll find something good when she does. I remember being that age, wanting something I couldn't put into words, wanting change, wanting the future and my own place in it. I remember what happened then.

When I've finished my soup, Susie comes to take the bowl away; Linda holds on protectively to her plate of fries, although they're mostly cold by now. I tell Susie to add it all to the bill for the rooms, and she nods and walks away. She won't quite meet my eye any more. "She doesn't want to like you either," Linda comments.

"She doesn't go for cripples." I watch Susie disappear into the kitchen. She probably didn't mean any harm. It just wasn't what she'd been expecting. I could have told her I never expected to end up this way either. A sharp pain shoots along my arm, my missing arm, and my mouth twists.

Linda gets up and walks around the table, sitting down next to me instead. She scoots closer. "I'm sorry." Somehow she wriggles in under my right arm, and leans her head on my shoulder. "I think I'm like that with Annie, you know? Like part of me is missing."

"I know," I say, and lean my cheek against the top of her head. The other customers are all trying very hard not to stare at us. "You realize the whole town is going to be talking about this?"

"Yeah, fuck 'em," she says, and we sit like that for a while.

The door has opened and closed any number of times since we sat down here and only a small part of my mind is paying attention to it. But when I hear someone walking towards our table I look up quickly. It's Mulder, and he's not happy. Well, he's missed lunch. "You were supposed to be over there," he says, gesturing towards the police station. "Half an hour ago."

"I got hungry," I tell him truthfully.

"I invited him to lunch," Linda says with her head still on my shoulder. "I'm sorry." She doesn't mention the fact that it is probably Mulder who's going to have to pay for it. Bright girl.

"Lunch," Mulder says, and gives us both a disgusted look. Then he sits down across from us. The look intensifies as he almost puts his elbow on the plate of left-over fries. "Well, I hope you've finished, because you need to be at the police station making a statement."

I should have left it to Mulder to catch the fugitive. Getting too involved was stupid; now I have to make up a story for Larkin. I think about what pieces of ID I have on me and wonder again whether Larkin will bother to do a thorough background check. Linda hospitably pushes the onion rings towards Mulder. "Are you hungry too?"

It looks as though he's about to say no just to be contrary. Then he picks one up and eats it. Susie comes back to the table; she has no trouble meeting his eyes and asking him what he wants. He orders a sandwich, and then looks as if he regrets it as she walks away. "K- Alex, give me the keys. I need to get a few things. Don't eat my food while I'm gone."

"Would I do a thing like that?" I hand him the keys and he gets up and walks away, up the stairs. I watch him until he's out of sight. Linda turns her head on my shoulder, watching him as well, and then she's looking up at me. Her eyes are half laughing, half serious, and I sigh to myself. "What."

"He doesn't like you, but he's sharing a room with you."

"Department cutbacks," I say. It's an automatic response, while inside I admit to myself that she's reduced the whole problem to the simplest terms possible. He doesn't like me, but he's sharing a room with me. He doesn't like me, but... but he slept next to me.

I've tried not to think too much about that. It's too strange, and I don't want to face the explanation. I've even avoided thinking about what I did, what I didn't do. There was a time when I thought that his nearness was the beginning and end of my desire, when I dreamed that touch would be an answer and a solution. This morning, the realization that I had not even tried to seduce him during the night showed me the true extent of my own madness.

And it would only have destroyed the moment, after all. I'd rather have that gift, what he did for me out of the goodness of his twisted and confused heart. Charity is one thing, but he'd never have consented to a pity fuck and I wouldn't want one. I wouldn't want him to do that. Closing my eyes, I let myself remember briefly. Closeness. Warmth. It's enough, it will have to be enough.

"Alex?" Linda touches a finger to my cheek. "What did he do, how did he hurt you that much, Alex?"

I shake my head and look at her. "You've got it wrong, sweetheart. I'm the one who hurt him. I told you you're better off not knowing." Susie brings Mulder's sandwich and looks disappointed that he isn't there. I think about reaching out and stealing a slice of something just for the hell of it, but I don't want to let go of Linda. For once I'm no more than mildly frustrated at this, just one of the stupid little choices I have to make all the time.

When Mulder comes back he looks suspiciously at the sandwich before sliding into his seat. Then he looks suspiciously at Linda and me instead. "Ms. Pulaski." She makes a horrible face. "Linda, I know you have an interest in how this investigation goes, but there's no need to try to wring new facts out of him." He nods at me. "When there is any new information about this case, we'll tell you."

Surprised, she slips forward to prop her elbows on the table as she watches Mulder intently. "New information?" The slight sharpness of sarcasm is back in her voice again. "You think you're going to solve it?" Then she leans back just as abruptly. "Don't tell me. I guess I was stupid for thinking you believed me in the first place."

Mulder is just biting into his sandwich, and he looks frustrated as he has to chew and swallow before he can reply. "I believe you," he says as soon as he can. "What makes you think I don't?"

"If you believe me, what's to solve about the case? I saw ghosts, they scared me, I went off the road, Annie's dead. You can't prosecute ghosts. Hell, you can't even get anyone else to believe that story. Is that why? Are you looking for a nice solution that you can actually write down without, without having people laugh in your face?" Her self-possession is starting to give way, finally, the sentences starting to break up under the pressure of her emotions.

I touch her hand. "You're doing the agent an injustice, sweetheart. Mulder's a knight in shining armor crusading for the truth, and he'll believe six impossible things before breakfast. He's probably the only man in the Bureau who'll put that kind of thing in a report and expect people to buy it."

"Thanks for your testimony. I'll remember not to call you if I ever need a character witness." The look could burn my skin like acid. "Linda, I said I believed you and I mean it. I do. But I think there's more to this. There's a reason why those ghosts appeared at all, and there's a reason why they appeared to the people they did. It's not going to change anything that's happened, and it won't bring Annie back, but if I can find the whole truth maybe we can stop it from happening to anyone else."

She looks at him. She's judging him. No one can judge another as sharply as teenagers and the recently bereaved. I find myself wondering what she sees when she looks at him. But then, she apparently likes me. It doesn't quite make me want to laugh. "Okay," she says when that silent inspection is over. "Just promise that you'll tell me when you know."

Mulder nods. "I will," he says, and then he picks up his sandwich again and applies himself to eating.

Linda rests against my side for a while. She's quiet; I suppose she's thinking about things, and I tilt my head back, my cheek against her hair, and watch Mulder discreetly through my lashes. Most people hate it when you stare at them while they're eating. I'm not sure he notices. He's thinking, too. Suddenly I really want to know what happened when Clough was questioned, what the man might have said. I'm not sure it has any bearing on the car accidents, and even less on how my parents died, but I'm caught up in the mystery of it. Maybe Mulder's attitude is catching; he's one of those people who just don't know when to stop asking why.

"I guess I'd better go." Linda sits up straight again. She shifts towards the end of the bench, then stops and turns around and looks at me. After a moment of hesitation she grins, and leans in and kisses my cheek. "I'll see you later." Then she's up and away, moving like a teenager, lithe and graceless.

I look at Mulder. "What did Clough say? Have you heard from Scully again?"

Slowly, he puts down the remains of his sandwich and faces me. "She trusts you, Krycek." I know he's not talking about Scully. "And she wouldn't trust you if she knew what I know about you. So don't give me any reason to tell her."

"Fuck you," I say, without any heat. Then I smile. "Besides, that's a lousy threat. If I do something that shows I'm not trustworthy, you're going to tell her I'm not trustworthy? I'm so scared. Why don't you just say you'll beat me up if I hurt her?"

"All right. I'll beat you up if you hurt her." Then an odd expression appears and disappears on his face, too fast for me to read. I don't tell him that this is a lousy threat, too. Because the point isn't that he couldn't beat me up; the point is that I would let him do it.

And besides... he's threatened me with exposure. He's threatened to tell a young girl the truth about me and what a spawn of evil I am. He believes I care, that I still have the moral standards to be ashamed at revelation. Only Mulder, I think, only Mulder would believe that someone like me would be bothered by what a seventeen-year-old girl might think of him. My chest tightens, and the pain feels wonderful.

After a while I say, "I like her." And then, "Have you heard from Scully again?"

"Not yet," he says. "Krycek. Do you remember anything about what your father did, anything that seems inconsistent when you think back, in retrospect? Anything your parents said that might have referred to his work as a doctor?"

"No." The answer is more of a reflex than anything else. "I've told you that I don't remember much. I never knew that he practiced medicine on anyone but me. Tell me about Scully and Clough," I insist. "Don't try to sidetrack me. It's a bit late to decide to keep me in the dark, Mulder."

"You seem more interested in Linda Pulaski than in the case anyway. I don't have an obligation to tell you anything." He picks apart the remains of his sandwich, eats the last slice of turkey but leaves the bread. "We brought you along because you might be useful, that's all. You can't sit there making demands as though I'm a private detective you've hired. You're lucky we didn't leave you in Skinner's tender care." Although his voice stays low and even, it takes on that peculiar roughness I recognize from other times, other angers.

"Threats don't become you."

"Watch where you throw those stones, Krycek. Who's blackmailing whom at this table?"

"If that's the way you want to play it," I say in resignation. "Tell me about Scully and Clough, or I'll make sure that something triggers the black cancer virus."

He leans back, turns his head and looks out the window. "You could have just said please. Clough's admitted to blowing up the barn, but he won't say where he got the explosives. All he says is that he did it because Annie always hated that place." His eyes are sad. "She must have told them so often when she was a child how horrible it had been and they never listened. Her father never understood until after she died."

"He's lost it, hasn't he." I watch Mulder, his profile, the line of his jaw, his neck. And I think. "Or he's just pretending to, to hide his real agenda. My guess is someone made him do it, and we both know who was blackmailing the Cloughs. It's all part of the cover-up, Mulder, it has to be."

"You don't believe his grief for his daughter is genuine?" For one absurd moment I think I can't bear the faint reproach in his voice. And that's when I start to wonder, really start to wonder what he's doing to me.

"Sure I believe it. I also believe he and his wife are scared shitless of a certain chain-smoking gentleman, because anyone with two brain cells to rub together would be, present company apparently excepted. People rarely have just one motive for their actions."

He gives me a reassuringly cynical look. "Well, you should know." And then, grudgingly, "I think you're right." I look outside quickly to see if the sky is falling. But it's just the rain. "We're never going to get it out of him, though, and it looks like his wife would rather see him go to jail than tell the truth, too."

"Did you ask him what kind of cigarettes he smokes?" I ask with a half-smile, and the faint amusement is reflected back at me. It must have come as quite a shock to the man to find that he's suddenly become a Morley smoker. But it doesn't prove anything.

Mulder nods. "I know. If I tell Larkin that I know Clough was being blackmailed because we found Morleys in the sink..." He pauses. "I could tell Skinner, though. He would believe me."

"Probably." Skinner may have a problem with a lot of Mulder's reports, and he wouldn't like the ghosts, but he'd be able to read those implications as clearly as Mulder himself. More clearly, perhaps, I think, but don't say it. "But you still wouldn't be able to do anything."

"Damn it." It's spoken very quietly. Then he looks straight at me, traps me with his eyes. "Krycek. Do you know his name?"

I would laugh if he didn't hold me like that, suspended in space. "No," I say. "I've heard lots of names for him. And I know every one of them was false." Then I sigh to myself as he tries to control his disappointment. This is what he wants from me. Information. I know, even though he hasn't said it in so many words; I know because that's what he always wants. Another fragment, a piece of the puzzle, something that will add up to the truth written on the mountains. Me, I'll settle for smaller things. "What do you think Clough and the barn have to do with what happened to my parents?"

If he's thrown by the change of subject, he doesn't show it. He leans back; for some reason he seems to think best when he's sprawling, arms and legs everywhere. "Someone had decided to start the experiments again," he says with lazy certainty. "They were all being called to this clinic, even Dan Bettens. I checked with his wife. And the lab in the barn looked brand new. They were being set up for the next round." I look at him, strangely unwilling to hear what he's going to say next. "And I think your parents were trying to get in touch with the subjects of the experiment. That they were trying to do something to stop it from happening again."

Now I'm staring at him. He should be used to that, should be used to people giving him the 'when did you last take your medication' look when he starts to theorize, but he looks oddly bothered by it. Well, I'm bothered too. "You really think my parents are ghosts." I try the idea out as you might try a sweater, hold it up to see if it goes with my eyes. "You really think they're out there."

"Yes." He's got a napkin in his hands now, and his strong fingers are slowly tearing off one strip after another. I don't think he's aware of doing it. "I think they were the ones who warned you to get out of the barn last night."

"Mulder." I close my eyes. "You're getting too weird for me." When I look at him again he's still sitting there shredding the napkin. Then he slowly starts to smile. "What?"

"It's nice to hear that you're not totally blasé, Krycek." He leans forward, elbows on the table, eyes so intense I think my heart might stop beating. The napkin pieces fall from his hands. "It's the only explanation that makes sense. Your parents were killed because your father called a halt to the project he was involved in. Ten years later someone intends to start it up again, and your parents return to try to stop it."

"By scaring people to death? This is what you call an explanation that makes sense?" I shake my head. "And where have they been all this time, in the big ghost storage closet in the sky?"

He opens his mouth to argue, and his cell phone rings. "Mulder. — So what did you find?" He's silent for a long time, looking out the window. I can hear the sound of Scully's voice, but not what she's saying. "Biology. Not genetics. — Yes, but is there any evidence that he specifically— I see. I don't know, I'll ask him. You lived in one of the Pavilions?" I nod. "Yeah, they did. In the basement? I'll ask — oh, all right." He hands me the phone.

I look at it, then take it. "Hey, Scully. Lou misses you."

"Too bad." If I knew her as well as Mulder does I'd know if she's really smiling right now or if it's just my imagination. "Krycek, the couple living here now moved in a month after your parents' accident. One of the basement rooms had been completely cleaned out, everything removed and torn down." Scully clears her throat. "Who did that? What was in that room?"

"Mostly book-shelves," I tell her. "That was my father's private study, that was where he did most of his work. He had books, a desk, a computer, nothing special. A few white mice from time to time, for research purposes."

"Oh." The disappointment in her voice almost makes me smile.

"If there was anything sinister down there, I never saw it." But there's a lot I never knew about my parents, I know that, and I know that she knows it, too. She doesn't mention it. And she doesn't ask again who had the room cleaned out. "What else have you found?"

"Almost nothing." But she says it in a way that makes me understand there's more to that than what the words mean. And she goes on, "So much seems to be missing, a lot of your father's papers, some of the records. The institution secretary is almost frantic. No one can remember when anyone looked at the material last, either." Scully sniffs her disapproval.

"You mean his research is gone?" I feel curiously hollow. That was what my father was, what I always thought he lived for, what defined him. To have it gone now seems to negate that part of his life that I always thought was the most real.

"A lot of it." The almost-kindness of her words nearly makes me shy away from the phone. She must have heard my feelings. "I haven't been able to discover when the Quaid-Markham clinic was established or if your father ever had any contact with it. Do you know—"

"No." Then I make myself say, "I didn't live with my parents all the time. I could have missed a lot of things." I just don't like thinking about it, much. About how they lied to me. No, that's not it. They didn't lie. They just didn't tell me.

I think about my father's silence, his few mentions of earlier colleagues that he'd liked, had been friends with. I think about meeting those colleagues later, after his death. I was a good friend of your father's. For a moment I think I can smell cigarette smoke. You're a promising young man. And all the secrets started there, what I kept from him, what he kept from me, what we kept from the world.

"Krycek?" Scully's voice drags me back to the present. "I'm coming back to Leyden Creek once I've talked to a few other people here. I'm not getting anywhere with the clinic, and I can pursue inquiries with the moving company on the phone. They shipped everything in the clinic to a storage facility in Manassas, except for a few boxes that were taken by a man who called himself Nathaniel Wilde."

"That's not his real name," I tell her. "I think you've met him a couple of times. He has a horse farm outside Charlottesville. The place where Dr. Charne-Sayre was killed."

There's a moment of absolute silence both from Scully and from Mulder, and then at exactly the same moment they say, "How do you know that?" I tense up. Mulder's quicker off the mark, probably because he can see my face. "The man who killed her. The one who killed the people at the rest home, the one who..."

"The man in Alberta, the one with the Russian accent," Scully says, her voice projecting icy cold even through the static-laden reception of the cell phone. "Did you have anything to do with that?"

And Mulder, even though he probably can't hear what Scully is saying, is right there; they're a team like no other. "Was it the man who told you about your parents, the one you think killed them? Peskow?"

I look at the phone and then I look at Mulder. "The man who took those boxes has a farm outside Charlottesville," I repeat to Scully. "It doesn't have a phone, but I can give you directions. Drive towards Crozet, look for a white fence with yellow trim and turn right at the-"

Mulder takes the phone away from me. "I'll call you back," he says to Scully, and hangs up. Then he leans forward across the table. His eyes have gone dark. "What the hell do you think you're doing, trying to send her out there without any backup? That man is dangerous—"

"You think I don't know that?" I shake my head. "Mulder, I shouldn't have to point this out to you. Scully is an extremely capable FBI agent. She's intelligent, she's resourceful, and if we're constructing a worst case scenario here, she's armed and she's a good shot. And I don't think Wilde is there, anyway. Besides, he likes her." Mulder give me an incredulous look. "Never mind how I know that. She's there, she wants to look into it, and she's just as capable as you are of doing it, so why do you want to stop her? If you were up there you'd already be halfway out to the farm."

He holds up a hand, acknowledging the hit. Then he leans forward across the table and drops his voice, making me strain to hear him. "Krycek. The man who came over from Russia — it was Peskow, wasn't it?" I nod, thinking I used to admire those bizarre leaps of logic and the way they nearly always landed him in the right place. "He destroyed the rock sample. He killed everyone who had been involved in the project, everyone who had come into contact with the rock. Except for us, except for me and Scully. Why?"

I take a deep breath. "You could ask the same question about a lot of other close calls the two of you have had. You have some protection in certain circles. There are people who believe that you can be useful." The palm of my hand feels clammy. I concentrate on driving that sensation away.

But he's leaning even closer now. His eyes won't let me go. "Who gave Peskow his orders?" he asks softly. I stare at him, hypnotized. "Who, Krycek?"

