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. Comments are welcome. Do not archive this story without permission.

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

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