With a suppressed gasp I wrench myself away from whatever it is he's doing to me. I lean back on the bench and turn my head, scanning the rest of the room out of habit. "This isn't why we're here, Mulder. It has nothing to do with why we're here."

"Yes, it does," he instantly contradicts me. "It's because of Peskow that you're here. You told us he said something to you that made you think he was involved in your parents' death. Who was Peskow? Who did he take his orders from? What happened to him?"

And suddenly I'm sick of holding it inside. "He was a former KGB assassin. And he took his orders from lots of people. Me, for one. He's dead now, I told you."

"How did he die?"

I smile crookedly at him. "Haven't you guessed that too, Mulder? I killed him." Then I shake my head. "Don't ask me why. If I told you why, you'd misunderstand."

His next question is something I wasn't expecting at all. "How many people have you killed, Krycek?"

"I don't know. You think I keep count, that I put notches in my gun? Do you?" I pause. "I could probably work it out if I thought about it. But I don't."

"That's a great way of coping with life. Is that what you do to get around all the crimes you commit, the lives you take, the suffering you cause?" He burns so brightly. "You just don't think about it?"

"That's right," I tell him, lifting my chin. "I don't." And I meet his eyes. I won't make excuses for who I am, or for how I came to be this way. He despises me, but I won't let him make me despise myself, I won't. Damn the man. He tears me apart. "Now I think I have business over at the police station."

I get up and walk towards the door. As I leave the diner, I'm aware that he's following me, and he catches up halfway across the street. The air is pressing down on us both, and the sky has darkened even more. He walks quietly half a step behind me and then he says, "What name are you going to give Larkin?" It's not an insult, although it could have been, it's a question.

I get my wallet out and take a look at the choices I have. "David Carstairs, I think. He doesn't have any parking tickets." I run my hand over my hair and brush away the raindrops. "You were going to call Scully back."

"She's probably on her way out to that farm," he says.

"Probably," I agree. Then I look at him sideways. "You realize that I'm going to go in there now and lie to the police." Mulder nods. "Doesn't that bother you?" He nods again. "So why aren't you lecturing me?"

"Would it help?" We're at the steps of the police station now, and stop for a moment. "You caught Clough," he says, "and he could've killed you. You weren't supposed to get mixed up with the official side of things down here. And..." Is that a ghost of a smile? "I'd rather not go on record as being here with Alex Krycek."

"Mulder," I tell him, "he could never have killed me." I grin at him and we walk inside.

The chaos is worse than ever; having caught a suspect in the Case of the Blown-Up Barn may have heightened morale around here, but it's also lowered efficiency, which wasn't their strong side to start with. Lou comes towards us in the corridor, looking depressed. "Detective Larkin wants to see you." I resign myself to my fate and walk towards the door Lou is indicating. Behind my back I hear the forlorn question, "Where is Agent Scully?"

Fortunately for me, Larkin is in a hurry to get back to Clough. He lectures me about my irresponsible behavior in disappearing like that until I feel like Mulder listening to Skinner, and then he turns me over to a young and eager policeman who doesn't question my ID, doesn't question my story, just writes down what I tell him and actually gives me little admiring glances. That strikes me as funny, and I have to consciously stop myself from laughing. Oh yes, I caught and disarmed the suspect, didn't I? Am I a hero now?

I'm starting to feel quite at home in the Leyden Creek police station with its badly painted walls, its high noise level and the smell of bad coffee that permeates every room. It brings back nostalgic memories of FBI work, going from case to weird case with Fox Mulder, keeping my tie straight and remembering to say 'sir' at appropriate intervals. When I've signed my statement, I wander around trying to look as though I belong there. Of course Lou comes and finds me.

"Agent Mulder and Detective Larkin are in there." It's the same room; I start to wonder if they only have one interrogation room here. Wouldn't really surprise me. "I — there's something I want to ask you. Are you a — good friend — of Agent Scully's?"

"Not exactly," I say, honest and morally upright citizen that I am. "I'm better acquainted with Agent Mulder." Lou's eyes widen, and I understand what the question really meant. I have to smile, and can't resist adding, "I'm not sharing Agent Scully's room."

Mulder's reputation will never be the same again in this town. Lou relaxes a little now that it's obvious I'm no competition, and is about to ask me something else when the door to the interrogation room opens and Mulder looks out. Catching sight of me, he waves at me to come over, so I do. "What took you so long, couldn't you remember how to spell your name?"

I turn my head and wink at Lou over my shoulder, and the last thing I see is a surprisingly wicked grin before Mulder pulls me inside and closes the door behind me. Larkin is talking to Clough. The man to the right of Clough, gray to the point of invisibility, must be his lawyer; he keeps shaking his head and saying things in a low voice. Clough just sits there staring at his feet.

"What's happened?" I whisper to Mulder, but he shushes me and turns to watch the show.

"Siward, be realistic. You were caught with the explosives on you. You ran from the police. Tell the truth and we can finally get somewhere, damn it." If Larkin was ever going by the book during this interrogation, he's stopped now. I'm guessing Siward Clough was another steady member of the poker gang.

The lawyer makes distressed lawyer sounds and murmurs something into Clough's ear. Then he straightens up and says, "My client will not be trapped into saying anything."

"Your client's not saying anything, period." Larkin glares. He's good at that. "Come on—"

"Mr. Clough." Mulder's voice is far softer than Larkin's, but he manages to cut the detective off before he can launch into whatever tirade he's planning. "Mr. Clough, did you do this for your daughter's sake?"

Slowly, Siward Clough looks up. His eyes find Mulder. He looks dazed and tired, but not much the worse for wear; I'm pleased. Everyone has fallen silent, even Larkin. At last he says, "Yes. Annie..." The roughness of grief invades his voice and he clears his throat to make it go away. "Annie always hated that place. Always. She... she had bad dreams about it."

"Did you believe in Annie's stories?" Mulder asks. Once again he's perfectly focused, ignoring everyone else in the room. "Did you believe what she was saying about the time she disappeared when she was a child?"

"She was so frightened. Even when we got her back she was so frightened, she woke up screaming." Clough isn't seeing Mulder any more. His eyes are staring into the past. I watch him closely, but I can't tell if this is genuine or if he's acting a part, pretending to be unhinged by grief. "And she said it all started there."

"So you wanted to destroy the things that had frightened her?" Mulder says softly. Clough nods. "Was that the only reason, Mr. Clough? Or did someone else ask you to do it?"

Clough jerks abruptly upright. "No!" he says. He shakes his head fervently. "No."

"Where did you get the explosives, Mr. Clough? You can't get Semtex at the grocery store." There is no answer. Clough looks at his lawyer, who has pursed his mouth into a thin gray line but now opens it again to whisper some more good advice, probably consisting of 'shut up' in legalese. "Someone gave it to you, he gave it to you, didn't he?"

"Agent Mulder!" The lawyer has a fine, carrying courtroom voice for such a spiderweb-thin wisp of a man. Mulder doesn't exactly look chastised, but right then Clough gets clumsily to his feet and takes two steps towards Mulder, and the whole room leaps into action. Larkin grabs for Clough's arm and misses, the lawyer steps back prudently, the young policeman gets hold of Clough's coat.

And I'm in front of Mulder without any clear recollection of how I got there. In fact, I'm nose to nose with Clough, and for the first time he looks straight at me. He blinks and then recognition is there. "I'm going to kill you," he says conversationally before swinging at me with both cuffed hands.

I have no problem deflecting the blow, and then the young policeman gets a better hold on Clough and drags him aside. "Take him back to the cell," Larkin growls and opens the door. Clough is led outside and the lawyer follows, looking agitated in a quiet kind of way, like tissue paper rustling. Larkin turns to me. "You seem to have made quite an impression."

It takes me a few moments to realize that this is a joke. What do you know. Catch a criminal for Larkin and he becomes downright friendly. I'd've thought he would resent the hell out of me for it. "Easily offended, isn't he? I didn't hit him that hard," I say.

"I'm just glad I didn't have to shoot him." That explains it, I think. "I've known Siward Clough a long time and I never thought he'd do anything like this." Larkin turns to look at Mulder. "When you said before that someone had given Siward the explosives, who did you have in mind?"

I also turn to look at Mulder expectantly, to see how he'll wriggle out of this one. But he doesn't even fidget as he says, "Something Mrs. Clough said suggested to me that Siward Clough might be in contact with a criminal organization operating out of DC, but as yet I have no real evidence."

He's good when he wants to be.

Larkin shakes his head. "Siward's never been involved in anything shady in his life. You must have misunderstood Janet."

"That's possible," Mulder admits. "She was very upset. Has anyone contacted her and told her that her husband has been found?" It feels strange to watch him stand there and — not lie exactly, but modify the truth. He never used to do that. It's the sensible thing to do in this situation, but it bothers me a little. If I can't count on Mulder to be obstreperously honest, what can I count on?

"Yes, I had Lou call her," Larkin says. Poor Lou. Larkin draws a breath, lets it out, tries another one and asks, "Are you going to pursue it? The possible connection between Siward Clough and this criminal organization?"

"I thought I'd look into it," Mulder says. He tilts his head back. "It may be important to the case. I believe Clough was encouraged to destroy the barn in order to destroy evidence of a criminal conspiracy. It's very likely that someone took advantage of his grief and confusion and put ideas into his head."

"I suppose — but—" Larkin's caught, and he knows it; he was the one who asked Mulder to look into it, he can't back out now. Mulder's playing mind games with him. I can't stop myself from smiling and shivering at the same time. Oh, he really is good. A wire-thin loop of want uncoils in my belly, a feeling so primal my fingers are flexing without any conscious thought on my part, ready to just reach out and take. And then the thought that his damn jeans really are too tight for me saves me from making a fool of myself.

"I need to call my partner," Mulder says and heads for the door. "Come on, Carstairs."

* * *

That small victory over Larkin had put him in a considerably better mood. So had the slightly startled look on Krycek's face when Mulder had addressed him as Carstairs. He walked out of the police station and looked up: no more rain yet, but those clouds were definitely thinking about it. Mulder got his phone out and called Scully as Krycek came to stand next to him. He was surprised when she didn't answer after the first signal, concerned when she didn't answer after the second. It wasn't until after the fifth signal had left him chewing his lip that he heard a slightly breathless, "Scully."

"Are you all right?" So much for not being over-protective.

"I'm fine, Mulder." A short burst of static drowned out her next words. "—in my whole life. He treated me like a schoolgirl!"

"Who?" There was another burst of static. "Who did, Scully? I can't quite hear you. Did you go out to the farm?"

"Yes, I did, but it was a waste of time. I talked to that man — the one we thought was behind Victor Klemper's death. His manners certainly haven't improved. He laughed at me, Mulder, he was arrogant and condescending and he told me absolutely nothing." Then he heard anger yield to humor in her voice as she went on, "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

"You must have been a cute Catholic schoolgirl," he told her. "Did you tell him you knew he uses the alias Nathaniel Wilde, ask him about the boxes he'd taken from the clinic?"

"No, Mulder, we just discussed the weather." Scully sighed. "He wanted to know, in the discreetest and most polite way imaginable, who might have given me that information, and of course I couldn't tell him."

"So you found nothing? Nothing useful at all?"

"Well, the horses were pretty." Mulder laughed and caught the edge of a look from Krycek. "It's obvious he's in on it, but he wasn't bothered at all by my asking him about it. He told me it was a pointless investigation. Then he quoted T. S. Eliot and asked me to leave."


"Something about ash on an old man's sleeve. Mulder!" Scully suddenly sounded more cheerful. "Do you think he may have meant it as an indirect confirmation that the smoking man is involved?"

"We already knew that," Mulder felt compelled to point out. "'Ash on an old man's sleeve is all the ash the burnt roses leave.' Maybe he just wanted to impress you with his knowledge of literature. Krycek said he likes you." Scully made a sound of disgust. "Are you coming back here?"

"I want to try to talk to the Davis's old neighbors again before I leave. The couple living next to them have been there for fifteen years, according to campus records, but they were out when I called on them. I should be back in Leyden Creek around seven."

"Drive carefully, Scully," he told her, and heard a snort as she hung up. Mulder thought she was probably right in her interpretation of what 'Wilde' had said, but he didn't see how it helped them. Clough wasn't saying anything, Mrs. Clough had probably cleaned the Morley butts out of her sink by now, not that those proved anything, and he'd lost the lab, the lab had been blown up, damn it...

"I told you she'd be all right," Krycek said. Mulder felt a sudden urge to stick his tongue out at his smug ex-partner.

At least there hadn't been any more accidents recently. Was that because they were looking into the case, or was it sheer coincidence? Mulder stuck his hand in his pocket and checked that he still had the keys to Lou's truck. "I think we should go out to the site again." He turned the keys over between his fingers. "Anderson may have found something."

A battered Volvo station wagon rounded the corner and came to a screeching halt by the curb. Janet Clough jumped out and slammed the door. She stalked towards the door of the police station and paused only long enough to drop her cigarette and grind it out against the pavement before going inside. Krycek, who had been following her with his eyes, turned back to Mulder. "Larkin's going to lock her up for drunk driving."

"Come on." Mulder went to unlock the truck.

They were quiet during the drive. Krycek was starting to look tired. It wasn't much, just a few shadows around the eyes, a tighter look around the mouth; Mulder guessed the local anesthetic was wearing off and his leg was starting to hurt him. If asked about it, Krycek would no doubt repeat that it was just a scratch. Well, if he wanted to sit there and make a martyr of himself, fine.

Mulder didn't drive up to the barn. He stopped the car down by the tree instead. Now that Janine Kendrick's car had been towed away, he could see the deep gouges in the tree trunk; he was starting to wonder if the tree would survive this latest assault. A few drops of rain dotted the windshield, and he paused with his hand on the door handle.

"Anderson's still up there," Krycek said, nodding. "I think we're about to have a thunderstorm." He opened the door on his side and got out, so Mulder did as well. "What do you think she'll be able to dig out of the rubble, anyway? A box of spare implants? An alien fetus in a jar? Signed statements from five generals and the whole consortium that they're in on it?" His tone was gentle, mocking. "You're such an optimist, Mulder."

"I don't think anyone's ever called me that before." He walked towards the tree. "But I guess it's better than being a cynical, two-timing rat bastard." Mulder ran his hand over the bark. "I should have brought an ouija board after all—" His phone rang. "Mulder."

"Clough's escaped." It was Larkin, terse and tense. "Janet brought him a gun, he shot and killed one of my best men, and Lou took a bullet in the arm. We're putting out an APB now. I don't know where he thinks he's going, but he might head back to the barn."

Mulder leaned against the tree and felt his heart start to beat faster. "We're here already. I'll go up and warn the others. Do you know if—"

"I don't have time to talk. Call if you find any trace of him." And Larkin hung up. At least this time he was trusting Mulder to do his part, and not attempting to keep him out of the hunt. Maybe he'd finally come to his senses. Maybe he'd given up on trying to protect Clough now that Clough had turned violent.

"Damn." Mulder looked up and found Krycek watching him. "Clough's on the run, armed and dangerous, according to Larkin. He's already killed one man."

The transition was instantaneous; in one heartbeat the man gathered himself up into perfect concentration, all traces of pain and tiredness gone. It was the same look Krycek had worn as they'd gone into the woods after Clough earlier. Mulder couldn't help but wonder if this was something Krycek had always been able to do, something he'd just hidden at first. He remembered the innocent-looking young man who'd turned queasy at an autopsy and frantic over the shooting of Augustus Cole. And he looked at the cool, collected, deadly creature standing in front of him. Could they both be real? True?

He'd liked that first Krycek. Had trusted him ever so slightly, as far as his nature would allow him to trust in anyone besides Scully; far enough that the betrayal hurt more than he would ever have imagined. And in this man he didn't know, he saw echoes of that one. That was what got him so confused, what had him reacting to Krycek on so many different levels at once.

It felt strange to watch Krycek now, standing there dressed in Mulder's own clothes, a dark mirror image. More than just strange, unsettling. He found himself wanting to reach out and touch, to make sure the man he was seeing was actually there. A raindrop fell on his face, then another one. The air felt charged.

Then Krycek looked abruptly to one side, his eyes scanning the area by the stone wall as if he thought he could pick secrets out of the air. Mulder shook himself and turned to climb the wall and go up to the remains of the barn; Anderson and her crew needed to be told as soon as possible, in case Clough intended to return again. The distant sound of a car engine that he'd been hearing for a while drew closer and he turned his head to look, then overbalanced and almost fell as one of the loose stones moved under his foot. There was an almost familiar squeal of brakes as Mulder struggled to recover his balance. He turned around, but not quite fast enough.

Siward Clough was aiming a gun at them across the hood of the station wagon. He looked possessed, manic. A quick sideways glance showed Mulder that Krycek was unnaturally still, a coiled spring ready to be released into mayhem. Mulder looked back at Clough, who said, shakily, "Don't move." The hand that held the gun didn't shake at all, though.

The man walked around the car and came towards them. They were close enough together that he could keep both of them covered, and Mulder suppressed his curses and raised his voice to say, as he was trained to say, "Put the gun down." Clough kept coming. "Put the gun down and let's talk about this. I know you're upset about what's happened to your daughter, but—"

"I'm going to kill you," Clough said. He wasn't answering Mulder, he was looking at Krycek. "I'm going to... not because he said so. Because I want to. You hurt me," there was a sudden petulance to the man's voice. "And you're no use to anyone."

"Siward." Mulder hoped the use of the man's first name would remind him of Larkin and normalcy. His mind had gone into overdrive, trying to sort through all the possible meanings of what Clough was saying. Clough had orders to kill Krycek? "No one's going to kill anyone. I want you to tell me about Annie and the barn."

For a moment he thought it had worked, as Clough's eyes shifted to him and something sparked in there. But then the man turned all his attention back on Krycek again. Mulder looked at Alex and saw that his face had changed completely; all outward focus was gone, and he seemed unnaturally concentrated on nothing, his eyes blank. "No," he said softly, taking half a step backwards, and then another one.

Clough followed and Mulder tensed up, ready to jump the man as soon as he went past. A sudden gust of wind rattled the branches of the walnut tree. The dark clouds drew lower. "Going to kill you, going to kill you," Clough chanted and moved closer still, taking aim at Krycek's head.

And then the sky split apart as white lightning crackled across it from one edge of the world to the other. Thunder rolled, instant and deafening, and the rain began to fall.

He'd been all but blinded by that flash of light, and the wind drove hard rain into his face, but he'd pulled out his gun. Mulder blinked the water out of his eyes. Clough was still standing in the same place, but his face was twisted with horror and the arm that held the gun was starting to drop. Between Clough and Krycek stood... oh, God.

Two people, a man and a woman. Mulder recognized them at once. The man's right leg was broken, femur making its jagged way out through the flesh, and his chest had caved in; the blood that glistened there looked as fresh as if the wounds had been inflicted only moments ago. Most of the woman's face was gone, and blood and brain tissue clotted her hair. She raised her clean, undamaged, almost transparent hands towards Siward Clough, and he screamed, a shrill panicked scream, and turned and tried to run.

They were on him in a moment, and Mulder couldn't tell if their grasping hands took him or passed right through him, but he stumbled and fell, gibbering with fear, trying to crawl towards the car as they flowed over and around him. Half-seen fingers curled like claws. A thin line of blood appeared along Clough's back, and then another. Pain joined fear in his voice as he rolled back and forth on the ground, attempting to get away.

Then a harsh cry cut through the storm. Mulder didn't understand the words, but he knew the voice well. Krycek was looking at the ghosts, his face pleading, his hand reaching out. They faltered, and then gathered themselves together and moved almost like people, standing up and turning towards him. His next words were softer, the syllables running together like the rain.

Mulder held his breath. Slowly, the ghosts abandoned the fallen man and went towards Krycek, who turned pale but stood his ground. Mulder didn't know where to look or what to do, but a whimper reminded him of his duty, and he got out his handcuffs and went towards Clough, crouching down and cuffing the man's hands securely behind his back. The marks on his back looked like deep nail scratches. Mulder touched his finger to one of them and Clough spasmed against the ground, whispering "nononononononono" deep in his throat, sounding as though his mouth was full of mud. A harsh stench rose from him, fear, sweat and urine, only slightly diluted by the rain.

Mulder judged it safe to leave the fallen man where he was. Clough wasn't in any condition to move right now. He straightened up against the flattening force of the heavy rain and turned around. Krycek was still standing in the same place, facing the broken and bleeding specters of his parents. His face had been a blank mask, but now it cracked, ripped open by emotion like lightning had ripped the sky apart before.

And the ghosts, as if in response to that, changed too. It was hard for Mulder to make out in the driving rain, in the poor light, but the two hazy figures grew more solid, clear and different, death and injuries smoothed away until he saw them as they must have been once, a stocky man with pronounced cheekbones and a square jaw, a dark-haired woman with Krycek's beautiful eyes. Krycek's control broke completely at the sight and he reached his hand out towards them, saying something Mulder couldn't make out.

The next flash of lightning and roll of thunder split reality apart, and when it had passed, the ghosts were gone. Krycek stood staring blindly, his eyes filling with despair, and then he fell to his knees and let his head fall forward. Mulder took one step towards him, another. His feet slipped on the rain-slick ground. Krycek tilted his head back and yelled something in Russian at the sky, and Mulder knelt by him in the mud and put a hand on his shoulder. Krycek turned towards him. His eyes were all darkness, and his mouth twisted up in an effort to hold back the tears.

Mulder shook his head. He was still stunned by what he had seen. Slowly, carefully, he put his arms around Krycek and pulled him in close. After a few moments of stiff resistance, Krycek slumped against his shoulder, quivered, and started to cry. He shook, all of him, shoulders and back heaving under Mulder's touch. The deep sobs racked his whole body, and Mulder had to hold him tight so they wouldn't both fall over. He could feel Krycek's tears against his neck, hot amidst all the cold rain.

Krycek's hand clutched at Mulder's shoulder; then his fingers took a death-grip on a fold of his trench coat. Mulder ran a hand along Krycek's back, up the back of his neck, cradled the head that leaned against him. The short wet hair was soft against the palm of his hand. He stroked it over and over. The rain fell all around them, and it was like being cut off from the rest of the world. Mulder barely noticed the cold as wet mud soaked through his suit pants and rain made its way inside the collar of his trench coat.

Ghosts, he thought.

After a while Krycek's sobs slowed down and grew less intense. He relaxed and breathed more normally, but stayed resting against Mulder's shoulder. Mulder meant to shift away and ask Krycek if he was all right, but his hands didn't want to let go. The curve of his fingers fit so naturally around the back of Krycek's neck. And he was shaken himself, not the way Krycek was, but still... the sight of those two spectral figures had filled him with terrified delight. He had been right, and he was exhilarated to have that confirmed, but Mulder could understand the impact it would have had on Krycek, who had tried so hard to deny the possibility.

"It was them," Krycek said against his throat. "It was... They would have killed for me. But they stopped when I asked them to."

Mulder tried to read the nuances in Krycek's voice. Without thinking about it he leaned his cheek against the top of Krycek's head, shifted his grip around the man's shoulders into something more comfortable. "They're your parents," he said. "They wanted to save you."

It was Krycek who moved, putting space between them. Kneeling in the mud, he looked almost otherworldly, his eyes still seeing something that wasn't there. Then slowly his gaze focused on Mulder. "They never spoke to me," he said. "I'd thought if they knew everything that's happened since — since they— That they might not want to. That they'd hate me for trying to forget them." His voice dropped until it almost blended with the sound of the falling rain. "Do you think they knew?"

"I don't know." Mulder felt something twist inside. He'd done it again. Despite everything he knew about Alex Krycek, he'd reached out and tried to soothe the hurt away. It was as if he really believed the man's true nature could be changed by the laying on of hands, as if he thought his own touch would drive out the wickedness and corruption and leave Krycek... leave him... leave him what? Clean? Innocent? Reborn?

Leave him naked, free of all the things he'd done, so that the darkness between them would be nothing more than a wisp of smoke that could be blown away by a breath. So that there would be no more barriers between them.

"They're not coming back again." Krycek spoke with complete certainty.

But it wasn't going to happen. Nothing could change the past.

"Agent Mulder!" Mulder looked up and saw Anderson come running down the slope, with parts of her own crew and the Leyden Creek police force in hot pursuit. She reached the stone wall and vaulted over it lightly just as Mulder stood up. "What's happened?"

"Siward Clough — the bomber — broke out of jail. He came here and threatened to kill—" Mulder had to think for a moment. "—Carstairs." Krycek sat back on his heels and watched them. He was a wet, muddy mess, but nowhere near as bad as Clough, who still lay in a heap, whimpering to himself.

Mulder gladly turned Clough over to the police; he wouldn't have wanted to drive the man back to the police station in Lou's truck, and he didn't think Lou would have wanted him to do it, either. It would have taken a long time to get the smell out. Besides, Clough's incoherent mutters wore on his nerves. He wondered how Larkin was going to react. The Siward Clough who had played poker with the gang might never be back.

He still felt a little shaky himself. The ghosts of Andrew and Margaret Davis, or whatever their names had really been, had been terrifying. But it was more than that. Even ten years after their death, they had been ready to defend their son. Mulder didn't know why that should move him so; he'd attributed far more complex reasoning to them when he'd thought about the case. It was just the way they had been there for Krycek, the way they had listened to him, the way they had shown him their true selves before departing, and the way Krycek had wept over it.

With Clough gone again, he turned to Anderson. "What have you found?"

She gave him a resigned smile. "You never give up, do you? There isn't much to find. The explosion was quite controlled, but the subsequent fire was extremely hot; he must have provided some kind of fuel, although I'm not sure we'll ever find any traces of it."

"And the lab?" Anderson raised an eyebrow. "There was a lab there. I saw it."

"Well, as of now, the only place that lab exists is in your memory, Agent Mulder. We may be able to reconstruct it to the point where we can see where some of the fixtures were, the sinks and so on, but that's all."

Mulder didn't like her dismissive tone. "If you keep looking—"

"We're not going to keep looking." She looked at him, and softened her voice a little. "We don't work for free, Agent Mulder, and we don't work without a good reason. We've got Clough, we know how he did it, and no one died in there. Case solved. We have no reason to look for anything else. If there was a lab in there, it'll show up on the insurance claims."

He shook his head in angry resignation. That might be all he was going to get, but he didn't have to like it. He thought about going up there himself, sifting through the ruins, but he was honest enough to admit that it wouldn't help. He didn't have the training to draw the correct conclusions from what he might find.

"Mulder." Krycek got to his feet, rubbing at his leg. Mulder hoped the stitches hadn't torn. "The lab is gone. They all wanted the lab gone." Looking at Krycek, Mulder realized that Krycek hadn't wanted him to find the remains of the lab, either. Krycek was quite relieved that it was gone, was probably relieved that Scully hadn't found much in her investigations.

"I'll see you down at the station, Agent Mulder," Anderson said and walked off back up the hill again. Mulder watched her go. He felt strangely bereft.

"Just let it drop," Krycek said. "You have Clough, he might tell you something useful."

"Something that doesn't compromise your parents?" Mulder asked.

Krycek flushed a little but he met the look steadily enough. "It's going to be your father one day. How will you feel about exposing him?"

It seemed incredible that only moments ago he'd held this man close, had felt something for him that was almost tenderness. Mulder turned around and walked towards the truck. But as he strode along, feet sliding in the mud, the question wouldn't leave his mind. He hated to think about it, but he knew that Krycek was right. He couldn't decide if Krycek got under his skin more when he lied or when he was being honest.

Opening the door on the driver's side, Mulder paused for a moment, realizing that they were going to get the seats wet. But there was nothing to be done about that. The pounding rain had soaked him through and through yet again. He got into the truck anyway, and waited for Krycek.

When the other man was sitting beside him and had closed the door, Mulder put the key in the ignition but didn't turn it. He stared out through the windshield, watching the walnut tree and the ground just beyond it, by the stone wall. He had seen his father once, after his death — after both their deaths, he thought with a strange little smile. There had been something that he could, perhaps, call forgiveness. If he ever got all the evidence, would he be able to expose his father to the world as one of the betrayers of humankind?

"I don't know," he said with a tired sigh. "I just don't know. I'm sorry."

Krycek's cold hand touched his own, briefly. "It's all right." And then with a trace of life and humor, "Now drive before we catch pneumonia. You realize we're going to run out of dry clothes pretty soon?"

"I'll get Larkin to lend you something. You look about the same size."

Mulder got the truck back on the road. The thunderstorm had abated; the rain still fell heavily but no longer obliterated everything farther away than two feet, and the distant rumbles he could hear seemed to be growing more distant still. Krycek turned on the radio and tried to find a channel that didn't play country music. As he drove, Mulder turned things over in his mind and decided he'd think about them later.

When he pulled up in front of the diner all he wanted was to get inside and put on something dry and clean, maybe even take a hot shower first. But Larkin was standing outside the police station, waving at them. Mulder sighed. Krycek shot him a wry look. "I don't think we can pretend we didn't see him."

They got out reluctantly and walked across the street. Larkin was subdued. The man he'd lost was the enthusiastic young one. Lou was all right, though, just a flesh wound. Mulder could see that Krycek was planning to get Scully over there with flowers and grapes. He shook his head quietly. Then he promised Larkin a full report later, because right now he wanted to go change his clothes.

"Of course you do," Larkin rumbled. "Can you just tell me briefly what happened? Siward had to be sedated. He was..." A corner of Larkin's mouth twisted in disgust. "What did you do to him?"

"We didn't do anything," Mulder said. It didn't seem to bother Larkin to stand here in the street, out in the rain, and he was past worrying about it himself; he was soaked to the skin again. But he knew if he started to talk to Larkin about ghosts, he'd be here for hours, and he really didn't want that. "Are you keeping him here? When will you interrogate him again?"

"Not until tomorrow." Larkin scratched at the back of his neck. "It'll take him a while to come 'round again. Agent Mulder? Thank you. And you." He nodded at Krycek. "I'm real glad this didn't turn into a bloodbath. Bad enough as it is." Then he turned around and walked back into the police station again.

"Let's get inside," Krycek muttered and headed for the diner. Mulder followed him, thinking about clothes. He stepped inside the comforting warmth with a frown. Wet jeans with mud on, or damp torn jeans with blood on. Not much of a choice. Unless...

Mulder stopped on his way to the stairs and went to knock on the kitchen door instead. Laura Ann looked out and broke into a smile. "What can I do for you, sweetie?"

Those words and the maternal tone of voice from a woman who had to be ten years his junior startled him, but only a little. "I need to buy some clothes," he said.

Her smile grew impossibly wider as she looked him up and down. "I can see why," she said, "but I'm sorry to have to tell you, Armani doesn't have an outlet in Leyden Creek."

"It's not for myself, it's for him," Mulder said, jerking his head back to indicate Krycek. "A Goodwill store will do."

Laura Ann chuckled. "Well, there's a mall forty-five minutes that way," she pointed, "or there's an army surplus store around the corner on Grant."

Krycek had come closer, no doubt drawn by the smell of baked ham that was escaping from the kitchen. Mulder grinned evilly at him. "I'm not going to waste an hour and a half on keeping him fashionable," he told Laura Ann. "Come on, Alex, let's get you some cammo pants, it'll be just like old times."

Rolling his eyes, Krycek accepted the piece of biscuit with ham on that Laura Ann held out to him, and went with Mulder out into the rain again. They walked along Main Street, shoulders hunched against the downpour, and Mulder realized he'd been wrong; he could get just a little bit wetter, and it was going to happen on this walk. Water ran down his spine; when he turned his head he saw water dripping from the tip of Krycek's nose. It would have to stop sooner or later. There couldn't be this much water up in the sky.

They turned the corner onto Grant, and now the wind blew the rain straight into their faces again. Mulder wondered if his cell phone was going to survive this. Or his gun. Or his shoes. If he'd known about the mud and the rain he would have worn hiking boots.

The army surplus store was easy to find, and they more or less fell inside, dripping all over the floor. The man behind the counter put his paper aside, stood up and looked skeptically at them. When Mulder came forward behind Krycek, the skepticism changed to outright surprise. Mulder decided to ignore it. "Right," he told Krycek, "get yourself a pair of pants or two and a couple of sweaters and hurry up. And whatever else you need."

"You mean I have to stop wearing your underwear?" Payback, Mulder thought, payback for the cammo pants comment. Krycek gave him an angelic smile and went off to browse through the racks. Mulder looked at the man behind the counter, who had given up on surprise and moved on to amazement faintly tinged with outrage. He sighed; there was really no explanation possible. 'It's not what you think; he's a double agent who forgot to pack when he left Russia.' Nah.

As he tried to find a place to stand where he wouldn't drip on the merchandise, his cell phone rang, and he managed to extricate it from a rather soggy pocket. "Mulder," he said, and wondered if he could electrocute himself here if he wasn't careful.

"Agent Mulder." Skinner's voice seemed to embody everything he was so forcefully that it conjured up a perfect image here inside the dimly lit store; Mulder could see the slight frown as thought his boss were standing in front of him. He sighed, and smiled. "Kim got a call from the motel where you and Agent Scully were supposed to stay. The FBI is going to have to pick up the bill. Do you have a good reason why I shouldn't deduct it from your salary?"

"Why don't you ever threaten Scully like that?" Mulder asked, but he didn't really expect to get an answer. With a wary glance at the store owner, he walked off into a distant corner and hoped the clothes all around would muffle the sound of his conversation. "Sir, there have been a few unexpected developments." He dropped his voice even more. "The smoker is here, at least he was here yesterday. There's more to this case than what we were told from the beginning."

"I have received — suggestions — that you should drop the case entirely," Skinner said. "It would seem that the ghost story was a smoke-screen."

"Was that a joke?" Mulder watched as Krycek reached up to pull something down off a high shelf. "No, sir. The ghosts are — were — real." He went on before Skinner could say anything, "But that's only a small part of it. I found a laboratory in a supposedly abandoned barn, but it's been blown up and the specialist crew is reluctant to do a full-scale investigation. Sir, do you think you could—"

"Quite a few strings have been pulled already, Agent Mulder." Skinner's words were heavy and so were the pauses between them. "There isn't much I can do."

"Are you under pressure to get us off this case?" The density of Skinner's silence increased. "Don't let them do it. Don't let them do that to you, sir, you have to see—"

"Mulder, I am not letting anyone else dictate my course of action. But in return, I expect you to report back to me regularly. I have to make a decision at some point, and it is in your best interests to keep me fully informed of the situation. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir." Hell, he'd call Skinner every hour if that was what it took. Just as long as he got another shot at unraveling the mystery of Leyden Creek, Mulder thought as Skinner hung up and he put his phone back in his pocket. Then he walked over to the counter just as Krycek came up and dumped an armful of black clothing there. "Is this all?"


Mulder picked through it — black pants, black sweaters, black socks, black briefs. He glanced at Krycek. "Did you never get past symbolism in your art history class? Get some white t-shirts." Krycek only looked amused as he turned away. "Do you need shoes?" Mulder asked the back of Krycek's neck, and got a shake of the head in return. "Good."

His wallet was getting a little damp as well. He got his credit card out, even though the grand total was low enough that he could have paid cash. The store owner put everything into double plastic bags so it would withstand the rain and sent them off, if not with a friendly smile, at least with a reasonably civil good-bye.

Krycek looked so pleased with himself as they went back to the diner that Mulder was tempted to trip him up and send him sprawling into a puddle. But he backed away, if a little reluctantly, from the childishness of that thought and let his mind turn over questions of laboratories and mad bombers instead. He wondered how long it would take for Clough to recover fully and what the man would say when he did. If he could get Clough to confirm that the smoker had ordered him to kill Krycek—

Then he scowled. That would also mean that he himself had to explain why he had been running around the woods with a man who should have been locked up at the first opportunity. But it would be worth it if he could finally nail that chain-smoking old sinner to something. His pessimistic side told him Clough was not going to be the most reliable of witnesses. But it was a possibility.

Mulder lengthened his steps and reached the door of the diner ahead of Krycek. He wasn't going to let Krycek beat him to that hot shower. When they got inside, the kitchen door opened and Laura Ann looked out. Mulder just nodded at her and headed up the stairs, but Krycek went that way, presumably hoping for more food in response to his lost puppy routine. Or maybe he was going to show her his new underwear.

Once he got inside the room Mulder started to strip off his wet clothes, draping them heedlessly over chairs and table. His skin felt cold and clammy, and he went into the bathroom as fast as he could, shut the door, and turned on the hot water with a sigh of relief. Standing under the warm spray, he tilted his head back and started to relax.

Scully should be getting back soon. She might have some additional information about the clinic, something that would tie Wilde and perhaps even the smoking man to this project. Some clue to what Andrew Davis had really used his research for, Mulder thought hopefully, and reached for the soap.

It was good to get warm again and wash the mud off. He'd scraped his right knee on something, and the scratch on his calf from last night had healed enough to start itching. Mulder ran a soapy hand over chest, shoulder and arm, and then paused. He looked at his hands, both hands.

Slowly, he brushed the right hand over the left, feeling every finger, the fleshy pad below the thumb, traced the lines of his palm with a nail. He encircled his left wrist with his right hand and felt the pulse beat there, then stroked along the inside of his arm up to the soft fold of the elbow. Flexing the joint, he felt muscles moving under skin. The upper arm, lean but functional. Shoulder and shoulder joint, and the ease with which everything moved together.

Then he broke off his explorations rather more suddenly than he'd started them, and went back to cleaning himself up. He'd been lucky, and he knew it. The truck driver had offered to cut his arm off, and he'd said no as fast as he could; then the man had asked Mulder to help cut off his arm. Without the truck he was a good candidate for the tests. Mulder found himself shivering under the hot water. He'd tried to persuade the man that there were other choices. And he'd realized that he was the one who'd condemned the man to this, that it was because of him that the driver saw amputation or the gulag as his only alternatives.

"I'm sorry," he said, standing there half a world away, speaking to uncaring white tiles. "It's my fault. I'm sorry." Mulder wondered if the driver had followed his advice, taken his wife and child and left. He suspected that it might not have happened. Those woods were all the man knew, his only home, bleak and terrible as it was.

Thoroughly depressed now, Mulder rinsed himself off, turned off the water and stepped outside, grabbing for a towel. He got his hair mostly dry and brushed it into some semblance of order, wrapped the towel around his hips and went out into the room. Krycek was standing by the window. Mulder cleared his throat and Krycek turned around. Their eyes met and then shied away quite quickly, and Mulder wondered where the hell he had any dry clothes.

"About time. I thought I was going to see a giant raisin come out of there." Flippant as the words were, though, there was no real sparkle in Krycek's eyes. His face was closed off again and he didn't meet Mulder's look as he crossed the room and went into the bathroom.

"I think I used up all the towels." But the only reply Mulder got to that was the sound of the bathroom door being closed firmly. He shrugged, and started to take inventory of the clothes he had left. Yesterday's suit had a tear across one calf. Today's suit was wet, muddy, and locked in the bathroom with Alex Krycek. The jeans were also wet, muddy, and locked in the bathroom with Krycek, and Krycek's jeans were ripped and bloody and, well, Krycek's. Maybe he should have bought himself some clothes as well.

Mulder scowled and then went over to the window and dug into the bags they'd brought back from the army surplus. The pants weren't a perfect fit by any means, but they would do, and he did still have a sweater that the roving clothes menace, Alex Krycek, hadn't managed to soak, rip, get muddy, or bleed on. If Krycek needed anything else, one more thing, he was going to have to borrow from Scully. That should be quite a sight.

He got dressed and gathered his things together: the file, his notes, a couple of books on ghost manifestations that he'd thrown into the bag on the off chance that he might actually get five free minutes during this case to do a little background research. Mulder looked at the spines of the books. Perhaps research wasn't quite the right word. The works on debunking fake psychic phenomena were standard fare for him, but why on earth did he have a book called A Ghost in the Closet?

Krycek still hadn't come out of the bathroom; Mulder could hear the sound of water running. Again, he wondered what it would be like to do everything with one hand. No wonder Krycek was taking his time in there. Mulder picked everything up and went out of the room. He made his way down the stairs and found that the table he wanted was free. It always was.

Settling down, he signaled to Susie to bring him coffee. It was really time for dinner, but it would be better to wait for Scully. He wasn't particularly hungry yet. Krycek could probably eat two dinners without any ill effect. Where did he put it all, anyway? He couldn't be bulimic. If the man had rushed off to the bathroom to throw up after every meal, Mulder rather thought he would have noticed.

He started to flip through his notes, and soon he was absorbed in them, scrawling comments on top of comments, outlining possibilities that seemed less weird the more he thought about them. Mulder barely noticed the coffee mug that appeared at his elbow. When Krycek sat down across the table from him, he looked up and nodded absently, then went back to his work. The soft sound of the rain falling outside and the voices of the other guests in the diner blended together into a pleasant background buzz.

Gradually he became aware of a more distracting noise. He looked up and saw that Krycek was reading A Ghost in the Closet, and laughing. No, not even laughing, giggling. What kind of behavior was that for a killer, a criminal with few manners and even fewer morals? Given a choice, Mulder would prefer not to think about Krycek's sense of humor, or the way he looked when he smiled. He'd rather not contemplate the reality of him, all the layers upon layers that made up the personality of Alex Krycek. Or whatever his name was.

Mulder forced his errant attention back to the matter at hand, but he couldn't quite return to his previous state of concentration. Part of it was habit, he thought. He was used to having someone there to whom he could speak his thoughts more or less as they arose, and without Scully there to bounce ideas off, well, Krycek was the remaining alternative. He couldn't do it, though. He was uneasily aware that he had gone too far today already. Krycek had a way of doing more than was expected of him, a way of making himself useful until you came to depend on him. And then, Mulder reminded himself, he turned on you.

It was almost dark outside now. Mulder wasn't sure how much of that was the hour and how much was the weather. Not even the thunderstorm had cleared the sky, although the air had felt lighter afterwards. He hoped Scully was careful driving back. She hadn't called before she left. Maybe he should give her a call just to check... then he shook his head. Much as he hated to admit it, Krycek was right: Scully was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

On the heels of that thought, the door to the diner swung open and Scully herself stepped inside, folding her umbrella up and shaking it carefully outside before closing the door behind her. She turned around, caught sight of them and smiled. As she walked towards the table she was intercepted by Susie, and Mulder wasn't surprised when Scully brought the waitress along to the table. "Have you two had dinner yet?"

"No, we thought we'd wait for you," Mulder said. Krycek peered up over the edge of the book and smiled, then scooted towards the window to make room for Scully, who took her coat off before sitting down. Mulder turned to Susie. "What would you recommend?"

"The ham's good," she offered, and then listed a few other things, some of which had never appeared on the menu. They all ended up ordering the ham, even Scully. Mulder pushed his notes together and put them to one side, then looked at Scully expectantly.

She had turned her head to watch Krycek. One eyebrow twitched at his choice of literature, but then her eyes grew more serious for a moment. Mulder was about to ask her to talk about what she had discovered since they'd last spoken, when she turned back towards him again. "I didn't find very much more," she said, a tone of apology in her voice. "I got nowhere with the moving company; when I called again I was put through to a different person, who said there was nothing more they could tell me. None of Dr. Davis's colleagues knew anything about any private research he might have done outside of what he published and what the university knew about; no one could give me names of people he might have worked with."

"Did you track down any old grad students?" Krycek asked, putting the book aside. "Some of them must have stayed on at UVa even after my father died and finished their theses under some other professor. There was one woman, I think her name was Janson..."

"She went to teach somewhere in Oregon," Scully said and lifted one shoulder in a tiny shrug. "That's all I found out, except—" She broke off as Susie brought the food, cast a doubting look at the large slices of ham, then smiled. "What has been happening here while I've been gone? What did Clough say?"

The retelling of the afternoon's events took up most of the meal, even though Mulder left out a few details, such as Krycek crying on his shoulder in the rain. He really wanted to discuss Skinner's phone call with Scully, but he wasn't sure how much he could say with Krycek there. Then he realized he'd already talked over most of the aspects of the case with Krycek during the day. It had seemed natural at the time; now that Scully was back, it started to feel strange.

"Clough's been locked up again," he finished, "and Larkin says the doctor thinks he'll be coherent enough to talk to tomorrow morning. So what do you think, Scully?"

She carefully speared a piece of broccoli, chewed, and swallowed before looking up at him. "You saw the ghosts." A quick sideways glance at Krycek, and then she was looking at Mulder again. "Mulder, are you sure? You say the light was bad, and with the thunder and lightning—"

"They were there," Krycek said flatly. "I saw them. They listened to me."

Scully's features softened a little, and Mulder felt a thin shadow of worry fall across him. That look never boded well. "Krycek," she said and he knew that tone of voice, too, that careful delivery, "I know you must have wanted to see them again, wanted to think that they would protect you. It might be easy for you to imagine their presence there. To imagine them doing for you what you would have wanted them to do, to make it easier for you to forgive them."

"What the hell are you talking about?" But there was no real outrage in Krycek's voice, much less any bravado, and his shoulders were hunched in a way that Mulder had come to recognize. He knew a blow was about to fall.

"I talked to your old neighbors," Scully said. "The Donner-Bogdanovs? They didn't know very much about your father's research, but they told me a little about your family life. I understood from them that you — didn't get along very well with your parents."

Krycek put his fork down and pushed his plate aside. He half turned where he sat, to face Scully. "I bet they didn't put it that way," he said. "She was always nosy. She doesn't know what it was really like. She has no idea."

"What she described seemed very clear to me," Scully said and her voice was still gentle. "Krycek, you may need to forgive your parents for what they did to you, but I'm not sure that imagining their ghosts is the best way to do it."

Mulder would have objected that the ghosts had been real, that he had seen them, but he couldn't break in on what was going on between Krycek and Scully, he could only watch and listen. Krycek shook his head. "Don't psychologize me," he said. "You don't know me just because you know this. And don't think this is an explanation. If every kid who was treated weirdly by his parents thought he saw their ghosts when he grew up, the X-files would have an archive as big as the Library of Congress. Drop it, Scully. It's not important."

Her eyes said she didn't believe him. "Krycek, it's a more likely explanation than—"

Mulder gathered his wits together. "Scully, I saw those ghosts too. And whatever reason you have for Krycek seeing them, it doesn't apply to me. And Clough saw them. Clough saw something that scared him so badly he needed to be sedated."

"Clough was extremely unstable even before he broke out of jail," Scully said. Then she turned back to Krycek. "And it is important. It's a common reaction among children who are abused by their parents to make light of it, to pretend it's normal and reassure themselves that their parents love them in spite of or even because of the way they treat them. But you're an adult now, you can call things by their right names—"

"Shut up," Krycek said. He glared at her, trapped by her presence. "You don't know what it was like. You don't know what went on. You don't know me. Let me out."

Scully only hesitated for a moment before slipping out of her seat to let Krycek past. He strode away from the table and walked out of the diner, out into the rain. Mulder watched him go before returning his attention to Scully, who looked troubled. "Where do you think he's going? Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned that, but Mulder—"

"He'll be back," Mulder said with more assurance than he really felt. He pushed his own plate aside too, and put his elbows on the table. "Scully, what did those neighbors tell you?"

Her look of distress intensified. "I'm not sure I should tell you. It has no bearing on our case, except as a psychological reason that Alex Krycek might have imagined seeing his parents again, and I know you don't subscribe to that theory anyway."

"I want to know, Scully."

So she told him, showing her distaste for Mrs. Donner-Bogdanov, who had drawn her own conclusions from what she saw and heard — cold words, too many bruises and injuries on a boy who was too good an athlete to be that clumsy. The way Andrew and Margaret Davis had ignored their son, and the way he had adored them. The cutting remarks, and young Alex's all too adult behavior. They had hurt him, and he had shielded them. "What she described was a classic case of child abuse, Mulder," Scully finished. "I never thought I'd say this, but I feel sorry for him."

"He wouldn't thank you for it," Mulder said.

"No," Scully sighed. "It must be hard to let go of whatever fiction the mind makes up to protect itself, hard to face the truth. But it has to be done, Mulder, sooner or later. You can't bury things forever."

"You don't need to tell me this," he said. "I'm the one with the degree in psychology, remember?" And it was so easy to say that to her when he knew that he had things buried deep inside, too, that he would do anything to keep hidden. Mulder felt uncomfortable suddenly; he should be used to seeing people's lives turned inside out before his eyes, with all the petty and unpleasant revelations that frequently entailed, but knowing this about Krycek gave him a strange feeling of intimacy that he would rather not have had. And all the same, he'd insisted on being told.

"I remember," Scully said with a trace of a smile and they let the subject drop. Susie came to clear the plates away, Mulder ordered a piece of apple pie for dessert, and the rain kept falling outside. Krycek hadn't been wearing his jacket. He must be soaked already. Again.

"Skinner called," he said, digging into the pie. "He's under pressure to get us off the case. That means there has to be something here, Scully, there's something we can find if we only try hard enough. If we can tie the smoking man to Clough's attempt on Krycek's life, or link Wilde to the clinic..."

"We don't even know that there was anything strange going on at that clinic," Scully said. "We might be able to charge Davis with malpractice, if he weren't dead, but that's about it."

"Damn it," Mulder said without any real heat, and leaned back against the padded backrest. He tapped his spoon against the edge of the plate. "We've got to figure it out, Scully."

* * *

I'm cold. I'm cold and I feel ridiculous, walking the streets of a small town in the rain. The pavement is uneven under my feet; no one ever walks anywhere here, and the roots of the trees planted along one side of the street have warped the paving stones and caused the asphalt to buckle up in unmoving waves. Puddles have formed in every slight depression and expanded into ponds over grates clogged with leaves and earth and pieces of newspaper. My boots are actually damp inside, and I think the leather will crack once they dry again.

There is no one else outdoors tonight. I've seen two cars pass me, crawling through the rain with the windshield wipers beating frantically and futilely. All the windows are lit up. I look inside as I pass the houses, study the kitchens, the glimpses of living rooms, mostly seeing nothing but curtains and walls. It all looks very cosy. Everyone is home, everyone is sensible enough to come in out of the rain. Everyone except me.

I walk on, but I know I can't keep walking forever. Leyden Creek is tiny, and I'm not going to leave the town on foot. I only went outside to give myself time to think, a chance to cool down. But I can't really think, and so I just keep going.

Scully was wrong. Well, not entirely wrong, but not entirely right. I don't imagine I will ever have either the opportunity or the powers of persuasion to make her change her mind, though. And she's told Mulder, and he's going to believe her. I want to curse and break windows. Instead I walk faster, splashing through the puddles I can't be bothered to avoid any longer. It doesn't matter. Obviously higher powers have decided that I will be wet and miserable while I'm here, so I may as well save my efforts for more important things.

But she's wrong. It wasn't like that.

I've walked almost a full circle around the town. No one has followed me. I wondered, after Clough's words this afternoon, if my former boss would send another killer after me, perhaps one at least marginally more competent, but it doesn't look as though he has, not yet. And perhaps that wasn't the reason he sent Clough after me, either. I hate to think that he'd insult me like that after everything we've shared.

When I round the next corner, not bothering to avoid the water that pours from the corner of the roof where the gutter is overflowing, I'm on Main Street again and I can see the police station and the diner, the twin hubs around which my time here in Leyden Creek revolves. So I'm going back, then. Well, I can't stay out on the streets all night without appearing to be even more stupid than I've already shown myself to be.

I stroll along more slowly now. The rain has slowed into a gentle shower, and when I look at the sky I can see the heavy cloud cover breaking up; a clean white moon shines behind those dark shadows, and then it vanishes again. Things look quiet inside the police station, from what I can see, and I cross the street, pausing outside the diner. It's almost empty. Susie is sitting on a chair in the corner, filing her nails. The kitchen door stands ajar, but I can't see in through it. And Mulder sits at the table by the window, alone.

The bell tinkles softly as I open the door; Susie looks up and raises an eyebrow at my appearance. I go inside and brush my hand over my hair to stop the rain-water from running into my eyes. When I cross the room to where Mulder is sitting, he looks up from his books and papers. He's wearing his glasses again. Damn. I don't know what it is about that, but it makes me feel as though I've accidentally swallowed an ice cube, a bright chill sliding through me.

Since the seats are vinyl, I sit down across the table from him. My boots squelch when I move my feet. I'm still cold, but not terribly so. He's watching me, quietly and thoughtfully. For once, it isn't all that difficult to meet his eyes. "Where's Scully?" I ask.

"She went to give back Lou's truck keys." He seems perfectly serious, and then I see the faint spark of laughter. I grin. "Well, she's the one with the umbrella. Besides, I told her she could offer professional help to change the dressing on the wound or something."

"You sent Scully to play doctor with Lou." I shake my head in laughing admiration. "Nice work, Agent Mulder." Susie appears out of nowhere and puts a mug of coffee down next to me. "Thank you," I say, a little surprised.

"Laura Ann said you should have it." She vanishes again, and I wrap my hand around the mug and feel my fingers slowly start to warm up. I'm really wet; the sweater hangs heavy on me and my brand new pants have ridden up uncomfortably. When I sip at the coffee, the chill inside is replaced by warmth.

I look at Mulder again. He takes the glasses off, and I feel a small pang of regret, but I can hardly ask him to put them back on again. Instead I say, quietly, "Scully was wrong." He tilts his head to one side, says nothing. "About my parents. About what went on."

Now he looks uneasy. "Krycek, it doesn't really matter—"

"No." I take another sip of coffee. "No, I don't suppose it matters to you. Or to her." I think about Mrs. Donner-Bogdanov, who was convinced that I was a battered child but never spoke either to my parents or to the police. Only now, years later, does she feel free to share her nasty insinuations with a perfect stranger. What a model of virtue and righteousness. We should all have such wonderful neighbors.

Mulder sighs. "All right." I raise an eyebrow at him. "What was it, then? What was she wrong about?"

"They never beat me." Looking out the window, out into the darkness, I can look back easily and consider it all, maybe not dispassionately, but with more insight than I could have achieved then. "I suppose you could say they were distant, and perhaps they were rarely kind. But they never meant to hurt me."

"Only to toughen you up a little? That's a very common," he pauses to search for the right word, "misconception. An unwillingness to believe that what your parents are doing is wrong translates into a belief that it is all for your own good, or that you deserve it."

"It was necessary," I correct him softly.

"And the bruises and cuts, were they necessary, too? According to Mrs. Donner-Bogdanov, you were always walking around with a black eye, a bandage. She told Scully it got better as you grew older. Can you really claim they didn't beat you?" He could have said it harshly but he doesn't, he's quite quiet about it, as if trying to appeal to reason rather than anger me.

"Mulder." I have to smile. "That was just part of the training. It wasn't because of anything I did and it wasn't to punish me. It was because they wanted me to be able to take care of myself when I grew up."

He drops his head into his hands and runs his fingers through his hair before looking up again. "Jesus, Krycek." I drink some more coffee. Mulder opens his mouth, closes it again, shakes his head. Finally he says, "I used to wonder, you know. I used to wonder about what made you what you are. Who you are."

Now it's my turn to shake my head. "No, Mulder, think again. You're going to believe that this is a solution, you're going to think that this explains me, and it doesn't. Don't sit there looking like someone handed you a puzzle piece you actually know what to do with."

At that, he suddenly and unexpectedly laughs. "But I don't," he says. "I have no idea what to do with you." He takes the mug out of my hand and sips at my coffee. "Just don't sit there trying to pretend that you grew up in a normal home."

"Mulder, the closest you've been to a normal, happy home life is watching Leave it to Beaver. It's no wonder your ideas are a little warped. Easy on the value judgments, now." He puts the mug down. "I was given extensive files on you, you know."

He looks about to flare up. But then he leans back, away from me, and I can read a little tiredness in him, something yielding a little. "Fuck." I didn't want to hurt him. I didn't. But I have. And I know exactly how and with what.

I have to say it, it can't be that hard. "I'm sorry." His eyes meet mine. "Really. But it's all part of how things are done. I think your father was trying to do for you what my father was trying to do for me. It can't be easy, when you think you're building a certain future for your children and then you realize things are going wrong and you want nothing to do with what's going to happen."

"So you take it out on your kids?" he says harshly. But the anger isn't directed at me, and I'm relieved. I look down at the table to see that my sleeve has left a puddle next to the coffee mug. He looks too. "Krycek, you need—" Mulder sighs, and from somewhere he dredges up a smile. Heat races along my skin. "You need to get out of those wet clothes."

And then we're laughing. It's been a long day. I reclaim my coffee and finish it, and get to my feet still smiling. "You've got the keys?"

"I'll come up with you." He looks at his watch. "I don't know how long Scully's going to be out, but if she finds me here waiting for her, she might hurt me." We say good night to Susie, and Laura Ann, who's come out of the kitchen to smile at us. I wonder if she ever sleeps, if she works twenty-four hours a day. Going up the stairs, I become conscious again of wet clothes, wet boots, a slight chill. I stop once we're upstairs and let Mulder walk past me to unlock the door.

Inside, I gather up sweatpants and toothbrush and head straight for the bathroom. It feels good to strip out of what I'm wearing, and I find a not-too-damp towel and rub myself with it, to get a little dryer and to speed up my circulation. For once, I'm glad I had my hair cut so short; it dries quickly. Running my hand over it again, I suddenly flash on the memory of kneeling there in the mud, with his fingers curved around the back of my head.

There is a certain gentleness in him that comes out at the strangest times. And I could have stayed like that forever, in that single moment when I wasn't an enemy. Now I pull on the sweatpants and hang my clothes up haphazardly, hoping they'll dry along with everything else that's spread out in here and out in the room. As I brush my teeth I look at myself in the mirror. I end up in the damnedest places, don't I.

When I come back out again, he's trying to put his things in order. He looks up as I sit down on my bed, seems about to say something, then gets up and goes into the bathroom in his turn. The whole scene is so incongruously domestic that I want to laugh, but instead I pull the covers over my legs and sit leaning against the headboard. He's turned the overhead light off, and only the bedside lamp is casting a soft glow, yellow like the lamp shade.

I'm not really sleepy. It's quite early. And I can't stop thinking about where I am and who I'm with. I left Russia for this, I crossed the wrong borders and double-crossed the wrong people, I've given away my whereabouts to a man who wants my liver on toast just so I can have Fox Mulder scowl at me and dissect my psyche and not even say thank you when I catch his damn criminals for him. And it's worth it.

That's the strange part, the part I can't even explain to myself, that I don't regret any part of this insanity, not even when it hurts. So I am laughing after all when he comes back out, and he looks at me, but I'm not about to offer an explanation. He pauses for a moment, then turns the bedside lamp off. It gets quite dark; there isn't much light coming from outside. I wonder if he knows how closely I'm watching him as he takes his clothes off.

Probably not, I decide as he stumbles against the bed, stubs his toes and swears. Sweater and pants end up in a heap on the floor, and I hold my breath. He stands where he is for a few moments, and I can savor it, the way his body looks wreathed in shadows, the rangy elegance that makes my bones ache with longing. I watch silently, taking in every line, until the length of time that's passed starts to make me uneasy.

So I ask, "What's wrong?" and he turns towards me. I can't quite see his eyes, so I watch his mouth, and the way he keeps shifting his balance. It's all I can do to keep from reaching out towards him. And then he takes half a step closer. My heart is in my throat. Slowly, very, very slowly, I move to one side of the bed, and he takes another step, and then he's there next to me, stealing the pillow again. I don't mind. Oh God, I don't mind at all.

He draws in a deep breath and lets it out; he's lying on his back, head slightly tilted my way though he's not looking at me. "I don't want to dream tonight," he says quietly, and closes his eyes.

I lie where I am and watch him. It takes a long time before his face smooths out into sleep, but I don't care. I could watch him for hours. When I'm sure he's sleeping, I carefully move a little closer. Only a little. He might wake up if I crowd him. I just want to feel the warmth coming off him, to have the lightest brush of his skin against mine again. Addictive.

Then I pillow my head on my arm and close my eyes. I concentrate on the way he smells, making it part of me, turning it into something I can never forget. He breathes in an even, soothing rhythm. I've killed men in their sleep. It's just another state of vulnerability. I want to draw the covers around him to make sure he's not cold. I want to hold him.

The darkness in the room grows deeper, and I slide into it.

* * *

Surfacing gradually from a confusing jumble of images, I become aware that I'm pressed very close to a warm body, that my arm is under me and tingling with pins and needles, that my legs are tangled up with, oh God, Fox Mulder's. Sleeping, I've done what my waking mind wanted, but refrained from. Maybe I can move away before he wakes up and kills me. But not yet, oh, not quite yet; I can't give this up, let go, abandon the surprising heaven I've woken into.

Then he moves, and I realize he's coming awake already. But he doesn't try to strangle me. He turns a little more towards me and opens his eyes, blinking his way out of sleep. When he lifts his hand, I'm prepared for anything except what he does: he reaches up and touches my shoulder. What's left of my shoulder. His fingers trace the scars slowly, and my muscles draw together so tightly they're hurting.

"Stop," I try to say and it only comes out as a whisper. "Don't, I don't want you to—"

When he speaks his voice is still hazy with sleep. "Why don't you wear a prosthesis?" His fingers curve around the place where my arm should be. I want him to touch me, but I don't want him to touch me there, it's not—

"The one I got wasn't very good. And it wasn't me. I couldn't see it as part of me." I didn't want to think that it would have to be part of me. Not even to pass for normal, to blend in better, could I accept that thing was to become a necessity for me. That I would need something alien in order to become complete.

His thumb rubs over my skin. Then he loosens his grip and I relax a little, only to tense up again when I realize his hand hasn't left me, it's hovering there and now it strokes up over my shoulder, moving slowly towards my neck. Maybe he's going to strangle me after all. Maybe I'm going to die right now, just from that gentle touch.

It takes an immense effort for me to turn my head and look straight at him, meet his eyes. His hand curves around the back of my neck again, as it did earlier today. I can't remember how to breathe. His shadowed eyes are too deep for me to read, and what little I can see, I don't dare to believe in. He pulls me closer, and I move the way he wants me to, how can I do anything else, until my head is resting on his shoulder. He's holding me, his arm warm and heavy on my back.

"I'm sorry it happened to you," he says. The words are muffled, because his mouth is against my hair. It's all I can do to register what is happening, there's no way I can think about it; that might make it all stop. I shift carefully towards him, a little closer still. My heart is beating hard and every breath is an effort. A feather-light touch against my temple almost makes me cry out. His lips, oh God, his lips are moving across my face, a butterfly fluttering touch. I'm breathing fire. I'm burning up.

When his mouth touches mine I think for a moment that I have to be imagining it. There is still something of hesitation in him, a slowness that keeps him there, gentle silky brushes of lips against lips and then more determination, more pressure, and I open my mouth to his, still half afraid that he'll break away. His fingers shift their grip; he tilts my head more towards him and his tongue licks at me, slides past my teeth, and the fire is everywhere and I can think of nothing but kissing him.

It's real. The taste of him, the way we press against each other. I'm so aware of him, I feel as though I could count every cell in his body. And the kiss, this kiss... our tongues wrestle, and then I suck at his lower lip, bite it carefully. I kiss him like I'm starving for it, because I am, like it's the only thing keeping me alive, because it is. I kiss him the way I've wanted to kiss him since the first time I laid eyes on him. When we finally break apart, I'm panting for air. But so is he.

Our eyes meet, we have no choice. He's flushed and gorgeous, irresistible, and I want to pounce. I want him. I've never wanted anything as badly as I want him. He can't turn his head to look away, so he drops his eyelids for a moment, draws a breath, before saying, "Look, Krycek, I—" Then he runs out of words.

"It's all right, lisitsa," I say with more gentleness than I thought I could manage right now, "you don't have to know what you're thinking."

That brings a spark of humor to his eyes. "I don't even know what I'm doing." And he closes the distance between us again for a kiss that scorches my soul and leaves me shaking. He's going to kill me. This is definitely going to kill me. And oh, how I want him to do it. Want this sweet fiery death he's offering me. His hand strokes the back of my neck. "Alex," he says into my mouth, "Alex," and it just about makes me come.

I'm kissing my way along his jaw when the delicate bubble of heat and darkness enclosing us is shattered by the sound of his cell phone ringing. He jerks away from me, swearing, stumbles out of bed and bangs his foot against something again before he finds the phone. I lie still where I am and try to catch my breath and get my mind back online. My skin hurts where it isn't touching his any more. I want to throw the phone out the window, pull him back down here with me and taste him everywhere, make him scream with pleasure.

But it's not going to happen.

"Mulder. — What! When?" He bends down and starts to fumble around for his clothes. "Yes. Yes, we'll be right there. Sure." The phone gets tossed aside onto the unused bed and he straightens up, pants in hand, and looks back at me. "Get up."

I'm not sure I can stand up. My knees feel like jelly. But I know I have to, so I manage to get myself upright just as he turns on the bedside lamp. "What's happened?"

He buttons the pants and reaches for a sweater. He's all business now, and I try to quiet the frantic beating of my heart and get the blood back to my brain. The next words out of his mouth help.

"Janet Clough's been murdered."

Ghosts IV: But I don't know who I'll marry

"Not all that you want and ought not to want
Is forbidden to you,
Not all that you want and are allowed to want
Is acceptable.
Then it gets late on
And things change their value." — Brian Patten, Remembering

"Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?" — W H Auden, Twelve songs: XII

I'm dizzy as I stagger around the room, trying to find something dry to wear. Mulder is already outside, banging on Scully's door. I'm impressed by the way he's shifted gears, and I wish I could do the same, but my body is busy telling me how much it wants him, until I go into the bathroom and splash cold water on myself. I find a pair of jeans that are almost dry and brush the mud off. This will have to do.

While I get dressed I listen to Mulder telling Scully about the phone call from Larkin. Janet Clough has been found dead in her kitchen. A neighbor staying up late saw strange men leave the house without closing the door, and went to investigate. "We've got to get over there right away, Scully."

"Do you mind if I get dressed first?" The sound of her door closing makes me smile. I pull on the nearest sweater and pair of socks. My boots are still damp inside, but they're all I've got, unless I steal Mulder's running shoes. Which may not even fit me. I try one on. Not impossible. And most importantly, dry. I can take being hustled out of bed in the middle of the night. I may even be able to cope with not kissing Fox Mulder any more. But not if I have to wear wet boots as well. There are limits to my capacity for suffering, I think and curse silently at the shoe laces.

So I'm wearing my jacket and his shoes when I step out of the room into the small crowded hallway. I hand Mulder the cell phone he left lying inside the room and he takes it, fingers brushing against mine. I can't tell whether it's deliberate or not. Moments later, Scully appears, neat as always, looking a little paler without makeup. She's pulled her hair back into a ponytail to save time. It makes her look younger and more vulnerable, which I suppose is why she does it so rarely. I like it.

Mulder locks the door to our room, and the key goes in his left trenchcoat pocket. I've reached a point now where I can look at him without wanting to ravish him. Much. Instead I think about the death of Janet Clough. She must have known more than we gave her credit for, or she would still be alive. Mulder is probably kicking himself for not having spent more time on trying to winkle secrets out of her. He held back out of respect for her grief, even when it was obvious she had a connection with a certain gentleman who will remain nameless. Maybe I've overestimated his ruthlessness.

We troop downstairs as quietly as we can, then Mulder stops and looks annoyed. "We can't just walk out and leave the door unlocked."

"I'll lock it behind you. Just ring the bell when you want to be let back in, if it's before six thirty." The soft voice belongs to Laura Ann, who comes out of the kitchen, apron still in place. So I was right, she never sleeps. That's useful for us. Warm light spills out from the kitchen door, and I can smell cinnamon buns.

She lets us out and closes the door behind us again. The rain has faded into a gentle drizzle that barely gets my face damp. Scully found a parking spot right outside the diner last night, and we all get into the car to drive the short distance to the Cloughs' house. We could have walked, but I guess they don't want to risk the puddles, and I'm glad, because Mulder's running shoes would never have survived that. The sound of the car engine starting seems loud in this empty street and I look for windows lighting up as we pull out and drive away.

"Was the neighbor able to provide any kind of description of the men who left the house?" Scully asks, rounding a corner and sending up a spray of water.

"I don't know, Larkin was in a hurry. There's no street light close to the driveway. But the porch light might have been on." Mulder sounds hopeful. He glances up and our eyes meet in the rearview mirror. But only briefly. I can't hold that look; I have no idea what I want it to say.

I don't know if the bright, glittering feeling inside me is euphoria or terror. He kissed me. His mouth on mine was the most wonderful thing in the universe. It was like nothing else ever, and it's that awareness that unsettles me. All of me aches to touch and be touched again, as if nothing else is important. And I can't think like that now, and I know I can't, and I can't stop. My tongue can still taste him, and every pulse beat is a silent repetition of his name.

The porch light is on when we get there, but it could be that the police turned it on to be able to see better. The driveway is crowded with police cars. No, that's a slight exaggeration; there are only three of them, but in a town this size, that is a crowd. Nice, earnest policemen bustle this way and that. Lieutenant Anderson's team is here, too; I would have thought they'd have gone back to Norfolk by now.

Larkin meets us in the door. He is starting to look harried, and no wonder. His little town has become the setting for the current battle in the war between the consortium and two Federal agents. Although I know I'm exaggerating when I call it a war. To Mulder it's a crusade, to Scully it's a mission, but to the consortium it's a game, annoying or entertaining, depending on who you ask. They take it seriously, because they take everything seriously. But it is a small part of a very large picture.

"Come inside and take a look," Larkin says, shepherding us through the hall. By now he's so accustomed to my presence, he doesn't even give me a second look. Looking around, I try to pin down what it all reminds me of, what is causing the slight feeling of unreality. Yes, that's it. This house used to be a home; now Annie is dead, her mother has been shot, her father is in jail. The rooms are nothing more than the setting for a tragedy, and there is no normal way of moving through them. This is how I felt when I waited behind walls that had lost their ability to give shelter, waited with a gun in my hand for someone to come through the door. All the connotations have changed. No place is safe.

Mrs. Clough's body is still lying on the kitchen floor. She's been shot twice, through the head and through the heart. Scully drops to her knees, making professional noises. I try to blend into the wallpaper as I study the scene. The weapon was found by the body. I don't need to look at that. I know exactly what happened here; I've done it myself. What I need to figure out is why. Why her and not me? She knew things, and perhaps she had to be silenced, but I'm a far greater threat to their security, and they know I'm here. Still nothing has happened since Clough's pathetic attempt yesterday.

There are no Morley butts in the sink now. He wouldn't have been here when it happened. I wonder who did the clean-up. Mulder is talking to Larkin, getting a quick run-down of everything that has happened since the neighbor made his call. So far they've found nothing. Body, gun, blood. The gun's already been taken away for testing. I smile a little to myself; I know they have to do it, and I know what they'll find. Yes, this is the gun that was used to shoot Janet Clough; no, there are no fingerprints on it. No clue anywhere, nothing that might give away anyone's identity. After Cardinale's carelessness, they've stepped up security. Don't spit on anyone as you leave, guys.

The calendar with the floral prints is still in place. I wonder whether the collage of vacation photos was destroyed, or if by any chance it's been hidden away somewhere in the house. I wouldn't mind looking for it. Not that it proves anything, of course. That's the hell of it, and I start to get a glimpse of the frustration Mulder must experience nearly every time he's on a case. No wonder he takes his hunches so seriously; it's the only way to move past the infuriating lack of evidence.

I look at him. He's listening to Larkin, questioning him now and then, his face beautifully solemn and intense. It's good to watch him when he doesn't know I'm looking, to see him as he might appear to other people. Just a man standing there. But then he turns his head a fraction and his eyes meet mine again. And I forget to breathe.

It's not the same feeling any more. It's not the slippery slide and pull of desire, the awareness that I must have him, somehow. This is different, darker and deeper; it overshadows everything I normally think of as reality. I wouldn't be surprised if they all vanished, the cops, Larkin and Scully, the corpse, the house, to leave us alone with whatever strange energy it is that pulses between us. This is what I thought of as obsession. He can insinuate himself into every thought, every dream, and I can't stop it. If I ever had any kind of protection against this, it's gone now.

Then his face turns carefully blank, and I move away from the wall, walk over to Scully and crouch down next to her. She greets me with a raised eyebrow and goes on working. "Death was virtually instantaneous," she tells me quietly, "and there was almost no time between the shot to the heart and that to the head."

"They don't waste anything. Time or effort." I look dispassionately at the dead woman. "I wonder if they took anything from the house before they left."

"Like what?" Scully is interested, although she doesn't interrupt what she's doing. "Do you think she had anything incriminating in her possession?"

I shrug. "Probably not. Probably the only dangerous information she had was in her head. I was thinking they might have taken valuables to make it look like a robbery. But there's nothing out of place here that I can see."

"You might want to check the living room and the bedroom," Scully suggests. I nod and straighten up, and head out of the kitchen. Anderson and her team are busy going over the door, checking for prints, signs of damage to the lock. I'm not sure they're going to find anything. This is the kind of town where people don't lock their front doors much, particularly not if they're home. She turns her head as I walk by and gives me a small nod of acknowledgment, very serious. The other members of the team are either scowling or yawning. I don't know why they're here.

There are people in the living room, and so I head upstairs first. All the doors are standing ajar, and I push the first one open with my shoulder, trying to avoid damaging any possible prints. Not that I think there will be any. The tidy bathroom holds nothing of interest and doesn't appear to have been disturbed, so I move on.

The second room was Annie's. I pause in the doorway and wonder if she kept it this neat or if her mother imposed this rigid order after her daughter's death. There's a small pile of books on the bedside table and a pink plush bunny leaning against the headboard. It all looks so innocent, it's hard to imagine Annie and Linda making love here. Perhaps they never did. When I look around I see that one patch of the wall over by the window looks different. I walk over and find a square of wallpaper that hasn't been bleached by the sun. Something used to hang here; to judge by the size, it might well have been the calendar that replaced the photos in the kitchen.

"What are you doing?" I turn around and see Mulder by the door. He's backlit by the hall lamp and I can't see his face.

"Admiring the wallpaper. What time did the neighbor see them leaving?" When I walk back across the room he steps out into the hall, keeping a distance between us. I follow him and make for the next door. Storage room, and apparently untouched.

"About an hour ago now. Do you think you're going to find anything in there?" Now he comes a little closer, looking over my shoulder. I lock my knees to stop them from shaking.

"Not really. The calendar in the kitchen used to hang in Annie's room. Janet Clough was fully dressed, did you notice? Same clothes as yesterday. Either she never went to bed, or she got up in the middle of the night and put her clothes back on before they arrived."

"With her daughter dead and her husband in prison, I'd say she had sufficient reasons to be suffering from insomnia." Mulder moves away as I turn around, and he's the one to push the next door open. This is the master bedroom, and it looks untouched as well. No sign that anyone's slept in the bed, either, so I guess Mulder is right.

"I wanted to see if they'd faked a burglary," I say, "but it doesn't look like it."

"Doesn't look like they searched the place either," Mulder comments. "There might be something somewhere." And with those vague words as our inspiration, we start to search the rooms ourselves.

It's hopeless, of course. We don't know what we're looking for, so what we get is nothing. Nothing incriminating, nothing even remotely interesting. Certainly not the missing picture from the kitchen. All I find, as we go from room to room, is that Mulder keeps a careful, deliberate distance from me at all times. He's got that look on his face, the 'don't ask, I'm all right' look that means he's anything but. Scully's bound to see it.

Digging through the top shelf of a closet, I wonder what to do about it. If there's anything I can do. I'm humming to myself without conscious thought as I work, until Mulder clears his throat and asks, "Are you making a political statement here, Krycek?"

Then the words filter through. "Soyuz nerusyimyi respublik svobodnych splotila naveki velikaya Rus..." I start to laugh. Well, it's a catchy tune. "No."

He laughs, too, but then the laughter is gone in an instant to be replaced by That Look. I want to talk to him, ask him... I don't know what I want to ask him. Maybe all I really want to know is if I can hold him again. We're back in Annie's bedroom, and he straightens up after having examined the contents of her desk drawers. It isn't until he turns his head to look at me that I realize how closely I'm watching him. I've been doing it like breathing, not thinking about it. Now I walk towards him, still not thinking about it, and put my hand on his arm.

He holds still for all of a second, maybe. Then he shakes his head in one single sharp movement and steps away. He doesn't say anything, doesn't have to. I stand where I am for a moment and watch as he goes out into the hallway and down the stairs. When I follow, slowly, I'm walking on broken glass.

Downstairs, Anderson's team has cleared out and Janet Clough's body has been taken away. Larkin is standing in the kitchen like Dido amidst the ruins of Carthage, contemplating the blood stains on the floor with suicidal desperation. At first I can't see Scully, and then she comes out of the living room, carrying a stack of magazines. "Mulder, take a look at these." She sees me coming down behind him, gestures at me to come and look too. So I do, ignoring the way Mulder shifts to keep Scully between us.

"What about them?" he says. They're science journals, some of them glossy and popular, others academic and badly typeset. And I know why she's picked them out. I recognize most of them, not just the journals but the actual issues.

"They all feature articles by Andrew Davis," she explains, flipping the pages to show us. "It seems odd that the Cloughs would have these old magazines lying around unless there was a connection."

"Maybe they're just really interested in biology." The reversed roles seem to amuse them and they share a brief smile. "There's nothing more recent?" She shakes her head, and Mulder takes one of the journals out of her hands and looks through it idly.

"I realize it proves nothing." Scully puts the pile down on the hall table. She straightens her back, a small movement that would have been a stretch in anyone else. "But it suggests a relationship of some kind between the Cloughs and Dr. Davis, beyond the merely professional. Add that to the photograph you saw in the kitchen—"

"Yeah, they knew him. But it doesn't get us anywhere."

"It gives us something to ask Siward Clough about," Scully says briskly. She taps the magazines with one finger. "He might not even know about his wife's denial. And—"

"Oh, hell," Mulder says almost inaudibly. He looks as though he's about to hit himself. "Scully, I'm such an idiot. God — damn — it—" He takes a step away and then a step back again. "Skeat told us, Scully. He said Annie Clough had gone to Davis before she came to him. We could have confronted Janet Clough with the truth right away. It was in Annie's medical records."

"Maybe that's why she's dead," I say. He shoots me an annoyed look and I raise my hand. "No, wait. Janet Clough wasn't much of a liar, and they must have known that we'd put two and two together sooner or later." I can't believe it either; I wonder what we were thinking. "If she'd been forced to lie, as opposed to just deny everything, she probably would've made a slip. So they had her killed."

"But now that we know, we can still ask—" Mulder breaks off. All three of us head for the kitchen at the same moment, with the grace and coordination of the Three Stooges. Scully and I stumble against each other and have to pause to get untangled, so Mulder gets there first, and when we get through the open door he's already grabbed Larkin by the arm. "Do you have anyone watching Clough? Call in, make sure they've got a guard on him. His life's in danger."

Larkin looks startled. "How do you know that?" he demands to know, but when Mulder pushes the cell phone at him, he takes it and dials.

I lean back against the wall by the door and watch the scene with an attempt at detachment. There's so much on my mind. My thoughts refuse to flow smoothly, and every tangle I try to unravel has Fox Mulder at its center. Being with him has turned out to be more complicated and more painful than being without him. But I knew as much when I left St Petersburg. I knew, and I did it anyway. Pressing my lips together, I hold the pain down.

A hand touches my arm. "Are you all right?" Scully is standing so close she has to tilt her head back uncomfortably to look up at me. She's wearing her doctor face, assessing me thoughtfully, but there's no underlying accusation, no deep Ice Queen chill. And I stare at her, speechless. "Does your leg hurt?"

I try biting my lower lip this time, I bite down on it till it bleeds, but it doesn't help. I open my mouth to tell her that I once stood in her living room and waited for her with a loaded gun the way someone waited for Janet Clough tonight, and she has to stop looking at me like that. A sound from Larkin drags me back from that precipice. He's staring at the cellular, his jaw working, color rising from annoyance to near-apoplexy. "Dammit!" He looks wildly at Mulder and pulls his arm back, intending to throw the phone against the wall.

Mulder steps forward and relieves him of it. "What is it?" he asks tensely. "What's happened? Didn't they find Clough?"

"They found him all right." Larkin's voice is bitter. "Found him in the cell. Strangled." He breaks into profanity, then stops just as suddenly with a guilty and frustrated look at Scully. "Did you know this would happen?" Larkin rounds on Mulder again. "Couldn't you have said something earlier?"

"I should have." And he means it, too. It comes so naturally to him to believe that everything is his fault. Conditioning, I think. Train them early and train them hard. They did give me extensive files on him. Oh, they told me everything about him. Except what he is. Except what he could be, which they never guessed, a sweet raging fire, burning through me.

I shiver, and Scully's fingers tighten on my arm for a moment. She thinks I'm not well. She's right. "Did anyone see anything?" she asks crisply. "Is there any chance that the fatal injuries were self-inflicted?"

"Hell, I don't know." Larkin's shoulders slump. "Lou just said he was lying in there with a belt round his neck." Crude, I think, very crude. Scully lets go of me and steps forward.

"I'd like to view the body," she says. "We'd better hurry, before someone attempts to move him." Mulder nods and they both head for the door.

I linger behind for a moment, looking at Larkin. Clough was his friend; then his friend went berserk and blew up a barn and shot a police officer; now his friend is dead. Larkin must have seen his fair share of violent and senseless behavior even in this seemingly peaceful corner of Virginia, but I know this is different. It's always different when it's someone you know. Someone you never expected to act that way. Larkin's feeling betrayed. He never had an idea what Clough was up to, all that time. He'll probably never know what went on and how the man was pressured into acting the way he did.

Larkin straightens up with an effort and looks at me. "Let's go, then," he says, unable to inject any energy into his voice. I nod, and walk ahead of him out of the kitchen.

* * *

He stayed silent during the drive back to the police station, and after a few attempts at speculation about Siward Clough's death, Scully fell silent, too. Krycek was, surprisingly, riding in the police car with Steve Larkin. Mulder felt grateful for that. He needed a few moments of distance and quiet to try to collect himself. The deaths of Janet and Siward Clough deserved his full attention, and when he was close to Krycek his thoughts scattered like startled sheep.

The more he tried not to dwell on it, the more insistently it pushed its way to the top of his mind. He'd never kissed anyone like that before. He'd never been kissed like that before, with such tender ferocity. Alex Krycek. Oh, dear God. Mulder closed his eyes and very deliberately conjured up the memory of a bathroom floor, a cool night breeze, his father dying in his arms. His muscles clenched and a violent quiver ran along his legs, cramped his stomach, made his arms and hands shake. Alex Krycek.

"Scully," he said through his teeth, "stop the car, just stop the car a moment." When she pulled over, he struggled out of the seat belt, flung the door open, half fell outside and was sick. Talk about being distracted, he thought with black humor even as he retched and coughed.

"Mulder!" She got out of the car on her side and came around to hand him a tissue to wipe his mouth on. "Are you feeling ill, too? I think Krycek's got something, he didn't look too good back there in the kitchen."

Oh, but he did, Mulder thought and tried to spit the sour taste out of his mouth. Far too good. He breathed slowly, straightening up to lean against the car, clutching the tissue tight as if it could support him. The muscle cramps in his stomach gradually gave way to a distant ache, mild nausea. It hadn't happened when they'd gone through the house, hadn't happened when Krycek touched him up there in Annie Clough's bedroom. When he thought about that now he couldn't hold back another shivering muscle spasm.

"I'm not ill," he told Scully, and watched the way she looked at him. "I'm all right now."

"Mulder, you're practically green. Sit down." She pushed him firmly down to sit on the passenger seat again, but when she attempted to lift his legs inside he scowled at her and moved by himself. Scully closed the door and went around the car. She rummaged in the back seat for a while, then got in next to him and handed him a small plastic bottle of Evian, half full. "Here."

He rolled the window down so he could rinse his mouth and spit, then drank. The water was lukewarm and tasted faintly of plastic, but it settled him a bit. Mulder leaned back in the car seat. "We have to get to the police station, Scully. They could be moving Clough by now, destroying evidence."

"Larkin and Krycek will stop them. How do you feel now?" She put a hand to his forehead.

"Like a complete idiot." When he closed his eyes again he didn't see his father, he saw Krycek, eyes dark and shining, lips slightly parted. This time he was a little better prepared, and hunched forward around the wrenching ache as his stomach clenched again, arms wrapped tight, trying to keep the pain in.

"If you're going to be sick again, open the car door," he heard Scully say, but her voice sounded far away. Breathe. Remember to breathe. He had no time for this. And he wasn't going to be sick again. Not even over the fact that only a few hours earlier, he'd wanted nothing in the world beyond another kiss from the man who'd admitted to killing his father. Delayed shock, a distant corner of his mind said.

After some more long, slow breaths, the cramps ceased again and he could sit up properly and look at Scully. She was even more worried now; not that she hadn't seen him in worse states, but then it was usually with a good reason. This time, he couldn't tell her what it was that wrenched at him, couldn't give a glib name to the sickness that still lurked inside. There was no subtle contagion at work. He had done it all of his own free will. And he wanted, had wanted so much more. Remembering the deep heat of his own desire, he bit down on a sound of desperate anger and clenched his hand instead of beating it against the car door.

"Let's get going," he said, and overrode the beginning of a concerned protest with, "We can't sit here all night. Morning. I feel better now. I'll take it easy."

Scully started the car, and not until they were back on the road did she look at him again, a measured sideways look that still held concern, but steely determination as well. "I'm going to take a good look at you when we get there," she said.

"Siward Clough first," he reminded her. "I'm fine. Just something that didn't agree with me." Only it had, then. It had been beyond wonderful, that open, hot, eager response to his hesitant approach. And for long moments, nothing had been wrong with the world at all.

Well, Mulder told himself coldly, Krycek was attractive, there was no denying that, and it had been stupid as hell to share a bed with him. It wouldn't happen again, and that was all there was to it. It wouldn't happen again... because he'd had no defenses, waking up like that, warm and close in the intimacy of darkness, touching. He'd slept next to Krycek, and felt safe. He was insane. That wouldn't happen again.

When they got to the police station Mulder could see the first signs of a hesitant dawn. It showed him a bleak world, which suited him well. He slammed the car door and strode across the sidewalk with long steps; Scully half ran to keep up with him. It wasn't raining, and a deep breath confirmed that the air held that shimmering after-the-rain smell. Not so bleak after all. He went in through the door and found Krycek waiting in the hall, looking anxious; when he caught sight of Mulder and Scully his face lit up.

And something inside Mulder twisted and turned over yet again, so that he reached out and almost clutched at the wall, to stop himself from reaching out for Krycek. Could he trust nothing, then, not even the strength of his own resolve? Scully went past him. "You should sit down," she told him severely, and headed down the hall to where Larkin stood in earnest discussion with Lou and a couple of others.

"Clough's still in the cell," Krycek volunteered, not coming any closer, sticking to his own wall. "We got back here just in time to stop them from moving him. Do you need to sit down, or do you want to go take a look at him? It's pretty obvious he didn't do it himself."

"You've seen the body?" Mulder asked stupidly.

"With Larkin. I stuck with him, and he took me right into the cell." Krycek seemed quite aware of the irony. He smiled a little before he went on, "But if you're not feeling all right..."

"I'm fine," Mulder said in a curt voice and made himself abandon the support of the door frame. That made him feel slightly dizzy and his mouth kept moving. "I'm just in the 'before' stage 'cause I haven't had my morning cup of coffee yet. Once I get that my hair will be combed, my shirt will be ironed and I'll be able to recite the times table up to twelve, and the principal exports of Brazil."

"Where the nuts come from," Krycek said with another faint smile. He looked sidelong at Mulder through his lashes, and Mulder found himself holding his breath, waiting for what Krycek might say. But it turned out to be, "Come on, then, the cell's through there and we can grab some coffee on the way."

The coffee was awful, but Mulder held on to the styrofoam cup as Krycek led him down another dingy hallway. Security seemed to be an alien concept here. Fifty assassins could have come and gone with no one the wiser. If he clutched the cup any harder it would come apart in his hands.

"Krycek." Alex slowed down and looked inquiringly over his shoulder. Now that he had the man's attention, Mulder didn't know what to do. He cast about wildly for something to say, something that would distract him from his churning stomach and his churning thoughts. The first thing that came to mind was, "Why haven't they tried to kill you?"

"I don't know," Krycek said in a low voice. "I guess someone's decided that I can be useful somehow. And that worries me a bit."

Mulder nodded slowly. "There was Clough, but—" Then he broke off and looked more closely at Krycek. "Damn. That was clever. They were trying to get rid of him, so they sent him to kill you."

Krycek looked startled. "I told you, he could never have killed me. — Oh."

"Exactly." Mulder paused for a moment. "It's still damn risky. How do they know you haven't allied yourself with us, that you're not going to testify against them?"

A shadow of a smile crossed Krycek's face. "Because they know I know what they're capable of, and because nearly everything I've witnessed or been part of implicates me as much as it does them." He looked around quickly to make sure they weren't being overheard before going on, "Plea bargaining would never work. And even if I miraculously got a suspended sentence—" He broke off.

"What?" Mulder prompted him. He was starting to feel a little sick again, listening to Krycek's assessment of his own degree of guilt.

Krycek looked away. "It's a bit odd to be discussing this with you, of all people." He didn't fidget, exactly, but his shoulders moved under the leather of his jacket. "I was going to say, I'd rather kill myself than be locked up, but they don't know that."

The tone of Krycek's voice was so unbearably casual that Mulder couldn't doubt he was telling the truth. He thought about Krycek's reactions in the barn, and imagined the reaction to a prison sentence. Then he clenched his jaw, not knowing how to brace himself against all the different emotions that were battling for supremacy inside him. He was drifting, he thought desperately, losing his bearings. Had to get things straight. "Let's go look at Clough," he said.

There was a brief pause before Krycek answered. "All right. Mulder, you're spilling coffee on your trenchcoat."

He dabbed inefficiently at it with a crumpled kleenex as they walked on down the hall. Inside the small cell, Scully had just concluded her examination of the body and was straightening up, her face serious. Mulder barely noticed that Clough's face was a dark purplish blue or that his tongue protruded between swollen lips. He'd seen bodies that looked a lot worse. Smelled worse, too, although Clough was wearing the same muddy, urine-stained clothes. "Well?" he said.

She stripped off the thin latex gloves she'd procured from God knew where and turned towards him. "He was strangled between four fifteen, when the guard last looked in on him, and four fifty-five, when Larkin called and Lou went to find him," she said. "The leather belt isn't his own. The leather is old and cracked and probably won't show fingerprints, even partials, but the buckle might. There is no possibility that he might have done it himself. The belt was looped around his neck and pulled tight from behind with considerable force. Marks on the skin and a couple of dislocated vertebrae indicate that the assailant braced himself with a knee against the back of the deceased, but strangulation was definitely the cause of death."

Mulder made a face. He looked at Clough and felt a sensation more of depression than distaste. Remembering Clyde Bruckman's words about auto-erotic asphyxiation, he shook his head. Oh no. No way. "And no one saw anything." It was a statement, not a question.

"No." That was Lou, peeking in over Krycek's shoulder. "And we haven't discovered where the killer found keys to the cell, either." Lou seemed more frustrated by that than by the death of Siward Clough. Not even Scully's presence could bring out a smile. "I didn't see or hear anything, but I had the printer running most of the time."

The sound of a cell phone ringing was unexpected. Mulder and Scully both reacted to it, but it was his phone. Stepping out into the corridor, he answered it with half his attention still concentrated on Siward and Janet Clough. Maybe it was Skinner wondering why he hadn't delivered the frequent reports he'd promised. "Mulder."

"Agent Mulder. I trust you are well." His spine snapped to rigid attention. "I would like to have a word with your young friend... Carstairs."

That voice was unmistakable. Mulder bit back a curse. He wondered whether he should simply hang up, but any information was better than no information. "What do you want from him?" he asked.

"Nothing," the ironic cheerfulness bit deep, "I merely want to offer him some advice. Advice that might be beneficial both to his career and his health. Give him the phone, Agent Mulder. Now."

Curses wouldn't do him any good, and sticking his tongue out at the phone certainly wouldn't have any effect. Mulder held the cell out to Alex, who raised an eyebrow. He mimed taking a drag from a cigarette, and a muscle in Krycek's jaw jumped as he took the phone.

"Yes." A lengthy silence followed, as Krycek's brows drew together and his eyes narrowed. Mulder watched him tensely, trying to tell what was happening, what the black-lunged smear of sewage scum was saying. But after the first faint frown, Krycek's face turned unreadable. He pressed his lips firmly together and looked down at the floor, lids and lashes all but hiding his eyes.

Scully came out of the cell and looked from Krycek to Mulder, coming to stand by his side. "What's going on?" she asked quietly.

"We've got the Morley Man on the phone," Mulder told her. "Called up and asked for Carstairs. And I'm starting to wonder just what kind of career advice he's offering." Scully's eyes widened slightly, and Mulder stepped forward and reached a hand out to take the phone away from Krycek. Krycek shook his head and turned away, still listening. "Tell him I want to talk to him."

Krycek raised an eyebrow and drew breath to say something, then paused. His brows drew together again; he lowered the cellular and looked at it with distaste before handing it back to Mulder. "He hung up. Sorry." The expression on Krycek's face was that of someone who's taken a shortcut across a cow pasture and stepped in the wrong spot. His eyes flicked towards Lou, who was standing in the cell door, arm in a decorative sling.

"Where's Larkin?" Mulder asked.

"At his desk," Lou said, "trying to organize a search for the killers. Is it all right if we move the body now?"

"Yes," Scully said. "I think you should do that." They all waited in tense, awkward silence as Lou walked off, rather reluctantly, to arrange for Siward Clough's body to be taken to a more suitable location. As soon as Lou was out of earshot, Scully asked, "What did he say?"

Krycek shrugged. "Not much — no, really. He has a way of conveying a multitude of implications while never saying anything truly incriminating. I know he's behind this, but even if we'd taped the conversation there was nothing that would have given him away."

"He said he wanted to advise you on your health," Mulder said.

"He asked me if I wanted to stay alive." Krycek didn't look as concerned at that as he had while they had only been speculating earlier. It was as though he was more comfortable with a definite threat than with an unseen menace. "Said this case is over, that nothing more will happen and nothing else will be discovered, and it's up to me to convince you two of that."

Mulder opened his mouth to say that he was not going to let himself be manipulated by a gray-faced man in a cloud of smoke, and then he put two and two together. He looked at Krycek for a long moment. "What do you think he's counting on?" he asked. "That we'll back off to save your life, or that we'll go ahead and give him a good reason to have you killed?"

Scully looked up, startled; then she, too, saw what Krycek's statements added up to, and her eyes darkened with anger and distaste. Tilting his head to one side, Krycek appeared to consider the matter objectively. "It probably doesn't matter to him," he said finally. "Whatever clean-up operation has been going on is probably in its final stages by now. I don't think you'll find much if you go ahead. But he'll probably be pleased if you do."

"Just so he can have you killed?" Scully asked, sounding slightly incredulous.

"No." Krycek shook his head and now he was, unbelievably enough, smiling slightly. "That it happens to be me is just a bonus. But he would love to see you two decide to sacrifice a human life in order to try to find the truth. Once you believe that the ends justify the means, once you start acting on that belief—"

Scully looked revolted. Maybe it was her turn to be sick now, Mulder thought. He didn't feel too good himself. Not that he would have said 'good riddance' and gone ahead, no matter what. But there were ways of getting around threats, offering witness protection, round the clock guards. The kind of thing he would have tried to offer Janet Clough. "He wants to corrupt us," Scully said. "We could try to keep you safe. But—"

The presence of Siward Clough in the cell behind them needed no words. Mulder leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. He was outmaneuvered, they all were. This case report was going to be hell. Skinner would flay them both.

Scully was too angry to stand still. She set off down the hallway, her heels clicking with a regular, determined sound that usually cheered Mulder up. Now he heard her go and his stomach clenched up again. Things had fallen apart so suddenly, and he couldn't even manage to breathe life into the few flickering sparks of emotion inside. He felt lost. When he opened his eyes again, Alex Krycek was watching him. The impact of that green gaze produced a sensation not unlike jumping out of a plane and wondering if you've remembered to put on a parachute.

Mulder didn't move as Krycek crossed the hallway and came to stand right in front of him. Close. Very close. Krycek reached up and touched his cheek gently, and instead of flinching away, Mulder let those warm fingers coax the sparks into an uncertain flame. All his muscles were clenching and unclenching, not just his stomach. He hoped he wasn't going to be sick again.

"I'm sorry," Krycek said seriously, and leaned in and kissed him.

This was a careful kiss, almost polite in its precision, tasting more of comfort than anything else just at first. For a moment he thought it was going to end like that, too. And then the pressure returned, increased, and a tongue found its way past his lips. Mulder shivered so hard he thought his spine would shatter, just like Siward Clough's. Clough lay dead on the other side of this wall, and here he was kissing — kissing— His hands came up to catch at Krycek, push him away. Pull him closer. It was insanity, here in this drab hallway with its gray concrete floor. And he couldn't stop. He'd sworn it would never happen again, and he couldn't stop.

It was Krycek who drew back, and Mulder tried hard not to give voice to the sound of protest that rose to his lips. "Don't," he found himself saying, "don't," and what he meant was, don't stop. When Krycek shifted backwards, Mulder kept hold of him, refused to let him go. He kept expecting to hear Larkin's heavy footsteps, or Scully's quick light ones. Someone would come. He didn't care.

"Are you feeling all right? You've been sick." Mulder felt his cheeks heat at that. So he had. He must taste like— "I think you have a fever." Krycek pressed the back of his hand against Mulder's forehead. "You should get Scully to take a look at you."

"I will. She will." He did feel light-headed. Dizzy. Mulder ran one hand up Krycek's back, curved his fingers around the back of Krycek's head and pulled him in again, and kissed him until Krycek lost all caution and kissed him back just as wildly. Body pressed against body, trying to get closer than what was physically possible. The only thing holding him upright was the wall at his back. Did he have a fever? Oh, yes. He felt at once terrible and elated.

The sound of returning footsteps broke them apart finally, but it was neither Larkin nor Scully. Lou looked apologetic. "Agent Scully is asking for you, and—"

"I'll be right along," Mulder said, well aware of how he must look, all mussed up and leaning against the wall, his mouth probably with the same slightly moist and swollen look as Krycek's, his face just as flushed. Lou did not look particularly surprised, or shocked. In fact, Lou shot Krycek a look that could almost be described as conspiratorial before turning around and heading back again. With an effort, Mulder made himself stand upright. His head was spinning, and he wasn't sure if it was the after-effect of Krycek's kisses or this fever he kept mentioning. "Maybe someone's been drugging my water supply again."

"Mulder, you've caught cold," Krycek said, sounding amused. "You got soaked to the skin yesterday. Get Scully to give you some pills, salicylic acid or paracetamol or whatever you prefer."

They followed after Lou. Mulder resented the implication that he wasn't thinking clearly, and he wanted to talk to Krycek, but he still couldn't think of exactly what it was he wanted to say. It could wait, he supposed, while he found out what Scully was up to; he walked in to find her perched on a corner of Larkin's desk, flipping through papers. Krycek vanished in the direction of the men's room.

When Scully caught sight of him, she got to her feet, took his arm, and tried to push him down into Larkin's desk chair. Mulder resisted, even as she reached up and felt his forehead. He wondered if he should start charging people for that. "Sit down. I'll give you something—"

"Scully, I feel fine."

"You'll feel even better when you've taken something for that fever." She looked up at him. "Don't be unreasonable, Mulder. It's in your own best interests to have a clear mind when you're dealing with a case, and you damn well know it."

The unexpected profanity distracted him enough that he actually sat down and accepted the pills and the cup of water she offered him. Scully was right, he definitely needed a clear mind. He doubted that a couple of aspirin were going to help; Krycek burned under his skin. But he swallowed the pills anyway, downed the water and sat for a while watching Scully work her way efficiently through the stack of papers on Larkin's desk.

That reminded him that he had no memory of where he had put the file on the deaths of Andrew and Margaret Davis. With any luck it was still in the room at Laura Ann's, but he couldn't entirely make himself believe that. And he'd put nearly all his own case notes in that file. "I hate being blackmailed," he said angrily.

Scully nodded. "And we don't even have a good explanation for the car accidents that brought us down here in the first place."

"I saw the ghosts, Scully," he contradicted her. The memory of it was enough to send another chill through him. He wondered if they were laid to rest now or if they would come back. The resumed project had obviously been cancelled yet again — if that had been their intention. And they had seen their son. What kind of communication had taken place between the ghosts and Alex Krycek was still unclear, but it had to mean something that they had changed their appearance for him. "We both saw the ghosts," there were people around him who might be listening, so he used the alias, "Carstairs and I."

The look she shot him said that she was nowhere near believing that, but to his surprise, she didn't start arguing the point. Instead she said, "That's our next problem. Carstairs." Another ripple of muscle cramp made itself felt. Scully dropped her voice. "What are we going to do with him, Mulder? You said you hated being blackmailed. He's helped us on this case, but I don't know what he's planning to do now. By rights we should have arrested him days ago. But..." She didn't finish the sentence, just looked at him.

She couldn't know, of course. There was no way she could know. There was nothing to know, he tried to tell himself. But Krycek, the question of what to do with Krycek — it would have been complicated even without the additional tangles Mulder found himself caught in.

"I don't know," he said, aware that he sounded tired and depressed, hoping she would attribute it to this damn cold. Krycek. Krycek, who killed Mulder's father. Krycek, who let them take Scully away and hurt her. Krycek, who was blackmailing him. Who should suffer for that. Krycek, who had faced the ghosts of his parents, and cried in Mulder's arms. Krycek, who would rather die than go to prison; Krycek, whose mouth tasted like cinnamon and candle-flames. "I don't know."

Scully's view of the problem had to be less complicated. She had just as many reasons as he to hate Krycek, and didn't suffer from Mulder's peculiar personal involvement. All the same, there was a certain hesitation in her manner. Maybe, Mulder's mind offered in a flash of lucid objectivity, it was some kind of Stockholm syndrome in reverse manifesting itself. Krycek had been in their power, despite the blackmail threat. It was hard to hate someone who seemed to trust you and depend on you. Scully did not kick puppies; she had a compassionate heart.

But no matter what side of himself Krycek had shown over the past couple of days, he was no sweet innocent. The man was a confessed killer and a former double agent — at least, his mind added cautiously — whose involvement in the whole shadowy conspiracy was certain, even if the extent of it was unclear.

"First we need to decide what to do here," Scully said. "Larkin wants to track the killers, of course. It's not really our case. At least, it's not what we originally came here to investigate."

Mulder tried to get all his thoughts moving in the same direction. "They've had hours to disappear," he said. "And we don't have anything to track them by, no descriptions, nothing to give away their identities, not so much as a license plate. Not that that would help," he added bitterly. "What we might do is get a look inside that storage facility in Manassas." His phone rang and he checked his watch as he answered it. Office hours. "Mulder."

It was, of course, AD Skinner. "Agent Mulder, your idea of regular progress reports leaves much to be desired."

"I'm sorry, sir. We've been busy here. Two of our suspects were murdered this morning."

If he thought that statement would check Skinner even slightly, he was wrong. "Mulder, I've been given to understand that you have Alex Krycek with you. Is that true?" Stunned speechless for a fraction of a second, he stared at the wall opposite. "Is it? Agent Mulder, you should bring him in. He is in possession of vital information—"

"I know," Mulder said, "that's the problem." It didn't matter that he had admitted to Skinner with those words that Krycek was here; Skinner already knew, had known since the day before yesterday. That the AD was asking about it now had to mean something else. "Sir, has someone been suggesting things to you again?"

"Maybe," Skinner said tersely. "Bring him in, Mulder. Better yet, put him on the phone right now, if you think he can be civilized about it." Looking around, Mulder realized that Krycek hadn't come back yet from the men's room. He doubted it was because of constipation. He frowned, and Scully caught it from him. "Mulder?"

"I'm looking for him, sir," he said, got to his feet and strode out of the room. The men's room was an echoing, white-tiled emptiness, and when he got out of there again, he almost ran into Lou in the hallway. "Have you seen Carstairs?"

"He went across the street to get something from his room at Laura Ann's," Lou said, nodding towards the door. Mulder made for the door, phone still in hand, buzzing with Skinner's unheard questions. The street was empty and clean in the early morning light and he ran across it, opened the jangling door and entered the comfortable breakfast hum of the diner.

Laura Ann came out of the kitchen to meet him and waved a plate of bacon and scrambled eggs enticingly under his nose. The smell made his stomach clench up for the hundredth time this morning. "Where is he?" he asked abruptly. "Upstairs?"

She raised an eyebrow. "I haven't seen him since you all left together," she said. Mulder looked at her a moment longer, then turned away abruptly and headed for the stairs. He ran up and felt his heart beat much too fast. The door to their room was still locked, and he had the key. Despite that, he went inside just to be certain. Everything looked just as it had when they'd left it, the piles of clothing, the messed-up bed. Krycek's boots stood on the floor looking lost. The bathroom door stood ajar, but there was nothing but emptiness behind it.

Mulder sank down on the bed for a moment. He put his hand on the pillow, let his fingertips drift across the cotton with the lightest touch he could manage. It felt almost rough. The heated dizziness in him was turning into a dull pounding ache that started at his temples and sent heavy waves rolling through his skull whenever he turned his head. And there was a faint buzzing sound... oh, Skinner on the cell phone.

"Sir?" Skinner didn't answer, so Mulder held the phone to his ear and tried again. "Sir? He's disappeared."

Skinner didn't actually swear at him, but came very close during the following few minutes. After a while, Mulder stopped listening, got to his feet, and walked out of the room, remembering to lock it. When he got downstairs, Skinner seemed to be winding up, and Scully was there, waiting. He handed her the phone, and she took it after giving him a wary look. Mulder wanted to tell her there was no need for that; Skinner would be nice to her, she hadn't lost Alex Krycek. Well, actually, she had. Just not the same way Mulder had.

While Scully attempted to get a few words in, Mulder found himself leaning against the wall by the noticeboard. He tried to find anything of interest there, and failed. Scully was telling Skinner that Krycek had been cooperative and they'd had no indication that he might intend to leave, and then she got a look on her face that meant she'd realized she was wrong. Mulder caught her eye. She raised an eyebrow, meaning should I tell him, and Mulder nodded; it couldn't hurt.

"The smoking man called and asked for him. It's quite possible that he made some threat beyond what we were told of—" She tucked a stray lock of hair back behind her ear with a determined gesture as Skinner interrupted her. The ponytail was starting to slip. "No, sir, we don't know where he went. — About twenty minutes. No. Yes." For a moment she looked bewildered, and then her face cleared. "Of course, sir. As soon as we get back."

She came over to the noticeboard and held the phone out to Mulder; he slipped it into his pocket. "So we're going back?"

Scully nodded. "He told us to wrap up the case as quickly as possible. And frankly, Mulder, there isn't much to wrap up. We can't solve them all, we can only try. We could try to track down the men who killed Siward and Janet Clough, but right now we have nothing to go on."

"What about tracking Krycek down?" he asked.

"I thought Skinner would want us to go after Krycek," Scully said, "but he doesn't. He hinted very strongly that it would be pointless. My impression is that a certain someone wants us to deliver Krycek to him by way of Skinner, and Skinner is just as pleased that we won't be able to do that."

"Yeah, he doesn't like it when it's suggested he's nothing but a balding errand boy," Mulder muttered. Scully shot him a look, half outraged, half amused. "I'm allowed to pick on Skinner. He's my boss. You have to complain about your boss, it's in the rules."

Tilting her head back, she looked at him for a good ten seconds before saying in a calm voice, "I'll take care of things over at the station." Scully took his arm and steered him towards a table. "Larkin may disapprove of us leaving so suddenly, but I'll talk to him. There isn't much else for us to do here. I could stay for the autopsies, but it's obvious what killed the Cloughs. Just sit here, Mulder." She pushed him backwards onto a padded seat. "I'll be back in a little while."

He closed his eyes as he sat, because moving his head too fast made the headache-waves break against the inside of his skull with a sound like distant thunder, and he heard her walk away. It would be very easy to get up and follow her, ignore this stupid cold just to prove a point. He wasn't nearly as unwell as she thought he was. Mulder knew that; a fever, a headache, it was nothing.

He just felt so strangely tired.

Slumping against the backrest, he considered going upstairs to pack instead. He'd have to fold up all those damp dirty clothes and put them in his bag. And what was he going to do with Krycek's boots? And what was Krycek wearing on his feet, since he'd left his boots behind? Mulder opened his eyes again abruptly, as Laura Ann set down a tray in front of him with a large glass of water, a smaller glass of orange juice, a mug of coffee, three extra strength Tylenol, a napkin, a plate of toast, and three little pots: butter, honey, and jam.

He looked at her, but found himself incapable of a cutting comment on the subject of this unasked-for mothering. A strange, prickling sensation in his eyes and nose made him think he was going to sneeze, and then he bit down on his lower lip to stop it. Laura Ann patted his hand wordlessly and then went off to talk to Susie, her voice sharper than he'd ever heard it before. Mulder quickly took one of the Tylenol and tossed it down with some water, then got to his feet and took the coffee mug with him as he went up the stairs.

As he'd suspected, his running shoes were gone. And one of his sweaters. In the bathroom, Krycek's torn and bloody jeans hung like a black banner heralding disaster. Mulder put the coffee mug on the edge of the sink and gathered up and folded all the clothes that had been dumped in the bathroom the day before. He took the pile under one arm, picked the mug up again and went out into the room. Then he realized that he'd forgotten his toothbrush and shaving kit and went back into the bathroom again. He hesitated for a moment about whether to take the toothbrush Krycek had been using. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror above the sink, he turned away so he didn't have to see.

Once everything was packed away, he looked at the room again. There was a little mud on the carpet. And one of the beds was quite obviously untouched. Mulder thought, in the detached way of someone contemplating a mathematical problem, about messing it up. Instead he picked up the bag, the Davis file, and the coffee mug, and left.

Downstairs, he set the bag down by the table, sat on his chair and picked up a piece of cold toast. He lost interest after a bite, and just sat there sipping his coffee and waiting for Scully. The breakfast crowd had thinned out; Susie sat reading a historical romance. When the doorbell jangled after a long silence and Scully came back, he felt more than half asleep. She smiled at him and seemed about to come over to the table, but then she caught sight of the bag at his feet and headed for the stairs instead.

Laura Ann came over and refilled his mug, and still didn't say anything, which was starting to make him nervous. Then again, he'd seen himself in the mirror. Scully wasn't gone long. She'd probably broken the southeast Virginia speed record for packing a small suitcase. Downstairs again, she came up to him, and he started to rise. "Let's go, then. You've got the car keys?"

"You can finish your coffee if you want, Mulder." Meaning that she hadn't had any breakfast. Sure enough, she broke off a piece of toast and stood nibbling at it. He didn't feel up to adding another full mug of coffee to whatever his stomach had been doing lately, though, and got to his feet all the same.

Laura Ann came up to them with two styrofoam cups of yet more coffee, and a paper bag. He could smell cinnamon buns through the brown paper. Mulder let Scully deal with the usual courtesies, although he did say both a good-bye and a thank you, trying to avoid meeting Laura Ann's eyes. Then he picked up both his and Scully's luggage and headed outside to the car.

She wouldn't let him drive. For a while he thought about arguing, but there was no fire in him for it. Instead he got into the passenger seat and accepted responsibility for the coffee and buns. As Scully opened the door on the driver's side, Lou came out of the police station and stopped on the sidewalk. Scully waved, with a brisk and somewhat over-cheerful smile, then got into the car and started it. Lou slowly waved back as they pulled out of the parking space and drove away.

"So did you?" Mulder asked. Scully shot him a sideways look. "Last night, when you went to return the truck keys..."

"I returned the truck keys. That's all." She sounded firm but also a little amused. So probably nothing had happened. Well, he'd never thought Lou was Scully's type, anyway. Hard to say what was Scully's type, really. Not Lou, and not Frohike, but that still left a vast spectrum of humanity to choose from. "And I'd like one of those cinnamon buns."

She drove, and Mulder drifted. He wasn't deep in thought; he was deep in something other than thought, a state that did not allow him to think. Scully probably thought he was asleep. He knew that he should be thinking, that things had slipped away from him and he should try to recapture them, but he couldn't. At some point, he'd lost control. With the phone call that had forced them to abandon the investigation, with Skinner's suggestion that they drop it — no, earlier than that. Last night. Last night... this morning...

Shifting in the car seat, he was aware that he'd left the empty place in his mind, and something was twisting inside him again. "What did you tell Larkin?" he asked. And then, without waiting for her answer, as his mind finally started to function again, "Damn it."

"What?" Scully sounded more tolerant than anything else. "Skinner called Larkin as well. We have — well, you have a theory about the ghosts, but no evidence to back it up. The deaths of Siward and Janet Clough can't be conclusively connected to—"

"He's gone. He's gone, Scully." Now she started to look nervous, and Mulder tried to collect himself and make his voice sound normal. "The smoker was blackmailing us — drop the case or he kills Krycek, right? But Krycek's gone. Now he doesn't have anything to hold over our heads. It's just Skinner who wants us to let it go."

She was silent for a few moments. Then she said, "We don't know that Krycek left of his own free will." Mulder turned his head abruptly to look at her, but she kept her eyes on the road. "It makes sense that he must have known the investigation had come to an end and we were bound to try to arrest him. But we also know that man was looking for Krycek, and some of his operatives were in the area very recently, and might still have been there when Krycek vanished."

"You think he was taken? Or killed?" His tongue felt thick and slow in his mouth, unwilling to say the words. "Scully, we have to go back." She didn't answer. "Scully, turn the car around." He tried to infuse some authority into his voice, but it wouldn't come.

When he was about to try again, swearing or begging, he wasn't sure which, she finally spoke. "Mulder, I know how you feel, but I—" The brief shake of the head was curiously indecisive, for her. "If he was killed by the same people who killed the Cloughs, there's nothing we can do, and Detective Larkin has got half the state looking for those men. But I think he left of his own free will, trying to stay alive. Skinner doesn't want us to bring him in. And he wouldn't survive unless we provided him with twenty-four hour protective custody. And—" Scully shrugged, a minimalist motion, without letting go of the steering wheel.

"And?" Mulder pressed her quietly. "There's something more, isn't there."

"And," she drew a deep breath, "it was easier to hate him when he wasn't a real person. I still want to see him punished for what he's done, but not by them. And if we found him and brought him in now, we'd be handing him over to them. We would be doing exactly what the smoking man wants us to do."

"So you're willing to let Krycek go to preserve some obscure moral principle." He wasn't sure where the words were coming from, they just rose smoothly into his mind.

"Yes! Yes, I am!" A faint flush appeared on her cheeks, though she still remembered to look at the road and not at him. "And I thought you were, too. Without our principles, we're no better than they are. I believe in justice, Mulder, and turning Krycek over to those men would be vengeance, pure and simple. Whatever he's done, he deserves justice, and even if that justice would be harsh, that's not the same thing as leaving him in the hands of a private executioner."

The flush on her face was nothing compared with the fire that burned through him. He recognized it for what it was now, the impulse to lash out at someone, even at Scully. She was defending herself against his misery. Mulder tensed up, waiting for another muscle cramp to hit him. "I know," he said, the edge gone from his voice as suddenly as it had appeared there. "I know, Scully. Did you tell Larkin to look for Krycek — or his body?"

She nodded. "Yes. And." That couldn't be a smile on her face. "I asked Lou to let me know if there were any developments."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself." And then, of course, it hit him again. If anyone ought to be ashamed... he suddenly folded forward, bending around a gut-deep wrench that wouldn't stop. It hurt. It really, really hurt. "Don't stop the car," he wheezed. "I'm all right." He tried to straighten up to prove it. "Are we going straight to see Skinner?"

"I am," she said. "You're going straight home, and straight to bed. And I'm buying you oilskins and an umbrella for your birthday." She reached out and touched his shoulder lightly. It was more calming than he would have expected it to be. Sinking back against the seat again, he fumbled through his pockets for a tissue, blew his nose, and tried to fall asleep.

~~ The stars scattered when he breathed on them, blowing away, and he leaped after them, trying to catch them. An instant of flight and then the inevitable fall, down through the darkness of the universe, down where there was no direction, down towards the end of eternity. Falling, and falling, and falling. ~~

The next time she touched his shoulder they were at Hegal Place. "I'm awake," he said, although he hadn't been. The sky was gray here, too. "Scully, I'm fine, I can come with you to talk to Skinner."

"Do you want me to walk you upstairs?" she asked pointedly.

He was defeated, and admitted it. He didn't have the strength to fight her right now. And not the inclination, really, either. All he wanted now that he was here was to go up to his apartment and be alone, to wrap himself around the darkness inside and try to assimilate it. Hold it back. Repress it. Deny it. People can live perfectly well with bullets lodged in their bodies. All he needed was some time to himself.

"No, that's okay. If I fall over before I make it to the front door you can come and rescue me." He opened the car door and swung his legs outside, and paused. "Do you think Krycek was bluffing? About the black cancer?"

"Yes," she said firmly. Maybe a little too firmly, as if she'd been waiting for him to ask. "You've had a physical exam since you came back from Russia, and you were fine."

"But no one looked at my pineal gland, as far as I can remember."

Scully tilted her head to one side. She had taken the ponytail out, and her hair fell smoothly forward to frame her face, the way he liked best. "If you're concerned about it, we can schedule another checkup once you're feeling better."

"I'm not concerned, I just—" He started to get out of the car and was aware that he was being ungrateful. "Scully." Looking back at her over his shoulder, he thought about smiling. "Thanks." It seemed to be enough, because she smiled back.

The bag wasn't that heavy, despite the extra weight he carried in it now, and of course he didn't fall over. But in the elevator going up, he also thought about falling; there was no sensation of moving upwards, none at all. The hallway looked the same, the door looked the same, and when he went inside everything was in the right place and just as dusty as when he'd left, so if anyone had searched the place, they'd done a good, professional job. Always nice to know.

He walked into the room and dropped the bag; it landed with a clunk. Krycek's boots. He shouldn't have packed them, he should have left them behind along with the rest of Krycek's stuff, torn and dirty souvenirs he did not need. The fish were still alive, and he went to watch them. They swam this way, that way, aimlessly, around and around their little world. After a while he gave them some food and they responded to it with mindless hunger. He could always flush them down the toilet.

Going back into the hall again he picked up the mail and looked through it. Mail order catalog, mail order catalog, Szechuan menu, mail order catalog. Someone seemed to think he had a burning need for a gargoyle to put on top of his computer screen and a Swiss pocket knife with thirty-four different gadgets. He was about to throw away all of it, but changed his mind and kept the menu. They delivered till two. Bending down and straightening up had made him dizzy again; the pills had worn off a couple of hours ago.

He got himself a glass of water and carried it into the living room, intending to take off his tie and crash on the couch. A couple of hours' sleep would make things better, and then he could go in to work and find out what Scully had told Skinner. But his feet refused to stop where he wanted them to, and walked him into the bedroom where the unmade bed waited for him. Mulder stood and looked at it; then he carefully put the glass down on the floor before sitting on the edge of the bed. He kicked his shoes off, shrugged out of the suit jacket, loosened the tie and pulled it over his head.

Pausing in his undressing, he reached out and put a hand on the pillow in the depression left by Krycek's head. There was no warmth to be found here. Mulder unbuttoned his shirt and added it to the pile on the floor, wriggled out of his pants and threw them down too. He crawled in under the covers and tugged at the scrunched-up pillow, hugging it close to his body, wrapping himself around it until he lay curled up in a ball under the covers. Closing his eyes, he buried his face in the cotton, and wondered if he'd ever stop falling.

* * *

I can hardly believe it's me standing here throwing stones at a girl's window in the moonlight. Romeo in black jeans. It's a good thing Linda is a light sleeper, and that her parents' bedroom faces the other way. It only takes a minute before I see her behind the curtains; she looks down, and motions at me to wait. So I do, moving deeper into the shadows.

When she creeps outside she's dressed in jeans and a heavy knitted sweater. She closes the back door carefully, takes my hand and leads me across the yard, through a gap in the fence, past the neighbors' garage and out into the street. We walk along side by side for a while without saying anything. Most of the rain water has drained off by now. Linda walks like someone who does it often, with an even, steady pace; she breathes deeply of the cool night air.

Reaching the nearest crossing, we turn left at random. Any direction is fine with me, as long as we don't go to Main Street, don't go past Laura Ann's and the police station. Her fingers squeeze mine, and after another half a block she says, "I thought you'd left."

"I'm in the process of leaving. Just thought I'd say good-bye." The bright orange of her hair is leeched away by the moonlight and she's just pale, and pretty. "Have you decided which college you're going to?"

"No. William and Mary, maybe. Or maybe somewhere really far away. Another state, even. The west coast or something." It does sound as though she's decided, but maybe she's not aware of that yet. I'll leave it to her to find out for herself. "I want to get away from all this. I can't believe Annie's parents are dead, too." She looks at me sideways, hesitant but curious. "You saw them, didn't you."

After a moment I understand that she means the bodies. "Yeah. I was there with—" The names won't make it past my lips. Linda tugs at my hand and leads me in through a low wooden gate. We're in a playground. Someone has left a small yellow bucket and a small red spade behind in the sandbox. She lets go of me to sit on one of the swings, and I take the other one. The chains creak alarmingly. "Will you be all right?"

"Yeah," she says. "I guess so. I don't know what the hell else I can do except try to cope with it, so I guess I will. Will you?" I don't answer. "Why did they leave without you?" I shake my head, and she falls silent for a while, swinging back and forth. Then she slows the swing down and says gently, "Did you have another fight with that guy?"

I lean back and look at the moon. It's cool and lovely and far away. Mulder was all fire when I held him. He didn't know I was kissing him good-bye. He was upset and feverish and passionate and tired and angry, and it was almost impossible to let go of him. But I had to. Everything was getting too dangerous, still is, and it's better for me to be on my own. I shouldn't be here with Linda, either, and I feel a stab of guilt. I don't want anything to hurt her. But I've done a good job today of staying one step ahead, and that has to count for something.

"It doesn't matter how many fights I have with him," I say. "It makes no difference. Everything's screwed up between us, it can't get any worse."

"You could fix it," she says with innocent certainty. "You don't have to keep fighting with people. You can fix it if you want to, you just have to decide if that's what you want."

She makes it sound so reasonable, and in another mood I might have laughed, or cried. I don't ever want to see her leave that certainty behind, the simple belief that tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner.

What do I want? I want Fox Mulder. I want to lick his eyelids and see if they taste like rose petals. I want to fuck him slow and hard until his bones and mine crumble into powdery ecstasy. That's what I want, and yet it's not half of what I want, only the part of wanting that I can find words for.

"Linda, it's not that simple. I did things that, well, if he forgave me for them, he'd never be able to forgive himself for doing that. And it would eat at him forever, and he'd hate himself even if he tried to stop hating me. It just wouldn't work."

The moon seems more distant than ever and I turn my head to look at Linda instead. She's watching my face. "You're in love with him." This is said with the same complete conviction that she used to tell me that Mulder would forgive me if I only explained everything.

"No. Fuck, no." I shake my head. "No, I just..." The swing twists under me. I wrap my arm around the chain and lean my head against it. It's cool, almost cold against my temple. There's nothing perfect about my memory. There are lots of things I have chosen to forget, and others that have simply sunk into oblivion under the weight of their own insignificance. And then there are scenes that can be replayed at any time, not a detail lost. "He's got the biggest collection of ugly ties in DC. I can't understand why a guy with taste in suits like that can't manage to buy a single decent tie."

"You could give him one for Christmas." She runs both hands through her hair, scratching at her scalp, then yawns a little. She should be in bed. All of Leyden Creek is in bed sleeping the sleep of the just, except for Steve Larkin, who's sitting up with a mug of coffee, mourning his poker buddy. When Linda reaches out and touches me I almost jump. "You really mean it, don't you. You really did something awful to him."

"Yeah. I did."

It's nice to sit here and swing back and forth, nice and peaceful, with the night all around us swallowing up any secrets that might be spoken. I feel like I can tell her anything, anything at all, even though I know I won't. She doesn't need to know me that well, because... I look at her quickly and then away, but she manages to catch my eye during that brief moment. "What?" she asks.

"Nothing." I want her to like me, and Mulder is right, she wouldn't, not if she knew. Nobody could.

But he kissed me. In bed, warm skin against skin, willingly. He kissed me in the police station, but he was running a fever by then, so maybe it doesn't count, falls under the heading of temporary insanity or whatever. That's what I thought this was, all of it, when it first gripped me. Insanity, madness, obsession. Possession. He's claimed some part of me for his own, and I'll never get it back.

I don't want it back.

Linda doesn't like that answer. "No, that's not what I meant. What did you do to him?"

"I can't tell you." When she squeezes my arm, I shake my head. It's not going to help, I won't let her hear it. Can't make myself say it.

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want you to know," I say softly. I tilt my head back and look at the moon again. "You know that it's possible to eat arsenic?"

"But that's a poison." She's looking at me, I can tell, twisting around to try to face me, but I'm not taking my eyes off the moon. "No, wait. I read about that in a detective story, some guy who ate poisoned candy."

"Yeah, you start with a very small dose and then increase it, build up a tolerance to the stuff. I'm just wondering what happens when you stop. Linda, I have to go." I get to my feet and steady the swing to keep it from clipping me across the back of my legs. She stands up too, stretches a little and suppresses another yawn. Her arms go around my waist under the jacket and she hugs me tight. I pull her head down against my shoulder and we stand like that, not speaking. The dyed half of her hair is rougher than the undyed half, I can feel that against my skin, even with the stubble getting in the way. I need a shave.

When she lets go of me she smiles, a small smile, barely noticeable. "Take care," she says, turns around and walks away, out of the playground and back up the street. Once she's gone, I leave as well, going in the opposite direction. The streets are quiet and all the windows are dark. It's over, here. There will be no more accidents by the walnut tree, and no one else will be found shot in the kitchen. It's over, and I have things to do. And a job offer to contemplate. Well, I already know what my answer will be, and now I need to get out of this place.

I'm going to have to steal a car, and there probably isn't a decent set of wheels in the whole town.

At least I know where I'm going.

* * *

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